Cleaning Different Kinds of Upholstery: How to Clean Upholstered Furniture

Colorful Upholstery (Photo courtesy by Dacia Ray from Flickr)
Colorful Upholstery (Photo courtesy by Dacia Ray from Flickr)
Walnut Bench with Upholstery (Photo courtesy by jimmothy05 from Flickr)
Walnut Bench with Upholstery (Photo courtesy by jimmothy05 from Flickr)

What is Upholstery?

The term ‘upholstery' originated from the words ‘up' and ‘holden', or ‘to hold up.' Upholstery is the work that provides furniture (particularly seats and beds) with the following: padding, springs, webbing, and fabric/leather covers. However, the word ‘upholstery' is commonly used to refer to the covering of domestic furniture; and also in automobiles and boats.

Upholstery has 4 Main Categories:

  1. Frames
  2. Spring Support Systems
  3. Cushion, Pillows, Padding, and Fills
  4. Fabrics and Leathers

Automobile upholstery is typically made of leather and often comprises the interior of the car, including: soft furnishings, carpets, soft tops and roof linings.

Marine upholstery has to be resistant to dampness, sunlight, and other factors related to the sea. Common materials are vinyl or any other material that has protection to UV and hot/cold weather.

Automobile Upholstery (Photo courtesy by jasonEscapist from Flickr)
Automobile Upholstery (Photo courtesy by jasonEscapist from Flickr)
Marine Upholstery (Photo courtesy by MalibuImages from Flickr)
Marine Upholstery (Photo courtesy by MalibuImages from Flickr)
Wooden Chair with Green Upholstery - and a Cat (Photo courtesy by tricoteuse from Flickr)
Wooden Chair with Green Upholstery - and a Cat (Photo courtesy by tricoteuse from Flickr)

Upholstery Framework

The frame, usually made of wood, is the life of upholstered furniture (or the ‘soul' because the framework is often unseen). The legs and the arms of chair usually seen outside the upholstery are called "show wood."

Common hardwoods used are: oak, alder, and other tightly-grained woods.

3 Techniques Used on Upholstery Frame:

  • Joints - one piece of frame wood intersects to another part of the frame at particular angle.
  • Blocking - additional blocks of wood are placed behind or diagonal to joints and corners for support.
  • Dowelling - alternative to blocking, where two dowels are drilled, hammered, and glued into wood for extra support and strength to frame. Nails, screws, and fasteners are also used.

Upholstered Couch (Photo courtesy by mobil'homme from Flickr)
Upholstered Couch (Photo courtesy by mobil'homme from Flickr)

Upholstery Spring Support Systems

The spring system is installed after frame construction. A spring system with top layer of padding installed is called "seat deck."

2 Types of Spring Support System:

  • Standard springs - have formal and firm ‘sit'; move only to up-and-down direction.
  • Eight-way hand tied springs - have even and individual ‘seat'; move to up-and-down and side-to-side direction.

Fabrics and Leathers

The term ‘textile' is used to both upholstery materials: fabrics and leathers.

2 Types of Upholstery Textile:

  • Fabric should be tightly-woven to wear longer. This could be heavier than the loose weave of natural fibers but lasts longer.
  • Leather is durable and improves after a while of use. Leather comes in different color, pattern, texture, and polish.

Upholstered Chair - Tufted (Photo courtesy by Johnson Upholstery from Flickr)
Upholstered Chair - Tufted (Photo courtesy by Johnson Upholstery from Flickr)

Grand Rapids, Michigan is considered as the ‘Furniture City' because many of the best upholsterers are found there.

Upholstered Furniture with Wooden Arms (Photo courtesy by Plumbs from Flickr)
Upholstered Furniture with Wooden Arms (Photo courtesy by Plumbs from Flickr)
Cleaning the Upholstered Couch (Photo courtesy by askmaxvalue from Flickr)
Cleaning the Upholstered Couch (Photo courtesy by askmaxvalue from Flickr)

Cushion, Pillows, Padding, and Fills

Cushion, pillows, padding, and fills are installed after completion of frame and springs system. Cushions and pillows are usually sewn into cotton cases and put on top of the seat deck. Common materials include: polyester, feather/down, buckwheat hulls, and synthetic down.

Whipped Laundry Detergent Powder (Photo courtesy by giantjeansparlor from Flickr)
Whipped Laundry Detergent Powder (Photo courtesy by giantjeansparlor from Flickr)
Upholstery Cleaner (Photo courtesy by chinadoll from Flickr)
Upholstery Cleaner (Photo courtesy by chinadoll from Flickr)
Sucking Pet Hair from Upholstery (Photo courtesy by LCWA1 from Flickr)
Sucking Pet Hair from Upholstery (Photo courtesy by LCWA1 from Flickr)

How to Care for Upholstery

Upholstery furniture needs regular cleaning and attention so that it will last longer. Professional cleaning services can be a bit expensive so knowing some helpful tips on how to clean upholstery can be handy to furniture owners.

Stains are easy to remove when attended to at once. Spills may not cause permanent damage when blotted with clean and absorbent cloth.

Upholstery manufacturers normally put tags that have suggested cleaning methods. The industry standard cleaning codes are listed below:

  • W - Use foam or water-based cleaning agents. Use only distilled water - not tap water, which often contains minerals causing ringed or faded stains.
  • S - Use mild and water-free cleaning solvents. No water. Always dry clean in whole, not parts.
  • SW - Use foam and water-based cleaning agents. Use very mild water-free cleaning solvent. No tap water - only distilled water.
  • X - Use only vacuum or brush lightly to remove dirt. Do not use water, foam, and any liquid cleaning agents.

