Sofas create a warm, inviting space for socialising with friends and family. Hardly a day goes by without them being used!
Unfortunately, this frequent usage means dirt, crumbs, and other debris can quickly accumulate on and between the cushions, making the couch appear old and worn.
While there are multiple ways to clean large pieces of furniture, steam cleaning is the most simple and effective method. This is because the high temperature of the steam loosens any stubborn dirt, making it much easier to remove from the surface.
But can you steam clean a sofa? The answer to this question depends on the type of sofa you have!
Below we explore how to determine if steam cleaning is safe for your sofa. And if so, what the best method is for an effective steam clean.
Is It Safe to Steam Clean a Sofa?
Whether or not it is safe to steam clean your sofa depends on the upholstery material.
While the high temperatures used in steam cleaning are very effective at removing grime, the steam will cause damage to the surface of a couch if it is not suitable for use with water-based cleaners. Using too much water can also make your sofa smell.
To determine if you can use a steam cleaner, you need to look at your sofa’s cleaning code. This can be found on your sofa’s care label. These are typically found attached to or under the seat cushions but may also be hidden at the base of the couch and around the back.
The possible cleaning codes you will encounter are as follows:
- W: Only water-based cleaners can be used to clean these sofas. Steam cleaning is a great option, but a mixture of warm water and washing-up liquid can also be effective. No matter what, you must avoid using harsh chemicals on the upholstery.
- S: All water-based cleaners (including steam cleaners) cannot be applied to sofas with an “S” code. Instead, a water-free solvent-based cleaner needs to be used. We highly recommend using rubbing alcohol if this applies to your couch.
- SW or WS: Sofas with this cleaning code can be washed with a water- or solvent-based cleaner. As such, a steam cleaner is safe to use.
- X: Couches marked with an “X” are the hardest to keep clean as neither water-based nor solvent-based cleaners can be used. You shouldn’t use a steam cleaner if your sofa has this label. At home, you have the option of vacuuming or brushing the upholstery, but any discolouration will need to be dealt with by a professional.
How Do You Clean a Couch With a Steam Cleaner?
If you’ve never used a steam cleaner before, the idea of using one on your sofa may be pretty daunting. However, the process is actually very straightforward.
Before anything else, though, you will need to get your hands on a suitable appliance.
In general, upholstery steam cleaners are the best option for sofas. However, handheld steamers and fabric steamers will also work if this is what you have available.
Once you have chosen your steam cleaner, you can use the following steps to clean your couch effectively:
1. Remove loose dirt
Remove any loose dirt on your sofa using a vacuum cleaner. Make sure to remove the couch’s cushions when hoovering to ensure any debris that has fallen between them is also collected and removed.
2. Pre-treat stains
Pre-treat any stained areas to increase the chances of them coming clean. When using a commercial stain remover, always follow the label instructions and do a patch test before using it on the stain.
If you don’t have a stain remover, the Daily Record suggests trying laundry detergent.
3. Precondition the fabric
Precondition the fabric of your sofa using a soil emulsifier.
For the best results, spray it directly onto the couch to loosen the ground in dirt, let it sit for a few minutes, and then follow it with a thin layer of upholstery shampoo.
You can use a brush to rub the shampoo into the fabric if needed.
4. Fill your steam cleaner
Fill your steam cleaner with water. Depending on your sofa’s cleaning code, you can also add a small amount of upholstery cleaner if required.
Make sure you don’t overfill the appliance, as this will cause excess steam to be released later on.
5. Add the correct attachment
Add the correct attachment to the steam cleaner. When cleaning upholstery, this is typically a revolving or stationary brush or a cloth.
6. Clean cushions
Turn on the steam cleaner and start running the attachment over the sofa cushions.
Depending on your preferences, you can either clean the sections of the cushion that are always on display or use the steamer all over.
Ensure to only clean one side of each cushion at a time and allow it to dry before flipping and cleaning the other side.
7. Clean the rest of the sofa
Use the steam cleaner on the rest of the couch. Choose a small section to work on at a time for the best results.
If an area is particularly soiled, you can go over it multiple times. There is no need to let the fabric dry between cleans.
8. Leave everything to dry
Once you are sure all the remaining moisture has been removed from your sofa, you can replace the cushions and start using it as normal.
How Long Does It Take a Couch to Dry After Steam Cleaning?
After steam cleaning your sofa, you must allow it to dry thoroughly before using it again.
This will typically take anywhere between 2 to 6 hours, depending on the fabric of your couch, the weather, and how humid the steam you used was.
You can do a few things to speed up the drying process if required. When dealing with a fabric sofa, the best way to do this is using a hair dryer.
Make sure to use the appliance on the lowest heat setting and hold it at least 10 cm away from the sofa at all times to avoid accidental damage.
If you have a leather sofa, you can reduce your couch’s drying time by opening a nearby window or using a fan.
This improves ventilation and makes the moisture evaporate more quickly without any risk of damage to the upholstery.
Hannah is a freelance content writer with a passion for cleaning. She worked her way around Australia by cleaning hostels in exchange for free accommodation and used her cleaning skills to bag her a job as a chalet host for a luxury ski company in France.