How To Spot Clean Aged or Set-In Stains in Upholstered Furniture

You’ve Made a Mess? The Science of Dealing with Stains on Upholstered Furniture

We’ve all been there before!


Sunday, rainy weather, a cup of hot coffee to start the day. You sit on your suede sofa, eagerly taking your first sip. A bit too eagerly, in fact, because the contents of your mug are now all over the furniture. Congratulations, you’ve made a mess – now what?

Whether the furniture that took the hit was passed down from generations or is brand new, there are still a couple of steps you can take to (hopefully) erase the stains from existence. Let’s start with the very first thing you need to do to refresh the fabric in the event of an “Uh-oh” situation.


Blot the Stain As Soon As (Humanly) Possible!

This method, of course, will yield the best results if the stain you’re dealing with is still fresh. Just take a piece of dry white cloth and gently soak in the stain (no scrubbing, please) until no more liquid is being absorbed. Speed here is key – the more you prolong this procedure, the more time your stain will have to cover extra ground. And you definitely don’t want that to happen.

A neat stain-blotting tool also comes in the form of baby wipes (if you don’t have a kid, your local pharmacy has you fully covered). When used carefully, they are able to absorb spills and stains almost by sorcery, and are dry and soft enough to achieve this without damaging your fabric.


Adhere to the Holy Code of Cleaning.

No, this has (fortunately) nothing to do with the Spanish Inquisition. The cleaning code is a small label that is often located at an inconspicuous spot of your furniture, usually on its side or under the seat cushions. A quick look at it will tell you the type of fabric that your upholstery sports, as well as its colours and, more importantly – how it should be treated in cases like these. For instance, some fabrics are okay to clean with water, while others will require special powders. Here is a quick reference guide in case you’re still clueless on how to clean your upholstery:

  • Label with “W” – you are free to use a liquid detergent to battle the stains;
  • Label with “S” – cleaning your furniture will require a dry cleaning solvent;
  • Label with “WS” – water-based or water-free products can be both applied;
  • Label with “X” – to be vacuumed or brushed only; call a pro for tougher stains.

Check out these two pages for more details ( here ) & ( here )

Pick Up Your Trusty Vacuum Cleaner!

Before you ask – no, the regular attachment will not cut it. If you’re going to clean your delicate upholstery, make sure to use a soft brush attachment to avoid nasty scratches. Even if the stain is too tough to be cleaned up with just the vacuum cleaner, doing so will help remove some of the surface dust and dirt and give the other products a better chance of removing the spillage. If you’re dealing with old stains, vacuuming them will most likely cause their colours to fade.

Loosen Up the Stain By Letting Off Some Steam.

Not literally, of course – if anything, lounging on your couch will only make matters worse. What you can do, however, is to fetch your electric iron and switch it on the “steam” setting. This is a great way to loosen up small individual stains. If the blemish is sizeable, though, it’s a better idea to either buy or book professional upholstery cleaning to deal with the sticky situation.  Alternatively, if you have a portable spot cleaner to hand, you will be able to simply remove without to much hassle.


Give Stains the Water Treatment (If Possible)

“Don’t use this method to clean suede, leather or other delicate upholstery fabrics!” D.Kara from Fantastic Cleaners London says.

If the simple tricks listed so far did not make your situation any better, perhaps you should consider giving the water-dish soap strategy a go. Simply take a bit of dish soap and dilute it in warm water. Next, pour some of that mixture on a dry sponge and gently blot the spots. Finally, have another go at it using just water to remove any leftover soap, then press a clean cloth or a paper towel against the stained area to absorb the remaining moisture. That’s all there is to it.


Scour Your Kitchen with a Bottle of Vodka/Vinegar?

If water is out of the question, but the cleaning code states that you can use liquid products, do yourself a favour and discover the magical properties of vodka or vinegar. The process, as with most cleaning methods here, is quite simple.

You grab a bottle of your chosen substance, pour some on a clean cloth and blot the stains, leave your upholstery to dry out naturally, and drink the rest (preferably the vodka) in celebration of the stain’s defeat. If you’re still sober, make sure to also open all windows to get rid of the unpleasant smell, especially if you’re expecting visitors.


Homemade Citrus Enzyme Cleaner

If you do not want to go out and buy products from the shop that often advertise about special abilities and unbeatable results that we all know is not always the case then how about trying a home made cleaner? In this article by Tips Bulletin “7 DIY Homemade Carpet Shampoo Recipes” they have put together a whole bunch of different recipes that can be used for carpets and fabrics and certainly worth a read. The one below for example almost sounds edible!

DIY Citrus-Enzyme Cleaner Recipe

  • Seven tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 ½ cups lemon and orange peels
  • 1-liter water
  • A large bottle or clear container to hold the liquid and peels


Shop for Heavy Duty Detergents (Only As a Last Resort)

Choose your cleaning arsenal wisely

What product you’ll end up getting will mostly depend on the fabric, from which your furniture is made of, as well as on the type of stain you’re facing. However, choosing the right one can be a bit tricky since there are so many types of fabrics out there: wool, linen, silk, or acrylic instantly come to mind. Some types of furniture even consist of several types of fabric mashed together!

This is why having a cleaning tag can be really beneficial. If yours is missing for some reason (you bought second hand furniture or its presence simply annoyed you), then we suggest turning to professional upholstery cleaners who will have the knowledge and the proper equipment to identify your fabric. For instance, just because you know that what you’ve spilled is red wine doesn’t mean that your upholstery will be perfectly fine putting up with a harsh wine detergent.

Test before you clean the rest

Even if you had the pleasure of reading your cleaning label and purchasing just the right product for your protein, oil, or grease stain, don’t be so quick to use the thing just yet. A good rule of thumb is to test the detergent on a remote, nobody-will-ever-think-of-checking-there spot to ensure that it will not mess with your upholstery’s natural colouration. This goes double if you’ve been using your furniture for a while – it’s very easy to end up with blindingly bright spots.

Defeat the stain with persistence

Is the blemish still standing despite all your valiant efforts? This may sound a bit pointless, but giving your furniture another rigorous clean after it has dried can do wonders. A great example is cleaning ketchup stains. Just try to keep your calm while doing so – forceful scrubbing will only result in a professionally ruined piece of furniture. Treat the stains as many times as needed and you’ll take them down eventually.


Short video on some of the methods mentioned here

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