How to Clean & Sanitize Secondhand Furniture

Green velour couch. Photo credit: Phillip Goldsberry

August 2021

Maybe you love vintage furniture, garage sales, or are just on a tight budget. Whatever the reason, finding that perfect piece of new-to-you furniture can feel like a huge win. But how do you clean it up once you’ve gotten it home? It’s always good to start with a clean slate (or in this case clean couch), so here are some highly effective ways to remove stains and odors, clean up, and sanitize that awesome find.

First thing, remove everything that can be removed. We’re talking cushions, drawers, covers, etc. If you’re worried about getting everything back in place correctly, snap a few pictures with your phone.

If the furniture has any upholstery, thoroughly vacuum it. If your vacuum has an upholstery attachment, put it to use. You should also use the crevice tool to suck up any old pretzels or pet hair from those hard-to-reach-spots.

Next, wipe down any non-upholstered sections with a good disinfectant. If there’s any sticky, or gummy things that you’re having trouble getting off, try using Goo-Gone. It’s amazing stuff.

When it comes to stains, a product made specifically for upholstery cleaning will work best. We’ve had good results with Resolve, but there are many options. Just be sure to first test it on an inconspicuous spot to make sure it doesn’t fade the color or harm the fabric in any way. If you’d prefer a DIY approach, mix one cup of warm water with 1/4 cup of white vinegar and a tablespoon of Castile soap or mild dish detergent. Put it in a spray bottle or small bowl and spray it on stains or use a clean cloth to dab the solution on. Blot the stain, allow it to dry, and repeat if necessary.

If odors are an issue, you can buy an enzyme cleaner specifically made to neutralize odors or try a homemade option. If the odor isn’t too bad, coat the upholstery in a fine layer of baking soda and work it in with a stiff brush. Then thoroughly vacuum. If the odor is coming from deeper in the furniture, you may have to rent a steam cleaner.

That should get you to the point of having a fully clean and sanitized piece that’s ready to either put in place or give a creative up-cycling facelift.