Home Auto Family Finance Health & Beauty House & Home Insurance Legal Pets Professional Services School & Work Seasonal Shopping & Fun Sports & Fitness Vacations & Travel

Steam Cleaning Upholstery

Share with friends


Couches and chairs need periodic steam cleaning to be kept clean, fresh, and attractive. Over time, body oils and sweat become embedded in the upholstery and can dull colors, affect texture, and cause musty odors. Untreated, spills of any kind will leave stains that diminish the looks of a piece of furniture. Even dust from the air settles onto upholstered furniture where it gets ground into the fibers. Properly steam cleaning upholstery will renew its look and give it an almost new appearance.

Vacuuming and Treating Stains

Before steam cleaning any furniture, it should be vacuumed well. Any removable cushions should be taken out and vacuumed on all sides. The area under the cushions will need vacuumed, and a crevice attachment can help reach inside any spaces. The back of the furniture, even if it’s usually against a wall, will benefit from vacuuming as well.

If any spots or stains are on the upholstery, it is often helpful to spray them with a pre-treating stain remover before beginning the actual steam cleaning. The product directions will explain how long the pre-treatment should be left, usually about three to five minutes.

Steam Cleaning Upholstery

Whether you own or rent a carpet cleaning machine, its instruction manual should be carefully read and followed. The manual will tell how to adjust the machine so that it is using the upholstery attachments instead of the main floor cleaner. Different models will have varying sizes and styles of upholstery attachments. Most will have brushes to help gently rub the cleanser into the fabric and to loosen embedded dirt. Some attachments have stationary brushes, while others have motorized rotating brushes. The rotating brushes are more effective at lifting out tough soils, but they may be too harsh for some types of upholstery.

It’s usually simplest if the furniture is cleaned in sections. One arm should be completely cleaned, for example, before moving on to a section of the back. The cushions are easiest to clean when they’re kept separate from the couch or chair itself. Ordinarily, only the top and front side of each cushion will need to be steam cleaned. If you clean the bottoms as well, it’s a good idea to allow one side to fully dry before cleaning the other side.

As when cleaning a carpet, cleaning solution will be dispensed from the steam cleaning machine and then suctioned. The solution and hot water work together to loosen soils from upholstery, and vigorous scrubbing is not usually necessary. In fact, excess friction can actually damage some upholstery fabrics.

Once each section of the furniture has been cleaned, the upholstery can be left to air dry. The cushions should be left separate from the furniture and placed in an area where air can reach all wet surfaces. Fans can be turned on and, if the weather is pleasant, windows can be opened to help the upholstery dry more quickly. It’s not usually a good idea to turn a heat source directly onto the furniture, though, because of the fire risk. With circulating air, most upholstered furniture will be completely dry in six to eight hours.


Not all upholstery can be steam cleaned, and it’s essential to check the furniture’s manufacturer tags before beginning any cleaning process. If the tags have an X code, water will permanently damage the fabric and the furniture should not be steam cleaned. This type of upholstery can be dry cleaned by a professional, however.

Furniture with tags stating SW, meaning “Solvent and Water Safe,” can be safely steam cleaned. Most upholstery falls into this category, but if the tags are missing or you have any doubts, the furniture manufacturer or a professional cleaning service should be able to help determine the type of upholstery you have.

Before using any cleaning solution or stain pre-treater, it’s necessary to test the product on a hidden area of upholstery. The solution should be applied to an inconspicuous area and wiped away with a damp cloth. After about 24 hours, the area should be checked for any changes in color or texture.

To keep couches and chairs looking their very best, an overall steam cleaning can be done about once a year. How frequently the furniture is used will naturally affect how often it should be cleaned.

Share with friends