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A Guide to Cleaning Upholstery at Home

There are many products in our homes, closets, and dressers that require special care. From hand washing delicates like a lace tablecloth to air drying wool sweaters to avoid shrinkage, somewhere in the long list of items that you can’t just throw into the washing machine or scrub with soapy water sits cleaning upholstery and upholstered furniture.

Upholstery may seem like one of those household items that is very easy to ruin, and, it’s true if some care isn’t taken, you may end up with discoloration or a lackluster end result. The good news is, there are some easy steps for cleaning upholstery at home that will keep dining chairs, upholstered benches, sofas, and accent chairs looking like new after years of use.

Steps to Cleaning Upholstery at Home

  1. Start With a Cleaning Solution
  2. Spot Clean
  3. Rinse
  4. Dry
  5. Fight Odor with Fresh Wave Spray

What is Upholstery Fabric?

If you aren’t sure how to clean upholstery or where to begin, the approach may come into focus a bit more once you understand what manufacturers mean by “upholstered fabric.” 

While the term “upholstery” doesn’t refer to one specific type of fabric, the term is universally associated with furniture. Specifically, upholstery refers to all of the materials used to pad, insulate, and cover the furniture’s frame. Drilling down even further, these materials often include coils, plastic, foam, and webbing — think about the soft resistance you feel when you push the palm of your hand down on the seat of an accent chair or a couch cushion.

Because upholstery can refer to such a stark contrast of materials, it’s important to understand that certain cleaning agents that may work on plastic and metal may not be effective to use on fabric, and vice versa. That’s why when cleaning upholstery at home, it’s important to understand exactly what types of materials are included in your particular piece of furniture and proceed from there.

Keep to the Code

Luckily, upholstered products like couches, dining chairs, benches, and so on, all come with a specific code furniture manufacturers have been using since the 1960s to inform homeowners how to clean upholstery without compromising any of the material.

Code W Upholstery

If you flip over your accent chair or locate the couch cushion with the tag showing the manufacturer’s information, you should be able to find the upholstery cleaning code along with a percentages breakdown of all of your furniture’s materials.

Code W is arguably one of the easiest upholstered items to clean, because the “W,” in this case, refers to “water.” That means that you can safely clean and get stains out of upholstery with this specific code using water-based cleaning agents.

Simply add your favorite water-based cleaner and filtered water to your vacuum, and spot treat or deep clean accordingly with your carpet/upholstery attachment. Code W furniture is the most durable and easiest to clean, so routine spot treatments and once a year cleaning should effectively maintain this type of furniture for years to come.

Code S Upholstery 

You can only clean code S upholstery with a dry cleaning solution that does not contain water. In fact, if you try to use a water-based solution to get stains out of upholstery with code S, you may actually make the stain worse, cause fading, or even create additional stains on your upholstery.

Using a cleaning agent with the incorrect base is one of the most common mistakes homeowners make when cleaning upholstery at home. If you’re unsure whether or not the cleaning solution you want to use is correct for the type of furniture you wish to clean, you can add a very small amount of the solution to a discrete area and check to see if it causes discoloration.

A word of warning with this method, however: the small amount may not be enough to make a noticeable change. It’s always best to locate the manufacturer’s tag and clean accordingly after some research.

Code S/W Upholstery

Upholstery with an “S/W” cleaning code can be cleaned with both a dry cleaning solution and a water-based solution. While it might appear that furniture with this code is the most resilient, many furniture technicians and manufacturers recommend calling a professional to clean code S/W furniture because it requires a very specific mixture of chemicals that homeowners may not be able to achieve with household cleaning solutions.

If you own any S/W upholstery, make sure to place these items in low traffic areas of the home and clean stains with a solvent-based furniture cleaner as soon as they occur. This way, you’ll keep stains from setting and alleviate the need to subject delicate furniture to regular cleaning that might be damaging.

Code X Upholstery 

Code X indicates that the furniture cannot be cleaned with liquid cleaners and should only be cleaned by a professional or the homeowner’s vacuum. While code X upholstery is a relatively rare category, it goes without saying that if your home contains any of the items, the best way to keep this upholstery clean is to call a professional. That way you’ll avoid accidentally damaging the item and increase its longevity.

How to Keep Your Upholstery Clean

Start with a Cleaning Solution

Once you know the type of cleaning code you’re working with, you’ll have a much better idea of the types of tools and cleaning products you’ll need for the job. For both code W and code S, use a microfiber cloth or a sponge to wipe your cleaning solution along the grain of your furniture’s upholstery.

When you’ve adequately covered the surface of your couch, chair, or dining chairs with your cleaning solution, you can rewet your sponge or cloth and sweep the solution against the grain of your furniture to clean the fibers from a different angle. **Important Note: To keep upholstery looking like new, avoid using tap water when you clean. The chemicals and treatments in tap water can actually cause premature fading, leave water marks, and even stain some upholstery.

Spot Clean

Getting stains out of upholstery is also an essential step to keep it looking clean. If you notice any stains, simply saturate the area with your cleaning solution and push into the fabric with a dry cloth or sponge to lift the stain out of the fibers as it absorbs. For really tricky stains, it may be necessary to consult a professional and have the spots professionally treated.


Once you’ve treated any spots, get a fresh sponge or cloth wet with room temperature water and repeat the steps you followed to clean your upholstery in order to rinse away the cleaning solution. You don’t have to clean upholstery often, but it’s important to do it on occasion to ensure that the furniture you use the most stays clean.


There’s really nothing to drying your upholstery, once it’s been thoroughly cleaned. All you really need to do is set up an oscillating fan or place the item of furniture in an area with cross-ventilation. Avoid using a direct heat source like a hair dryer as this can cause discoloration. Some sources say code S upholstery dries more evenly with direct heat, but just to be sure, avoid exposure to temperatures that could damage the fabric fibers.

Fight Odor

For code W furniture in particular, another great way to keep upholstery clean is to get rid of couch smell or fight any lingering odors that you may notice on furniture in high traffic areas like entryway benches, dining chairs, and so on.

Simply spray Fresh Wave Odor Eliminating Fabric Spray on fabric cushions, seats, and armrests, and the fresh essence of Fresh Wave’s plant oils naturally absorb any stubborn odors that persist after cleaning.

Note: mist a little Fresh Wave Spray on a hidden area to spot test.

If you prefer a more long-term solution, you can place Fresh Wave Odor Removing Gel and Candles around high traffic areas to counter any smells that may build up in furniture cushions and carpeting over time. Fresh Wave makes it easy to fight odors anywhere in your house, and now we want to equip homeowners with the tools necessary for cleaning and eliminating odors in those tough-to-clean places, and those tough-to-clean items.

Check out our blog for more tips like how to clean upholstery and try Fresh Wave so you can experience the freshness yourself.