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How to clean a sofa in 6 easy steps

Sofa in need of a spruce up? Here's our step-by-step guide to cleaning your couch.

By Poppy O'Neill | Last updated Mar 7, 2024

how to clean a sofa

Our sofas get a lot of use, but it’s safe to say they’re not very easy or convenient to clean. Just like mattresses, your sofa needs to be cleaned periodically to keep it clean, hygienic and looking its best for longer. 

Mumsnet has a wealth of wisdom on some of the trickiest household jobs - whether you’re wondering how to get rid of clothes moths or the best way to clean hard floors, we’ve got you covered. 

If your sofa’s due a spruce up, you’ve come to the right place. Whether you have a fabric or leather sofa, here’s our guide to the best and easiest way to clean your sofa. 

How often should you clean your sofa?

This question depends on a number of things - whether you have pets, if anyone in your family is sensitive to allergens and how much the sofa gets used. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to give your sofa a proper clean every six months to keep on top of bacteria, allergens and prolong your sofa’s lifespan. 

If you happen to have removable covers on your sofa, you’ll know that while you are able to chuck them in the washing machine, this doesn’t deal with dust and bacteria in the cushions. Giving the covers a thorough wash twice a year is a good start, but it’s important to vacuum the fabric and cushions underneath too. 

How to clean a fabric sofa

If your sofa's made of fabric - including velvet or microfibre - you might think cleaning it will be a complicated task. The good news is, it's really quite simple - follow these six steps to a spotless sofa.

1. Brush

How to clean a sofa

Using a soft-bristled brush, gently brush your sofa to remove any dust, hair and debris on its surface. Don't be too heavy-handed, as this can be counterproductive. You want to sweep all the dirt off rather than grind it into the fabric.

2. Vacuum

Vacuuming a sofa

If your vacuum cleaner has an upholstery attachment, now's its chance to shine. However, don't worry if it doesn't - a regular vacuum cleaner head works fine: just make sure it's clean before you start.

Run your vacuum cleaner over the whole surface of your sofa, and stick the nozzle into any hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. A handheld or cordless vacuum cleaner is easiest for cleaning a sofa, if you have one.

Read next: The best budget vacuum cleaners under £200

3. Steam

Swan ProSteam Garment Steamer

This step will kill any bacteria lurking in your sofa, as well as refreshing the fabric. There are a number of tools you can use to steam your sofa - if you happen to have a clothes steamer, it'll be perfect for the job. If not, a steam iron will have a similar effect, or your steam cleaner might have a suitable attachment. Hover your steamer or iron just above the surface of your sofa, so it gets a good steaming without rubbing the fabric.

I used my trusty Swan ProSteam Garment Steamer to clean my sofa, but if you don't have any suitable steaming tools, the saucepan lid hack is an effective alternative - here's how to do it:

  • Dissolve some laundry liquid or a laundry tab in just-boiled water, in a wide, shallow bowl.

  • Wrap a microfibre cloth around a saucepan lid and secure it with a rubber band.

  • Dip the cloth into the hot water and scrub it all over your sofa.

  • Repeat with plain hot water and leave to dry.

Read next: The best steam generator irons for effortless ironing

Saucepan lid sofa cleaning hack

4. Tackling stains

Unless you're extremely careful or strict around your sofa, there's likely to be the odd stain. Whether it's potty training, meals in front of the telly or something the cat dragged in, spot-cleaning your sofa will keep it looking its best.

We spoke to Olivia Young, Cleaning Expert and Product Development Scientist at Astonish, who had this to say on the subject of stained sofas:

"When you spot a sofa stain as soon it occurs, sometimes the natural reaction is to give it a really good scrub. This is probably the worst thing you can do! Instead, dap the stained area gently. This will help to draw it out of the fabric. Scrubbing it just pushes the stain deeper into the material, making it really tricky to get rid of."

