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How to Clean Furniture [and Preserve It for Years to Come]

by Pam Silvia

Over time, our home furniture develops sentimental value, as it constitutes the backdrop of many of our fondest memories. In some cases, our furniture literally supports us, compelling us to become wedded to the level of comfort and reliability it offers us.

But as our furniture pieces approach heirloom status, they also suffer the side effects of constant use: faded patterns, scuffed-up wood frames, torn upholstery, and scratched glass. It is therefore essential that we do our part in preserving our furniture—no matter how old or new it is.

So, to keep your beloved pieces looking their best, learn how to clean furniture made from various materials with the help of our guide! Check out the following guidelines, including recipes for DIY cleaners, cleaning instructions, and tips for prolonging your furniture’s lifespan.

How to Clean Upholstered Furniture

tan, tufted upholstered couch with colorful throw pillows

A prime napping spot, part-time playground, and well-traversed dining setting, your sofa is one of those versatile furniture pieces that get a lot of use (and, sometimes, abuse). Accordingly, upholstered furniture requires more upkeep to purge fabric fibers of stains, pet hair, bacteria, dust mites, and, potentially, fungi.

Because of our frequent use, it is recommended that you clean your upholstered seating—also including accent chairs, loveseats, and dining chairs—once a week. Thankfully, a deep furniture cleaning requires only three steps:

Step 1: Vacuum your upholstered furniture.

Use a vacuum attachment, such as an upholstery tool, an extension wand, or a crevice tool, to capture dust and allergens as you run the vacuum hose all over your upholstery.

Step 2: Remove stains and odors.

First, blot any moistened spots with a paper towel. For dried solids, use a soft-bristled brush to gently scrape off the debris. At this point, check the manufacturer care instructions on one of the tags to determine if the upholstery can be cleaned with a water-based cleaner.

Here are a few common cleaning codes and what they mean:

  • Code W: Water-based cleaning solvents are acceptable to remove stains.
  • Code S: Dry cleaning only. A water-free cleaning solvent is acceptable to remove stains.
  • Code S-W: Water-based or water-free cleaning solvents are both acceptable to remove stains.
  • Code X: Do not use a cleaning solvent of any kind to remove stains. To avoid fabric damage and shrinkage when cleaning, use a vacuum or seek a professional service.

If the tag shows a “W” or “S-W,” create a solution of  ¼-cup of liquid dish soap and one cup of warm water, whisking it until it’s sudsy.

Next, dip a sponge to treat any set-in stains or areas that have an unpleasant smell. Finish this step by dipping a clean microfiber cloth in clear water to blot away any remaining suds. This will prevent your upholstery from attracting soil after cleaning.

Note: As an alternative measure, you may choose to invest in a handheld carpet cleaner that uses a cleaning formula to remove stains and odors. If you have the means to perform this option, be sure to use the product as directed.

Step 3: Deep clean your upholstery.

For an overall cleaning, you’ll need a less concentrated solution of liquid dish soap and warm water. This time, mix only one teaspoon of the soap with one gallon of warm water; do not create suds by whisking it.

Next, dip a sponge or microfiber cloth in the soapy solution, wring it until it’s just damp, and wipe down the entire upholstery while avoiding any metal hardware (to curb the development of rust). Then, rinse with a separate sponge or microfiber cloth dampened with clear water.

Finally, blot your upholstery with a dry cloth to absorb moisture. To assist the drying process, you may use a circulating fan, but remember to avoid direct heat to prevent color fading.

How to Clean Wood Furniture

natural oak wood dining set in modern dining room

Whether it dons your dining table or bedroom dresser, wood mimics the multisensory experience of being in nature, satisfying the human need to connect with the great outdoors—and we should just as dearly regard its upkeep.

Along with remembering to use placemats, coasters, doilies, and other protective furnishings, be sure to dust and clean your wood furniture once a week and to polish it every two months. Not just for tables and storage furniture, our cleaning guidelines also apply to wood frames, such as those in some upholstered chairs. With that said, our recommended instructions are as follows:

Step 1: Clean with liquid dish soap and water.

First, be sure to dust your furniture with a soft, lint-free cloth.

Next, test an inconspicuous part of the furniture to ensure this cleaning regimen does not damage the wood. To do this, add a drop of liquid dish soap to a water-moistened cotton ball, and wipe the cotton ball over this hidden area. If the test shows no evidence of damage, you can safely proceed. If there are is marring on the test area, continue the process without the soap.

