Upholstery Cleaning: A Detailed Checklist for Sparkling Furniture

Female doing Upholstery cleaning checklist

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Your home’s upholstered furniture sees a lot of wear and tear. From daily use to accidental spills, your sofas, chairs, and other upholstered pieces can start to look dingy and feel rough. Implementing a regular upholstery cleaning checklist is the best way to care for your investment in quality furniture. Before you hire a cleaning company, this comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know. 

The Importance of Routine Upholstery Care

Upholstered furniture is often expensive, so you’ll want it to last. Plus, clean upholstery not only looks better but can also help provide a healthier indoor environment. Here’s why routine care is so critical:

  • Extend furniture lifetime – Regular cleaning keeps fabrics from wearing out prematurely. It also prevents stains from setting that can be impossible to remove later.
  • Improve air quality – Over time, upholstery traps allergens, pollen, pet dander, and other pollutants. Thorough cleaning removes these asthma and allergy triggers.
  • Prevent mold and mildew – Moisture allowed to linger can lead to mold growth in upholstery. Cleaning inhibits this health hazard.
  • Maintain appearance – From subtle dirt buildup to obvious stains, unclean fabrics simply don’t look as nice. Proper maintenance keeps your furniture visually appealing.

When upholstery gets dirty, the only solution is a complete cleaning process. Half-measures like vacuuming or spot cleaning alone just won’t cut it.

The Upholstery Cleaning Process Step-By-Step

Cleaning upholstery may sound straightforward, but there are right ways and wrong ways to get the job done. Follow these steps for furniture that looks, feels, and smells freshly cleaned.

1. Pre-Inspect Furniture

Before you start the actual cleaning work, take a few minutes to thoroughly inspect all upholstered items. This helps in several ways:

  • Identify problem areas or set-in stains needing extra attention
  • Determine the best cleaning method based on fabric types
  • Look for damage like loose threads or cushioning issues
  • Check tags for the manufacturer’s cleaning code recommendations

Make notes on specific areas to attend to or repairs needed so that you don’t forget.

Vacuuming the sofa

2. Vacuum First

Always start by thoroughly vacuuming all upholstered surfaces, including crevices and hard-to-reach spots. Use various vacuum attachments to lift and remove dirt, dust mites, crumbs, and other debris.

Vacuuming serves several important prep functions:

  • Lifts dirt so detergent can dissolve stains underneath
  • Removes loose particulates that could grind into fabric
  • Clears pet hair and lint to prevent matting
  • Allows cleaning solutions to penetrate better

3. Pre-treat Stains

Check your pre-inspection notes and tackle any major stains before the main cleaning. Using a specially formulated pre-treatment solution:

  • Identify stains – Circle stains so you know areas needing attention
  • Spot test first – Check an inconspicuous spot to ensure the solution won’t discolor or damage that fabric type.
  • Apply pre-spray – Lightly mist-stained and heavily soiled areas according to product directions. This helps lift stains so detergents work better.
  • Let dwell for 5-10 minutes – Give cleaners time to work before extraction.

The Spruce Housekeeping sets guidelines to set stains by treating spots immediately with towels, premixed solution, or aerosol spray before professional service.

4. Steam Clean Fabric

Now comes the deep cleaning process. While a few very delicate upholstery fabrics must stay dry, most do extremely well with hot water extraction cleaning. Here is the method:

  • Vacuum again – Go over all upholstery with the vacuum to remove any residual dirt or stains loosened by pre-sprays. This prevents them from redepositing during extraction.
  • Pretreat again – Quickly re-apply stain pre-treatment solution to any remaining marks noted during this vacuuming.
  • Extract with steam – Using a specialized steam cleaning wand and detergent, work over all fabric surfaces to inject steam and cleaning agents deep into the fibers. Extract immediately to lift stains and dirt back out.
  • Detail heavily used areas – Use smaller attachments to thoroughly steam clean cushioned armrests, backs, and seats. Slow down and make multiple overlapping passes to cover comprehensively.
  • Rinse with clean water – Switch out detergent for plain water and make finishing passes to rinse thoroughly. This prevents residue that attracts soil quickly. Check work until extraction water runs clean.
  • Groom nap – For deeper piled upholstery fabrics, brush the damp nap to realign fibers evenly as they dry. This maintains a uniform attractive texture.

5. Allow Proper Dry Time

Fabrics must dry completely before using furniture or even replacing cushions. Wet upholstery leads quickly to water rings, discoloration, fabric distortion, and potential mold issues.

