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How To Clean Fabric That Can’t Be Washed

Washing clothing is simple. You can throw most fabrics into the washing machine or take them to the dry cleaners. But over time, your upholstered furniture may show signs of soiling or trap odors and other smells. So how do you clean fabrics like upholstery that can’t be washed with standard methods? 

Upholstery fabrics on couches and other furniture items can’t be washed with traditional methods. These fabrics will need to be washed using vacuums, water, solvents, or dry ingredients. You will need to know your upholstery fabric code before cleaning your furniture. 

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If you want to step up your cleaning game and have fresh-smelling and pristine upholstery, you’re in the right place. This article will walk you through every step of the process, from identifying your upholstery fabric type to learning how to care for these fabrics. 

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How To Clean Upholstery That Can’t Be Washed

Unlike most clothing types, cleaning upholstery and upholstered furniture is no simple task. You can’t put it into your washing machine or take it to the dry cleaners. So, how do you clean these fabrics? 

Before you can start using any cleaning method for your upholstery, it’s important to note that you’ll need to know what fabric it’s made of. To do this, you can check the label on the fabric or consult the manufacturer’s guide. 

However, upholstery labels are slightly different, unlike clothing that comes with clear instructions on how to care for and clean your garments. Upholstery labels come with a unique code that dictates their care instructions. For example, you may find codes like Code WCode XCode S, or Code W|S.

Each code stands for something different and applies to different fabric types. So, to avoid damaging your upholstery during cleaning, you’ll need to know what these codes mean. 

Upholstery Fabric Cleaning Codes

When you have found the upholstery code for your piece of furniture, you’ll better understand how to care for it. However, if you can’t find a code, you may need to research or consult the manufacturer’s guide first. If you use cleaning methods that aren’t compatible with the upholstery fabric, you may damage your furniture. 

The most common upholstery codes include:

  • Code W: This code is used for synthetic materials and fabrics that can be cleaned using water or water-based cleaning products. The ‘W’ stands for ‘water.’ 
  • Code X: Code X means that you shouldn’t clean your upholstery using water or cleaning solvents. Instead, you’ll need to use alternative cleaning methods like vacuuming or upholstery powders. 
  • Code S: Generally, upholstery codes are easy to remember. The ‘S’ in this code stands for ‘solvents,’ meaning that you can’t use water on your fabric. Rather, you can use a cleaning solvent to remove dirt and stains from the fabric. 
  • Code W|S: This code means that you can use either water, water-based cleaning agents, or solvents to spruce up your fabrics. However, some cleaning agents made for W|S fabrics aren’t safe for all upholstery. Be sure to test it on a small area of the fabric before using too much. 

Different cleaning methods can be used for each upholstery code. But it’s important to ensure that your chosen cleaning method is correct. You must do a spot test if you’re unsure whether a cleaning method applies to your upholstery. 

A spot test involves using one of the cleaning methods on a small area of your upholstery. It would be best if you used an inconspicuous part of the fabric that can easily be hidden by cushions or throws. If the method damages your fabric or strips it of color, you may need to try an alternative method. 

Upholstery Fabric Cleaning Methods 

It’s best to pick a method that corresponds with your furniture’s upholstery code. However, some codes allow you to use more than one cleaning method. 

We’ve listed a few of the most common cleaning methods and outlined which codes they can be used for. Just remember, if you’re in doubt, it’s best to do a small spot test before cleaning all the fabric! 

Water Cleaning Methods For Upholstery

Cleaning your upholstery with water may seem like a no-brainer. After all, most homeowners often use a damp cloth to wipe off a soiled surface. But not all fabrics can be wiped down with water! In fact, you may be damaging your upholstery in the process. 

Water-based cleaning methods can only be used on upholstery fabrics marked with Code W or Code W|S, which means that the fabric will remain intact when cleaned with water. However, there are still some tricks and tips to this method that you may be interested to learn. 

While you may be able to spot clean a dirty spot or two off your couch, some stains and dried dirt are harder to remove and require a little extra cleaning power. Of course, this method applies to non-removable fabrics and other upholstered items that can’t be put directly into your laundry. Remember to check your fabric’s cleaning instructions if you’re unsure. 

You will need a bucket or bowl filled with water to clean your upholstery using the water method. It may be best to use warm water because you will need to add a few drops of dish soap to your mixture. The dish soap is more easily dissolved in warm water. 

When you mix the dish soap with the water, mix it thoroughly enough to create a few suds that sit on top of the water. Using a clean, dry cloth, skim the top of the water to catch the suds. 

It’s essential to use a clean cloth for this method, as dirt is easily transferable onto your upholstery. Preferably, your cloth should also be light in color as some colorful cloths may bleed and transfer color onto your fabric. 

As you skim the cloth over the suds, be careful not to get your cloth wet. The suds should dampen the cloth enough to use on your furniture. If your cloth is wet, wring it out until it is slightly damp. Wet cloths can cause moisture to seep into fabrics and cause mold and other problems. 