Important: Use the S cleaning code for pre-washed upholstery fabric.

Cute Upholstery Cleaner (Photo courtesy by ehmeelu from Flickr)
Cute Upholstery Cleaner (Photo courtesy by ehmeelu from Flickr)

More Tips on Upholstery Care

  • Avoid placing upholstered furniture under direct sunlight.
  • Plump the cushions regularly, or rearrange if possible, to distribute wear.
  • Vacuum upholstered furniture weekly.
  • Annual cleaning by professional services is recommended.
  • Spray fabric protection sparingly.
  • Do not leave newspapers and other printed materials on the upholstery to prevent ink bleeds/stains.

How to Remove Pollen from Upholstery

Basic Steps on Cleaning Upholstery Fabric

  1. Scrape off excess soil using a dull knife or spoon.
  2. Perform a pre-test of any cleaner on a hidden spot of the upholstery to make sure that it will not cause shrinking or fading. Always consult the fabric code.
  3. Do not remove cover of cushions. Do not soak.
  4. Use foam sparingly. Do not use strong chemicals and/or detergents.
  5. Rub gently using soft cloth or sponge. Do not scrub.
  6. Rapid drying is important. Rinse off the soap using a damp sponge.
  7. Use vacuum cleaner to remove excess moisture and help hasten up drying process.

How to Remove Upholstery Stains

Fabric protection is not a complete shield against stains and dirt. Spraying the solvent to upholstery only minimizes the risk of getting soiled and/or stained permanently. Regular cleaning is still required to extend the life of upholstery fabrics. Fabric protection is recommended to use on upholstered furniture placed outside the house, such as in the outdoor kitchen.

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Tips on How to Remove Different Stains

  • Red Wine - Try to act fast. Blot out the spilled wine with absorbent cloth. On persistent stains, blot/dash/spray mixture of soap detergent and hydrogen peroxide on the stained area (2:2 ratio). Note: hydrogen peroxide can cause fading so use it carefully and sparingly.
  • Juice or Mustard (and Other Organic Dyes) - Use the rinse-and-blot-rinse method on the stained area with vinegar-water mixture (1:3 ratio - 1 Tbsp vinegar and 3 Tbsp water). Use water-based cleaner.
  • Blood - Use the rinse-blot-rinse technique with salt-and-water solution (mix 2 Tbsp table salt and 1 quart water). With sturdy stains, apply water-diluted hydrogen peroxide on the stained spot.
  • Butter - Apply dry solvent (commercially prepared for greasy stains) to a clean cloth and blot the spot. Use mixture of 1 Tbsp detergent with 1 cup of water - to finish off the stain. Then, wash off both the solvent and mixture with damp cloth. Do not rub. Just blot everything out.
  • Cheese - Wet a soft cloth with mixture of mild detergent with warm water. Blot the stained area. Then, blot the spot again with the ammonia-water solution (mix 1 Tbsp ammonia and ½ cup water). To rinse, blot with clean water using clean cloth. Dry the spot thoroughly.
  • Ink - Spray hairspray solution on the spot; and use the rinse-blot-rinse technique to wash off.

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Tips on How to Clean Upholstery Leathers

  • Upholstery leathers are prone to fading when exposed to direct sunlight and/or heat. Try to arrange the furniture away from windows whenever possible.
  • Regular dusting and vacuuming are the only care that upholstery leathers need because they are preserved permanently during the tanning process.
  • Wipe up spills at once. Wash off with lukewarm water using the rinse-blot technique. Wipe off moisture with absorbent cloth.
  • Use very mild soap and lukewarm water to remove stains. Rinse-and-blot with clean water and wipe with clean cloth thoroughly.

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Comments 8 comments

Uriah Fable profile image

Uriah Fable 7 years ago from Rhode Island, USA

WOW! Had no idea so much could be involved in removing stains from upholstery. Maybe if I had read something like this months ago, I wouldn't have had to flip the sofa cusion over to hide the stain! (shhhshhh...the wife doesn't know yet, hopefully she never will) Nice hub!


queen cleopatra profile image

queen cleopatra 7 years ago Author

Ha-ha! Maybe you should remove the stains now while your wife doesn't know yet :D


moonlake profile image

moonlake 6 years ago from America

Good information. Enjoyed your hub. Love the first sofa picture. As you can see I love mix and match upholstered sofas and chairs.


designer upholstery fabric 6 years ago

Awesome information. I never thought about removing body oil stains from my couch. It just never occurred to me that it can and should be done.

I probably would have kept my old couch longer if I had cleaned it from time to time. Once again, thanks for the information!


Christine 2 years ago

Thank you for the information, but do you have a way to remove short dog hair from the decking of a leather sofa? It's boggles my mind how much hair is in the decking where the cushion cracks are, and the dog isn't even allowed on the furniture! Vacuuming is the answer.


Christine 2 years ago

I meant "isn't the answer."


queen cleopatra profile image

queen cleopatra 2 years ago Author

Wear a rubber glove and rub the dog hair to form into balls. They will be easier to vacuum. Thank you for the question. :)


nathalia27 profile image

nathalia27 17 months ago

Thanks for this great information.

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