  • Air out in sunlight – Open draperies to allow bright natural light to aid evaporation. Consider placing smaller damp items in direct outdoor sunlight.
  • Use air movers – Position commercial air movers to continually circulate fresh air across damp upholstery.
  • Check before replacing cushions – Upholstery beneath cushions must feel completely dry before replacing them. Even slight underlying moisture will breed mold.

Once thoroughly dry, the upholstery fabric looks brighter and feels soft and fresh again.

6. Consider Added Fabric Protection

For investment upholstery pieces getting regular use, add an extra anti-soil shield once thoroughly dry after cleaning. Options include:

  • Waterproofers – Protect from future food or beverage spills
  • Stain guard sprays – Repel oil and water-based stains
  • Microsuede treatments – Restore velvety softness and grip
  • Sunscreens – Guard lighter fabrics against UV damage

Reapplied once upholstery is clean and dry, these add durable invisible protection between professional fabric cleanings.

Know When to Call the Pros

While you can knock out small upholstery cleaning and spot jobs yourself with good results, some situations do require calling in certified upholstery cleaning pros.

Get an expert fabric cleaning service for:

  • Heavily soiled or neglected furniture – If upholstery wasn’t cleaned routinely over its lifetime, embedded dirt and stains often need professional strengths and methods.
  • Big projects – For whole-home fabric cleaning including living rooms, family rooms and dens with lots of seating and upholstered pieces tackle efficiently.
  • Valuable antique or delicate fabrics – Vintage or weaker delicate fabrics require specialized solutions and methods to clean effectively without risk of damage.
  • Water or smoking damage – Water promotes quick mold growth without fast expert extraction. Smoking residue causes lasting yellow stains and odors that need stronger treatments.
  • Pet urine contamination – More than surface cleaning, urine soaks deep into padding underneath upholstery requiring disinfection and odor sealants.

Don’t take risks DIY cleaning upholstery when health hazards or permanent damage could result. The cost of a professional upholstery cleaning service is worthwhile protecting your investment and air quality.

Maintain Different Upholstery Materials Properly

Not all fabrics clean the same, so it’s essential to match methods to your specific furniture pieces. Below are tips for properly caring for common upholstery types in home furnishings.


Most washable casual upholstered furniture uses durable, family-friendly cotton blends. Clean by:

  • Vacuuming regularly
  • Pre-treating stains quickly
  • Steam cleaning every 6-12 months

Cotton stands up well to hot water extraction cleaning and air drying.


Often used for family room furniture, easy-care microfiber resists stains, wear, and pilling. Keep it looking new by:

  • Vacuuming twice weekly
  • Treating spills immediately
  • Steam cleaning once a year
  • Applying microfiber treatment monthly


Naturally, stain-resistant linen gets softer and richer looking over time. Proper care includes:

  • Regular vacuuming
  • Spot-cleaning spills promptly
  • Steaming every year (or dry cleaning for silk linen)

Avoid over-wetting linen upholstery during cleaning.


Fine leather needs gentle care to maintain its supple feel and appearance.

  • Dust frequently
  • Wipe spills quickly
  • Clean with leather cleaner 2-4 times per year
  • Apply leather conditioner regularly

Never use steam or excess water to clean leather.


Luxurious velvet shows every speck of dust and lint. Care includes:

  • Weekly vacuuming
  • Immediate stain attention
  • Annual professional steam cleaning
  • Avoiding direct sunlight

Brush velvet nap during drying to prevent permanent crush marks.

Common Types of Upholstered Furniture

Upholstery fabric covers all types of furniture pieces throughout your home. Different upholstered items see varying wear and stains based on their function and location.


As primary seating gathering areas, sofas need frequent attention. Armrests in particular accumulate dirt, oil, food debris and drink spills from hands and snacking.  Sofa backs and seats also hold lots of shed skin cells and embedded lint and pet fur.

  • Vacuum cushions and under cushions weekly
  • Treat stains immediately
  • Steam clean every 6-12 months

Based on recommendations from the American Cleaning Institute, vacuum upholstery weekly and clean seats, arms, and backs thoroughly every 6-12 months.


Like sofas, upholstered chairs serve as prime seating areas prone to spills, dirt, and wear from daily use. Areas to focus on cleaning include:

  • Armrests
  • Cushion seats
  • Backs and sides
  • Under-seat cushions

Combat grime buildup with regular vacuuming, immediate stain treatment, and periodic deep steam cleaning.


