How to Clean Upholstery with a Steam Cleaner

Three Parts:Preparing the UpholsteryCleaning the UpholsteryRemoving Lingering Stains

Steam cleaners are useful for hundreds of cleaning applications. If you need to clean delicate upholstery, fabric furniture, or sanitize a mattress, your steam cleaner can be the most useful cleaning tool you'll ever use. Steam cleaning not only removes embedded stains, grease, and dirt, it also sanitizes all surfaces, removes allergens, and kills bacteria, mold, viruses, dust mites, bedbugs, and most pathogens. By following a few simple steps, you can steam clean your upholstery at home yourself.

Part 1
Preparing the Upholstery

  1. Image titled Clean Upholstery with a Steam Cleaner Step 1
    Vacuum the upholstery. The first step you need to take to clean your upholstery is to vacuum any dirt, dust, trash, allergens, pet hair, and dander that may be on the fabric. Some of these things can make your couch even dirtier if they get wet during the cleaning process. Take your time, making sure you get in every crack and inside every crevice. If the furniture has any pillows, remove them and vacuum off each side of them. Also make sure you vacuum the back of the furniture as well. You don't want any left over trash or crumbs to mess up the preparation or cleaning process of the materials.
    • Make sure you use the attachment on the vacuum cleaner that fits the type of upholstery that you are cleaning. You want to ensure that you don't damage or stain the fabric with the wrong attachment.[1][2][3]
  2. Image titled Clean Upholstery with a Steam Cleaner Step 2
    Pre-treat the stains. If there are any apparent stains on the upholstery, spray them with spot upholstery cleaner. Let the cleaner set so it can break up the stain. Depending on what cleaner you use, the amount of time to leave the cleaner will vary, but it should be around 3-5 minutes. Once you've waited enough time, blot the area with a soft cloth, pulling out the stain and drying up the cleaner.[4]
    • A lot of stains, such as food, dirt, pee, and poop, can be cleaned from the steam alone. If you have a stain that is oil based, you might need a commercial cleaner such as Oxy Clean to get out the stain. You can also try mixing vinegar and rubbing alcohol or cornstarch and baking soda with water to treat the area.[5]
  3. Image titled Clean Upholstery with a Steam Cleaner Step 3
    Precondition the fabric. One of the main reasons to steam clean your furniture is to get out all the ground in dirt, dust, and grit. There are products called soil emulsifiers that will help loosen all of the elements that have been ground into the fabric. Spray it on all of the upholstery on the piece of furniture and the pillows. Let that sit a few minutes. Then, spray a thin layer of upholstery shampoo on the fabric as well. Brush the fabric all over, making sure to rub the shampoo into the fabric.
    • Don't worry about getting the emulsifier and shampoo off the fabric. It will come out when you steam clean it.[6]
    • Before you steam clean your upholstery, make sure the fabric can handle water based cleaning methods. You can find this information on the tag of your furniture. It should list the kind of cleaning method acceptable for that particular material. If you see an X on the tag, it means that water will permanently damage the fabric, which means you cannot steam clean it.[7]

