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How to Remove Stains from Sofa: All Types of Fabric

Don’t be a couch potato — remove stains now. It only takes 30 minutes.

Buying a sofa is a massive rite of passage for any homeowner. It is the centerpiece of any living room and works to create the vibe of your lounge. But stains can happen when somebody spills their coffee, drops food on the couch, or your little one uses the sofa and cushions as a canvas.

We have the best methods for you if you’re wondering how to remove stains from sofa fabric. While we’re focusing primarily on fabric sofas, we also have some tips for leather, suede, and polyester couches.

By the end of this guide, you’ll have everything you need to keep your sofa looking brand new, even years later!

Key Takeaways

  • Always check the sofa cleaning code (W, S, S/W, X) to determine the best cleaning method for your sofa.
  • For water-safe couches, use a mixture of water, dish soap, and distilled white vinegar to blot and remove stains.
  • For dry-clean only couches, use a dry cleaning solvent and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to remove stains.
  • To eliminate odors on fabric sofas, use a DIY deodorizer made of distilled white vinegar, water, and essential oils.

How to Read a Sofa Cleaning Code

Like clothing, sofas have a cleaning label to point you in the direction of the safest cleaning method. You will see various letters that all have different meanings. If you can’t find the label, you can look your couch up online — the instructions should be on the product page.

What do the codes mean?

  • W: The couch can be cleaned with water. This means it’s safe to use an upholstery cleaner or wash by hand. This is the most durable kind of fabric.
  • S: Your couch is dry-cleaned only and must be cleaned with solvents. Do not use water on this kind of sofa. You can find an appropriate cleaner in grocery stores, from your local carpet cleaner, or online. AlbaChem is popular, but you may want to hire a professional.
  • S/W: You can use a combination of water and dry cleaning solvents. This is a rare code to find, so you might want to hire a professional.
  • X: This code means the item is not washable — you should only vacuum it. If stains occur, call a professional.

How to Remove Stains From Sofa Fabric

We use our couches every day — we lounge on them, lie on them, cuddle on them, and maybe your kids even bounce all over them. The bottom line is that stains happen, so it’s crucial to know sofa stain removal hacks.

We’ll share the best methods for removing stains from water-safe couches and couches that aren’t water-safe. Whether you have sweat stains, ink, pen marks, food spills, or something else, these steps can help.

For Water-Safe Couches

This is the type of couch we have at home. With a young toddler and many family pets, we’ve suffered through various stains. So you can trust our top tips for spot-cleaning them.

  • Time: 30 minutes (plus drying time).
  • Difficulty: Easy.

What You’ll Need

  • Vacuum cleaner with upholstery attachment.
  • Water.
  • Dish soap.
  • Container.
  • Spoon.
  • Sponge.
  • Cloths.
  • Distilled white vinegar.
  • Upholstery cleaner (optional).
  • Fan (optional).

1. Vacuum the Stain

After you’ve removed the excess, vacuum the area to remove dirt and debris. If you start cleaning before doing this, you can end up embedding dirt further into the sofa fabric.

2. Make Cleaner

In a container, mix together two cups of water with one tablespoon of dish soap and ¼ cup of distilled white vinegar. Stir to combine.

3. Blot the Stain

Dip a sponge into the cleaning solution and wring it out well. Blot the stained area. Don’t scrub, as this can damage the couch and work the stain deeper into the fabric.

Continue blotting until the stain has lifted. This might take five or 10 minutes, depending on the severity of the stain.

4. Rinse

Rinse the area by blotting it with a damp microfiber cloth. Continue to remove all soap and vinegar residue. If the stain remains, repeat steps three and four.

5. Choose a More Powerful Cleaner

If the stain persists, you might have to use a commercial cleaner. This is especially handy for stubborn stains. Rocco & Roxie Oxy Stain Remover is a popular choice.

Whatever product you choose, make sure you follow the cleaning instructions strictly. Never leave it on the sofa for longer than the recommended time. We did this once by a couple of minutes, and it left a whole new stain that was impossible to remove!

6. Dry the Sofa

If you can position the sofa near open windows or doors, that will help speed up the drying process and prevent water stains. Otherwise, situate a fan nearby and give the couch 24 hours to dry.

Without Water

If your sofa isn’t water safe, you don’t need to phone a professional for tips on how to get stains out of the couch. You can try this method first. However, if that doesn’t work — calling professionals would be the next step.

  • Time: 30 minutes.
  • Difficulty: Intermediate.

What You’ll Need

1. Vacuum

Using the upholstery attachment, vacuum the sofa, focusing on the stained area. It’s important to vacuum your Code S sofa at least weekly. This prevents dirt from staining the couch.

2. Apply the Cleaner

Depending on the product you choose, the manufacturer’s instructions will vary. Generally, you will need to apply the dry cleaning solvent to the sofa via a white cloth. The white cloth will help to avoid color transfer.

After applying the solvent to the cloth, blot the stain, using a new section of the cloth each time. This prevents dirt from transferring to a new area of the couch.

3. Brush the Area

Using your tamping brush, go over the stained area to restore the sofa to its original texture.

4. Dry the Couch

Blot the area with a white towel to remove moisture from the stain and the dry cleaning solvent. Use a hairdryer on a cool setting to speed up the drying process.

How to Steam Clean a Fabric Couch

One thing we love about Code W couches is that you can clean them with the power of steam. Not only can this remove stains, but it can disinfect the fibers.

