Before looking at tips on how to effectively clean your furniture, let’s step back and address the larger issue:
You should clean your furniture.
A little basic attention a few times a month can extend the life of your household furnishings and accessories while regaining some of that “pop” they had when you first brought them home. Items of such prominence in your living space don’t even have to look dirty to detract from the overall appearance and positive mojo of the room.
You may not even be able to tell what, precisely, looks different after you clean them effectively – but it does. You’ll see it. And feel it.
Furniture is, by design, subjected continuously to our body parts. Day after day, it accepts our sweat, our oils, and whatever the outermost layers of our clothing manage to bring in with them after we’ve been places, doing things. We sit, we stand, we flop, we throw stuff down on them – it all comes with the job of being a couch, loveseat, ottoman, or coffee table. Our furniture passively accepts it all because that’s what it’s made to do.
Before you begin hauling your favorite recliner into the front yard for a bonfire, relax. Any piece worth having in your home was designed and treated with just those things in mind. They’re made to resist and to stand strong while staying comfortable. You just have to give them a little support along the way.
General Furniture Cleaning Guidelines
Cleaning your furniture has a great deal in common with maintaining the functionality and attractiveness of anything else you own. First and foremost, if it comes with instructions, read, and follow them. With upholstered furniture this usually means those tiny little tags you periodically wonder about, stapled in weird places along the underside. With other pieces, it may be a little folded-up page in the packaging materials with the same four steps in fifteen languages.
Some manufacturers will have specific advice on their websites. If you purchased your furnishings new and want to demonstrate true love and commitment in the relationship, you might even ask the salesperson who assisted you.
If you don’t have any of those things, that’s fine – we’ll manage. But when in doubt, try reading the directions.
Second, regularly is better than intensely. If you think about any other part of your home – the kitchen, for example – you realize it’s far more effective to take an hour to wipe and scrub and rinse a few times a month than to let things go for a year, then rent a commercial power washer. Cleaning and care of your furniture is the same way.
Finally, mindset matters. I don’t want to get too touchy-feely on you, but there’s something to the whole “whistle while you work” approach. Some tasks lend themselves readily to buckling down and powering through – like mowing your lawn or sanding your deck. Not so furniture care. While they’re not exactly part of the family – being inanimate objects and all – they’re nevertheless somewhat, personal. They require care, not conquering. Put on some music or something and enjoy the process.
And if it helps, maybe you should whistle.
This is the good stuff – our favorite recliner, that fancy couch with all the decorative pillows, or the reading chair you keep meaning to use for, you know, reading.
The easiest thing you can do for upholstered furniture is also one of the most important: vacuum it. Regularly. Get the big, obvious sections, but don’t overlook the crevices and curves which make finding those lost M&M’s such a challenge. Pull off the cushions (if they’re made to do that) and make use of those attachments that came with your vacuum cleaner. I particularly enjoy anything with a spinning brush, although sometimes that hose extension with the narrow tip works miracles.
Some fabrics are designed to repel dust or spills. In that case, they may build up loose dirt or other remains over time. A stiff brushing may prove useful before you vacuum – just don’t forget to do the floor when you’re all finished.
Sprays and Liquid Cleaners
Liquid cleaners can be particularly helpful with upholstered furniture, but here’s where you have to be careful. If you located that little tag we mentioned a moment ago, it should give you an idea of what sort of cleaner is most effective with the specific fabric used. In some cases, this means you’ll need to purchase something specific to follow manufacturer’s recommendations. Don’t fuss too much – it should last you a very long time and provide repeated use, not to mention keeping your furniture looking quite nice.
Many fabrics respond quite well to a simple, home-based solution of water plus a few drops of liquid dishwashing detergent. Some folks add a thimble of white vinegar or a teaspoon of baking soda to deal with odor issues as well. If you go this route, make sure your solution is well-mixed, then test it on a small section NOT easily viewed during normal use. Scrub the sample area, then let it dry while you go clean something else for a while.
If it looks good when you return, great – you’ve just created your own professional upholstery cleaner and deodorizer. If the material looks in any way distressed or discolored, however, you’ll want to explore other options – probably by hunting down the original manufacturer’s information.
Dealing With Stains
Once you have the appropriate liquid cleaner, whether purchased or home-brewed, tackle any stains or discolorations you find. Use a small sponge for application and a dry cloth to dab and dry as you go. Rub the solution into the discolored area – not so much that it’s dripping, but enough to get the stain’s attention. Give it a few minutes to do its thing, then try pressing in the dry cloth to absorb the results.
