How to Steam Clean Couch: A Step by Step Guide

Jeneva Aaron
Jeneva is the founder and CEO of where she provides honest and objective reviews on home and cleaning products. She is a cleaning enthusiast. She got inspired to build her own cleaning blog when she realized how cleaning can make an impact on our lives and how a cleaner home can affect a person's mood.
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Updated May 21, 2023

Steam clean your way to a comfier couch and a fresher home

How to Steam Clean Couch: A Step by Step Guide

Have your kids and pets taken their toll on your couch? The cushions suffer from serious daily wear and tear, leaving odors and stains embedded in the fabric.

But you can’t ship it off to the dry cleaners, so you need some tips on how to eliminate the dirt and grime. Hot steam is a natural way to kill bacteria, mold, and dust mites.

So buckle up and let’s run through how to use a steam cleaner to clean your couch. It’ll look as good as new once you’re done!

How Often To Steam Clean My Couch

This will vary based on how much use it gets.

Deep cleaning your couch and other surfaces of upholstery once every two years is a good rule to follow.

If your kids and pets are always clambering over your couch, or you notice a nasty smell, you may want to clean it more often. And likewise, if various surfaces don’t get much use then you can clean them less frequently.

Regular vacuuming is also a great way to keep your upholstery looking in tip-top condition. It removes loose surface dirt that can otherwise drive deeper into the fabric and cause stains.

Before You Begin

A handheld steam cleaner or any regular steam cleaner with the right attachment is fine for steam cleaning your couch.

Use a smooth surface tool with a soft cloth. Or a specialized upholstery brush attachment such as a stationary brush with your steamer.

Check the manufacturer’s recommendations in the manual to see what attachment they recommend for steam cleaning.

Handheld steam machines are small and practical for cleaning objects like upholstery. You can easily move them around the furniture while steam cleaning, so it’s super handy if you’ve got one of these available.

Heavy-duty steam cleaners are also available if you’ve got lots of upholstery that needs steam cleaning. You can rent a heavy-duty cleaner to keep costs down if you only need it for a one-off.

The Bits of Kit You’ll Need:

*: with an upholstery brush attachment
**: Certified by the Carpet and Rug Institure


1. Inspect the Labels

Check the labels on your couch before you think about steam cleaning. You need to make sure it’s safe to use steam on the fabric and the labels will advise.

You’ll normally find the label on the platform under the seat cushions. But if you can’t find it or have cut it out, check the manufacturer’s website for the information. Or contact them if you can’t see it listed anywhere.

The codes give advice on what cleaning solution to use. The main codes to look out for are:

  • W – Water
  • S – Solvent-based cleaner only
  • WS – Water or solvent-based cleaner
  • X – Vacuum only

Keep In Mind

Any fabric furniture with the “W” code is safe for steam cleaning. The W stands for water, so the fabric will stay colorfast as long as you use a water-based cleaning product.

And seeing as steam is 100% water, you’re good to go. But make sure you don’t add anything other than water, like Oxy Clean or Tuff Stuff, to the tank of your upholstery steam cleaner.

If you’re unsure what code your couch is, contact a commercial cleaner. A professional clean is sometimes the safest option to prevent any damage.

2. Brush and Vacuum Your Couch

Clean crumbs, pet hair, and any other debris off your couch. If any of these are left lingering in the fabric, you run the risk of them making your couch even dirtier when you clean it.

Remove the cushions and use a soft bristle brush to sweep bigger chunks away. Then follow up by using a vacuum cleaner with an upholstery attachment and crevice tool for tight spaces.

Make sure you cover the entire surface of the couch, as well as working into all the cracks and crevices around the sides. And don’t forget the back, either.

Take your time! It’s better to do short, slow strokes to make sure you don’t miss any loose dust or dirt.

If you notice any odors while you’re doing this, now’s the time to treat them. Use a water and vinegar solution of ⅔ water to ⅓ vinegar.

White vinegar is the best type to use. Apple cider vinegar has a low concentration of acetic acid making it less efficient in cleaning.

Spray it on any pongy patches and use a clean cloth to dab them dry. Vinegar dries odorless, so you’re not swapping one smell for another.


But please, stay away from baking soda. Or you’ll run the risk of permanently damaging your couch.

3. Spot Clean Stains

Spot cleaning is super important, especially if there are any protein-based stains on your upholstery. Adding heat to this type of stain causes it to “set”, locking in the smell and stain.

If this happens, it’s almost impossible to remove the stain without damaging the material. So it’s something you want to avoid at all costs.

