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How To Clean A Fabric Couch Or Sofa? (Step-by-Step)

Cleaning a fabric couch requires careful attention. These comfortable and cozy couches come in a variety of colors, patterns, and weaves, making them an ideal choice for designing living spaces. However, this variety implies that cleaning them isn’t always straightforward. In this guide, we’ll cover couch-cleaning basics and provide you with the necessary information to clean your fabric couch or sofa correctly.

Clean Stains as Quickly as Possible

First of all, if you spill something on your couch, it’s important to clean it immediately. The longer you allow a stain to sit, the harder it will be to remove. Try to address spills as soon as they happen, as even a matter of minutes can allow the stain to set permanently. If you clean up a stain within 1 minute vs waiting days to clean it, it will be difficult to clean and you might need a professional cleaning company to clean it depending on the severity of the stain. If you’re wondering whether or not that particular cleaning company includes that as a service or an add on, you can check their cleaning checklist page and quickly browse their site. 

Always Check the Manufacturer’s Recommendations

Before assuming the best way to clean your couch, have a look at what the manufacturer recommends – after all, they know what’s best for your couch because they made it. 

Read the Manual

The manufacturer will probably give specific instructions for cleaning your fabric sofa, so if you still have the manual lying around somewhere, have a look through it and always adhere to the cleaning instructions. This will also let you know whether any cleaning methods will void the warranty on your couch.

Find the Tags on the Couch

If you’re like the rest of us and you have no idea where the manual is, no big deal. Just search under the couch cushions for tags, or if the cushions are non-removable, look under the couch itself. The tags will tell you what the fabric is made of and what kinds of cleaning solutions can be used on it. There may be different tags for the cushions and the couch itself, so make sure that you are reading the correct one. Generally, there will be one of four letters on the tag – each one is a cleaning code that lets you know what kind of cleaning is acceptable for the fabric.

Here are what the cleaning codes stand for:


  • W:  Water
    A tag with a “W” means that you can use water-based cleaning agents on the fabric (meaning typical upholstery and carpet cleaners will be fine).
    • S: Solvent
      An “S” tag indicates that you should not use any water when cleaning the couch. Instead, you should use a dry-cleaning solvent.


  • S/W  or  WS: Solvent/Water Combination
    This code indicates that both solvents and water-based cleaning agents may be used, or a combination may be required. In this case, we recommend going with a professional upholstery cleaner to be sure it is done correctly.


  • X: None
    Furniture with an “X” on the tag is not cleanable with any liquid or dry-cleaning solution whatsoever. This furniture should only be cleaned with a vacuum – anything else will ruin the fabric on your couch.


Pro tip: When cleaning your fabric couch with water, avoid tap water and use distilled water instead. Tap water will be full of minerals which could result in a ring or cause the fabric to fade. You can buy distilled water or distill it yourself at home.

Before we get into how to tackle each of the cleaning codes, here are a few couch-cleaning basics which you should use on any couch.

Vacuum Your Couch First

In some cases, vacuuming may be all you need to do or even the only method you should do (see the “X” cleaning code above), but even if you intend to use a liquid or dry-clean solvent, you should vacuum your couch before you get started. This will ensure that any loose crumbs, dirt, or dust are removed and cannot create a worse stain on your fabric. Use an upholstery attachment for the main sections of the couch and a crevice tool to get between cushions (for non-removable ones).

Blot with White or Light-Colored Cleaning Cloths

When cleaning your couch, make sure the cloths you use are white or at least very light-colored. Especially with liquid, but even if you’re just wiping up dry solvents, using a colorful cloth could allow the dye to transfer to your fabric, resulting in a stain that will be even more difficult to remove. Also remember that you should always blot at stains – never rub because it can damage the fibers of your fabric and spread the stain farther.

Always Test Your Cleaning Method

Regardless of which method you need to use, you should always test it on an inconspicuous area of the couch (think: under the cushions) to be sure that it will not discolor your fabric. This will help you avoid any nasty surprises in more visible areas.

Now, let’s talk about how to deal with each of the four fabric cleaning codes.

Tags with “W” – Cleaning with Water-Based Cleaners

If your couch has a “W” on the tag, then thank your lucky stars because this is the most durable kind of fabric and the easiest to clean. You can use any kind of upholstery or carpet cleaner and expect good results, but for a more natural cleaning solution we recommend using vinegar and a baking soda. Some companies may let you know that they use this mixture on their process’s page or a how we work page.

To clean with baking soda and vinegar, use the following steps:

  1. Vacuum the couch.
  2. Spray the affected area with vinegar (be careful not to get it too wet).
  3. Sprinkle baking soda over the vinegar to form a paste.
  4. Allow the mixture to sit until dry.
  5. Vacuum away the baking soda.

If your stain is particularly tough, you can also mix in some dish soap and distilled water to help remove it. Just be sure not to over wet the couch, and make sure to blot and not rub the fabric with a white cloth, then dry the sofa with a towel when finished cleaning.

Tags with “S” – Cleaning with Dry Solvents

If your couch has a tag with an “S,” you should only use dry-cleaning solvents because liquid may discolor, shrink, or leave rings on the fabric. These solvents generally contain very harsh chemicals, so you’ll need to follow the directions for the product to the letter and take safety precautions – use gloves, clean in a well-ventilated area, and keep kids away from it.

Tags with “S/W” or “WS” – Finding the Right Solution

It may seem like this would be the ideal tag since both water-based and solvent cleaning agents may be suitable, but this tag actually means that you need to be more careful. While either type of solution may work, it may actually require a combination of the two, so you should check the particular product you choose in an out-of-sight spot before going ahead because something in it could still affect your fabric. 

This type of fabric is uncommon, but if you have a couch with this code, you might want to hire a professional upholstery cleaner to be sure it is cleaned correctly.

Tags with “X” – Try Not to Use Your Couch Often

As mentioned above, tags with an “X” cannot be cleaned with any kind of liquid or dry-cleaning solvent, so vacuuming or light brushing is the only option that you have. This tag has become very rare, but if you find a couch with this tag we recommend placing it somewhere that it will not receive heavy use (or not buying it at all, if you see this tag in the store!).

If your “X” couch already has a terrible stain on it and you think that damage from cleaning it would be less conspicuous than the stain, you could try sprinkling baking soda over the stain and letting it sit before vacuuming it up. Or you could try a water-based or solvent cleaning option and hope for the best. But beware, either option could end up looking worse than when you started.

Following these couch-cleaning basics and using the fabric cleaning codes as your guide will help ensure that you keep your comfy and cozy fabric couch looking its best. It’s likely that you’ll have a couch with a “W,” so you can probably just clean your couch with a bit of baking soda and vinegar or water and dish soap, but you should never assume so. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations and the cleaning code to make sure you get it right. 



If you’re also having trouble cleaning your carpet, check out our guide on how to clean carpets. Baking soda and vinegar are going to be key ingredients in cleaning your carpet just like it is in cleaning a fabric couch.