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How to Crack Your Couch's Secret Cleaning Code

Photo: Christian Kaindl (Unsplash)
SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

I need advice! We have an “S” fabric couch we like enough (really, a couch we can’t afford to replace right now). We got it when our daughter was about 1, and she’s 8 now. There’s a cornucopia of stains, visible and other: milk, spit up, yogurt, chocolate, ice cream, oil, and probably another kid’s weight worth of sweat and dander. Oh, and we have two cats and a dog.

I have tried 70-90% alcohol and a stiff nylon brush, vinegar and baking soda, and (lesson learned) the washing machine. Nothing seems to work. Anything you recommend? I’m open to using elbow grease, dry cleaners, or even a pro if that’s what will do it. Would like to have people over without adjusting the light to put a shadow on the “good stain” side.

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Good news! You already know about the couch code — I’m referring to the “S” you mentioned. Bad news! You don’t know what the couch code means. Not to worry, however, because I know about the couch code and what the couch code means and I’m here to explain it to the rest of you.

Furniture manufacturers use a cleaning code to indicate how best to clean upholstery; this information is printed on a care tag, which is usually sewn onto the underside of the seat. It can sometimes be tricky to find it (both the tag and the code), and it’s often easier to go to the manufacturer’s website, which generally will include the code information in the product description.

Once you locate the tag, or Google your couch to read up on its predilections, you’ll find one of four letters on it:

  • W = Wet/water cleaning only
  • S = Dry solvent cleaning only
  • SW = Dry solvent and/or wet cleaning
  • X = Professional cleaning or vacuuming only

So we already know that our LW has an S-code couch, which means it needs to be cleaned using dry cleaning solvents. Which … is not very helpful because, like, what now?

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Here’s the, like, what now about dry cleaning solvents: You can buy them at most hardware and home improvement stores or, of course, on Amazon. The fluid usually comes in a giant can, but smaller quantities can be found if you only need to treat small stains. And here are your instructions — start by putting the solvent on a white or light-colored cloth, and use it to blot at the stains, applying more solvent to the cloth as needed. However, be sparing in your use of the solvents, as a little goes a long way.

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In the case of LW’s couch, I think that’s going to be the best route, but for others of you who have an S-code couch that only have small stains, or if you want to keep something on hand in the event stains do happen, get yourself a can of either K2r or Blue Coral. Both are great, easy-to-use products that are safe on S-code upholstery — including car interiors!

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And because a Jolie Kerr column wouldn’t be complete without a detour to talk about tools, one tool that can really help to spruce up a couch that’s seen better days is an upholstery brush. It’s also worth reminding you that regularly vacuuming a couch is a good thing to do! And, while it’s absolutely not required, I’ve had good luck with using the Dyson Mattress vac on furniture that’s become very hairy thanks to the family pets.

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About the author

Jolie Kerr

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person