We Tested the Best Upholstery Cleaners to Tackle Stains and Scratches
Because you can’t toss your sofa in the wash.
Published Mar 9, 2022 1:34 AM
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Between Netflix marathons and entertaining a whole slew of guests, your sofa can take a serious beating. And even if you’re extra-careful, there’s always the risk of stains from dirty paw prints, messy fingers, or even a dreaded red-wine spill.
Unfortunately, you can’t just toss an entire couch in the wash. As one of the biggest investments you’ll make, it’s all the more important to care for it safely and effectively, especially with an older (or expensive!) piece. That’s where a good upholstery cleaner comes in.
To find the best upholstery cleaners, we sought out some of the most popular options on the market, with a focus on natural ingredients, and then put them through tough sofa stain situations to assess their performance. Here are the winners.
- Best overall: Grove Collaborative Carpet & Upholstery Stain Remover
- Best for leather: Murchison-Hume Leather Cleaner
- Best wine remover: Wine Away Red Wine Stain Remover
- Best for deep stains: The Laundress Stain Solution
- Best steamer design: Dupray NEAT Steam Cleaner
Best Overall: Grove Collaborative Carpet & Upholstery Stain Remover
Type: Spray | Surface: Carpet and upholstery | Volume: 20 ounces
What we like:
- Great scent
- No residue left behind
- Some scrubbing involved
- Not good on velvet, silk, vinyl, leather, or suede
Why we chose it: This powerful plant-based cleaner cuts through stains and dirt without leaving a residue—even on white couches.
With its fresh lavender and thyme scent, this foaming stain remover was the best cleaner we tested, working through dirt and dust stains on fabrics and carpets with ease. It even eliminated our makeshift spaghetti stain. To use the solution, just give the bottle a good shake and spray, then blot the stain with a damp cloth. While tackling lighter dirt stains was a breeze, we did find that heavier, set-in stains called for a few rounds of spraying and scrubbing, and the fabric did take around an hour to dry post-clean. Once dry, though, there was no residue to worry about and no more stain.
Plus, because the product is made with natural ingredients from a Certified B Corp, you can feel good about kids and pets lounging on the freshly cleaned surface.
Best for Leather: Murchison-Hume Leather Cleaner
Type: Spray | Surface: Leather | Volume: 11.5 ounces
What we like:
- Great for furniture
- Neutral scent
- Subscription option
- Avoid applying directly; spray on a cloth first
- A little goes a long way
Why we chose it: A leather cleaner that conditions and protects—and makes your sofa look fresh but not too shiny.
Leather can be a funny material when it comes to maintenance. If it’s not regularly cleaned and conditioned, it can dry out and crack. On the other hand, if it’s wiped down too much, it can look slick and uninviting. And most leather cleaners are no less fickle: Wipes dry out, two-step products are tedious to use, or the solution sits on top of the leather without sinking in. But the leather cleaner from Murchison-Hume, a Sydney- and Los Angeles–based lifestyle brand, works like a charm. The product line was developed by Max and Peter Kater when their son developed allergies to common household cleaners, and their leather solution cleans and conditions beautifully, even on a years-old sofa that lives with our deputy commerce editor, Samantha Weiss-Hills (and her dog).
After spraying a small amount of the product on a soft cloth, all you have to do is wipe down the leather surface, buffing lightly to remove scratches (the bane of a leather sofa) and lift grime. Weiss-Hills found that it gave her butterscotch-hued sofa a facelift after just one use.
Best Wine Remover: Wine Away Red Wine Stain Remover
Type: Spray | Surface: Clothing, carpet, and upholstery | Volume: 12 ounces
What we like:
- Works on older stains (and more than just wine)
- Easy cleanup
- Really only works on wine
- Turns blue when applied
Why we chose it: This popular miracle product really works—so you don’t have to fear sipping a glass of vino on your white couch.
A glass of Cab Sav may be your go-to, but nothing ruins wine-and-cheese night faster than getting a drop of red on your couch. Despite its less-than-design-forward bottle (and slightly kitschy name), Wine Away worked. It eliminated a fresh Merlot stain on a carpet in minutes, and while we had to use multiple applications on an older wine spill, it still visibly reduced the spot with minimal effort. While this stain remover is a one-trick pony (we found it didn’t do as well on coffee or other stains), it’s still a must for frequent hosts and those who like to enjoy their wine without worry.
Best for Deep Stains: The Laundress Stain Solution
Type: Liquid | Surface: Upholstery, carpet, and clothing | Volume: 16 ounces
What we like:
- Treats 200 stains
- Pleasant scent
- Highly effective
- Need to scrub out
- Easy to overdo
Why we chose it: This liquid stain concentration is meant as a prelaundry treatment but also works wonders at spot treating dark stains on furniture and carpet.
