How to Steam Clean a Couch

How to Steam Clean a Couch featured photo

Our couches take more beating than the usual household as we have pets at home. We regularly clean them to keep the dirt, smell, and bacteria at bay. Currently, we’re looking into steam cleaning them.

To steam clean a couch, you need to take care of the dry dirt first by vacuuming. Then, pre-treat the stains and pre-condition the fabric. After all the preparations, steam in small portions and quick strokes. Then, let the couch fully dry before using it again.

Steam cleaning definitely isn’t for every type of couch and fabric. You should always check your couch’s cleaning label first before applying any cleaning solution to avoid damaging the upholstery.

In this article, let’s dive deep into exactly how to steam clean, why it’s an effective cleaning method, and what to check if your couch is safe to steam clean. We’ll also go over easy home remedies if you’re dealing with tough, persistent stains.

Why You Should Clean Sofas and Couches

Our sofas and couches take regular beatings due to daily and consistent use. We sit on them and sleep on them, even our dogs and cats do. Others lounge and even eat on couches while watching TV.

Because of these daily activities, it’s not surprising that a couch can be dirty and even have an unpleasant odor. Stains and marks can also be present.

The longer we ignore this, the longer we expose ourselves and our families to germs and bacteria living deep within the fibers of our couches.

To give sofas and couches a fresh start and a cleaner look and smell, it’s important to clean them properly. One way to do this is by steam cleaning them.

What Makes Cleaning with an Upholstery Steam Cleaner Effective?

Steam cleaners provide an efficient way for many homeowners to clean furniture without having to call in professional cleaners.

By now, you’re probably wondering, what makes steam cleaning with a steam cleaner effective. We’re here to break it down the upholstery cleaner for you:

  • Steam cleaning releases just enough moisture to loosen and lift dirt off of couches and sofas. It doesn’t release too much moisture to the point of ruining the padding underneath.
  • Steam cleaners use hot steam to effectively lift off dirt and stains.
  • Steam cleaning makes the dirt and stains much easier to remove and wipe off of the couch’s surface.
  • Some steam cleaners also have a suction function that can double as a vacuum cleaner to suck out the moisture and dirt off the furniture.
  • Steam cleaners use only water to clean. By forgoing cleaning agents and chemicals, this is natural and safe for kids and pets.

What Stains Can Steam Cleaning Remove?

  • Stains from milk, chocolate drinks, and juice;
  • Food stains;
  • Watercolor, color, and pen marks;
  • Coffee and tea spills;
  • Pet stains;
  • Unpleasant smell; and
  • Other water-soluble stains.

In most cases, upholstery steam cleaners can also remove grease and wax stains on sofas and couches. These, however, would need more effort to completely get rid of.

Is My Couch Safe to Steam Clean?

Before you go ahead and steam clean your couch and other upholstered furniture, check if you can actually do so on your couch’s fabrics and materials.

You’re looking to clean your couch and you don’t want to completely ruin it by steam cleaning when you shouldn’t be.

Check on the cleaning code and label attached to the couch. This can be found under seat cushions or arms or could be tucked away somewhere else.

You can find any of these labels:

  • W: This means only water-based cleansers could be used. You can mix in a little dish soap to help, though make sure you don’t get the couch too wet as this can ruin the upholstery. You can safely steam-clean couches with this tag.
  • S: This means only solvent-based cleansers, like rubbing alcohol, could be used. Water-based cleansers like steam cleaners are not recommended for use on couches with this tag.
  • SW: This means both solvent-based and water-based cleansers are safe to use without risking any damage. You can safely steam-clean couches with this label.
  • X: This means you can only use dry cleaning methods. Water and other wet cleaning methods should be avoided as they can ruin the couch. For these types of furniture, it would be best to call in a professional for help.

What Tools Do I Need to Steam Clean?

To steam clean, of course, you would be needing a handheld steam cleaner. Amazon offers an array of the best options. You’re sure to find the right steam cleaner for your needs.

You would also need a typical vacuum cleaner, white cleaning cloth or brush, homemade or store-bought stain remover, soil emulsifier, and fabric shampoo.

You can add or remove tools according to your needs and what you see fit.

How to Steam Clean a Couch

  1. Vacuum couch

You need to take care of the dry mess and dirt sitting on your couch first. With regular use, your couch collects dust, hair, dirt, pet hair, and food crumbs.

