Upholstery Cleaning Steps

The Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) recommends upholstered furniture be professionally cleaned every 12 to 18 months. Why? Professional methods are more effective than DIY efforts and the equipment is significantly more powerful so it removes soil, dirt, stains and deeply embedded contaminants much more efficiently.

In general, upholstery cleaning services tend to be categorized based on a combination of the cleaning method used and preferred cleaning formulas. The majority favor steam cleaning, low-moisture extraction or dry cleaning methods, but their cleaning formulas vary widely. Some companies rely on pure steam while others favor carbonated water. Most companies use an assortment of cleaning solutions carefully formulated to perform well and comply with established fabric cleaning codes.

The skill, experience and diligence of the technicians is what really distinguishes one cleaning service from another. The best ones follow a four-stage process that includes the key steps outlined below:


  • Inspect the furniture to identify stains.
  • Test the stain and fabric fiber content to determine the best spot removal and cleaning methods.
  • Review up front any potential problems or issues.
  • Protect the carpet or floor and nearby furnishings.
  • Vacuum to remove dust and dry particles from cushions, upholstered surfaces, cracks and crevices.


  • Apply a general pre-treatment to loosen and lift soil to expedite removal.
  • Pretreat spots and stains with the appropriate compound.
  • Pretreat heavy use areas if necessary.
  • Gently work cleaning compounds into the fabric and loosen soil if necessary.


  • Use steam, low-moisture or dry cleaning equipment to thoroughly clean the upholstery.
  • Rinse and/or vacuum to extract the soil, cleaning compound and any residual moisture.
  • Inspect the upholstery and retreat stubborn stains if necessary.


  • Apply a pH-balanced solution to remove any traces of cleaning solution.
  • Apply fabric protectors, sanitizers and other finish treatments if desired.

Not every cleaning challenge requires every step, while others require extra ones or more concentrated treatments. Upholstery made with wool, silk or other natural fibers can be delicate and may require a specialized approach. In some instances, the company may opt to remove a piece of furniture so it can be cleaned in their shop.

Regardless of the steps involved, when all of them are completed, you and the technician should inspect the furniture together to ensure each item has been cleaned to your satisfaction.

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