The Professional Guide to Steam Cleaning Upholstery


Keeping your furniture fresh and stain-free is a constant battle. Regular vacuuming helps, but for a deeper clean, steam cleaning is a powerful tool. This guide will equip you with the knowledge to professionally steam clean your upholstery, reviving its look and eliminating dirt and grime.

Safety First: Identify Your Upholstery Fabric Type

Before diving into the process of steam cleaning, it’s crucial to understand the type of fabric you are dealing with. Not all upholstery fabrics are suitable for steam cleaning. Delicate materials like silk, wool, or certain types of leather can be damaged by the heat and moisture from a steam cleaner. Here’s how to determine if your upholstery is suitable for steam cleaning:

Check the Care Label: Most furniture comes with a care label located underneath cushions or on the bottom of the piece. Look for cleaning codes:

1. W: Water-based cleaning only. This fabric can be safely cleaned with a steam cleaner.

2. S: Solvent-based cleaning only. Do not use water or steam; instead, use a dry-cleaning solvent.

3. WS: Water or solvent-based cleaning. This fabric is versatile and can be steam cleaned.

4. X: No water or solvent-based cleaning. Vacuum only. Professional cleaning is recommended.

Test in an Inconspicuous Area: Even if the care label indicates that steam cleaning is safe, it’s wise to test in a hidden area. Apply the steam cleaner and let it dry to ensure there is no discoloration or damage.

Consult Manufacturer’s Instructions: If the care label is missing, refer to the manufacturer’s website or customer service for guidance on how to clean your upholstery.

Preparation is Key

Proper preparation is essential to achieving the best results from steam cleaning. Follow these steps to prepare your upholstery:

1. Thoroughly Vacuum the Upholstery: Use an upholstery attachment to remove loose dirt, dust, and pet hair. Pay special attention to crevices and seams where dirt tends to accumulate.

2. Pre-Treat Stains: Identify any stains on your upholstery and treat them accordingly:

Organic Stains (food, drink, etc.): Use a water-based stain remover.

Grease and Oil Stains: Apply a solvent-based cleaner.

Ink and Dye Stains: Use a specialized ink remover.

Apply the cleaning solution to a clean cloth, then blot the stain gently. Avoid rubbing, as this can push the stain deeper into the fabric.

Gearing Up: Choosing the Right Steam Cleaner

Choosing the right equipment is crucial for effective steam cleaning. Here are some tips for selecting and using a steam cleaner:

1. Rent or Purchase a High-Quality Upholstery Steam Cleaner: Upholstery steam cleaners are designed specifically for fabric cleaning and are generally more gentle than carpet steam cleaners. If you don’t own one, you can rent a high-quality unit from a home improvement store or rent a service.

2. Multi-Purpose Steam Cleaners with Upholstery Attachments: If you have a multi-purpose steam cleaner, ensure it has an upholstery attachment. These attachments are designed to provide a gentler cleaning experience suited for fabric.

3. Use Distilled Water: To avoid mineral build-up in the steam cleaner, use distilled water. This also helps prevent any potential residue on your upholstery.

See also: A Guide to Wallpaper Steamer Prices: A Complete Overview

Steam Cleaning Technique

Proper technique is essential to avoid damaging your upholstery and to achieve the best cleaning results. Follow these steps:

1. Work in Small Sections: Start with a small, manageable section of the upholstery. This allows you to focus on one area at a time and prevents the fabric from becoming overly saturated.

2. Back-and-Forth Motion: Move the steam cleaner’s nozzle in a slow, back-and-forth motion. This ensures even coverage and helps to lift dirt effectively.

3. Avoid Over-Saturation: Be mindful not to over-saturate the fabric. Excess moisture can lead to water damage, mold growth, and unpleasant odors. Use the minimum amount of steam necessary to clean the fabric.

4. Blotting for Stubborn Stains: For stubborn stains, steam the area and then blot with a clean, microfiber cloth. This helps to absorb the lifted dirt and moisture. Repeat this process if necessary.

5. Regularly Empty and Refill the Water Tank: Keeping the water tank fresh ensures consistent steam quality. If the water level gets too low, the steam output can become uneven.

Drying and Finishing Touches

Once you’ve finished steam cleaning, proper drying and final touches are important to maintain the condition of your upholstery. Follow these steps:

1. Allow Upholstery to Air Dry Completely: Let your furniture air dry naturally. This may take several hours, depending on the humidity and airflow in the room.

2. Enhance Ventilation and Air Circulation: Speed up the drying process by opening windows and using fans. Good ventilation helps prevent mold and mildew growth.

3. Fluff Up Cushions: Once the upholstery is dry, fluff up the cushions to restore their shape and softness. This also helps to identify any spots you might have missed during the cleaning process.

4. Inspect for Missed Spots: After drying, check the upholstery for any areas that might need additional attention. Spot clean if necessary.

Additional Considerations

Delicate Fabrics

For fabrics like silk, wool, or other delicate materials, steam cleaning may not be safe. In such cases, it’s best to consult a professional cleaning service. Professionals have the experience and specialized equipment to clean delicate fabrics without causing damage.

See also: Do Floor Steamers Sanitize: Everything You Need To Know

Deep-Seated Dirt

If your upholstery is heavily soiled or has not been cleaned in a long time, a professional cleaning service might be necessary. Deep-seated dirt can be challenging to remove with a standard home steam cleaner. Professionals use powerful equipment and techniques to ensure thorough cleaning.

Rental vs. Purchase

Consider how frequently you will be steam cleaning your upholstery. If you plan to clean regularly, purchasing a home steam cleaner might be more cost-effective in the long run. For occasional cleaning, renting a high-quality steam cleaner can be a better option.


By following these professional tips, you can steam clean your upholstery with confidence, achieving a clean and refreshed look for your furniture. Remember to always consider the type of fabric, prepare thoroughly, use the right equipment, and apply proper cleaning techniques. With these guidelines, your upholstery will stay fresh, clean, and inviting for years to come.

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