You don’t want to steam your couch with any of these still on the surface as their color or dye can transfer on the couch and stain it further.

Take your time to vacuum the backrests, armrests, and every nook and cranny of the couch. Remove the cushions and pillows and vacuum them as well.

  1. Pre-treat stains

A steam cleaner helps you break down stains and dirt on your couch, but you can help speed up the upholstery cleaning process by pre-treating the stains.

Do this by:

  • Applying rubbing alcohol or vinegar on a white washcloth and rubbing gently on the stain; or
  • Pre-treating oil-based or greasy stains with dish soap; or
  • Make a baking soda and water solution to gently brush the stain away.

Water-soluble stains can easily be removed by the steam cleaner but it’s always a good idea to give it a headstart by pre-treating them.

Oily and waxy stains especially need pre-treatment. Let these sit with the cleaning solution for about five minutes before you start steam cleaning.

And if you’re using a cloth to pre-treat the stains, make sure you use only something white as dye on cloths can transfer onto the couch.

  1. Pre-condition the fabric first

Before proceeding to steam cleaning, the last prep stage for your couch is pre-conditioning. Apply and spray a soil emulsifier on the couch. Make sure you get every hiding corner. This will push all the ground-in dirt back to the surface for cleaning.

Let it dry for a few minutes before applying a thin layer of fabric shampoo. Using a white cloth, gently rub the product in, making sure all the product gets in there.

  1. Steam away

Now that all that prep is done, it’s time to steam clean your couch.

Steam in small sections

Steam cleaning in smaller sections allows it to dry faster.

Also, do it with fast strokes, and don’t linger too much on one area as this can put out too much moisture to seep through the upholstery and you don’t want that.

Start with loose cushions and pillows

Take out any loose cushions and pillows and clean them first. You can steam clean only the side that shows. But if you want to clean both sides, ensure that the first side is dry first before steaming the other side.

Do the same with the rest of the couch

After finishing with the loose parts, proceed the same way with the rest of the couch. Steam in small sections and in quick strokes.

  1. Let the couch dry

If you’re satisfied with the results, leave the couch to dry.

Your couch will dry on its own without any interference. Of course, this could take a while and how long it would take to completely dry will depend on a variety of factors.

If you want to help speed up the drying process, you can use a fan or open a window to let the air in.

Removing Persistent Couch Stains

Pre-treating stains before you steam clean your couch may not be enough to remove very tough stains. We have below some useful tips on dealing with such persistent stains:

  • Mix one cup of cold water and 1/2 cup of isopropyl alcohol. Apply the solution to the remaining stain. With a soft-bristled brush, gently rub and work it in. Leave the solution in for about 15 minutes then blot it away with a white cloth. Repeat as necessary.
  • Deal with it the old-fashioned way – with dish soap, water, and a sponge. Blot the soap and water mixture on the stain with the sponge. After a few minutes, blot away the soapy residue with the now-clean sponge.
  • White vinegar or apple cider vinegar can also help tackle tough stains. Soak a white cloth with either and blot the stain with it. You can gently rub the stain to help with the removal process.
  • Lastly, make a vodka and baking soda mixture. Put it over the stain and rub it in a circular motion. Leave it on for a few hours before vacuuming it up.

If none of the home remedies above work, you can always turn to a trusted commercial cleaner to clean upholstery. These are readily available in the market

How Often Do I Need to Steam Clean My Couch?

How often you should steam clean your couch depends on foot traffic in your home and who you live with.

If you live alone or have only one other person living with you, do it at least once or twice a year. If you have more people in the household or have kids and pets, consider steam cleaning your couch more often or every three to four months.

How Long Does It Take to Steam Clean a Couch?

It can take a few to several hours to steam clean and dry a couch. It would depend on how big your couch is, how bad the stains are, and the kind of fabric your couch has.

The actual cleaning can take two to three hours while drying can add four to five hours to that.


The couch of any home goes through so much every day. It harbors dirt, unpleasant odor, and bacteria. It’s only right for you and your family to regularly clean your sofa and couch.

To steam clean a couch, you need to vacuum dry dirt first, pre-treat the stains, and pre-condition the couch fabric. After those preparations, you can now proceed with steam cleaning in quick strokes. Let the couch dry naturally after successfully cleaning and removing the stains.

And that has been my detailed guide on how to steam clean a couch! If you have more questions you’d like addressed, click on any of the buttons below.

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