How To Get Odors and Stains Out of Couches

June 27, 2018 Allison Hess


Illustrated blue couch on light blue background

Your couch is home to crumbs, spare change, lost remotes, pet hair, stinky odors, and gunky bacteria. The couch is commonly neglected because it’s not easy to wipe down, it doesn’t get dusty, and we use it so often. It’s easy to assume that it doesn’t get dirty.

But, the fabric on your couch can collect harmful bacteria and odor particles that can create a stinky, unhealthy room. This is especially true if you use your couch frequently to watch TV, hang out at snack time, or cuddle with your pet. 

So what can you do to clean your couch and keep it free from odors and stains?


Image of beige couch with teal throw pillows and a striped throw blanket

1. Soak up the stain.

If you have a recent odor or stain, you’ll want to take action quickly to get rid of it. This is especially important if it’s pet urine or a spilled liquid like milk (which stinks) or juice (which stains).

Put an old rag or stack of paper towels on the spot of the stain. Push down with force to pull up any of the extra liquid. (You may want to wear gloves if dealing with urine.) When one towel or rag gets soaked, switch to a new one to effectively remove more liquid.

If possible, remove the cushion, place the rag on top, and step down on the cushion for extra force. This helps transfer the liquid from the couch to the rag before it gets the chance to stain.

If the stain isn’t recent, you may need an upholstery stain remover. Make sure you use a bleach-free stain remover to avoid damaging the fabric. If this doesn’t work, you may want to call a professional to spot clean the sofa. But first, try the rest of the cleaning options on this list!

Learn how to remove common household stains here.


2. Drench in cold water.

After removing excess liquid, you’ll want to saturate the spot with cold water. Don’t use hot water, as this can set the stain. Place a wet, clean rag on the spot and hold until dampened.

Wait 2-3 minutes after drenching in cold water. Then vacuum up the water with a wet-dry vacuum. If you don’t have one, you can use dry, clean rags to help pull up the excess water. Repeat this process until the area is as dry as you can get it.

If necessary, you may need to use a cool fan to help dry the water quickly. Do not use a hairdryer, as the heat can damage the upholstery.

Don’t do this step if it’s a leather couch. See the bottom of this article for special leather instructions.


3. Get rid of the source.

If there’s an odor that doesn’t appear to be from a stain, you’ll want to find where the smell is coming from. Likely something fell in between the couch cushions that harbor mold or bacteria.

Make sure that you don’t just throw on some heavy perfume or sprayer to “mask” the odors. This can actually make stink worse in the long run, and it doesn’t kill any harmful bacteria. You want to get rid of the odor at its source to make sure it isn’t damaging your couch, home, or family.

If you can’t find the source of the smell, continue on with the rest of the steps to help remove odor particles from the fabric itself.


4. Clean the cushion covers.

Remove your cushions from your couch if possible. If your cushions have zip covers, take off the covers and launder in your washing machine. You should wash in cool water to avoid shrinking or discoloration. Use regular, bleach-free detergent mixed with 1 cup of white vinegar to help remove odors.

To dry, lay the cushion covers out. We recommend putting them in the bathroom on dark towels (in case there is a color transfer). Some recommend drying them in the sun, but this can cause fading and discoloration of some fabrics.

If your cushion covers aren’t removable, continue with the following steps. You’ll do all of the steps on both the base of the couch as well as the separated cushions. 


5. Vacuum your couch regularly.

 During this cleaning process, you’ll want to vacuum all sides of the cushion as well as the base of the couch, armrests, and underneath the couch.

But whether or not you have a stain, you want to be vacuuming your couch regularly. Every time you take out your vacuum to clean the floors, you should be cleaning your couch too. Most vacuums have a fabric attachment, which is either a rectangular or circular bristle head. Some vacuums also have a separate hair-brush attachment which helps pick up pet and human hair.