If the universe has been kind, you’ll see stain transferred from your furniture to your cloth. If may take a few applications, but if you aren’t getting results after a try or two, don’t merely increase the amount of solution you’re forcing into the fabric – that’s not how it works. Stubborn stains may require professional cleaning or creative arrangements, so you simply don’t see them. On the other hand, if you’ve been considering replacing some of your pieces anyway, this might be just the excuse you need.
But for now, let’s assume the best. Great job with that stain!
Side Note: the ideal time to address spills and stains is when they first happen. In many cases, a dry, absorbent cloth is the best response. Pat, don’t scrub, and make sure you keep using the clean, dry parts of the cloth to absorb as much as possible. Only if this fails to completely remove the discoloration should you move on to liquid solutions.
Leather offers a luxury and a joy unlike anything else, at least for those of us who love it. With this, however, comes a few unique challenges.
The most fundamental care for leather furniture is the same as with upholstered pieces – vacuum thoroughly. Use the softest brush attachment, however. You’re not hunting it to bring home; it’s already yours, and we’re just cleaning it this time. As always, check those crevices and undersides.
Liquid Cleaners and Leather
A similar mixture as the one described above will help with stains or other residue, but don’t add vinegar or baking soda for routine cleaning. Leather brings its own odor control in the form of the rich, subtle smell of, well, leather. (You can add vinegar to deal with stubborn stains, but maybe we could be more careful about spilling stuff on the furniture?)
Follow up with a dry cloth and pat, don’t scrub. Leather is durable, but it’s also sophisticated – let’s treat it as such. Yes, this is a lot of work to clean a chair – but that’s the price we pay with leather.
Finally, there are a number of ways to treat your leather furniture between cleanings. A commercial cream can help keep it moisturized, or a mixture of one cup vinegar to two cups linseed oil helps retain texture and glow. Rub it in, leave it for 15 minutes, then wipe with a dry cloth.
Don’t forget to stand back and admire your work afterward; it’s leather, after all.
As always, remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Try to keep your leather furniture out of the path of sunlight and further from radiators or other heating sources in your home.
Wood furniture can be the easiest for casual cleaning and the trickiest for long-term care.
Dust regularly using a soft, lightly moistened cloth. Avoid leaving wood damp for any length of time. Assuming the wood is treated with a traditional finish of some sort, commercial polishes provide a nice shine and, as a bonus, probably smell like lemons or lavender or the piney woods during an autumnal dusk or some such thing.
There you go – done. That was easy.
Over time, however, grime builds up. Even the polishes you use begin to leave a thin film which becomes increasingly difficult to remove. Finishes may fade or crack, leaving the wood exposed to the elements, even indoors, and before long you’re aware your table or chairs simply don’t look “right” anymore – even if you can’t pin down exactly what’s changed.
Time for that periodic deep clean
Dust as usual, then start with a mild solution of water and a touch of liquid dishwashing soap. Using a soft cloth, damp but not wet, wipe in a firm but loving circular motion. Rinse your cloth regularly so you’re not merely spreading the gunk around, and don’t skimp on the fresh cloths. Follow up with a separate, dry cloth, also firmly but without aggression. Tough love, with emphasis on the “love.”
If you can’t tell a difference, gradually increase the intensity of the solution until you can. It may take a few times to get the right feel for exactly what works best with your furniture.
It may be that your finish is simply too damaged or there are stains too severe for normal solutions. In that case, it might be time to strip and refinish the piece, which is quite doable but a subject for another time. Then again, if you’re not necessarily emotionally attached to this specific table or chair, there’s something to be said for giving it to a good cause and looking for something new (or new-to-you) to replace it.
You were sort of hoping for something bigger, or smaller, or brighter, or darker, or something-er, anyway, weren’t you?
Furniture care matters, but let’s remember that we’re not doing this to serve the furniture – we’re doing it because it makes us happy. It reflects something about who we are, or at least who we want to be. Since that very likely evolves from time to time, our furniture and accessories should, too.
You bought a nightstand; you didn’t pledge it a life of your fidelity.
Another Man’s Treasure is central Kentucky’s largest new, used, and antique furniture store. Traditional, modern, practical, quirky – you honestly never know what you’ll find, or what might find you. That is, in fact, half the magic. Come see us to talk more about furniture care or to discover the next perfect piece for your real living space.