Having clean upholstery is essential for your health and comfort. Some fabrics attract dust, and others get stained easily. If you are aware of how to take proper care of your furniture, it can last for a long time. Let’s take your armchair as an example. Below you will see its basic structure. Most sofas and couches are made the exact same way.

structure of an armchair

But why is this important?

  1. Some upholsteries can absorb liquids very fast. When that happens, the second layer of your furniture (the cushions) can get permanent staining and can even develop mould.
  2. If your furniture is placed under direct sunlight, the UV rays can affect not only the soft parts of your couch or sofa but also the exposed wooden parts.
  3. When pleased in a humid environment, the methal springs can develop rust over time, staining your furniture from the inside-out.

These are just a few examples of what can happen to your upholstery if you don’t maintain them in the right manner. So when you buy new pieces of furniture, always ask for a manufacturer’s guidelines and instructions. There you can spot some interesting letters.

What Does the Marking on Your Upholstery Mean?

Every type of fabric has different requirements when it comes to clean. Some can be dry cleaned only, others can be put in the washing machine. You need to know what the cleaning code means to properly maintain your upholstery and remove the stains. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • W – This means your upholstery can be washed with water. So when you spill and make a stain, you can clean it immediately with water and fabric cleaner.
  • S – Unfortunately, that means that your upholstery must be dry cleaned only. Do not use water, or you may damage the fabric.
  • S/W – This sign means that dry cleaning solvents and water can be used. Our advice is to let professionals clean it because, even if it can handle a little water, you never know.
  • X – A very rare sign. It is put on non-washable fabrics that can only be vacuumed.

cleaning codes

How to Clean Upholstery from Synthetic Fabric

Synthetic upholstery is cheaper and not as demanding as natural one. Man-made fabrics are generally more durable and easy to clean. Here are your options:

  • Polyester – It is usually made from a synthetic polymer called Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), so basically this is a fabric made from plastic. Altho exceptionally durable it is not biodegradable thus it is not at all environmentally friendly.
  • Olefin (Polypropylene) – It is a polypropylene fibre that has a more eco-friendly method of manufacturing than cotton, wool or rayon. Durable and comfortable this is one of the most widespread upholstery fabrics.
  • Nylon – One of the oldest synthetic materials, nowadays it is rarely used on its own. However, in a blend, it enhances the durability and water resistance of the fabric.
  • Acrylic – It is made from acrylonitrile – a derivative of polypropylene plastic. Altho beautiful and comfortable the fabric is very flammable, so you need to be very careful where you place your furniture.
  • Microfiber – This is a super soft fabric typically made from polyester. It comes in a variety of different colours and is suitable for all kinds of households.
  • Sunbrella® – It is the brand manufacturing this unique fabric that is known by the same name. The Sunbrella upholstery has different types both for outdoor and indoor furniture.
  • Faux Leather – There are different types of synthetic leather that successfully imitate the various kinds of the original. Altho not as durable as the natural equivalent, this upholstery is vegan and cruelty-free, which makes it a very popular option.
  • Vinyl -The upholstery is made from two different synthetic materials – polyester and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The fabric is extremely easy to maintain and disinfect. It is usually used in hospitals, restaurants and other commercial properties.
Type of Fiber Pros Cons Cleaning Requirements
Polyester ➤ Soft and durable;
➤ Easy to clean;
➤Dries off very quickly;
➤Abrasion and stain-resistant fabric;
➤ Doesn’t absorb smells;
➤ Easily damaged if exposed to rapidly changing temperature;
➤ It can stretch over time;
➤ Flammable material;
➤Use regular cleaners;
➤Different blends have a different cleaning code, so be very careful;
Olefin (Polypropylene) ➤Water-resistant;
➤Water-based stains are easily cleaned;
➤ Inexpensive;
➤ Oil stains are extremely hard to clean;
➤Can be damaged by heat or light;
➤ It can uphold the usage of bleach products;
➤ Do not dry clean;
➤ Avoid steam cleaning;
➤ Wash with lukewarm water and mild detergents;
Nylon ➤Strong and durable;
➤ Non-absorbent;
➤ abrasion and static-resistant;
➤ Resistant to mould and mildew;
➤ Can suffer from sunlight damage;
➤ Can create static electricity;
➤ Not a breathable fabric;
➤ Problem with fading;
➤ Spot clean with water and mild soap or specialised detergent;
➤ Do not dry clean;
➤ Do not bleach;
Acrylic ➤ Soft and comfortable fabric;
➤ Easy to clean;
➤ Doesn’t get damaged by the sun;
➤ Can melt if close to a heat source or fire;
➤ Prone to abrasion;
➤ Do not wash with hot water;
➤ Vacuum regularly;
➤ Can be spot cleaned;
➤ Аvoid steam cleaning;
Microfiber ➤ Highly durable;
➤Resistant to sunlight and UV damage;
➤ Absorbent;
➤ Can create static electricity;
➤ Prone to water damage;
➤ Collects dust and debris;
➤ Stains must be removed right away;
➤ Regularly vacuum;
➤ Clean with less water as possible;
Sunbrella® ➤Water and sunlight resistance;
➤Strong and durable;
➤Resistant to mould;
➤Does not fade;
➤Easy to clean;
➤ Breathable;
➤Suitable for outdoor furniture only;
➤ Use a solution of water and mild soap;
➤Clean using a soft bristle brush;
Faux Leather ➤Easy to maintain;
➤ Not as expensive;
➤ More durable and doesn’t crack so easily;
➤ Resistant to sunlight and water;
➤ Not very breathable;
➤ Can be torn and punctured easily;
➤ Can be easily cleaned with a damp cloth;
➤ Suitable for spot cleaning;
➤ Use specialised cleaning detergent;
➤ Can be steam cleaned;
➤ Do not use abrasive cleaning detergents;
Vinyl ➤ Very durable;
➤Resistant to sunlight and water;
➤Very easy to maintain and clean;
➤ Not as soft to the touch as other fabrics;
➤ Not breathable;
➤ Wash with water and mild soap;
➤ Use a microfiber cloth or a soft-bristled brush;
➤Suitable for spot cleaning;
➤ Avoid abrasive solvents;

