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Home & garden.

Updated: 6 Sep 2021

How to clean a sofa

Spruce up your current sofa or keep your new one looking fresh with our sofa cleaning and maintenance advice
Paula Flores

Whether you ban food and drinks from your sofa, or eat your dinner on it every evening, here's some advice to keep it looking spick and span.

We asked more than 2,900 Which? members how regularly they cleaned their sofas. Almost a quarter cleaned their sofa once a month and the same number cleaned their sofa roughly once every few months. 

One in 10 have never cleaned their sofas – we can only assume they're better at managing spills than the rest of us. 

If, despite your best cleaning efforts, your sofa is looking a bit sad and worn out, it could be time for a new one. Head to our guide to the best sofa shops to find out which stores offer the greatest range of sofas, and the best customer service and value for money.

Sofa cleaning tips

Sofa stains can be annoying to look at, especially if your sofa is covered in a light fabric. Food (12%), hot drinks (8%) and pets (6%) are the most commonly reported culprits. 

And some fabrics are easier than others to clean. Our members found leather (18%) and velvet (6%) among the most difficult to clean.

Start with these general tips for best results. 

Firstly, you should always check the label and follow manufacturer’s instructions. Common cleaning codes below:

WCan be cleaned with water-based solutions
SShould be cleaned with solvent-based cleaners
WSCan be cleaned with either
XVacuum only

Another golden rule: attend to spills immediately to avert disaster. Use a paper towel, a clean, soft cloth or sponge to immediately soak up any spills, dabbing gently. Don’t rub at the stain as this only pushes the spillage deeper into the fabric – and of course makes it harder to clean.  

If the label says you can use water, wipe the stain lightly with a damp (not wet) cloth, and then immediately dry with a soft dry cloth.

When trying a new product, always apply it to a small, hidden area to test it first and check for any discoloration.

Discover the best fabric stain removers, including branded stain removers and home remedies. 

Leather sofas

Renowned for their durability, leather sofas are considered luxurious pieces that never go out of style. Leather sofas are among the most popular, with 29% of survey respondents owning one. It's far better to care for it regularly rather than give it the occasional deep clean.

Always start by reading the manufacturer's instructions as different types of leather have different requirements. 

Aniline leather, with its soft and natural feel, is considered a more delicate type of leather, so extra care is required. It needs to be treated differently to other, more durable, types of leather, such as corrected grain leather.

Light colour sofas require extra care as certain clothing dyes can transfer into the sofa.

Natural elements can damage any sofa, specially, leather ones. Avoid direct sunlight or being too close to a heat source: place your sofa at least 30cm away from a radiator or fireplace.

Cleaning your leather sofa

Start with vacuuming to remove any dirt and grit. Use a soft brush (or an old toothbrush) to reach crevices and nooks. These steps are essential for keeping your sofa in good condition. 

Next, wipe down the sofa using a clean cloth or microfibre to remove any dust build up. Some types of leather can be cleaned with a damp cloth but you should use distilled water. The minerals present in tap water can cause stains.

Every four weeks, use a leather cleaner. Nearly a quarter of our sofa owners use a specialist leather cleaner. Gently wipe down the whole sofa, using a circular motion.

Finally, using a leather conditioner will help you sofa keep its moisture and shine. Specialists recommend using this twice a year.

Velvet sofas

Known for its elegance and luscious feel, velvet sofas have become increasingly trendy in recent years. While most are no longer silk based, they will still need your care and dedication to keep their shine.

As with other materials, gentle vacuuming is key. You can also use a lint roller to pick up debris and dust.

Use a soft metallic brush,  designed for velvet, and give it a good brush in the direction of the pile. This will help your sofa maintain its sheen.

Check the manufacturer's label and, if the code is not X, use a handheld steamer to prevent marks and creases. Use it on a low setting do not steam any one spot for too long to avoid fabric damage. Gently brush it in the direction of the pile to lift and restore it. 

Fabric sofas

For most fabric sofas, the routine is similar to the other ones above.

After vacuuming your sofa, start by wiping down your cushions with a clean, damp (if your sofa fabric allows it) cloth to remove any dust and dirt, and stop any staining.

Fabric sofas tend to bobble, so a bit of weekly maintenance will stop it looking old before its time. A fabric shaver is the best option to take care of this task.

To remove any bad smells from your sofa, use baking soda. Lightly sprinkle it over the area, leave it for 15-20 minutes and then vacuum clean it.

How to maintain your sofa

Prevention can be easier (and cheaper) than cure. Top tips to keep your sofa looking showroom-fresh include:

  • To avoid fading, place furniture out of direct or prolonged periods of sunlight, and away from heat sources
  • Avoid cosmetic products, such as sun cream or body lotion, coming into contact with your upholstery
  • Beware of sharp objects such as studs, belt buckles and toys snagging fabric. Nearly a quarter of survey respondents whose leather sofas were damaged said their sofas were scratched. It's also best to avoid velcro coming into direct contact with sofas. 

Caring for your sofa

To maintain your sofa, you should vacuum or brush it weekly, as dirt accumulating on it can lead to the upholstery wearing and its colour dulling.  A proper clean every 12-18 months should keep your sofa looking better for longer. Find out more about how to vacuum furniture

Regularly plumping your cushions will prevent them from sagging as it brings air back into them. 

If cushions are removable, plump each one and give them a sideways shake. Once you’re done, remember to turn and rotate both seat and back cushions, if they're reversible, so they all get an even wear.

If you have fixed cushions, smoothing the cushions is important in order to redistribute the fillings and plump them back to shape. Start with your hands in the centre of the cushion and smooth outwards in opposite directions – first left and right, then top and bottom then diagonally.

Sofa protection plans are often offered at the point of sale. If you think it's worth the money, you can either take a plan out when you buy your sofa or buy it separately.  These range in price depending on the level of cover, from accidental stains only, to accidental damage and structural faults. 

You could also check whether accidental damage to your sofa – such as spills – are covered by your home insurance policy. 

Home insurance typically doesn't cover wear and tear, but might help pay for a new sofa if a major spill causes significant damage. 

Sofa reupholstery

If you've had your sofa for a while, and no amount of cleaning will make it look like new again, it could be worth getting it reupholstered instead of splashing out on a new one. 

There tend to be different options for upholstery depending on whether you want the whole sofa to be recovered or just the cushions or arms. Cushions often tend to sag: 38% of respondents who reported a fault with their sofa had this problem.

You could simply fill out sagging seat cushions with fresh feathers and extra foam to add plumpness and keep them looking firmer for longer. 

Another option is getting arm covers made for frayed or worn down arms. If you like the idea of a whole new look but like the shape of your existing sofa, it could still be cheaper to get the whole sofa reupholstered rather than buying a new sofa. 

Depending on the upholsterer you use, you may need to order and buy your own fabric. Others will look after the whole process for you from start to finish.

Don’t forget the inevitable delivery costs on top. And don't forget that you’ll be without a sofa for a short while. 

Consider a sofa with loose or removable covers

Loose covers help keep sofas looking like new, because they can be easily cleaned. You can buy an extra set of covers too – useful for when one set's at the dry cleaners, or if you just want to try out a new look. 

Always follow the specific care instructions provided on loose covered upholstery; there’s often a 3% allowance for shrinkage after the first clean.

If all your damage prevention and cleaning efforts have failed and it's simply time for a new sofa, take a look at our sofa shop reviews to discover the best places to buy a sofa.