How to Clean “Code S” Upholstery


Richard asked: We just bought a new couch with a Code S fabric and were looking for the best way to clean and protect it. All we know is we can’t use anything water based.

Fabric coding is a way to categorize fabrics by the materials they are made from and the cleaning solutions that should be used to clean and maintain them. While most professionals are well-versed in these codes, they can be quite confusing to the average consumer. There are three codes that cover most fabrics.

Code W refers to fabrics that are man-made such as polyester, nylon, herculon, acetate and olefin. These fabrics can be cleaned with Water-based cleaners.

Code S fabrics include organic fibers such as cotton, rayon, linen, wool, silk along with denim, velour, damask, etc. These fabrics should be cleaned with Solvent-based cleaners.

There are also code W/S fabrics which can be cleaned with either cleaners and code X which cannot be cleaned with any cleaners at all. Here are the instructions to care for your code S upholstery.

General Cleaning Instructions

You Will Need:

  • Vacuum
  • Upholstery attachment
  • Soft brush

Steps for General Cleaning:

  1. Begin by looking the piece over completely to evaluate which areas are dirty and what level of “dirty” they are. Try to identify which areas are just dirt and and which areas, such as headrests and armrests also have soil oil on them. This is a common occurrence when hands and hair continually touches an area.
  2. Next, use a soft brush to brush over areas with dirt to loosen it and even brush some of the surface dirt away.
  3. Use a vacuum with the upholstery attachment to remove the remaining loose dirt particles.
  4. Regular vacuuming will minimize the amount of deeper cleanings that will be necessary to keep your sofa looking great.
  5. For areas that also contain oils, follow the steps below for spot cleaning.

How to Spot Clean Dirty Areas and Stains

You Will Need:

  • Mild, water-free solvent or
  • Dry cleaning product
  • Clean cloths
  • Fan or hair dryer (optional)

Steps to Spot Clean the Upholstery:

  1. To clean dirty areas, it is best to spot-clean. Before applying any cleaners to the soiled areas, it is important to test a small, hidden area first to ensure there are not adverse effects to the color or texture of the fabric.
  2. If the test area goes well, you are set to start on the main stain/dirty area.
  3. Apply the cleaning solvent to the stained area using a clean, white cloth. Blot the stain switching to a new section of the cloth each time. This will avoid reapplying the stain or dirt to the area being cleaned. When all of the dirt is removed, allow the area to dry completely.
  4. If there are any rough areas, brush over them with a soft brush or vacuum the area to restore the original texture.
  5. The only time that you would clean more than just the soiled area during spot cleaning is on the cushions. If a cushion needs to be cleaned, it is best to clean the entire surface so it blends in well with the rest of the flat surface.

Protecting the Fabric

You Will Need:

  • Protective coating such as Sta-Clene, Scotchguard or DuPont Teflon Advanced Protector
  • Clean towel or soft cloth
  • Fans (optional)

Steps to Protect the Upholstery:

  1. Protecting your furniture will lessen the number of thorough cleanings needed and make spot cleaning much easier.
  2. Once the furniture is completely cleaned, it is ready for a protective coating.
  3. Begin by placing a large sheet of plastic or a furniture pad underneath the furniture. This is designed to catch any drips or overspray and keep it from falling on the floor around the furniture piece.
  4. Apply the product following the manufacturer’s guidelines. They typically come in spray can which makes for easy application.
  5. Use a clean towel to wipe off any wooden trim or other areas that are not fabric.
  6. Allow the pieces to dry completely. Set the cushions on brown paper or another absorbent towel in a tee-pee fashion. Do NOT lean them up against the edge of the sofa or chair.
  7. Setting a fan near the furniture piece and cushions can help to keep the air moving and speed up drying time. When positioning the fan, try to move the air past the pieces, not blowing straight into them.
  8. When all of the pieces are completely dried, it is time to reassemble the couch.
  9. Replace all cushions and return the piece to its original location.

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • Manufacturers and suppliers are well aware of these codes and can provide more in-depth information regarding care if needed. Contact your representative with any questions about your specific upholstery type.
  • Never put pillows or fabrics into the washing machine unless you are sure they are machine washable.
  • If the entire piece needs to be cleaned, it is recommended that you utilize a professional cleaner to complete the job. This will ensure even and overall coverage of the cleaning solution so that there are no streaks or marks left behind.


  1. What is a water-free solvent and where do I get it? I have looked and asked at most grocery and Walmart type stores and no one knows.

  2. I did order two cleaners, can’t remember the website. You can Google the cleaners. Guardsman – dry cleaning fluid and Goddard’s dry clean spot remover. They work better than anything else I have tried, but still not as well as I would like. :(

  3. It is more commonly referred to as “dry cleaning solvent” since it is basically the same type of cleaner they use. I found some at my local Ace Hardware store.

  4. On the Scotchgard container, it says not to use it on S fabrics. We just ordered a sofa with an S fabric and were told by the salesman that we could use Scotchgard to protect it. What should we believe?

  5. Jeanne,
    If the Scotchgard container you have says it cannot be used on S fabrics, you must have an X fabric type of Scotchgard bottle. There is Scotchgard Leather Protector for Suede and Nubuck (X fabrics, which are brush-only fabrics) and then there is Scotchguard for Fabric and Upholstery (S fabrics).
    Source: Jon-Don – 3M Scotchgard Fabric and Upholstery Protector
    Source: Scotchgard – Scotchgard Leather Protector for Suede and Nubuck

  6. Could you please tell me what I should buy to clean my suede sofa?

  7. Melanie says:

    This is the article that you need: How to Clean Suede Upholstery. For regular cleaning, you would only use a suede brush or dry towel to rub off any surface dirt and improve the nap.

  8. Hi there – I am on the hunt for a good dry cleaning solvent for spot cleaning “S” grade fabric upholstery. (I am more worried about preventing/treating potential red wine stains than I am about grease, so a product that could do both would be great.) Goddard’s doesn’t seem to be available any more. Do you have any suggestions on other products? Thanks!

  9. I’ve used salt on wine stains and it works, but I believe I did it right after the spill. It was on an antique velvet sofa.

  10. I have a chair that needs an upholstery dry basic clearer with solvent in it. I can’t find one anywhere. Can you give me the name of an upholstery cleaner that has solvent in it please.

  11. My son’s dog peed on my brand new S fabric couch … I did not know about not using water, so did, and it seems to be OK … in the future (though I hope this does not happen again), I can’t imagine not being able to dilute and clean up something smelly like pee on a cotton fabric. Has any one else dealt with this??

  12. I just purchased a sofa with a group 5. 66% poly, 34% acrylic boule fabric; Cleaning code S. What do you suggest I clean it with?

Leave a Comment