Not sure what a protein stain is? Keep an eye out for:

If you’re unsure what a certain stain is, err on the side of caution and treat it like a protein stain. It’s safer to remove it, after all. Pre-treat oil-based stains with rubbing alcohol or an enzymatic cleaner.

Use a sponge and some stain remover to pre-treat stains on your upholstery. You can make your own solution for this by mixing ¼ teaspoon liquid dish soap into a cup of warm water.

Pop a small amount onto a white cloth and work into stubborn stains. Rub gently in a circular motion from the outside-in to prevent further spreading.

Then, blot with a clean white cloth until the stain is removed. Finally, rinse the area with clean water to remove any residue from the cleaning solution.

You may need to repeat this step a few times to get rid of stubborn stains.

If you’d rather use a commercial cleaner or upholstery shampoo, make sure it’s suitable for the type of stains and fabrics you’re working with. Then follow the instructions on the label for how to apply it.

If you want to use other methods, make sure they’re safe for your upholstery before using them.

4. Prepare Your Steam Cleaner

Attach the upholstery cleaning tool to your steam cleaner as per the instructions. It should attach directly to the unit.

To fill the water tank, lift it away from the main body of the steamer for access. Unscrew the cap and fill the tank with room temperature water to the indicated level.

Keep an eye on the “MAX” line, as you don’t want to overfill the tank. Then, screw the cap back on and pop the tank back into your steam cleaner.

It’s safe to plug the steamer in now, just make sure you use a properly grounded outlet. Wait for the cleaner to heat up to the desired temperature.

Some of the best steam cleaners have indicator lights to let you know when they’re ready. Otherwise, wait a few minutes for the machine to heat up.

5. Begin Sanitizing Your Couch

Start the steam cleaning process! A gentle squeeze of the trigger will produce steam, so now’s the time for a quick test if you haven’t used this steam cleaner before.

Check a small inconspicuous place on the couch first to test for colorfastness. Steam the section and rub it with a white paper towel to see if any color transfers. If not, you’re all good to go with your upholstery cleaner.

If you see some dye on the paper towel, try the test again using cool water. You should still be safe to use steam cleaners on the upholstery if there’s only a small amount of color transfer but proceed with caution.

Begin cleaning the cushions you removed from the couch earlier by spraying each side with a thin layer of steam. Let each side dry before you work your way around the cushion.

For the main couch, work slowly across it to give the steam time to stay hot. You want the steam to stay at the right temperature for optimal cleaning power and sanitizing.

Top Tip

After all, it needs heat of around 160-180F to kill any bed bugs or mold spores.

You can always use an infrared thermometer to check the surface temperature. If you’re still unsure, move the wand slowly and hold the trigger down continuously to give the steam the best chance of staying hot.

Top tip: Don’t hold the steamer over particularly dirty areas for too long. It’s better to do extra passes instead, so you don’t run the risk of oversaturating the fabric.

The couch should feel damp rather than wet. If it feels too wet, check to see if you can adjust the steam output settings on your steam cleaner.

6. Unplug and Store the Steam Cleaner

Pack the steam cleaner away once you’ve finished steaming your couch. Unplug the machine first of all and give it a few minutes to cool down before removing any of the detachable wands.

They stay hot for a while, so it’s safest to wait around five minutes to lessen the chance of any burns or scalds.

Make sure you drain the tank if there’s any excess water left in there. You don’t want to store your cleaner with water, as it’s unhygienic and could leak.

Wrap the power cord around the side of the cleaner to tidy it out of the way. Pop your machine somewhere dry and protected for storage.

7. Vacuum Again

Vacuum your couch again now. Steam-cleaned couches are often left with loose dirt brought to the surface by steam cleaning.

You can do this straight away without waiting to let the couch dry. Steam cleaners don’t saturate the fabric, so it’s safe to use your vacuum cleaner as soon as you’re ready.

Whizzing the vacuum around will remove loose dirt and clean upholstery, leaving your couch looking as good as new.

8. Ventilate the Area and Let it Dry

Finally, you can speed up the drying process and get back onto your couch ASAP by ventilating the room. Even though the upholstery isn’t wet after steaming, you can still expect some dampness.

But you can open windows and doors to increase airflow to help the fabric dry faster. And it’s best to leave the removable pillows and cushions off the couch until everything is dry.

Tips to Keep Your Couch Last Longer

  • Exercise caution if your couch is made from velvet, silk, or any other delicate fabric. You should avoid steam cleaning these as damage is very likely.
  • Avoid mixing too much soap into the water, as a stronger concentration could damage your upholstery.
  • Keep people off the sofa for a couple of hours after using a steam cleaner on it, so it can dry completely.

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