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

10 thoughts on “How to: Clean Vintage Upholstery

  1. Really enjoyed this post…particularly as I’ve just bought a vintage Parker Knoll sofa and this has helped give me some ideas on how to freshen it up. It’s in a tweed-type material, do you think it will still be okay to use Tuff Stuff?
    BTW – love your sofa?

    • As long as it’s fabric Tuff Stuff will do the job. Tweed was and somewhat still is a popular car interior fabric and since that is what Tuff Stuff was designed for I think it will do the job!

  2. I came directly to your blog to get the tuff stuff info because I’m doing some luggage resto today. Thanks for all of the great info you provide!

  3. Just purchased a vintage sofa and a chair with removable cushions. They smell very musty so I took the covers of the sofa cushions and have them airing outside……do you think its worth removing the covers and changing the batting around the cushions to get rid of the musty smell? Airing them hasn’t removed the smell in two days! Thanks for the cleaning directions! I will do that as well…

  4. Very nice! I’m a big fan of Tuff Stuff as well, but it’s a pretty strong cleaner, so I would advise testing it first in an inconspicuous spot before cleaning. In my haste I made that mistake with a vintage gray Knoll office chair which gave it a pinkish hue. I restore/refinish a lot of vintage furniture and decor, so I had stuff on hand to repair that mistake, but I would have preferred not making it in the first place. Fabric intimidates me (much more comfortable with wood/metal/plastics/etc. . .) But I’ve pick up a few tricks, including the sharpie fix. E6000 adhesive can be used in some applications also. I just used it to repair/reattach piping to a vintage couch. Smells bad, but can be aired out and it’s great for people like me who can’t sew.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s