Scrubbing can cause damage to certain fabrics, even if they can be cleaned using water. Gently dab the cloth over the stain or stubborn dirt you want to remove, being careful not to scrub. Then, leave the fabric to dry or dry it off using a hairdryer. If you can, you can also move your furniture into a spot in your home that gets direct sun to dry it more quickly.

Remember to only use the soap mixture if you’re tackling stubborn stains. You can simply spot-clean your fabric using a barely damp cloth for other dirt. Similarly, some dish soaps may be too harsh to use on certain fabrics. 

To ensure that you won’t damage your furniture, it’s important to do a small spot test on an easily concealable part of the fabric. For example, using the water and soap mixture on the back of a couch or beneath a cushion. Before continuing with larger areas, wait for the couch to dry to assess whether it has caused any damage or discoloration. 

Solvent Cleaning Methods For Upholstery 

Upholstery fabrics like denim, wool, silk, and cotton are more delicate than synthetic materials. For this reason, couches and other upholstered furniture are often marked with Code S. You can also use a solvent cleaning method on fabrics that have Code W|S, remembering to do a small spot test to check for any discoloration or damage before you start. 

Some solvents can be harsh, so if you’re using one that isn’t clearly marked as a ‘cotton fabric solvent’ (or one that matches the fabric you’re cleaning), you will also need to do a spot test. This is particularly important when using all-purpose cleaning solvents. 

When using solvents to clean your upholstery, you may want to limit yourself to only using them for spot cleaning rather than cleaning large surfaces. Using a clean, dry cloth, you must blot or dab difficult stains out of your fabric. 

Be careful not to scrub or rub the solvent into the fabric. This can damage the upholstery. You may also need a soft upholstery brush handy to restore the original feel of the fabric. Some solvents may cause the fabric to stiffen. But if you have a soft brush, you can brush the upholstery back into place. 

You can clean your upholstery using a vacuum when you’re not spot-cleaning using solvents. Before getting started, you can use an upholstery brush or soft toothbrush to gently brush the dirt from the fabric. The brush should help to remove any loose dirt and loosen hardened grime. Remember not to scrub too hard! 

Then, using a vacuum with an upholstery or fabric attachment, you can vacuum up any remaining dirt. The upholstery attachment should lift any stubborn dirt. You can also use this method before spot-cleaning your furniture using a solvent for tough dirt that has stained the fabric. 

Dry Cleaning Methods For Upholstery

Dry cleaning methods for upholstery are the safest for any fabric with any code. Of course, the easiest dry-cleaning method is to use a vacuum with an upholstery attachment to remove dirt from the fibers of your upholstery. 

Be careful not to get the fabric wet before using this method, as it can damage the fabric. You should also do a small spot test with your vacuum to ensure it’s not too rough on the upholstery. If it damages the material, you can use other simple methods of cleaning your upholstery using powders or placing the fabric outdoors. 

One of the simplest ways to clean your upholstery – particularly fabrics with Code X – is to place it outside in the sun. When using this method, it’s essential to take precautions against sun bleaching or discoloration. Similarly, this method isn’t effective against stains or stubborn dirt. But if your upholstery needs a simple refresh, this is a great way to do it. 

You can place your upholstery outdoors in the sun to allow the heat to naturally rid the fabric of bacteria and germs. It should also lift any smells and neutralize odors within the material. And while this method is easy to do, you will need to keep an eye on your upholstery. Don’t leave it in the sun for too long, and ensure that every area is uniformly exposed. 

Another method that is popular for removing odors and deep-cleaning upholstery includes the use of fabric-specific powders. Typically, the powders are sprinkled over the fabric and left to sit for a few minutes before being vacuumed or brushed away. However, some of these powder cleaners can be expensive. 

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly alternative, you can sprinkle baby powders or baking soda over the furniture. But be careful when using at-home or DIY products, as these can cause staining or other messes if they aren’t compatible with the upholstery fabric. Again, doing a small spot test for any cleaning product you use is recommended.

Other Cleaning Methods For Upholstery 

There are tons of cleaning products on the market, even for gentle upholstery fabrics. From non-water-based agents like foams to fabric sprays to neutralize unwanted odors, there are several ways to give your furniture a gentle refresh. 

To use these products, you must know whether they are compatible with your upholstery fabric and follow the product’s instructions carefully. But, because some cleaning agents are harsher than others, you will need to perform a spot test on your upholstery – even if it is designed to be compatible with your furniture! 


Cleaning your upholstered fabric is easy – when you know what to look for! Once you’re familiar with the fabric or material codes, you can use the corresponding cleaning method to give your furniture a refresh and keep your home clean and fresh. But, as with any cleaning method, be sure to spot-test cleaning detergents on your upholstery before cleaning larger areas! 

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