Synthetic fabrics imitate the natural fibres very well all the while they are relatively inexpensive. However, bear in mind that sometimes strong chemicals are involved in the manufacturing process.

How to Clean Upholstery from Semi-Synthetic Fabric

The concept of mixing natural with synthetic fibres to create a strong new fabric is not recent. But in the last decade, some great options have surfaced and started to conquer the market.

  • Rayon – Made from cellulose that has undergone a chemical treatment, this fabric is widely used in the textile industry. Over the years it became a starting point for the development of similar semi-synthetic fibres.
  • Viscose – It is made from the organic liquid used in the production of rayon fabric. However, it is the least eco-friendly type of rayon because of the high usage of chemicals during the manufacturing process.
  • Tencel® – This is a brand owned by the Austrian company Lenzing AG that produces a special kind of rayon fibre. The production process is similar to the one, viscose has. However, it is more eco-friendly, as 99% of the used materials are recyclable.
  • Acetate – Made from wood pulps and acetic acid, it is the second most used fabric after viscose in the world. It can be blended with many natural and synthetic fibres to create different types of upholstery.
  • Chenille – The name of this fabric comes from the French word for caterpillar, and it describes fuzzy texture perfect. Originally made from silk or wool, nowadays, this fabric is produced by blending cotton and viscose.
  • Bonded Leather – Scraps and leftovers from the production of natural leather products are mixed with polyurethane to create a new kind of fibre. The fabric is composed of almost 85% of synthetic materials.
  • Synthetic Velvet – The fabric has a nice feel of the original, but is made from a variety of semi-synthetic blends. This enhances its durability and makes it suitable for broader usage.
Type of Fiber Pros Cons Cleaning Requirements
Rayon ➤ Inexpensive fabric;
➤ Resistant to moths;
➤ Resistant to mildew and mould;
➤ Durable;
➤ Gets damaged easily;
➤ Water can damage the fabric;
➤ The fabric has low elasticity;
➤ Very absorbent;
➤ Dry cleaning only;
➤ Use foam or powder detergents only;
➤ Vacuum regularly;
➤ Avoid water;
Viscose ➤ Soft to the touch;
➤ Breathable;
➤ Antistatic;
➤ Hypoallergenic;
➤ Can suffer water damage and is highly absorbent;
➤ Can develop mildew if not properly dried;
➤ Do not use water;
➤ Dry cleaning only;
➤ Vacuum regularly;
➤ Spot clean with a lightly damp cloth if absolutely necessary;
Tencel® ➤ Soft and durable;
➤ Breathable fabric;
➤ Expensive;
➤ Absorbent and prone to water damage;
➤ Easily stained;
➤ Do not use water;
➤ Dry cleaning only;
➤ Vacuum frequently;
➤ Use foam or powder detergents;
Acetate ➤ Great silk imitation;
➤ Inexpensive fabric;
➤ Resistant to mould, mildew and humidity;
➤ Not as durable as other fabrics;
➤ Gets stained easily;
➤ Not for everyday usage;
➤ Very absorbent;
➤ Must be dry cleaned only;
➤ Avoid steam cleaning;
➤ Use as little water as possible when spot cleaning;
➤ Rely on professional upholstery cleaning services for the best results;
Chenille ➤ Soft and durable;
➤ Easy to clean;
➤ Resistant to abrasion;
➤ Stretches out very easily;
➤ Collects dust and debris;
➤ Use a soft brush to “comb” it and gently vacuum the fabric;
➤ Depending on the cleaning code it can be a “W” or an “S/W”;
➤ Use as little water as possible;
Bonded Leather ➤ Not as expensive;
➤ Smooth, pleasant texture;
➤ Smells like its natural equivalent;
➤ Not as durable;
➤ Can suffer sunlight damage;
➤ Over time it can release some of the chemicals used to manufacture it;
➤ Hard to clean;
➤ Use only specialised detergents;
➤ Wipe with a slightly damp cloth;
➤ Clean spills right away;
➤ Do not steam clean;
➤ Dry cleaning only;
Synthetic Velvet ➤ Soft and comfortable;
➤ Doesn’t get stain so easily;
➤ More durable;
➤ Suitable for households with pets and children;
➤ Collects dust and debris;
➤ Can suffer sunlight damage;
➤ Gently vacuum;
➤ Wipe dust with a slightly damp cloth;
➤ Can be professionally steam cleaned;
➤ Spot clean with less water as possible;