It’s vital that you first determine whether you can steam clean your couch. Just because it’s water-safe doesn’t mean that it can handle heat. Check with the manufacturer; if they don’t offer advice, test steam in an inconspicuous area to ensure no damage occurs.

  • Time: 20 minutes (plus drying time).
  • Difficulty: Easy.

What You’ll Need

1. Vacuum First

Before you steam, vacuum the sofa to remove excess dirt and debris.

2. Gently Steam the Couch

After filling the steamer with water, work in small sections to steam the sofa and remove stains. Hold the steamer about six inches from the couch and pass over each section a few times. After a few passes, you will notice the stain start to lift.

3. Dry the Couch

Open windows and doors to let the sofa air dry. If that’s not an option, position a fan nearby to speed up the drying process.

4. Vacuum Again

Once the couch is dry, vacuum it again to restore the fibers.

Sofa Stain Removal By Fabric Type

You know how to clean couch fabric stains — but what about other materials? If you have a microfiber or leather couch, we don’t want to leave you in the dark. We’ll break down the best cleaning methods for specific types of fabric.

Microfiber Couches

Most microfiber couches will have an S code, so it’s best to use a solvent. A great option is rubbing alcohol.

  1. Vacuum: As always, vacuum the sofa first to remove excess dirt.
  2. Spray: Spray the stain with 91 percent rubbing alcohol.
  3. Blot: Blot the area with a microfiber cloth until the stain lifts.
  4. Dry: Blot the area with a dry cloth to remove excess moisture.
  5. Brush: If the fabric feels stiff, use a dry nylon-bristled brush to plump up the fibers and restore the original texture.

If the above method doesn’t work, which may happen for oil-based stains, sprinkle the stain with baking soda. Leave it on for a few hours before brushing it or vacuuming it. This can absorb stubborn stains.

Cotton or Linen Couches

Use our tips from “For Water-Safe Couches” to remove stains from cotton or linen couches. Cleaning with vinegar, soap, and water is perfectly safe. You can also steam cotton and linen.

Polyester Couches

Polyester fibers or woven couches can handle water, dish soap, and vinegar when removing stains. Sometimes you can get away with just using a damp cloth, so try that first to save resources.

Leather Couches

Leather sofas are beautiful, but they require a little more TLC when it comes to stain removal.

  1. Vacuum: Use your upholstery attachment to vacuum the area.
  2. Wipe: Wipe the stained area with a damp microfiber cloth or a baby wipe.
  3. Sprinkle cornstarch: If the stain is grease or oil-based, sprinkle cornstarch over the stain. This will absorb the stain. Leave it on the area overnight.
  4. Wipe: In the morning, wipe the cornstarch away with a damp microfiber cloth.
  5. Apply leather conditioner: If the stain persists, apply a little leather conditioner to a microfiber cloth and apply it gently to the stain. No need to blot dry — let the area air dry.

Suede Couches

Suede couches are a thing of luxury, but they’re maybe one of the more difficult fabrics to clean. However, it’s totally possible to remove stains, especially with this method:

  1. Vacuum: Vacuum the sofa to remove excess dirt.
  2. Blot: Blot the stained area with a damp microfiber cloth to remove as much of the stain residue as possible.
  3. Apply suede cleaner: Apply suede cleaner to the stain following your product’s specific instructions. This will vary from product to product.
  4. Rinse: Wipe the area with a damp microfiber cloth to remove cleaning residue.
  5. Dry: Blot the area dry. Then dry with a hair dryer on a cool setting.
  6. Erase old stains: If you have old stains that aren’t removed using the above method, rub them with a pencil eraser. If you want something a little stronger, you can use a specific suede eraser.

Extra Tip

You can also remove stains from suede using baking soda. Make a paste with baking soda and water. Add mild dish soap if the stain is food-based. Dab the paste onto the stain with a sponge — continue dabbing to blot the stain up before wiping the area with a separate cloth.

How to Eliminate Odors on Sofa

Even if you’re now the expert in sofa stain removal — your couch might still smell bad. We’ll help you to take care of any lingering odors on your sofa. Here’s how to naturally deodorize your sofa:

  1. Create a deodorizer: Mix a 1:1 solution of distilled white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Add 10 drops of your favorite essential oil. This is a DIY Febreze and will work to deodorize and even disinfect your sofa.
  2. Spray: Spray the mixture all over the sofa. Keep for fabric sofas only. Don’t use it on leather, microfiber, or suede.
  3. Wait: Leave it on the sofa until it’s air-dried. As time goes on, you’ll notice that your sofa doesn’t smell as bad anymore!

Another effective option is to sprinkle baking soda all over your sofa. Leave overnight before vacuuming. The baking soda will absorb odors, leaving your couch super fresh!


How Do You Remove Old Tough Stains?

If the soap and vinegar method didn’t work, nor did the store-bought commercial cleaner, try steam cleaning old stains. If that doesn’t remove them, the best option is to hire a professional.

Will Baking Soda Ruin My Couch?

No — baking soda is safe to use on upholstery. It’s gentle and non-toxic. It’s fantastic for cleaning, removing stains, and deodorizing. Take it from us; we use baking soda to clean almost everything!

How Long Can You Let Vinegar Sit on a Stain?

You only need to let vinegar sit for about 30 minutes to one hour to see results. For more stubborn stains, leave the vinegar on overnight.

Just keep in mind that if the vinegar dries into the fabric before you rinse it away, you could be left with a new stain. However, it’s simple to remove by repeating the cleaning process.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism, and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!