As applicable, mix one teaspoon of liquid dish soap in a medium bowl of warm water. Dip a sponge in the solution, wring it until it’s just damp, and gently swipe the furniture without soaking the wood. Immediately dry the piece of furniture thoroughly with a dry microfiber cloth.

Step 2: Consider refinishing.

As an optional measure, you may consider refinishing your wood furniture, especially if there are dents, blemishes, water spots (including rings), sticky surfaces, and other imperfections.

Check out this resource for step-by-step instructions and pro tips for refinishing wood furniture.

Step 3: Apply furniture wax polish.

For optimal furniture maintenance, it is important to apply furniture wax to prevent future damage. Reach for a furniture wax product, and with a cheesecloth, apply the wax liberally while rubbing in the direction of the wood grain. Then, buff the furniture dry with a clean microfiber cloth.

How to Clean Acrylic Furniture

glass dining table and acrylic dining chairs in regal dining room

Acrylic furniture pieces (namely dining chairs and accent tables) have risen in popularity recently, adorning lofts and eclectically styled home interiors. While their ghost-like presence makes them ideal for furnishing small living spaces, maintenance can be a challenge since their clear surfaces don’t hide smudges and scratches well—if at all.

The best way to clean furniture made from plastic materials is to simply be gentle with them. Most importantly, avoid contact with sharp or abrasive objects. And if your acrylic piece is a table, be sure to use adhering felt pads when placing down a metal or hard-edged object.

To further circumvent damage to this material, be sure to take heed to these cleaning instructions:

Step 1: Lightly dust your acrylic furniture.

Use a clean microfiber cloth to gently wipe away any dust or debris.

Step 2: Use a specialized cleaning solution.

Off the bat, beware of any cleaners with ammonia—this chemical compound causes irreversible damage to acrylic, giving it a perpetually cloudy look. Many household cleaners like Windex, 409, and Fantastik contain ammonia, and as such, should be avoided when cleaning your acrylic furniture.

Instead, be on the lookout for a cleaning product made for acrylic or plastic. You can work in the product in sections; apply a small amount of this type of cleaner directly on your furniture and then use a separate microfiber cloth to gently polish the acrylic. Once the small area is buffed dry, repeat the process until the entire piece has been wiped clean.

Step 3: Use a plastic polish to remove any scratches.

For optimal care, invest in a plastic polish kit to remove minor scratches; use as directed. For major scratches, we recommend enlisting the help of a professional to buff the surface.

How to Clean Leather Furniture

brown leather couch with bohemian-style throw pillows

If you have a leather couch or recliner, then you know how easy it is for creases and stains to set in this material. To maintain your leather’s supple feel and stately appearance, it’s important to keep it positioned away from direct sunlight and to clean it once a week.

Along with the predictable advice of “keep your shoes off the sofa,” here are three simple steps you can take to ensure your leather furniture looks as new as the day you bought it:

Step 1: Vacuum your leather furniture.

Use a vacuum attachment to capture dust and allergens as you run the vacuum hose all over your upholstery. To perform furniture detailing, be sure to use a crevice tool to lift any debris from between the cushions and any seamed borders.

As an extra measure, you may wipe down your leather furniture with a clean microfiber cloth.

Step 2: Remove stains with diluted vinegar.

Next, inspect your furniture for any set-in stains. To treat these problem areas, create a half-and-half solution of distilled white vinegar and room-temperature water. Dampen a corner of a microfiber cloth and test an inconspicuous area first; if there is no damage, proceed, but if there is, forgo this spot treatment and enlist the help of a professional.

As applicable, wipe down any stains with the diluted vinegar while rinsing the cloth after every few strokes (to avoid spreading any dirt). Be careful to not soak the material, as saturation is one of leather’s greatest nemeses.

Afterward, dry the treated areas with a clean microfiber cloth.

Notes: For grease stains, avoid applying water, as it might worsen the stain. Instead, sprinkle baking soda over the affected area, letting it sit for at least three hours. After that, brush the baking soda off with a clean microfiber cloth.

Step 3: Wipe down the leather with a damp sponge.

Lastly, fill a medium bowl with warm water. Dip a sponge in the bath, wring it until it’s just damp, and lightly swipe the furniture without soaking the leather.

Buff the furniture dry with a clean microfiber cloth.

Let Us Help You

Don’t forget to browse our Furniture catalog to see how you can outfit your living spaces with the most beautiful furniture. If you have any questions related to our inventory, call us at 1-414-476-1574 or visit our experts at any of our four Southeastern Wisconsin locations. More accessible than ever, we can also be reached via chat!