How to Get Major Stains Out of Upholstery

how to get major stains out of upholstery

My kids are major mess makers. It’s true; they just are. I spent approximately 1/3 of their lives thus far being mad about it and then I realized it’s kind of pointless to be upset. They are kids; kids make messes. They are not destructive by any means, but until they are older there will be accidents. There will be stains. There will be mess.

After I came to this realization, I decided that in order to deal I would need 3 things: an awesome vacuum, a carpet cleaner, and a great recipe for how to get major stains out of upholstery.

My vacuum is the Shark Navigator Deluxe Upright Vacuum. We have two, one for upstairs and one for downstairs. It does an excellent job for a fraction of the price of a Dyson.

this is a great vacuumShark Navigator Deluxe Upright Vacuum // $127.99 on Amazon

While we’re on the subject of Shark vacuums, let me mention that they have incredible customer service. One of the prongs popped off the plug of my vacuum this summer. I called customer service and they sent me a brand new vacuum!

The carpet cleaner that we own is the Hoover Carpet Cleaner Max Extract. We’ve owned this particular model for over 12 years. Our original version broke about three years ago, and I replaced it immediately because it is a life saver when you have kids and pets.

this is a great carpet cleanerHoover Carpet Cleaner Max Extract // $213.88 on Amazon

These two items are amazing, but my stain recipe? That is epic, friends. I’ve used it on almost anything – laundry stains, carpets, car upholstery, bathroom scum – it can clean anything. But I especially love it as a upholstery cleaner.

We have this really expensive upholstered chair in our living room. It’s one of the first “nice” or expensive pieces of furniture that Jason and I purchased as a couple. It’s a huge, comfortable chair with an ottoman and I love it. I love to watch TV in it. I love to read books in it. I love cozy movie night, nights in front of a fire… it’s my favorite place to sit and relax in the house.

Well, the problem is that my kids and dog love this chair, too. It was so stained and gross that I used to drape a blanket over it before people would come over. I actually had a carpet cleaning company come out and clean it, for the tidy sum of $100, and it didn’t help at all.

Until my magical stain buster. Stains be gone! Y’all, it is magic.

Enough, enough already! Right? You want me to get on with it.

how to get major stains out of upholstery

Sorry for the poor image quality – I snapped this for an Instastory and it is the only before picture that I have. This chair is in Poppy’s room and it takes a beating. There are water stains, formula stains, spit up, diaper rash cream… and probably other assorted stains I’d rather not think about. I haven’t given it a good cleaning since we got it almost 3 years ago. It was past due! So what did I do? I busted out my tried and true recipe for how to get major stains out of upholstery.

Here are the items you will need.


  • Vinegar
  • Hot water
  • BLUE Dawn Dish Soap
  • Optional, for tougher stains: Borax, OxyClean, or Baking Soda
  • Clean sponge with a scrub side

how to get major stains out of upholstery

I like to use a bowl, but you could use a spray bottle.

These measurements are approxiamate. Use more or less depending on the area you are cleaning. The chair above took me two bowls.

Combine 3-4 tablespoons BLUE Dawn Dish Soap and 1/8 cup vinegar to 3 cups HOT water. Use the hottest water you can stand. I honestly eyeball this; I’ve used more and less Dawn and vinegar with good results. Stir to combine and immediately get to work while the water is still hot.

Dip your sponge into the water until it is soaking wet. Move it to your upholstery and begin to saturate your surface. DO NOT POUR THE MIXTURE DIRECTLY ON THE SURFACE. You don’t want to get the middle layer of your cushions wet; we are just thoroughly wetting the surface. I use the soft side to rub in the water so that the fabric is wet, and then I flip over to the scrub side and begin to vigorously work at any stains.

Cover the entire surface – this is key! Often upholstery can sometimes leave water marks, so you want to wet the entire cushion/chair etc so that it will dry evenly without stains.

Let it dry overnight.

how to get major stains out of upholstery

It looks so much better!


Depending on the stain you are dealing with, you can add either Borax, OxyClean, or Baking Soda to the water mixture. Borax is a stain figher so I’ll add that if I know it is a tough stain. Baking Soda disinfects and that is helpful for smelly stains, such as urine. OxyClean can get out or lighten dark spots. DO NOT USE ALL THREE TOGETHER. (Thank you to my friend Lindsey for her suggestion on using Borox and Dawn as a paste for stains!)

If you have a truly stubborn stain, make a paste of Borax and Dawn and apply it to the stain. Let it sit for a while, wipe away, and then use the method of cleaning I described above.

The vinegar smell can be off putting to some. Jason is super sensitive to smells and he hates when I use this because of the vinegar smell. Your furniture will smell of vinegar as it is wet, but the smell disapates as it dries.

That’s it! Easy peasy. Let me know if you have any questions.

Links are affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small percentage if you make a purchase.


  1. Tiffany Honeycutt says:

    I am for sure going to try that cleaning recipe out. Thanks for sharing.


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