How to Protect Fabric Furniture From Stains and Dirt

We spoke to three furniture-cleaning experts.

West Elm lounger
Photo: Courtesy of the Retailer.

The soft, pink velvet couch of my dreams recently materialized in my life: an on-trend, secondhand West Elm lounger that is miraculously stain- and dirt-free. I love it like my own child and paid a small fortune to buy it, too, but given my anxiety and its “pristine-ness,” it’s already giving me issues. The main one being that I haven’t been doing much sitting on it. I refuse to let it be besmirched by my subway clothes, for starters — if you were a regular on the A train, you would, too. And the idea of having guests over who might want to sip and snack on it? Unthinkable.

I could wrap it in a plastic cover like it’s an artifact — defeating the point of owning anything velvet — or heed my mom’s advice to stock up on stain remover, but really, I just want to find a middle ground that lets me enjoy my couch without wearing kid gloves. And since velvet couches are all the rage these days, I imagine I’m not the only one searching for solutions. So I turned to three furniture-cleaning experts for advice on how to protect fabric or upholstered furniture from (and treat the inevitable) stains.

Stain Protectants

Professional cleanings will help maintain the structure of your couch and keep it looking newer for longer, but even with professional help, Sonny Cohen, the owner of New York–based PureGreen Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning, suggests investing in a fabric protector. “Fabric protector will basically make sure that stains don’t become permanent stains, so when you spill a glass of wine on the fabric, or when food/pet stains lie on the surface of the fabric, you’re able to blot it away with a white rag.” He notes that it typically only lasts about a year on a couch that’s being regularly used, though, so reapplying it annually is always a good idea.

Cohen is very specific about the types of fabric protectors he uses, though: exclusively “green label” stain protectors that are free of major toxins and carcinogens. We recommend this furniture protectant spray that doesn’t contain fluorocarbons or silicons, and can be used on everything from suede to microfiber.

Scotchgard Fabric and Upholstery Protector (Two-Pack)

Probably the most popular stain protectant out there, though, is Scotchgard. It came recommended by Dean Davies, a professional upholstery and carpet-cleaning technician at U.K.-based home-services company Fantastic Services. He says, “Scotchgard provides reliable protection against spills and stains by not letting them settle on the surface of your furniture, and is totally safe to use on delicate fabrics such as silk and wool.” The directions are fairly simple, too: You just spray the fabric protector about six inches away from the couch, and repeat until the entire surface area is covered.

Lint Rollers, Vacuums, and Dust Solutions

Because the buildup of dust and hair can also affect how grubby your couch looks, Davies recommends using a lint roller like this Evercare one for quick, superficial cleaning. “A lint roller is extremely handy when you have to remove pet hair from the couch. This one has a long handle and a convenient roller, which collects hairs with ease.”

VonHaus 2 in 1 Corded Lightweight Stick Vacuum Cleaner and Handheld Vacuum

For a deeper clean to remove hair, dust, and dirt, Greg Shepard, the owner of Dallas Maids, says vacuuming weekly with a vacuum brush extension is helpful, too. Cohen agrees, recommending vacuums with a HEPA filter to improve the air quality of the house and pick up allergens from the fabric. Something affordable like this upright vacuum (that breaks down to a handheld version) should do the trick. It has a HEPA filter with an attachment that allows it to maneuver in between couch cushions and into hard-to-reach cracks. And between dustings, Cohen also recommends flipping the cushions. “Our bodies are constantly shedding dead skin cells, hairs, and body oil, so you want to evenly keep the traffic patterns on all of the cushions,” he says. “And if there are certain areas that are getting a lot of direct sunlight, those cushions can eventually lose color from the UV rays.”

Stain Removers

Should that red-wine spill actually occur, my experts steered me away from everyday cleaners (which could contain bleaching agents that alter the color of the fabric) and toward at-home solutions for clearing up the stain. Both Cohen and Shepard suggest a vinegar-and-water solution for applying to a towel and gently blotting at the stain.

“You can try distilled white vinegar mixed in a 50 percent ratio with slightly warm water, but don’t soak the fabric,” says Cohen. “That can be used as a homemade spot cleaner, which won’t harm the fabric because it’s acidic in nature. It can be used to remove most fresh stains on the couch.”

Swan Isopropyl Alcohol

“Using any type of clear alcohol (vodka, rubbing alcohol, etc.) works magic, too,” says Shepard, a trick he learned from a professional carpet cleaner. How it works is that you spray a bit of alcohol on the couch after vacuuming and blot the stain with a cloth or towel. “I’m amazed at how well it removes even the most stubborn stains.” (Editor’s note: The Laundry Evangelist recently recommended rubbing alcohol, too, for removing stains from “dry-clean only” clothes.)