How to: remove stains from your upholstered sofa

How to: remove stains from your upholstered sofa

Image: Stephani Buchman


How to: remove stains from your upholstered sofa

From red wine to pen ink, stains are always a threat to our upholstery — but that's no reason to live in fear! We've got the best practices for removing common stains because we all know they're inevitable.

Your sofa probably takes centre stage in your living room, so when it gets dirty, it’s pretty hard to ignore. Daily wear and tear is one thing, but if you’ve got a big, unsightly stain, you may panic and think there’s no way to get it out. But before you start shopping for a new sofa, try to get the stain out by addressing it right. We checked in with Melissa Maker, the best-selling author of Clean My Space: The Secret to Cleaning Better, Faster and Loving Your Home Every Day for her tips for getting common stains out of your sofa.

You know the saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So, preventing a stain in the first place is better than any stain removal technique you can find. According to Melissa, the best way to protect your sofa is to have it professionally treated or Scotch Guarded.

But, no matter how careful and prepared you may be, stains happen, so it's important to know how to treat them so you can act quickly to remove the mark. “It is always best to tend to a stain immediately,” advises Melissa. “The longer it sits, the more it becomes rooted into the fabric and set stains can be harder to clean.” A rule of thumb? Avoid using too much product and water to get that stain out. “Remember, you can’t totally rinse stained furniture, so less is more,” says Melissa. “You don’t want a nasty water ring left behind, so use as little as possible.” And don’t get carried away with rubbing at the stain. “By doing this, you grind the stain matter further into the fabric,” she says. “You always want to blot and treat the fabric delicately. Rubbing will only set the stain in further and make your job harder.”


As you may have learned from your experience with various fabric stains, no two are alike and therefore have to be tended to in different ways. To make it easy, we’ve identified 11 common stains and asked Melissa to dish up the solutions.


Red Wine

Blot up the stain with paper towel as quickly as you can to get the moisture out. Mix up an oxygen bleach solution according to product instructions, and soak your stained fabric in it for between one to six hours. When done, gently press out liquid. (Note: Before using the oxygen bleach solution on your fabric, be sure to do a quick test as the mixture can discolour fabrics.)



Gently scrape off any hardened bits of chocolate using a credit card or butter knife. Treat the stain by adding dish soap or laundry detergent to the area, and soak for 10 minutes or so. If the stain persists, make a solution of two parts hydrogen peroxide to one part dish soap, apply it to the stain and leave on for an hour or so, or if possible, remove and soak the cushion cover in oxygen bleach and wash. Repeat until the stain is gone.


Tomato Sauce

Start by blotting up any excess sauce with a clean cloth or paper towel. Treat the stain with a laundry pre-treater or liquid dish soap. Let the soap sit for 10-20 minutes, then blot again and rinse. If the stain still persists, treat again with pre-treater and launder the cushion cover in warm water.



Place a cloth under the stained area to prevent spreading the stain any further. Next, spray rubbing alcohol on the ink stain using as little as possible to wet the stain but not soak it (try to keep it from spreading) and leave it for a few minutes. Take a towel or clean cloth and blot the stain by pushing down into the fabric and lifting away — avoid rubbing at all costs! You’ll see the ink start to transfer from the fabric to the cloth; make sure to move the cloth as you go to prevent re-transferring. Keep doing this until you’ve removed as much of the ink as possible. Apply dish soap as a pre-treater, then launder the cushion cover on cold for a cycle. When it comes out, the stain should be gone. If not, repeat the same process. Avoid putting it in the dryer or exposing it to heat until the stain is gone, otherwise, the heat will set it.



Start by blotting the stain with cold water, let soak in cold water for 30 minutes then pre-treat with liquid dish soap or a pre-treater. Launder as per the cushion cover’s care instructions. 



Blot up as much of the milk as possible. Mix together two parts hydrogen peroxide to one part dish soap and apply to the stain. Allow it to sit for five minutes, then gently blot with a cool, damp cloth. Launder as per the cushion cover’s care instructions. 



Marker stains can be treated the same way as ink but you can replace alcohol with hairspray. For crayons, use baking soda on a wet sponge and gently blot off the marks. Then rinse with clean water and dry. 


Animal Waste

Remove as much of the waste as you can, either by using a dull edge or blotting up liquids. Then create a paste using 1/4 cup table salt, 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1/4 cup borax powder. Apply the paste to the stain and allow it to sit for 24 hours. Vacuum up the dried paste, rinse the area with water and blot dry with a clean towel or cloth. If staining or odour persists, look for an enzyme-based product or call in a professional steam cleaner to handle the stain.


Oil and Grease

Start by removing any excess grease by gently blotting up excess. Then, pat a teaspoon of cornstarch over the greasy stain (this will help absorb the grease). Allow to sit for up to 60 minutes and brush off. You should notice the cornstarch will have absorbed most of the oil and will darken in colour. Pretreat the stain with a stain pre-treater or a small dab of liquid dish soap. Leave for 15 minutes and launder the cushion cover as usual, avoiding hot cycles until the stain is gone.



Remove as much of it as possible using a hard edge such as a dull knife or credit card. If you can, put the cushion cover in the freezer for at least one hour. If it is too large for the freezer, apply an ice cube to the gum until it is frozen. It should then come up using the same hard edge. Any residue left behind can be treated with a small dab of dish soap and laundered or blotted away with a cold cloth until gone. 



Act fast! Dried blood is difficult to remove. Blot up as much blood as possible and remove the cushion cover for treatment. Run cold water over the stain to rinse out as much as you can. Soak in oxygen-bleach solution, and soak for up to six hours. Gently wring and launder in cool water (heat will set the stain) according to fabric care instructions. 


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How to: remove stains from your upholstered sofa