This concentrated stain solution from The Laundress is a game changer when it comes to tackling tough stains like wine and coffee—which is especially impressive considering it uses a plant-derived formula. The solution is intended for laundry, but we found that it was safe enough for delicate furniture as well. To use, add a very small amount to the stained area, then gently work it in with a cloth or small brush and blot to remove any residue. Warning: A little does go a long way, and if you overdo it, you’ll be faced with more blotting and scrubbing.
[Editor’s note: As of November 2022, The Laundress was alerted that there is potential presence of elevated levels of bacteria in some of their products. Until the investigation has resolved, we do not recommend buying or using Laundress products. Visit this website to check if your product is impacted and to request a reimbursement.]
Best Steamer Design: Dupray NEAT Steam Cleaner
Type: Steamer | Surface: Upholstery, leather, carpet, and more | Volume: 54 ounces
What we like:
- No chemicals required
- 50-minute run time
- Can be used on a variety of surfaces
- Two-year warranty
- Takes up space
- A slight learning curve
Why we chose it: This steam cleaner works away stains without the use of harsh chemicals—it just uses water.
If you’re worried about a stain remover leaving behind residue or damaging fabric, this nifty steam cleaner from Dupray is for you. An upholstery-cleaner machine rather than a spray, it holds water in a compact cube and comes with 17 different attachments that allow it to safely clean furniture—plus everything from grout and car upholstery to car seats and even showers. For cleaning furniture specifically, we used the microfiber bonnet with the triangular tool to target dirt and grime without hitting (and potentially damaging) the upholstery directly with steam. There is a bit of a learning curve to figure out the attachments, but once we got going, we cleaned an entire couch with ease—something that would take much more time with a spray and cloth. In the end, the steamer was able to dig up light stains, though it didn’t work quite as well on heavier ones.
Bonus: The steam comes out at 275 degrees Fahrenheit, and the brand claims that this eliminates up to 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses. The steamer is pricier than your standard spray, but its multiple functions will make it your cleaning bestie for pretty much every task.
- Cuyana Leather Spot Cleaner: This little spray bottle is more ideal for spot cleaning than tackling an entire couch, but it refreshes leather surfaces with limited scrubbing and gives a bit of extra shine as well.
How We Chose These Products
Before deciding what upholstery cleaners to use, we looked into any questionable ingredients to avoid, like bleach, and stuck with more natural options as well as a few steam cleaners. This is especially important if you’re cleaning an area that both kids and pets will be hanging around. Then we tested the products on carpets, upholstered couches, and leather, and on stains like dirt, pasta sauce, and red wine. We applied each product according to the directions, then cleaned and evaluated it to see how effectively the stain was removed and how fresh it looked afterward.
Our Shopping Checklist
The two major types of the best upholstery cleaners are spray cleaners and steam cleaners. Spray cleaners use a specific formula that targets and breaks apart stains, but these aren’t always safe to use on more delicate materials. Steam cleaners, on the other hand, use hot steam to break apart dirt, grime, and most stains without the use of any chemicals.
When searching for the best upholstery cleaner, consider what type of fabric you’re working with. While most spray cleaners are formulated for linen and carpet, more delicate fabrics like leather and velvet will need special care. A good way to check if the cleaner is safe for the surface is to test it on a small, unnoticeable section and look for any marks or discoloration. As always, use any new cleaners with caution and consult the care instructions for your specific product when in doubt.
Each cleaner varies. Typically, to apply a spray cleaner, you will spray the surface, let the formula soak in, dab the area with a wet cloth, scrub slightly to remove harder stains, and wait for the area to dry. With upholstery steam cleaners, you can run the hot steam over the surface using the appropriate attachment to pick up dirt and stains without burning the fabric.
Q: How often should I clean upholstery?
This is a personal choice, depending on how often the upholstery is used, if you have kids or pets, and if there are any noticeable stains or major spillage. But regular deep cleanings should be done at least once every year or two years to keep things clean.
Q: Can I use an upholstery cleaner on other surfaces?
Some upholstery cleaners are also formulated to remove stains and grime on clothing and can get deep into carpets to remove stains.
Q: Does upholstery cleaner expire?
Yes. Over time cleaning products can degrade, making them less effective and creating more work on your end when it comes to scrubbing out stains.
Q: Does upholstery cleaner kill germs?
Yes! Alongside stains, upholstery cleaners are generally formulated to disinfect the surface for a full clean. Steaming surfaces can also help disinfect and kill germs.
Q: Does upholstery cleaner work on carpet?
Yes. Typically, these cleaners are made to target multiple surfaces, including shag carpets. You can also use steam cleaners on carpets to eliminate germs and dirt.
The Last Word
Furniture stains are inevitable, but having the best upholstery cleaners means you won’t have to be as anxious about spills. For a solid, all-natural cleaner that cuts through stains without leaving residue, the Grove Collaborative Carpet & Upholstery Stain Remover is a great choice. For a steamer option, we loved the Dupray NEAT Steam Cleaner, which can be used on multiple cleaning surfaces.