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How to Remove Old Stains from Upholstery

Jan 15, 2018

Your sofa or recliner is the one place you always run to for solace, especially at the end of a long day spent on your feet. Nothing on earth feels as good as throwing yourself on that soft plush upholstery knowing that it will hold you steady and not buckle under the weight of your troubles. This is why furniture upholstery with old stains, can be quite a downer. For how long can that old red wine stain from the last party you threw, that smear of chocolate fudge or some tomatoey salsa stain from a delicious old meal of spaghetti and meatballs take up that special space on your couch? How about your grandpa’s softball size greasy head spot on your precious hand me down recliner? Unless you love the ‘quilt thrown on seat’ look like Pulp Fiction’s car backseat, then its time to conquer that stain and reclaim your sofa.

The old stains on your furniture’s upholstery should be cleaned depending on the code the manufacturer has labeled it with and the type of stain you are dealing with. The care label or tag can be found underneath the furniture or below a cushion. Other manufacturers also give pamphlets that you really should store in a safe place for moments such as these. If you are not sure what your code is, then spot test cleaning agents starting with the most conservative cleaning agent and proceed on cautiously.

Below are the care codes you should expect to find on your upholstery;

  • S- you should use a solvent based cleaning agent to maintain the recliner’s fabric
  • W –that you can use a water based cleaner
  • SW- use either water or a solvent based solution to clean the recliner up
  • X – vacuum only

When working on old stains, ensure that you pay particular attention to these codes. Do not use water on upholstery labeled as S and vice versa.

How to remove old stains from your furniture upholstery


  • First vacuum the piece of furniture to remove any easy to clear debris or crumbs on it. This will ensure that no extra dirt is worked into the stain once you are scrubbing the stain out.
  • If your furniture can be cleaned using water or has the W or SW code, then steam off the stain to loosen it up before embarking on aggressive stain removal. You can use a steamer, or a simple iron steam, by pressing the steam button.

For most food and beverage stains

A numerable amount of that past evidence of yummy meals had on the couch can be cleaned out with a simple sponge or clean cloth, some water and a tablespoon of a good clear dishwashing liquid, clear water-based shampoo or foam upholstery cleaner.

If you are not sure if it was a curry or that incredible cream sauce from two months back that left the indelible mark, do not use hot or warm water to treat it, because, in the case of the cream, it will make the stain harder to deal with.

Proteins curdle and set more in the fabric when introduced to heat, so use cold water to treat old stains whenever you are not sure of the source of the stain.

Pretreat the stain with a liquid detergent that has enzymes in the case of the protein stains. Let it soak for about 30 minutes or longer then scrub it out with a sponge or cloth, starting with the exterior of the stain, then working your way towards the center of it.

Rinse the spot out with a clean sponge, and clean water then let it dry.

For most fruit, wine and berry stains

Most of these old stains come in bright colors like bright yellows, oranges, reds, greens or purples depending on the type of fruit they originated from. If your upholstery can be cleaned out with water, start by mixing a solution of a quart of cold water, a tablespoon of vinegar and a teaspoon of a clear liquid dishwashing or laundry detergent or shampoo and rub the stain with the solution. Then rinse it out using clean water and a clean cloth and let it dry.

If the stain still shows or if your upholstery care tag is labeled as S, use rubbing alcohol or that old and cheap tasting bottle of vodka you have had in storage since college. Using a spray bottle, spray it on the stain, and rub it off vigorously with a white sponge or cloth till the spot is gone. Begin always with the exterior of the stain working towards its middle to avoid it spreading out further.

In rare cases where the upholstery fabric allows for bleaching, use chlorine or oxygen bleach or a color-safe bleach as applicable. Then let it dry.

For most oily or greasy stains

If the evidence of the Netflix and chill binge you had three weeks back is still showing on your recliner upholstery, the greasy marks from that last box of pizza continually reminding you of your poor lifestyle choices, it is time wipe the slate…recliner clean. For old oily and greasy stain on your upholstery, the first step is to try to absorb them out of the fabric as much as possible. You can do this by use of baking soda or cornstarch. Place any of these items onto the stain, and let them soak out the grease for about 15 minutes.

Afterwards, scrape, brush or vacuum them off then use a dry cleaning solvent or rubbing alcohol, vodka, and a clean white cloth or sponge to rub out the oily stain. Blot till the solvent is absorbed then let it dry.

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