When it comes to cleaning your house, you're got it down to a near-perfect science. You're tossing out bed pillows that are past their prime , keeping out dirt and debris with clean window screens, and making sure your pantry is operating at its organizational peak.
But what about your couch? You can't toss the whole thing into the wash and call it a day, unfortunately. Your sofa is likely very large, possibly made of a finicky material (hello, linen or, gasp, leather), and probably an absolute magnet for pet hair and little colonies of crumbs. But the time has come to tackle the mess that is your musty stained, smelly couch, so take a deep breath and heed the advice of a few pros we've assembled for the job. Meet Angela Bell and Georgia Dixon, the Grove Guides at Grove Collaborative, a natural and sustainable cleaning company, and Bailey Carson, the Head of Cleaning and Home Improvement at Handy. Unfortunately, they're not literally doing the job for us, but they'll help see us through.
How to clean a couch: Remove pet hair, crumbs, and debris with ease
Before we dive into the deep end of our couch cushions, let's take a closer look at the surface. There might be a few stray pet hairs (or many, no shame) and some crumbs from last night's late night snack. These are no biggies and can be handled in a few ways, depending on how you like to clean, plus each tactic is simple enough that it can be done every few days, as needed.
"Using a vacuum with an upholstery head attachment is a great way to remove food particles so that they don't smudge any grease or food into the upholstery," Bell and Dixon say. "A good lint brush can be great for removing pet fur and dander, too, and a dustpan and brush can come in handy for larger debris on sturdier fabric." We like Grove Co.'s Full Circle Clean Team Dust Pan & Brush with it's hefty bristles for this exact task.
For a deeper-clean version of this quick fix, do a weekly sweep under each pillow and lift the cushions so your vacuum can do its job of making sure you leave no popcorn kernel behind.
1. Take a crash course in manufacturer tag language
Before you try to tackle a stain, it's important to read and understand those upholstery tags on your furniture (that you definitely didn't cut off . . . right?), Carson says. It can feel like these are written in alien, but if you somehow didn't major in manufacturer lingo, fear not, our pro has a cheat sheet.
"W stands for water, and means the furniture can be cleaned with water-based cleaning products. S stands for solvent, and means it should only be cleaned with a water-free product like a dry-cleaning solvent," Carson adds. "WS or SW means that the product can be cleaned with either water- or solvent-based cleaning products. X generally means that this product is challenging to clean and should be taken to an upholstery-cleaning professional."
2. Pay close attention to the material you're working with
Our couches come in many different shapes, sizes, and fabrics, but this doesn't necessarily mean we need an equal number of cleaning products and techniques.
"Using an enzyme-based stain remover can be great for many materials," Bell and Dixon advise, "just be sure to use a clean, damp cloth to gently blot or rub the fabric." This technique might do the trick on its own, but it also doubles as a pre-treatment for set-in stains on removable cushion covers that need to head to the laundry room.
Amazon shoppers in the tens of thousands love this Rocco & Roxie Supply Professional Strength Stain and Odor Eliminator, especially for pet stains. And blotting with OxiClean Laundry Stain Remover Spray as a pre-treat before your covers take a whirl in the wash has also given many of us caught with jam on our hands (and white sofas) wonderful results. Both are suitable for common couch materials like cotton, wool, or poly-blends.
It's no surprise, however, that "materials like leather and suede require more care and specific cleaners," the duo says. So be sure to look for products that specify these fabrics on their labels, like this cleaner from Leather Honey (which also cleans your leather-passing vinyl and plastic furniture, just in case you need to take care of those pieces, too).
3. Do a test-run for any liquid cleaner
Now that we know what we're working with, it's time to actually deal with that unsightly marinara stain on your taupe couch that totally kills the vibe of your chic and sophisticated living room, right? Not so fast.
When attempting to get a stain out of your couch with a liquid cleaner, Carson has one key piece of advice: "Always test cleaning products on an area you can't see before jumping right to spot-treatment," she implores. The best place for this can usually be found underneath your couch where the upholstery is pulled tight and stapled to the frame where no one will ever see it. It might take some maneuvering or even an extra set of hands to help lift the couch to get to this discreet location, but it will be worth it to know for sure how the material will react to your cleaner of choice.
4. Make your own non-toxic cleaner
Unless you're new here, you know we love a DIY hack born of pantry staples. So, if you still aren't sure which cleaning product is best for a specific stain or material, "mixing one cup warm water with one-quarter cup dishwashing soap is a great, non-toxic upholstery cleaner" for most fabrics, Carson advises. "Skim excess foam off the top, keep the solution away from wood accents, and be careful not to use too much water, as this can cause further staining and fabric shrinkage." And as always, do a spot test first.
5. Deep clean in your washing machine
After you've de-crumbed and eliminated nearly all proof that there's a pet in your house, spot-treated stains, and vacuumed up every corner and crevice of your couch, the last, monthly step is to head to the laundry room. If your sofa has removable cushions, which most do, one of the best ways to ensure a fresh smell and feel is to take those off and toss them into the wash — on the correct settings, of course.
"The best way to wash removable cushion covers is to run them in a separate, delicate cycle, with normal detergent in cold water," Bell and Dixon tell us. "Using a cold-water cycle will prevent the fabric from shrinking and will avoid setting any stains that you may be trying to remove."
Be sure that any zippers, buttons, or ties are "securely fastened before beginning the wash cycle so that there are no rips or damages," Carson adds, noting that these embellishments can easily snag the material while covers are tossed around inside the washing machine. "Always air-dry cushions, as a machine dryer tends to damage or shrink cushion cover materials."
6. Get your hands wet when need-be
If your cushion covers are vintage and delicate or a less sturdy fabric, like linen, utilizing your bathtub is a great alternative to the sometimes overwhelming power of a washing machine. Simply fill the tub with enough cool water to submerge cushion covers and use a delicate detergent, like Tide Free and Gentle or Grove Co. Care & Renew. "Let covers soak in the water and gently move them around to release dirt and odors," Bell and Dixon say. "After soaking, covers can be rinsed by hand in warm water, squeezed gently, and hung to dry."
After a few hours' drying time, your couch will be ready for reassembly and some much deserved lounging time. You've earned it!
7. Keep things cleaner, longer
Aside from instituting a no-pets-on-the-sofa rule and enforcing a new policy that restricts anyone in your household from eating on the couch (your own post-dinner ice cream ritual included), there's one more thing you can do to help keep your couch in tip top shape. If the material will be ok with it — don't forget about that handy spot test — using a protectant like the Scotchgard Fabric Water Shield to keep liquid-based stains from ever settling in on your furniture could be a great first line of defense.
Especially since we're already eyeing tonight's mint chocolate chip.
This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by Food52 editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.