With their abundance of cracks and crevices along multiple seating areas, sectional sofas easily collect an abundance of crumbs, pet fur, and other debris that must be cleaned out from below and behind cushions regularly.

Pay special attention to:

  • Middle-crease gunk traps
  • Area rugs underneath
  • Connection crevices


Upholstered ottomans typically feature padded cushion tops perfect for resting feet, so dirt, oils, and debris easily embed in the fabric. If serving double-duty storing blankets or board games inside, deep vacuuming and cleaning become even more critical.

Priority spots include:

  • Padded lids
  • Side and back panels
  • Inside floors and sides if used for storage

Accent Chairs

Accent chairs sprinkled through bedrooms, nurseries, and other living areas require regular dusting and vacuuming along:

  • Backs
  • Arm panels
  • Undersides
  • Chair legs
  • Fabric creases

Food and beverages pose less risk of stains in high-traffic areas, but regular deep cleaning still keeps them fresh.

FAQs: Upholstery Cleaning Checklists

What is the most important first step in cleaning upholstery?

The most critical first step is thoroughly vacuuming all fabrics to remove loose dirt, debris, pet hair, and dust mites before any liquid cleaning solutions make contact. Vacuuming paved the way for deeper cleaning penetration into fibers.

How often should you vacuum upholstered furniture?

Ideally, vacuum cushions, crevices, and surrounding areas of upholstered furniture at least weekly. Even pieces not in frequent use still manage to collect dust constantly settling within homes. Frequently traffic areas may need vacuuming every couple of days.

Why does upholstery need special stain removal products?

Specifically designed upholstery stain pre-treatment products contain enzymes, detergents, and grease cutters formulated to penetrate and lift typical embedded fabric stains – including food oils, grease, blood, perspiration, pet accidents, and mud. Without these special pre-sprays, stains often get “set” and bleach out color instead of lifting completely.

Should you spot clean upholstery stains or clean entire pieces?

Spot cleaning upholstery stains alone allows the surrounding fabric to become progressively dirtier in contrast. Thoroughly cleaning seating areas and backs makes the most difference in dirt removal and evening-out appearance. Plus, lifting stains without extracting may allow re-depositing.

How often does most upholstery fabric need deep cleaning?

Plan to deep clean all regularly used upholstery pieces every 6-12 months. Heavily trafficked furniture likely needs professional cleaning yearly to prevent ingrained dirt and gradual damage to fabrics. Cleaning intervals depend somewhat on whether homes include pets and children.

When should professionals handle upholstery cleaning?

Call for professional upholstery cleaning experts when dealing with expensive antique or delicate fabrics, specialty items like silk, suede, or velvet, pervasive odors like smoke or pets, challenging set stains, mold, or water damage. Their truck-mounted equipment, commercial detergents, and experience handle these jobs best.

What is the benefit of fabric protection products on upholstery?

Upholstery fabric protectants add an invisible layer of waterproofing and/or stain resistance to freshly cleaned fabrics. This added shield allows future spills to bead up or wipe away more easily while keeping dirt from taking hold again quickly between professional cleanings.

How long does upholstery fabric take to dry after cleaning?

Drying times range from just an hour or two for lightly misted pieces to overnight drying for heavier soiled projects requiring more intensive steam cleaning. Be sure any interior cushions get completely dry before replacing them. The undersides of seating cushions often take the longest to dry out.

Can you steam-clean real leather or suede upholstery?

No! Steam or water extraction cleaning should never be used on real leather, suede, velvet, or other delicate upholstery fabrics. The heat and excess moisture damage these materials. Only vacuum and use specially formulated leather or upholstery cleaners designed for those fabrics.

Upholstery Needs Love!

With the right methods and regular attention, you can keep every type of upholstered furniture looking its best for years of use. Follow these comprehensive care steps to renew dingy upholstery or maintain the beauty of brand-new pieces. Be sure to tailor methods to each fabric material in your home.

No one wants to relax on dirty, unhealthy-feeling upholstery! With some discipline on proper cleaning, your furniture will stay comfortable, sanitary, and always ready to impress guests. Implement weekly and monthly care along with periodic deep cleaning and you’ll maintain upholstery investments to pass on.

Leave the work to professionals!

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Omer Faruk Cevikol<br/><span id="position">Owner</span>
Omer Faruk Cevikol

Omer Faruk Cevikol is the owner of Next Day Cleaning. He aims to deliver the best cleaning services along with his dedicated team and the author of Next Day Cleaning blog. You can find Omer on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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