This allows you to vacuum the cushions and armrests with ease. You can also use this attachment or a longer head to get in between the seat cushions. Pay attention to corners and cracks. We recommend pulling out the seat cushions, if possible, to vacuum underneath the cushions. You’ll be shocked to see how much your couch collects! 

You should vacuum your couch at least once per week.


Picture of blue bucket with a cleaning towel, green spray bottle, baking soda, and a bottle of white vinegar.

6. Deodorize with white vinegar.

While the cushion covers are being washed and dried, you’ll want to work on the base of the couch.

White vinegar is an inexpensive, natural anti-bacterial that will kill smells and bacteria living inside of your couch. This is great to use on parts of the couch that can’t be washed in the machine, like the base of the couch and armrests. It also works well for the pillow inserts of the cushions.

In a spray bottle, mix 4 parts water to 1 part distilled white vinegar. (Make sure it’s pure white vinegar, not white wine vinegar.) This will dilute the vinegar so it doesn’t eat away at your sofa fabric.

Gently mist the couch with the vinegar-water solution. You should be about a foot away so you can gently spritz the couch without oversaturating.

The white vinegar smell will be potent, but it will dissipate as the vinegar dries. In fact, it’s the vinegar’s drying process that actually lifts and removes odor particles.

If you have a stubborn urine or juice stain, you might want to rub the vinegar-water solution directly on the area. This can help remove any additional particles that could be causing the stain or odor. In most cases, vinegar won’t damage softer fabrics, but you might want to test it in a hidden area of your couch before saturating.

Tip: Don’t have white vinegar on hand? Substitute it for inexpensive vodka, which also has antibacterial qualities.


7. Neutralize.

After spritzing on white vinegar, you might want to add one last layer of odor-zapping protection. Adding a neutralizer further breaks down deep-set scents to freshen fabric for weeks to come.

Mix 1 cup of baking soda with 15-20 drops of lavender essential oil. If you need more baking soda, add a proportionate number of drops. Blend with a fork to evenly distribute the oil throughout the baking soda.

Sprinkle the baking soda mixture over the couch, focusing especially on corners and crevices. Let sit for 4-6 hours or overnight if possible. Don’t let kids or pets near, as accidental consumption can be toxic.

This gives the baking soda time to dry out and absorb odors. After a few hours, make sure you vacuum up all baking soda with a vacuum bristle attachment.

If you don’t want to use baking soda because it’s too harsh on your fabric, you can consider charcoal-activated carpet powder.

The lavender is used because it’s naturally antibacterial and adds a fresh, calming scent. If you’re not a fan of lavender, though, check out these other cleaning essential oils

After vacuuming up all the baking soda, your couch should be clean, fresh, and ready for use! 


How to care for leather

Leather sofas require a little bit of extra love. Rather than saturating with water or vinegar, which can damage leather, use Castile soap.

Mix lavender Castile soap in a bucket of warm water so suds form. Dip a soft rag in the solution and wring it out entirely so it’s slightly wet.

Use the rag to wipe stains on the sofa. Make sure not to oversaturate the material.

Wipe with a clean, wet rag. Then, dry with a fresh rag immediately after. Work in small sections so you don’t leave the leather wet for more than a few seconds.

You can sprinkle on baking soda after, but it may be too abrasive for some leathers. Test in a hidden area before using on the couch. You may also need to call a professional for leather sofa cleaning.



Although this process helps remove stains and odors, it’s also the best way to clean your couch on a regular basis. Once per month, you should give your couch a thorough wash. This helps to kill bacteria that could be growing in the cushions or fabric. It also helps keep growing smells at bay by zapping odor particles before they accumulate.

When cleaning your couch, focus on natural solutions that won’t harm your family or furniture. Home Revolution offers some of the healthiest home products on the market.

Are you getting ready to clean your couch? Want to make it easier and simpler to clean your couch in the future? Check out our Home Revolution vacuum attachments, bags, and belts to remove hair and debris from your couch!

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