Semi-synthetic fibres are a great option when you are looking for an eco-friendly product. In some cases, the manufacturing process is greener than the one used when creating natural fabrics.

How to Clean Upholstery from Natural Fabric

Comfortable and strong natural fibres are a great option for every home and office. However, bear in mind that these fabrics are more demanding when it comes to cleaning as most can be easily damaged by water, heat and sunlight. Thankfully, most stains can be easily removed. Check out how in our ultimate stain removal guide.

  • Cotton – One of the most widespread fibres in the world. It is often used in different blends due to its durability. The fabric is easy to maintain, and the upholstery is suitable for homes with pets and children.
  • Silk – The fibre is made from the cocoons of silkworms and is one of the most expensive on the globe. It is a very demanding fabric that can get damaged easily if not maintained properly.
  • Wool – There are many kinds of wool fabrics depending on the animal the material comes from. Pay close attention to the labels of your upholstery, as specific types have additional cleaning requirements.
  • Leather – Expensive and demanding, this type of upholstery is not suitable for households with pets. It comes in a variety of colours and textures.
  • Suede – It is a high-quality type of leather made from the underside of the skin. Nowadays, many companies produce synthetic, cruelty-free and vegan suede that has the exact same qualities as the original.
  • Linen – This is a very popular fabric made from flax plants. Due to its delicate nature, this type of upholstery is not recommended for households with pets or small children.
  • Jute – Made from a specific type of grass, the fabric has a rustic feel to it and is a popular upholstery option for bars and restaurants.
  • Velvet – Originally velvet was made from silk, however, it is extremely expensive and high maintenance. Nowadays it is usually made from cotton. However, the fabric is still not easy to maintain in pristine condition.
  • Hemp – Originating from Asia and the Middle East, this natural fabric is made from the stalks of the Cannabis sativa plant. It is 3 times stronger than cotton and just as soft.
  • Horsehair – A popular fibre in the 19th century, horsehair is rarely used today. However, if you own an antique piece of furniture, you need some guidance on how to maintain it.
Type of Fiber Pros Cons Cleaning Requirements
Cotton ➤ Soft and breathable;
➤ Durable;
➤ Hypoallergenic fabric;
➤ Can get stained easily;
➤ Very absorbent;
➤ You can use little amounts of water;
➤ Suitable for spot cleaning;
➤ Can be professionally steam cleaned;
Silk ➤ The most luxurious fabric of all;
➤ Can last very long if maintained properly;
➤ Very delicate and expensive fabric;
➤ Can get stained easily;
➤ Not for everyday use;
➤ Not suitable for houses with pets or children;
➤ Colours fade under direct sunlight;
➤ Has to be dry cleaned only;
➤ Gently vacuum or wipe with a cloth to remove dust;
➤ Avoid using water or heat, so no steam cleaning;
Wool ➤ Durable with good insulating properties;
➤ Water and fire-resistant;
➤ Resistible to mildew and mould;
➤ Expensive fabric; ➤ Vacuum it regularly;
➤ Pay close attention to your cleaning code, as wool can be easily damaged;
➤ Spot clean stains immediately, do not let them dry off;
➤ Do not attempt to remove old stains, call professional help;
