How to: Clean Vintage Upholstery

What a week it’s been. I had several papers due, and have been packing a bit. Only 15 more days until graduation! Meanwhile, last week I purchased a vintage sofa from Joe Klem in Coburg, and boy was it dusty and dirty! It certainly needed some TLC, and I was more than willing. So this is how I spent my Saturday!

Intimidating? Think again!

See what I had to start with? Seems a bit horrifying? It’s really not. And here’s why and how you can do it too next time you find something just as dirty! First off, if you have an air compressor, get that sucker out and shoot air all over the piece.It’ll blow a lot of the dirt that is just sitting on top off. Then, get a stick of some sort (we had some PVC pipe on hand) and beat the cushions. It’ll lift a lot of the dirt out. Then vacuum! And I mean vacuum! Do it a couple of times. Note: a Shop-Vac is a much better vacuum to use, however ours was currently loaned to a friend.

Work it!

UPDATE: I was recently told that beating a sofa was a bad idea (let’s ignore the fact that people have been beating furniture and rugs for years! Rug beaters anyone? Right?) as it will stir up allergens and dust mites, but really, just take some allergy meds, get a dust mask, do it outside and vacuum like mad and I really think you’re fine. The beating really just loosens the dirt, making the vacuuming process less time consuming.

Next get yourself some Tuff Stuff.  Seriously. This spray on cleansing foam works miracles! Spray the Tuff Stuff on, then get a bucket of water and a rag, get the rag wet, ring it out, and scrub the area you Tuff Stuff’ed. Do this all over the upholstery, continually rinsing your rag. When it gets difficult to see the bottom of the bucket, it’s time to change the water.

Get some!

Once you’ve got it all clean, and you should be able to feel the difference, take a good look at it. For this piece, it had a bad wear mark on the corner, which is really common…So, what did we do? We took a green Sharpie to it. Seriously. I put on a few lines, then my dad took a damp rag and wiped it.'s Sharpie!

And just a few hours later we finished! I must say, I’m rather proud of the piece. I really enjoy working on vintage furniture. There is something about taking an old, forgotten piece, turning it around and making it shine, whether it’s a piece like this, or stripping and refinishing a piece of Hey-Wake. As for the buttons, half were missing, and I really wanted to break up the green, so we bought some tan fabric (at EconoSales!), and am having Joe make ’em. Then I’m making panel insets of the same fabric to go along the edge of the arms. I can’t wait to get this into our new place in Portland!

Amazing? I think so.

Follow the jump-cut for a quick step-by-step and materials list.

What You Need

  • Air Compressor (optional)
  • PVC pipe (optional)
  • Dust mask & allergy meds (optional)
  • Vacuum with hose and attachments – Shop Vac works best
  • Bucket of water
  • Several rags
  • Tuff Stuff
  • Sharpie (optional)


  1. If you have an air compressor, blow air on the item
  2. If you choose to beat the piece, take your PVC pipe and beat the sofa gently
  3. Vacuum the piece, making sure to get in all of the nooks and crannies, repeat as much as desired
  4. Spray Tuff Stuff on one section at a time
  5. Follow Tuff Stuff’ing by rubbing the area with a damp rag
  6. Rinse rag and repeat
  7. Let dry
  8. Touch up with colored Sharpie if desired

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