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Use them to treat dirt, set-in stains, and odor on your padded, fabric-covered couches, accent chairs, and more.
Unlike clothing and other home linens, upholstery isn’t easy to clean—after all, you can’t just toss soiled furniture into the washing machine. This is why many experts rely on specially formulated upholstery cleaners to tackle tough spills, stains, and other messes on fabric-covered, padded pieces.
To make sure you get the right formula (or machine) for the job, you’ll need to consider exactly what you need to clean. Different fabrics require different cleaning solutions and techniques, says Justin Carpenter, an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, investor, and general manager of Modern Maids. “Synthetic fabrics like microfiber or polyester are generally easier to clean with milder solutions,” he says. Natural fibers, such as cotton, linen, wool, and leather, require more specialized cleaning formulas and methods.
While you shop, also keep in mind just how soiled your furniture is. “Upholstery cleaners are designed for a variety of types of messes, from light surface dirt to tough stains,” Carpenter says. “If you’re dealing with heavy soiling, it’s important to use a cleaner that has deep-cleaning capabilities or enzyme-based formulas that can break down tough stains.” For particularly stubborn issues, you might want to look into upholstery cleaner machines (we have a top-rated iteration on our list, below), instead of a spray formulation.
Finally, your budget and the size of the soiled area should also be considered. “Some upholstery cleaners come in small bottles that are perfect for spot cleaning, while others come in larger sizes for cleaning entire furniture pieces,” Carpenter explains. “If you’re looking to save money, consider opting for a multi-purpose cleaner that can be used on a variety of surfaces.”
What to Look for in an Upholstery Cleaner
When shopping for upholstery cleaners—we’ve rounded up some of the best options on the market, below—there are a few ingredients to look for and a few terms to understand before you hit stores.
If the label says that your cleaner is water-based, that means water is going to be one of the main ingredients. That doesn’t mean the upholstery cleaner is completely non-toxic: Even water-based cleaners can contain chemical ingredients that are considered harmful if they come into contact with your skin, eyes, or are ingested.
Cleaners with this on their label generally contain proteases, lipases, and amylases proteins that are helpful when it comes to breaking down messes at a molecular level. They’re particularly helpful for larger or set-in stains that are resistant to water-based solutions.
This is a catchall phrase for active agent compounds found in cleaning formulas. They help lift dirt and oil off a surface so that it can be wiped away, lowering the amount of elbow grease you’ll need to use to get your furniture looking its best. These may be listed as amine oxide, amphoteric (ampholytic), and anionic to name a few.
Upholstery Cleaner Tips
As with any cleaning product, you’ll want to ensure you’re not doing more harm than good. “Always follow the instructions on the label and test the cleaner on a small, inconspicuous area first to avoid damaging your upholstery,” says Hugo Guerrero, a certified House Cleaning Technician (HCT) and Carpet Repair and Reinstallation Technician (RRT) from New York and a consultant at Mattressive.Cleaning.
OxiClean Total Interior Upholstery Cleaner
This aerosol cleaner comes with a built-in scrubber to make removing upholstery stains even easier. Carpenter recommends this brand, which is safe to use on leather, fabric, and vinyl, for tackling a bunch of different cleaning jobs in and around the house.
Sold as an auto cleaner, this small and easy-to-use can is great for those one-off big jobs or a series of little tasks that need an extra cleaning boost.
Blue Magic Heavy Foam Upholstery Cleaner
If you’re searching for a cleaner that can help keep your upholstered surfaces looking better for longer, check out Blue Magic. This aerosol can not only comes with an attached scrub brush for a deeper clean, but it also brightens your fabrics. Formulated with stain removal technology, this product makes spills easier to remove, since they’ll have a harder time penetrating fibers after you’ve used this cleaner a few times.
Resolve Upholstery and Multi-Fabric Cleaner
Carpenter recommends this formula for its deep cleaning and stain removal capabilities. While it has the cleaning power to get set-in stains out, it’s still gentle enough to use on most fabrics, including polyester, nylon, and some cotton blends—so you can say goodbye to marks caused by makeup, coffee, wine and more.
Folex Instant Carpet Spot Remover
If you’re dealing with hard-to-treat pet stains, this rinse-free Folex formula may be just what you’re looking for, says Guerrero. “This water-based solvent is a popular choice for removing tough stains from upholstery,” he says, adding that it’s safe enough for most fabrics. It works on messes left behind by your four-legged friends, as well as some (including ink stains) caused by your two-legged counterparts.
Woolite Advanced Stain & Odor Remover + Sanitize
Another water-based solvent, this formula is designed to remove stains and odors from upholstery. “It’s safe for most fabrics and can effectively remove pet stains, food stains, and other common stains,” Guerrero says. When you use it to sanitize, it will kill 99.9 percent of all bacteria on your upholstery. And to make you feel good about all that cleaning power, the spray bottle can be kept and refilled once you run out, creating less waste.
Carbona 2-in-1 Upholstery and Carpet Cleaner
The Carbona 2-in-1 Upholstery and Carpet Cleaner has an attached scrubbing brush to help make cleaning up messes easier. “It contains active foam that lifts dirt and stains to the surface for easy removal,” Guerrero says. “Customers report that it works well for removing pet stains, wine stains, and other tough stains.”
Blue Coral Upholstery Cleaner
Get more bang for your buck with this water-based solvent, which is designed to clean and protect upholstery. “It contains a special blend of cleaning agents and fabric softeners that can effectively remove dirt and stains while leaving the fabric soft and clean,” says Guerrero. The aerosol canister comes with a built-in scrub brush to remove set-in stains or spills that have gotten deep into tightly woven threads. It’s not safe for use on suede, leather, silk, and other delicate fabrics, though.
Method Stain and Odor Treatment Spray
If you prefer to use plant-based cleaners on the surfaces that touch your skin, you might like this upholstery cleaner from Method. This formula contains both stain lifters and odor fighters, making it perfect for tough stains that leave more than an unsightly mess behind. This product is also free of silicones, sulfates, and phthalates.
Bissell Little Green Multi-Purpose Portable Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner
Is your spray formula just not cutting it? Consider this top-rated upholstery cleaner machine, which uses powerful suction and steam to get the job done. It’s particularly handy for pet owners, works on carpets (as well as upholstered furniture), and is completely portable, so you can tackle just about any piece in your home—including your car.
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