Related: The best laundry detergents, tried and tested

5. Dry and ventilate

You might be ready for a sit-down by this point, but allowing your sofa to dry fully will avoid any damp smells (or damp bums) developing. Dab any soaking wet parts with a towel, open the windows and leave your sofa until it's completely dry. A dehumidifier placed nearby can help speed the process along.

Related: The best budget dehumidifiers under £100

6. Vacuum again

Once your sofa is dry, give it a final once-over with a vacuum cleaner to make sure there's no cleaning residue left. If you like, give it a spritz of the fabric refresher spray of your choice, then it's finally time to put the kettle on.

How to clean a leather sofa

How to clean a leather sofa

A leather sofa requires a different approach, but that doesn't mean they're difficult to clean. Leather ages over time, and if you look after it, it'll actually improve with age. Here's how to care for your leather sofa:

1. Wipe

Wipe Your sofa all over with a damp microfibre cloth, to remove any crumbs, dust and dirt that might be lurking there.

2. Vacuum

Run the hoover all over your leather couch, using the nozzle or crevice tool along the seams and in any hard-to-reach places.

3. Use a leather cleaner

With a little specialist leather cleaner or mild soap solution on a damp cloth, work methodically around your sofa, one small area at the time.

4. Wipe again

With a clean, damp cloth, remove any leftover leather cleaner from the surface of your sofa. Buff with a dry cloth.

5. Condition

Finally, rub leather conditioner into your sofa - this will protect against stains and cracks, while keeping the leather supple.

Renapur Leather Care Kit

Renapur leather balm is what I use to condition my sofas - amazing stuff, made from beeswax and jojoba oil, made the back of one of my sofas which was against a radiator and seriously dry and cracked come up like almost new.


Renapur Leather Care Kit

Buy now

Read next: The best washer dryers for space-saving laundry

How to get smells out of a sofa

Even if you've got your sofa looking spotless, lingering smells can still haunt it. Many a panicked Mumsnetter has taken to the forums looking for a solution to the dreaded stink of cat or toddler wee on a beloved sofa.

There's one hero product that gets recommended over and over again for removing smells not just from sofas, but from mattresses, carpets and other hard-to-clean items - and it's something you probably already have in your kitchen cupboard: bicarbonate of soda.

For low-level odours, sprinkle on some bicarbonate of soda, massage it in to your sofa and leave for an hour or two, before vacuuming it up.

If you're tackling something more pungent, like urine, here's what to do - from a Mumsnet user who's been there:

Bicarbonate of soda

I used loads of towels to blot it as much as I could and then washed it with a pet urine remover (think it was pet’s at home own brand one). I did that twice. Make sure it dries completely between each wash (usually overnight). Then use a scoop of biological washing power with a scoop of bicarb, pour in very hot water and wash the sofa again with that solution (make sure the solution has cooled). Let that dry completely and if you really want to be sure, repeat that step again.


Dri Pak Bicarbonate of Soda, 500g

Buy now
Vacuuming up bicarbonate of soda

Related: The best handheld vacuum cleaners, as recommended by Mumsnetters

About the author

Poppy O'Neill is a Content Editor at Mumsnet and a mother of two. She's been researching and reviewing baby and child products for 2 years, with a particular focus on baby essentials, toys and books for toddlers and outdoor play equipment. From potties to paddling pools and bunk beds to bedtime stories, she loves to deep-dive into research and find the best products out there.

Poppy is also an award-winning, best-selling children's and parenting author of books such as Don't Worry, Be Happy, The Extraordinary Book That Makes You Feel Happy and Mother Power. She specialises in children's mental health and her books are used by therapists, teachers and SENCOs across the UK. She won a The Week Junior Book Award in 2023, her books have been translated into several languages and she's been featured in The Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Sun.

After earning a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Leeds and a PGCert in Fashion and Lifestyle Journalism from University of the Arts London, she worked in fashion for most of her 20s. When her children were young, she undertook an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester and re-trained as an author and freelance writer.