Part 2
Cleaning the Upholstery

  1. Image titled Clean Upholstery with a Steam Cleaner Step 4
    Pick the right steam cleaner. There are many kinds of steam cleaners. They are typically divided by the kinds of materials that they can steam clean. The best steam cleaners for upholstery are upholstery steam cleaners, fabric steam cleaners, and handheld steam cleaners. The upholstery steam cleaner is made specifically for the job, fabric steam cleaners are made to clean fabric, and handheld cleaners are great for small, tight surfaces. The cleaners should either be handheld or have detachable wands or hoses. Pick which one you think will work better on your particular surface.
    • You want to avoid that large carpet steam cleaners. Those are too bulky and don't typically have fabric cleaning attachments. They will not work at all on your upholstery.[8]
    • If you don't want to buy a steam cleaner of your own, you can rent one from many department, hardware, and grocery stores.[9]
  2. Image titled Clean Upholstery with a Steam Cleaner Step 5
    Prepare the steam cleaning machine. To use a steam cleaner, you need to add water and cleaner to the machine. This will vary depending on the machine you have, so follow the directions based on the model that you have. Generally, you will remove a container from the steam cleaner and fill it with water and upholstery cleaner. Make sure you don't fill it too full. It can cause too much water and steam to be released on your fabrics, which will over saturate them. You will also need to add the correct attachment for upholstery. This may be a stationary brush, revolving brush, or a cloth, depending on the model you have.
    • Avoid mixing too much soap into the water. It is much easier to wash an area a few times than it is to have to wash excess soap out of the fabric.[10]
  3. Image titled Clean Upholstery with a Steam Cleaner Step 6
    Start with the cushions. If the piece of furniture that you are steam cleaning has removable pillows, such as a couch or chair, start cleaning them. Plug up the machine and turn it on. Take the handheld steam cleaner or the hose and attachment and spray the surface with the steam. There should be a button that releases the steam onto the fabric. This will wet the fabric once the steam hits it. Promptly drag the opening of the machine over the damp areas, sucking up the excess water and cleaner from the surface of the fabric. Repeat over the surface of the pillow.
    • You may only need to steam clean the sides of the pillow that are exposed. If you do steam clean all side, only do one side of a pillow at a time. You don't want the pillow to lay on a wet side because it will take much longer to dry and could hurt the fabric.[11]
  4. Image titled Clean Upholstery with a Steam Cleaner Step 7
    Steam clean the rest. The upholstery on the rest of your furniture needs to be cleaned last. Clean the fabric a small section at a time, removing the water the same way as you did on the pillows. You don't want to try to add steam to a huge area at the same time. This will let the water set in the first area, which will absorb too much of the water while you apply steam to the rest of the piece. This will cause the water to soak into the material and cause it to take a much longer time to dry. Repeat until the entire surface is clean.
    • If there is a particularly dirty spot, you can go back over it once you have cleaned it once. You don't have to wait for it to dry.[12][13][14]
  5. Image titled Clean Upholstery with a Steam Cleaner Step 8
    Let your furniture dry. Once you have steam cleaned all of the fabric, your furniture will need some time to dry. The amount of time will vary based on how humid the steam you used was and the weather on the day you clean the furniture. You can speed up the drying process by using a fan, opening a window, using a blow dryer. It will eventually dry.
    • If you still see some discoloration on the fabric, you may need to clean it again. This is more likely if the upholstery was extremely soiled when you started.

Part 3
Removing Lingering Stains

  1. Image titled Clean Upholstery with a Steam Cleaner Step 9
    Clean the stain with water and soap. Steam cleaning gets out a lot of different stains. If you still have lingering stains once the steam cleaning has been done, there are a few ways you can tackle them. Start first with the easiest option, which is soap and water. Take a sponge and dip it in water. Put some dish detergent on the sponge and massage it into the pad. Wring the excess water from the sponge. Blot the stain with the sponge, coating the stain in the soapy mixture. Next, clean the soap out of the sponge and put fresh water in the sponge. Take the sponge and blot the soapy area to remove the soap and the stain from the surface.
    • Make sure you don't scrub the stain too hard with the sponge. You don't want to rip apart the fabric of the upholstery with the excessive force of the rubbing.[15]
  2. Image titled Clean Upholstery with a Steam Cleaner Step 10
    Use vinegar. Instead of soap and water, you can try to use vinegar to remove the stains. Take white or apple cider vinegar and soak a cloth. Blot the stain on the upholstery with the fabric, saturating the fabric with the vinegar. Make sure you don't scrub too hard on the fabric so you don't make the stain set in more or harm the fabric. You can gently rub the stain with the cloth in a circular manner to help remove the stain particles with the cloth.
    • If you don't have vinegar, you can also use vodka. The smell of either will evaporate once the fabric dries.[16]
  3. Image titled Clean Upholstery with a Steam Cleaner Step 11
    Use heavy duty cleaner. If none of the other methods of stain cleaning work, you may need to try a heavy duty commercial cleaner such as Tuff Stuff, Resolve, or Folex. Take a cloth or sponge and wet it. Spray the cleaner directly on the fabric and use the cloth to blot the stain. You can also gently rub the spot with circular motions to help loosen the stain.
    • Make sure you test the cleaner on a part of the upholstery that isn't normally visible. You want to make sure the cleaner won't hurt the fabric.
    • If you have a wine or coffee stain, try Wine Away. It is made to specifically treat dark liquid stains.
    • If the stain is still being stubborn, you may have to go through another round of cleaning until the stain is completely removed.[17]


  • Dry, saturated steam is extremely hot. Keep the steam jet away from children, pets and skin.
  • To keep your furniture looking fresh and clean, you should consider steam cleaning your upholstery once a year. The time between cleanings will vary depending on how often the furniture is used.
  • If you aren't sure if one of the cleaners you have is going to work on the fabric, or if you aren't sure if your fabric can handle steam cleaning, test out a small area of the upholstery that is unseen on a day to day basis. Clean the area and wait 24 hours. If the area looks the same, it is safe to clean it. If it has any changes in color or texture, than the fabric is not safe to clean.[18]

Article Info

Categories: Furniture and Cabinets