Leather ➤ Doesn’t absorb liquids or stains;
➤ Very durable;
➤ Doesn’t absorb smell and smoke;
➤ Expensive fabric;
➤ Not as soft to the touch as other fabrics;
➤ Sharp objects can damage it easily;
➤ It can crack and split if not properly dealt with;
➤ Hypoallergenic qualities;
➤ Easy to wipe up spills;
➤ Use specialised detergents and polishes;
➤ Do not overwet or rinse with water;
➤ Do not steam clean;
➤ Do not use abrasive cleaning detergents;
Suede ➤ Soft and “fuzzy” to the touch;
➤ Affordable;
➤ Not suitable for everyday use;
➤ Wears off fast;
➤ Use specialised cleaning detergents;
➤ Gently vacuum;
➤ Dry cleaning only;
➤ Spot clean with small amounts of water;
Linen ➤ Soft and pleasant to the touch;
➤ Very affordable;
➤ One of the strongest and most durable fabrics;
➤ Gets even stronger when wet;
➤ Antibacterial;
➤ Resistant to mould and mildew;
➤ Resistant to fading and abrasion;
➤ Prone to soiling;
➤ It can shrinks if not cleaned professionally;
➤ UV rays can harm it;
➤ Do not use wash with hot water;
➤ Spot clean with little water as possible;
➤ Vacuum regularly;
➤ Use mild detergents or soaps;
➤ Do not let your upholstery dry off under direct sunlight;
Jute ➤ Perfect for ottomans;
➤ Antistatic;
➤ Strong;
➤ Hard and rough fabric;
➤ Get easily discoloured if exposed to direct sunlight;
➤ Get damaged by moisture;
➤ Must be dry cleaned only;
➤ Avoid steam cleaning;
➤ Spot cleaning with minimal dampness;
Velvet ➤ Luxurious and soft;
➤ Excellent insulation properties;
➤ Difficult to clean;
➤ Expensive fabric;
➤ Not for everyday use;
➤ Gently vacuum;
➤ Wipe with a slightly damp cloth;
➤ Use a specialised detergent;
➤ Professionally deep cleaning only;
Hemp ➤ Strong and durable, doesn’t shrink;
➤ Good heating qualities;
➤ Sunlight-resistant;
➤ Expensive;
➤ Absorbs water easily;
➤ Do not use hot water to wash;
➤ Coloured hemp must be cleaned with cold water only;
➤ Use regular liquid detergents, and don’t need special solvents;
➤ If not careful spot cleaning can leave a water stain;
➤ Vacuum regularly;
Horsehair ➤ Very durable;
➤ Stain-resistant;
➤ Easy to maintain;
➤ The fabric’s width is typically restricted to a max 70cm = suitable for small furniture;
➤ Can easily suffer from water damage;
➤ Wipe off the dust and debris with a cloth;
➤ Use minimal moisture, avoid washing;
➤ Vacuum very gently as the strings can be easily pulled out;
➤ Solvent sensitive, professionally wash only;

Many natural fabrics are blended to enhance their best qualities. Cotton and wool are amongst the most popular fibres.

Disclaimer: For maximum results seek the help of professional upholstery cleaners. Natural fabrics are very demanding when it comes to methods of washing, water temperature, solvents, etc. If you are not experienced, you can damage the fabric easily. Check out our ultimate upholstery cleaning guide for some professional tips and tricks you can use.

What do you think? Did we manage to cover the most popular fabric types? What kind of upholstery do you have and how do you clean it? Tell us in the comment section below. If you have any questions our London upholstery cleaners will gladly assist you.

Stephanie Cooper

Stephanie is a content marketing specialist for Top Cleaners for the past several years. She has extensive experience working with cleaning companies and knows her audience. Stephanie creates engaging and useful content helping the customers of Top Cleaners with their struggles and providing them with the most accurate insight.