Things You'll Need
Vacuum cleaner with attachments
Mild detergent or upholstery shampoo
Foam upholstery cleaner
For couches marked with an "X" or "S," lightly brush or vacuum your couch only to remove dirt and debris. Couches with "S" on the tag can take cleaning solvents, but these couches are best left to professional cleaners.
Couches labeled with an "O" can be cleaned with organic-based or biodegradable products only. Do not use upholstery foam on these products.
Speak with a professional upholstery cleaner if you are in doubt about the method to clean your couch or you cannot find the tag with the cleaning code on it. Couches are big investments, and you don't want to ruin the upholstery by cleaning it incorrectly.
Do not attempt to clean your couch if you cannot identify the fabric or the cleaning code for it. If you use the wrong solution, you could permanently destroy the fabric on the couch.
Do not take the cushions out of the covers to wash the covers or the polyurethane foam separately even if they have zippers.
Never use bleach or wash removable fabrics in a washing machine, as it can permanently damage the backing material used in upholstery fabrics.
Do not steam-clean upholstery, as the backing material or the foam can cause the surface of the upholstery to wick brown stains into the upholstery fabric surface.
Do not use these methods to clean velvet- or leather-upholstered furniture.
The polyurethane foam in an upholstered sofa can take a lot of abuse. The foam is usually not affected during the cleaning process, but cleaning it improperly can cause staining on fabrics if you use the wrong method. Read the furniture tag, as couches with "X" on them can only be vacuumed, while couches with an "S" require solvents for spot-cleaning only. Couches with "W" or a combination of "SW" can be cleaned at home. For couches that require solvents, call a professional.
Vacuum the couch and the cushions at least weekly. Both the crevice tool and upholstery attachment -- if you have one -- can make this task easier. Turn the cushions over and replace them in a different configuration to ensure they wear evenly. Brushing with a stiff-bristled brush can also remove loose dirt and debris.
Set up your cleaning solution based on the cleaning code on the label. For couches marked with a "W" or "SW," spot-clean stains first with a water-based cleaning agent, such as an upholstery shampoo mixed following the instructions on the product label. Alternatively, mix a pint of distilled water and 2 teaspoons of a mild detergent in a bucket or bowl to make your own cleaning solution.
Clean stained areas first. Do not rub the stained area briskly; instead, blot the cleaning agent on the surface with a soft cloth until the stain is gone. Rinse with a sponge dipped in distilled water.
Spray a water-based foam upholstery cleaner over couches with "W" or "SW" on the tag. Brush the foam into the upholstered material with a stiff-bristled brush. Let it thoroughly dry. Drying times vary based on temperature and humidity, but should take no longer than 24 hours.
Vacuum the couch to remove the foam and dirt. Foam upholstery cleaners lift dirt out of the couch as the foam dries. Vacuum the couch thoroughly to prevent grinding in the material after cleaning.
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.