The cat has a hairball; the baby hiccups; a human is felled by the flu; the dog has been eating mystery treats. The end result is a barf-decorated couch with you as the designated cleaner. Sorry -- so unpleasant. Catch it as quickly as you can to minimize the damage and to just get it over with. Grab your rags, a bucket, a few cleaning powders and solutions, a pair of rubber gloves -- and a clothespin for your nose. You can do this, even if you don't want to.
Basic Barf Removal
A fresh incident gives you the best chance to salvage the upholstery and the cushion. Whether the deposit is from the dog or the darling child, lift off any solids with an old spatula and paper towels. Use a nearby garbage bag as the handy receptacle. Then follow a few steps to remove as much as possible from the fabric and the underlying cushion.
Step 1 Absorb excess liquid.
Once the solids are gone, use paper towels or clean rags to soak up the remaining liquids. Press the rags or paper gently into the deepest part of the stain, and keep swapping rags or paper towels until the spot is dry.
Step 2 Spray or spritz seltzer.
Lightly spray carbonated water on the affected area -- plain seltzer or club soda. Don't soak the spot, or the water will push the residue deeper into the cushion and wider on the upholstery. Give the effervescence a few minutes to loosen any remaining particles.
Step 3 Blot again.
Repeat the blotting to absorb the new moisture. It's a messy, time-consuming job, but rushing through the steps will only lead to lingering smells, stains and regrets.
Step 4 Sprinkle baking soda.
Spread a thin layer of baking soda over the entire area of upchuck, extending the powder beyond the perimeter of the stain. Press the powder lightly into the upholstery with the flat of your hand, or put a paper towel between you and the powder. Sprinkle a bit more at the center of the incident, and let the baking soda absorb what it can. Give it at least 15 minutes.
Step 5 Scrape or vacuum.
Remove all the baking soda from the couch -- scrape off clumps and vacuum the rest to get all the fine powder up. You've now removed a good amount of the unpleasantness -- but the next steps prevent eventual stains and rainy day smells.
Step 6 Sponge a solvent or homemade cleaning liquid on the spot.
Dry-cleaning solvents made for upholstery; liquid oxygenated cleaners that loosen and lift microscopic particles from fibers; or U-mix-it solutions of 3 cups of cool or room-temperature water, 1/2 cup of white vinegar and 1 tablespoon of a mild dish-washing liquid -- any of these will penetrate soaked-in vomit liquids, including those in the cushion. Sponge your cleaner on the area, and blot it all up again with another clean towel.
Step 7 Apply clean water and blot again.
Sponge on clean cool water with a clean sponge or rag. Really get into the affected area, but don't thoroughly soak fabric or cushion -- you don't want to end up with a mildewed mess that won't dry. Use a portable wet vac -- a carpet cleaner with an upholstery attachment or a small steam cleaner -- to remove as much moisture as possible from the fabric and cushion. Allow them to air dry completely -- this could take hours or a day.
Special Pet Remedies
For pet throw-up, you may want to use an enzyme cleaner formulated to dissolve the proteins in the vomit. Let a removed cushion cover soak in the cleaner, according to package directions, before washing. Sponge the cleaner on the spot and press lightly to work it into the cushion when the piece can't be disassembled. Soak for one hour before pulling all the liquid out of the spot with an extractor.
Clues About Care
Not all upholstery reacts well to conventional cleaning methods. If you're lucky, your couch still has the manufacturer's tags that tell you what is safe to use on the fabric. "W" means it's safe to use water-based cleaners. "S" means use a dry cleaning solvent. "W/S" means both water-based cleaners and solvents are safe. And "X" means you can vacuum and brush the couch but it must be professionally cleaned. Always test a cleaning solution on an inconspicuous spot before applying it to a visible stain.