Tips for Spot Cleaning Old and Worn-in Upholstery Stains

The upholstered furniture you have in your living areas can take a lot of wear and tear. It’s actually one of the hardest things to clean in our homes. Even if you and your family are extra careful, spills and stains are inevitable.

The best way to prevent upholstery stains in sofas, chairs, ottomans, benches, and other fabric-covered pieces is to know what to do when stains happen. You can avoid having a tough stain to deal with when you work fast. But if you already have old and worn-in stains on your upholstery, there is still hope to make them look pristine once again.

These are some valuable tips on how to spot clean your upholstery:

1. Vacuum often

A woman vacuuming the couch

Upholstery must be vacuumed frequently to keep the fabric in good shape and keep the dust and crumbs from settling into the body of the furniture. Dirt affects not only the looks of your furniture but can also wear away upholstery fibers. In the case of old stains, it’s surprising how much a simple vacuuming can help fade the stain. Always use a clean and dry upholstery attachment or any stiff-bristle brush to loosen up dried dirt and debris.

Vacuuming must be your first step in dealing with old stains because you don’t really know how bad the stain truly is until all the loose particles have been sucked away by the vacuum.

2. Blot the stain as soon as possible

This method works a lot if the stain you’re dealing with is still fresh. Take a piece of dry white cloth and gently soak in the stain until no more liquid is being absorbed. Speed is critical here – the more you prolong, the more your stain will set.

3. Use baby wipes for quick DIY cleaning

Baby wipes are surprisingly effective for quick cleaning of stains. It’s great for cotton, leather, or polyester upholstery, as it offers a gentle mixture of soap and water with very little moisture. Keep a pack of wipes in the living room for instant spot removal whenever spills happen. It’s more effective when you act quickly, so the stain will be out before it even has time to set.

However, you must always test it first on an inconspicuous area to make sure it doesn’t damage the fabric.

4. Refer to the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions

Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions and fabric cleaning codes to prevent fading or damage to your upholstery fabric. You can find the codes in a small label often located at an inconspicuous spot of your furniture – usually under or on the side of the seat cushions. It will tell you the type of fabric the upholstery is made of, its colors, and how it should be treated. Here’s a quick reference in case you’re clueless about what the codes mean:

  • “W” – It means you are free to use water and detergent. Remove the cushion covers and launder them according to the care instructions.
  • “S” – It means cleaning the furniture requires a non-water-based solvent, such as alcohol. Spray it on lightly, then blot with a clean cloth or sponge.
  • “WS” – It means you’re fine using either water or solvents.
  • “X” – It means to be vacuumed or brushed only. You need to call a pro to clean up tough stains.

If your furniture lacks a cleaning code, do a simple spot test on a hidden part of the upholstery.

5. Try steaming

If your upholstery furniture can be cleaned with water, hit the stain with a bit of steam to loosen it up and make the stain more responsive to treatment. You can use your iron and use the steam button for this application.

6. Give stains a water-dish soap treatment

An orange couch being cleaned with a sponge and spray-in solution

If the tricks stated above won’t so, perhaps you can consider the water-dish soap strategy a go. To do this, take a bit of dish soap, then dilute it in warm water. Then, pour some of that mixture into a dry sponge. Gently blot the stains. Then, repeat the procedure using just water to remove the leftover soap. Once you’re done, press a clean cloth or a paper towel to absorb the remaining moisture.

Use vodka or vinegar

If water is out of the question, but liquid products can be used, you can use vodka or vinegar. Simply pour some on a clean cloth and blot the stains. Then, leave your upholstery to dry naturally. Make sure to open the windows or provide enough ventilation to eliminate the unpleasant smell.

7. Clean upholstery gently

When dealing with tough, set-in stains, don’t scrub. Scrubbing could only grind the stain further to the fibers of the fabric or even cause damage. Using a stain remover, let it sink and set, then blot it away gently. Use a soft, microfiber cloth for blotting instead of using a bristled brush or a coarse fabric. If the upholstery fibers are stiff after cleaning, use a soft brush to loosen them up.

8. Know how to remove common upholstery stains

The proper treatment you need to apply doesn’t only depend on the upholstery material but also on what caused the stain. If your upholstery is OK with being cleaned with water and liquid agents, here’s how you can deal with different kinds of stains that have set in your furniture:

  • Coffee stain – Create a mixture of vinegar and water of equal parts. Add a little dish detergent and then blot it in with a clean cloth.
  • Beer stains – Prepare a solution of half a liter of water and a tablespoon of vinegar. Apply it to the stain and wait for a couple of minutes. Rinse it using clean water, and leave it to dry.
  • Red wine stains – Sprinkle the stained area with salt, then blot with lemon juice or hydrogen peroxide. Rinse it up by blotting it with water.
  • Jam or marmalade stains – Treat the stain with a solution of soap and vinegar. Blot it with a cotton cloth soaked in warm water.
  • Blood stains – It’s best to clean up the blood before it gets dry using a cotton cloth gently dampened by cold water. But if the stain has set, blot it with hydrogen peroxide, then water.
  • Grease or oil stains – Sprinkle the stain with salt. Let it sit, then dab the area with soap and water. Alternatively, you can use rubbing alcohol instead of salt.

If you need more information, check out how to deal with the hardest stains to remove on furniture.