Till Dust Do Us Part

Gettin’ Busy On The Furniture: A Stain Removal Guide

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Till Dust Sofa

Without getting too graphic about things, sometimes, in the heat of passion, you just can’t make it to the bedroom. Which is great, hurrah for the heat of passion!

But what to do when, in the aftermath of that passion, you discover that you now have a stained sofa? It’s not like you can just strip the sheets and get them into the washing machine — unless you have a slipcover, you smart thing you, in which case toss that baby right into the laundry!

The thing about cleaning furniture is that it’s actually less about what you use and more about how you use it. So before we get into what to reach for, let’s talk technique.

The main thing you need to remember when attempting to remove any kind of stain from upholstered furniture (and this is also true of mattresses) is that you want to be sparing with the use of liquids. The reason for that is that the use of too much liquid cleaner will saturate the upholstery as well as the furniture’s stuffing, and then the thing will take a year and a day to dry out. Which means that you’ll have wet furniture, yes, but can also lead to the sofa taking on a mildew-ish scent and no, that is not a thing anyone wants.

The best way to control the amount of liquid you’re applying to the fabric is to first put it on a rag, such as an old T-shirt or washcloth, or a sponge that can be wrung out instead of applying the cleaning solution directly onto the fabric. Then, using your rag or sponge, blot at the stained area, stopping to apply more of the stain treatment as needed. Better to go slow and use several applications than to have a couch that’s soaking wet with upholstery cleaner that you can’t sit down on for hours after cleaning.

So! The big thing to keep in mind is that you want this to be a low moisture situation. However, you’ll have to use some water and other liquids to get the stains out, so when you’re done bear down on the wet parts with a clean towel and, if you’ve got one handy, point a standing fan at the furniture, which will help to speed up the drying process.

With that out of the way, here are five products you need to know about when it comes to getting stains out of upholstered furniture. As always, when we talk about stain removal on fabric, it’s important to test that the product is safe to use on a small, unobtrusive spot to be sure it doesn’t cause color pulling.

Upholstery Cleaners

Upholstery cleaners generally come in both foaming and spray formulas; I’m partial to the foaming ones but either formula will work just fine. The thing you need to remember if you choose the foaming kind over the spray version is that, since they’re applied directly to the fabric, you do want to be quite sparing in your application.

There are a number of good upholstery cleaners out there: Resolve makes one, as does Scotchguard. This site offers a good roundup of products with ratings as well as notes on what products perform well in certain areas, like odor elimination or specific stain removal.

Liquid Detergents

In a pinch, either dish soap or liquid laundry detergent will work well as an upholstery cleaner. The thing to bear in mind is that both are quite viscous, so you want to dilute them in water before using. Otherwise the process of getting the soap out of the fabric will take forever and will also require more water than you want to be using.

Laundry Sprays

As with liquid laundry detergent, stain treatment products made for laundry can also be used on furniture! They’re especially good to know about when the stain you’re trying to remove from your couch or love seat is one of the protein variety — in which case you’ll want to reach for something that is enzymatic based, like Zout.

Rubbing Alcohol & Hydrogen Peroxide

These two, in particular, are ones I want you to be really diligent about testing before just going hog wild with them on a stain, as they can often cause a bleaching effect. You have been warned! But they’re also excellent stain removers, especially when it comes to ink and dye (rubbing alcohol) and blood stains (hydrogen peroxide).

You want to remember the part about the dye when you discover that those hot new indigo jeans you bought are leaving behind deposits of blue coloring all over your white couch.

Steam Cleaners

When all else fails, or the entire piece of furniture needs some TLC, go ahead and rent a steam cleaner. Generally speaking, you can rent them from grocery, hardware and home improvement stores — you may want to Google “furniture cleaner rentals [your city or town here]” to find the most convenient rental outlet. The rental should run you about $30-$50, and usually will include the upholstery shampoo in the price.

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and the author of My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag . . . and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha.