Kerri asked: How do I clean foam cushions? My son has a kid’s sleeper chair that has foam cushions. He has had several nighttime accidents on it, and I’m not sure how to clean the foam cushions properly. What is the best cleaner to use for foam, and what is the best way to dry it properly once it’s been cleaned? Should I steam the foam or just use water and cleaner? Thank you for your advice!
Foam cushions can seem complicated to clean, but you can achieve great results with this simple technique. You’ll need a few hours or days for proper dry time, however, so plan ahead before you take the plunge. Keep in mind that this method is only necessary when the entire cushion needs cleaning. If you only need to clean one spot, such as for urine or a drink spill, use the guide How to Clean Urine from Memory Foam.
You Will Need:
- Upholstery cleaner or mild detergent
- Warm water
- Paper towel
Steps to Clean the Cushions:
- Remove the cover from the cushion if possible.
- If you cannot remove the cover, check the tag on the couch or pillow to determine if it cannot be washed. If you’re still not sure, try washing a small hidden area of the cover first to look for any damage.
- If only the surface of the foam or cover needs cleaning, use an upholstery shampoo. The foaming upholstery cleaners can simply be rubbed into the surface with a cloth and the excess wiped away. If you don’t have an upholstery foam, plain white shaving cream can be used instead.
- If the entire cushion needs to be washed, fill a clean bath tub with enough warm water to submerge the cushion.
- Add detergent to the water, using label directions to determine the proper amount. Agitate to distribute it evenly.
- Place the cushion in the water. Press it down to submerge. Press it continually to work the water and soap into the cushion. The suction of the water in and out will help clean the inside. If the water gets dirty, drain the tub and refill with fresh water and detergent.
- Empty out the soapy water and refill the tub with clean water. If you have a removable shower head, it can be used to spray clean water through the foam cushion, squeezing as you go, to rinse. If not, simply rinse and repeat. Push on the cushion several times to “rinse” inside the cushion.
- Once the water remains clean and free of soap, drain the tub. Before removing the cushion, press it tightly from top to bottom to remove as much water as possible. Start on the side away from the drain and work toward it).
- Wrap the cushion in several clean towels, then squeeze the cushin or step on it to squeeze out more water. As the towels become soaked, switch them out for dry towels.
- If possible, place the cushion outside in the sun to dry. If not, pick a bright, warm location and allow it to dry thoroughly before use. If possible, dry at an angle to the ground to allow for better air circulation.
- Test for remaining moisture by placing a paper towel under the cushion and pressing hard on the top. If the paper towel gets wet, the cushion is not dry.
Additional Tips and Advice
- If you have a wet vac, one site user (Thanks Caroline N.!) recommends putting the cushion in a trash bag and using a wet vac to suck out the water from the bag.
- Placing a dehumidifier near the cushion can also help speed drying time. This can be either a dehumidifier machine, a small room dehumidifier like DampRid, or a DIY version like a bucket of charcoal briquettes with holes poked in the bucket lid.
- If an odor remains, sprinkle the cushions with baking soda and allow them to sit in the sun for several hours. Vacuum the baking soda to remove it, and odors should be gone as well.
- If you have a steam cleaner, you can use it to clean the cushions. Use upholstery cleaner or a mild detergent.
- Do not place foam cushions in a washing machine or dryer. The agitation in the machines can easily damage the foam, and dryer heat could damage it as well.
- If the cushions are in bad shape or are not responding to cleaning, many craft or fabric stores carry replacement foam.
- If you want to avoid cleanings in the future, you can put the cushions in plastic covers before placing them back in their upholstery covers. If needed, you can use trash bags or plastic wrap and tape to make your own plastic covers.
- If the cushion covers are removable and you want to wash them as well, usse cold water and low or no heat for drying to prevent shrinking.
Can I use this method of washing foam cushions in the bath tub if they have pocket springs?
DO NOT, AND I REPEAT, DO NOT DO THIS. I decided to follow these instructions, and it couldn’t have been any more horrible. The foam is near impossible to dry out. It took me 8 days to finally get the foam completely dry. I would press on it daily with a towel in an attempt to get the water out, then stick them in front of a fan. It took 8 days to finally get dry, and I probably have mildew in the foam now because of it. I’m guessing whoever wrote this article never actually attempted this process. Anyone wanting to clean their cushions should never attempt to clean the foam by submerging it in water unless maybe you have a wet/dry shop vac and can stick the foam in a bag to suck out the moisture. Even then it still may not work. I probably ruined my cushions doing this.
I’ve used this method and it does work. Drying time depends on the thickness of your cushions, how well you squeezed the excess water out and especially the humidity in the area you dry cushions. When I lived in CA, it was very hot – cushions dried in two days; my mom cleaned an entire recliner with the hose and it dried in the CA summer heat in a few days. Now I’m in upstate NY; it rains a lot. It may take longer than a week. I put the cushion outside lying over an extended baby gate lying over a laundry basket for air flow on sunny days. If it’s too humid out, you can do the same thing inside; extend the gate over the bath tub and lay the cushion over it. Aim a fan directly over the cushion if you can. If you have kids, wrap the cushion in clean towels or blankets and have them jump on it! It helps squeeze moisture out. You can also spray the cushion with a mold growth inhibitor; there’s something called Odoban that helps with really strong odors also.
Lee Ann says
I did exactly this and it did take a while for the cushion to dry, even by allowing it to remain in front of a wood stove where the heat was hot and dry. Now, in summer, I placed a cushion on the hood of a clean truck parked in the sun during the day and brought the cushion in at night. It took four days. I reupholster chairs frequently and clean the cushions to smell new if they are badly soiled.
I did this with a couch I got from my grandparents and I could NOT get the cushions to dry. I tried everything. I left them in the sun (when it was sunny out) on a mesh table for airflow and I ran a fan on them, I put my body weight on them, I bent them, I did everything and after a week they still weren’t dry. So I finally cut into them with a box cutter and bent them so they’d dry with a fan pointed on them full blast and they still took forever to dry, which made me worry they’d get moldy on the inside where I couldn’t see. I was super disgusted how black the water was when I washed them so now that we just bought a different used couch, I have to figure out a way to wash the cushions that can get the moisture out from the depth of the cushion better. Maybe one of those Bissel hand held things would work? I’ve never used one.
Bek, you mentioned a mold growth inhibitor, but wouldn’t that only prevent mold on the surface, not deep inside the cushion where the mold would actually be?
Travis, we don’t have a shop vac; would it be powerful enough to suck the water out?
Caroline N says
I tried the above method in the tub using liquid laundry detergent and put the cushions (one by one) in a large trash bag and used my shop vac to suck out the excess water. I then hung the cushions on a line in the garage with a dehumidifier and a fan. It took four days to dry and the cushions are brand new. To avoid having to do this again, I wrapped the cushions in trash bags, taped plastic box tape to seal them shut and then stuffed them back in the covers. I hope to never have to do this again since it does take a bit of time to perform.
Good idea Caroline N. My water was also black after using this method and if (fingers crossed) I can get them thoroughly dry, I have to cover them in plastic too. I NEVER want to do this job again. And I still have the humongous corner cushion on my sectional to do. 🙁 I might chicken out on that one because I doubt it will ever dry in one piece. I will forever have leather couches in the future or I will not own one, lol. So disgusted on how dirty the water was. Yuck!
Thank you for the tips everyone. I hope I will not have to cut mine in half. Thanks again.
I did something like this with sailboat cushions. I used a wet/dry shop vac with a large enough bag (multiple bags taped together for the larger jobs) to completely enclose the cushion. Then I poked a hole large enough to put my vac hose in and tape (packing tape) it to form a tight seal. I then vacuumed out as much water as one could and allowed the cushions to collapse. I then poked holes into the bag at the far end allowing air to pass through cushion as I kept the vac going. This helped to speed up drying. I live in Georgia where humidity is famous. It still took a few days to dry. Seemed to work for me.
I am trying this now since we got a used couch from a family member. I had to wash them since I wanted to ensure they were clean. The water was a blackish brown color, so I am glad I cleaned them. They have been very difficult to dry. First I tried to dry them with a fan and put towels on them and jumped on them to get the water out. I thought they were close to dry and put them on the couch. A couple of days later they started to smell.
Patrick L. says
We have the problem on a small couch. So, taking the suggestions I just read, we’re going to bag the cushions, vac them, let them “Dry”, and then bag them to go into the slip covers. And hope it works.
Another question would be on the size of your cushions. Ours are 5″ in. thick and a standard love seat. We also tried the stand-them-up routine. Just moved the water to the bottom and it didn’t squeeze, but might have been vac’d out, though I think my wife might have tried!
So, size of cushions; boat cushions may be thinner I think than the couch. And good reading. Thanks.
I work with foam and many of the materials that couch cushions and mattresses are manufactured with. The problem is that different types of foam can be so different that there is no one perfect manner of cleaning them all. Some are open-cell, some are closed-cell, and it gets more complicated from there. The variety of materials that a couch can be manufactured with (and the padding) can be such a huge variety, it’s much like tennis shoes. Of course, common couches USUALLY have common foam – the yellow-ish kind that we have all seen. But more expensive couches commonly have bizarre, rare foams that would require an equally strange, counterintuitive manner of cleaning. Sometimes, couches may even have a combination of various foams for which cleaning methods might contradict with each other. And the sheer quantity of foams out there is so huge, that no one expert can look at just any foam and tell you what it is or what is the best way to clean it. And the fact is, even though most common, cheaper foams can survive various manners of flooding and squeezing them out, they were made (and the couch was manufactured with that foam in mind) under the premise that it would never need to endure anything other than “surface cleaning”.
Manufacturers presume that if you need to clean them that deeply (such as from being having vomit sit on it over days, or a dead cat baking in the sun on it for days), then maybe you should just throw it away. Anything less foul than that can be surface cleaned because, as hard as it is to get soapy water INTO the depths of the cushion and back out, it is just as hard to get stains, odors, etc. to soak past the surface of the foam. This means that you just need to remove the covers that can be removed and clean them appropriately (machine on gentle, etc, or taking leather to the dry-cleaner, and so on) and for the cushions (or padding with non-removable covers) you should pat, pad, dab, sponge, scrub or brush the surface with the appropriate cleaning blend – light dish soap and water for dirty, greasy, oily filth; vinegar and water for moderate odors, bacteria, germs and many bugs), then repeat with just water to remove your chosen cleaner.
Of course, dry it COMPLETELY before returning to your couch and house interior, which is easy in high temperatures, higher airflow or lower humidity (side note: a friend has proven to me that hanging his clothes, couch cushions, etc. INSIDE a bedroom with the air conditioning works better than a dryer because A/C dries the air better than a heater). Cleaning a block of foam any deeper than that isn’t usually required – you’ll notice that if you take a block of the most common types of foam and poor something foul on it and let it sit for weeks, that if you cut it open, then you’ll see that liquid never even made it very deep into the foam. Cut open a piece of foam from a 20-year-old couch and smell the center; it still smells brand new. If you have contamination so deep and foul that you really need to clean down into the depths of the foam, then you REALLY need to just throw it away. NO amount of cleaning is going to sanitize it. If it’s not that foul or deep, then trying to submerge your couch cushions is definitely overkill and completely pointless. Not to mention risking ruining the couch.
My answer for myself: while I don’t buy cheap couches, I stay away from excessively expensive couches. I rotate the cushions every couple of weeks (just like a mattress), vacuum the entire couch and cushions about once every 2-4 weeks depending on use (just like detailing thee upholstery of your car) and steam-vacuum or sponge clean the couch once or twice a year is more than sufficient to keep it smelling good, looking new and lasting. Then, because I didn’t spend a fortune on the couch, if it ends up getting vomit, cat pee, bug infestation, or some other intolerable contaminant, I trash it. No couch is THAT important.
You just saved me from a lot of unnecessary work and frustration.
I did this method without reading the comments first. That was my mistake.
I am a caregiver of my mother and she had an accident on the couch. I tried to clean it with spray and baking powder, but it wasn’t enough. I read this article and submerged the cushions in water. It’s been several days and I am now pricing out new couch foam. It’s going to cost me close to $100.00 for three new cushions.
Melissa, where are you going to get replacement foam?
When my son was little, he poured an entire bottle (1 liter?) of cooking oil on our new couch. I was able to get the oil out of the cushion covers, but never the foam. I priced foam everywhere, and they were all over $100. I then called the couch manufacturer and they sent 3 foam cushions to me for $35, which included shipping! I don’t know if you tried that option. Good luck!
I tried this. The cushions didn’t dry and I had to rewash because of mildew.
How I rewashed mine was:
Take two chairs and lay the cushions across the top.
Get a bucket of laundry soap/vinegar and water and a scrub brush and the water hose.
Spray so they’re wet, then scrub them. Rinse out.
Then I squeezed excess water out, then placed one cushion at a time in the dryer on low/delicate; make sure it’s not blocking the vent.
And now I have clean and dry cushions without waiting a week to dry to just rewash, plus I think it saved a lot more water and time.
How big are your cushions?
Does putting bags on your sofa cushions before you replace the covers not make them maddeningly noisy every time somebody sitting on them shifts their weight? It’s like some waterproof mattress covers. They are waterproof, but they are so noisy they defeat their own purpose!
I love all the comments on how to clean and sanitize foam seat cushions; having tried most of the cleaning tips I have to say it’s a waste of time and precious energy. Clean the material covering as suggested, but don’t bother with the foam. If it’s so smelly, throw it away and buy new foam for peace of mind. Wrapping the new foam is a very good idea especially if you have children, or pets, or both!!