Picture the scene: a rare moment of calm has descended on the house, and you opt to luxuriate on the sofa with a good book, only to flop down and immediately find yourself engulfed in a plume of dust…
More than ever, our sofas are multi-tasking pieces, and the things that daily life throws at them – from biscuit crumbs to the odd splash of wine to exuberant children and pets – can all take their toll on the appearance of upholstered pieces. Here, we explain how to clean a fabric sofa, so it stays looking its very best.
How to guide: cleaning a fabric sofa
Key to keeping a fabric sofa looking pristine is general maintenance, and for this you need very little, just this simple equipment…
A microfibre cloth is the first item you’ll need to clean a fabric sofa. It’s soft, highly absorbent and is also lint free, so doesn’t shed debris – you don’t want to make any stain or spillage worse after all. Also, make sure it is clean, it’s so easy to pick up a cloth without thinking if it has remnants of bleach on it, for example.
An upholstery brush
A lint brush is a useful choice for picking up fur and hairs (try the Oxo Good Grips Furlifter Furniture Brush), while a stiff brush is ideal for dislodging dried mud or encrusted food (have a look at the Wooden Cushion Brush by Redecker, available from Trouva). Make sure you choose a brush that is soft enough not to snag on the upholstery and always brush gently: vigorous scrubbing is not the idea, as it will result in damaging the fibres of the fabric. If in doubt, try out your stiff brush on an inconspicuous area, such as beneath the seat cushions.
A vacuum cleaner with crevice and upholstery attachments
It is astonishing what manages to work its way between the cushions of a fabric sofa – crumbs, loose change, and children’s toys, to name a few – and for picking up dirt particles and general dust, a vacuum cleaner is your secret weapon. Nifty hand-held devices are a practical choice, although not essential, as most vacuum cleaners now offer crevice and upholstery attachments.
If your sofa has loose cushions – such as the design pictured above, which showcases our romantic Albertine pure linen fabric – remove them first and then use a brush attachment such as a crevice nozzle to work your way around the perimeter of the base, tackling every nook and cranny. Then, use the upholstery attachment all over the fabric and cushions to pick up dust, which is the main culprit for making upholstery look tired and lacklustre.
Good old elbow grease
If your entire sofa has loose seat and/or back cushions, they need regular plumping to redistribute the filling and avoid that tired, saggy look; this is also a great way to eliminate dust. Plump each cushion using both hands, then take the other sides of the cushion and do the same. Plumping cushions once a week will help to keep their shape and ensure longevity – don’t forget to do this to your scatter cushions at the same time.
How should I treat a stain on a fabric sofa?
The occasional spill is an inevitable part of life, and the temptation is to come in guns blazing with specialist stain removers and cleaning solutions, but these can irreparably damage a sofa. Even seemingly harmless warm water can be problematic, leaving a water mark that is impossible to remove. Instead, start by mopping up the spill as quickly as possible by gently blotting with a soft, lint-free cloth. Think dabbing, rather than scrubbing, as scrubbing can further distribute the stain and damage the sofa fabric. At this point, if your fabric is dry clean only – such as this beautiful Luna vintage style linen – we would advise seeking professional help: a specialist upholstery cleaner will read the fabric’s care label and know which solvents can be used; we recommend ServiceMaster or ChemDry.
What is the best way to clean a spill on a stain resistant fabric sofa?
Several of our fabrics, including our polyester velvets such as Omega, Omega Prints and Kami, as well as Juno plain weaves, have a stain resistant finish, which means that they cope with light accidents rather than tough stains. Use a microfibre cloth or paper towel to absorb excess liquid, leaving it on the spot until as much liquid is absorbed as possible. If the stain is still visible, we advise approaching an expert (see our recommendations above), as spot cleaning even with traditional cleaning solutions can cause water stains and ruin the pile. If you would like to try tackling it yourself, however, we are happy to send you a sample of the same fabric for you to experiment replicating the stain and attempting a gentle clean with a damp cloth.
How should I care for machine-washable sofa covers?
For fabric sofas that are seeing a lot of action, from muddy dogs to boisterous toddlers, machine washable covers are a brilliant solution. It is important to carefully follow the washing instructions, and don’t use products containing bleaching, optical brightening agents or conditioners. Make sure that you don’t overload the washing machine drum – you won’t be able to fit all your covers into one load. Bear in mind that sofa fabrics can shrink by up to 5 per cent when washed; this can often be partly mitigated by carefully pulling the covers into shape when damp and gently steam ironing them, always on the reverse side. Our eco-friendly Verde cotton, woven using 80 per cent recycled cotton, can be washed at 30 degrees with minimal shrinkage.
Can I revive the pile on a velvet fabric sofa?
Regular vacuuming with a brush attachment specific to upholstery should help to maintain the pile, as will a gentle brush with a clothes brush (Clothes Doctor sells a beautifully made version featuring natural bristles). If you have loose cushions, regularly reverse them to distribute wear.
How often should I clean a fabric sofa?
The answer to this depends very much on how much use – or abuse – your sofa gets, but as a rule of thumb:
Make a habit of regularly vacuuming your entire sofa, say, once a fortnight, or more often if you have small children or pets.
Plump up loose cushions and scatter cushions on a weekly basis.
Aim for a professional deep clean of your sofa once every year or so – consider this the spa treatment for your sofa, and perhaps incorporate it into an annual spring clean. If you have other pieces in the same fabric have these cleaned at the same time to avoid colour variations and the same goes if your sofa has removable covers: it is important that all the covers are cleaned in one go to ensure a consistent colour balance.
Bear in mind that many fabrics do not take kindly to strong sunlight or direct heat.
Show your fabric sofa a little love and attention and you will reap the rewards: it will look good for years to come, offering that inviting seat you want to sink into at the end of the day. Now, where’s that good book…
What is the best way to clean a fabric sofa? Carefully, you don’t want to make the stain worse. For this reason, we don’t recommend spot cleaning even with warm water, you don't want to leave water marks on the fabric.
Is sofa fabric hard to clean? It always pays to be extra safe, so please check the sofa fabric for any guidance. Gently blot light stains with a soft, dry cloth – it takes a little time but is worth the effort.
How do you clean dirty upholstery fabric? For harsher stains please don't reach for cleaning solutions such as solvent based cleaners or even baking powder, we would always recommend sofa fabrics are dry cleaned by a specialist.
How can I clean my couch without a machine? The simplest method is vacuuming with a brush attachment. Try and turn your sofa cushions on a regular basis too, it really helps to prolong the life of covers.