The Best Way to Clean Up Food Stains from Any Couch

published Feb 27, 2018
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Whether you’re throwing a party that gets a little rowdy or have a mishap while eating dinner in front of the television, every once in a while food is gonna drop on the couch. Unless you have the whole thing slipcovered in something you can pull off and throw into the washing machine, it can be tricky to remove stains thoroughly without getting water spots on the sofa. So, we spoke to cleaning expert Melissa Maker, author of Clean My Space, to figure out how to address these tricky stains.

“The key is to know what you’re working with,” says Maker. “Know what material your upholstery is made of, whether it’s leather, cotton or linen, or microfiber.” If you’re not sure, look at the care tag as a guide. (Yes, your couch has one just like your new sweater!) Although the first steps are the same for any kind of upholstery, the way you treat the stain will depend on the material. Here’s how to remove food stains from any couch.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

As soon as the spill happens (or as soon as you notice it), scrape off any visible debris with a butter knife or other flat, hard object, being careful not to press the food further into the upholstery.

Use a folded paper towel to blot (not rub!) as much of the liquid as you can off of the surface. “Imagine you are brushing a soft tomato or peach, that’s about how hard you want press,” says Maker. Continue to do this until there is no more liquid transfer.

Then consider your couch material.

If Your Couch Is Untreated Leather

Sprinkle baking soda or cornstarch on the stain and let it stand for 15 minutes. Vacuum it up, using the fabric brush attachment. If there is still a residual stain, you’ll have to call a professional leather cleaner.

If Your Couch Is Coated or Finished Leather

Once you’ve removed as much as you can by blotting, wipe the leather with a damp microfiber cloth. It should wipe right up. If there is some residual stain, use a leather cleaner or conditioner — like Leather CPR — to address it.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

If Your Couch Is Cotton or Linen

Use a solvent like Bac-Out (Maker’s favorite!) or mix your own solution of one tablespoon white vinegar and 2/3 cup rubbing alcohol. Sponge the solution onto the stain, then blot dry with a clean white cloth until the liquid is absorbed. “Make sure you’re getting the solvent onto the stain only to avoid creating water rings,” says Maker. Keep repeating the process until the stain disappears. Once it’s gone, use a clean cloth to dab it with cold water, and blot until it’s dry.

If Your Couch Is Microfiber

First, you’ll need to know what kind of microfiber you have, which you’ll learn from the care label. Check the label and look for the letter you see in this list below to learn what to do.

  • W: You should use a water-based cleaning solution. In this case, do the same as you would for cotton or linen, above.
  • S: You should use a solvent-based cleaning solution, NOT a water-based one. In this case, dab the stain like you would for cotton or linen, but with rubbing alcohol or vodka.
  • S/W: This means you can use either a water- or a solvent-based cleaner, so either of the above will do.
  • X: Vacuum only — no liquid! Scrape off and blot as much as you can, then use an old toothbrush to break up and brush off any dried stain; use a vacuum to get up the rest.
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

If the nap of the sofa has flattened in the cleaning process, use a red lint brush or clean, dry sponge to fluff it back up once the stain has dried.