If your slipcovered sofa gets dirty—maybe your two-year-old decided to do an art project on it, maybe you thought eating spaghetti on it was a good idea—don’t panic! Slipcovered sofas (check out our great styles here) can be cleaned, which is one of the main reasons they’re so popular. But take a deep breath and pause before you just stuff your slipcover into the washer and push the start button. There are some things you should know first.
First of all, not every slipcover can be washed in your washing machine. Check the cleaning instructions that came with your slipcover. Most linen slipcovers come with instructions that they should be dry-cleaned only. Also, some fabrics can be washed in a washing machine, but must be air dried or dried at a low temperature. Keep in mind that if your slipcover fabric is machine washable but is made with multiple fabrics (like if it has a contrasting welt), test an inconspicuous area before washing to make sure the colors don’t bleed onto each other. When in doubt, follow the instructions below for non-washable fabrics.
If your slipcover is not washable, find a dry cleaner or, even better, a professional upholstery cleaning company to clean your slipcovers while they are on the frame. Slipcovers may shrink a bit even if dry cleaned, so cleaning while still on the frame will give you the best results. Just give the cleaner the fabric code that you got when you chose your furniture so they can follow the guidelines for spot cleaning.
If your slipcovers are washable, you can still choose to get them professionally cleaned, but you can also go the DIY route. Here’s how to do that:
- Take it off. Don’t just wash one section of your slipcover—the colors might fade slightly on the piece you wash so it could look different from the other sections. If you chose the same fabric for more than one piece of furniture (a chair and ottoman, for example), wash all of the pieces at the same time. To remove the slipcover from a sofa or chair, start with one arm, work around to the back of the frame, then finish with the second arm. Take the slipcover outside to shake off any loose dust or crumbs before starting the actual washing process and re-zip all cushion covers so they don’t fray.
- Treat stains. If you have stains, pretreat with a gentle laundry stain remover or gentle liquid detergent such as Ivory Liquid (pat the stain, don’t rub it). Don’t use products containing oxygen or chlorine bleach unless your fabric is white and 100 percent cotton (more on that below!). If your slipcovers are super soiled, use the pre-soak cycle in your washer.
- Load up the washer. Slipcovers are bulky and heavy, so use a washer without a central agitator (even if you have to go to the laundromat). And make sure not to overload your washer—split this project up into as many loads as you need. It’s also smart to run the washer through an empty cycle before putting the slipcover in. This makes sure it’s free of detergent, bleach or anything else that may ruin your slipcover.
- Wash it. Use the gentle cycle on your washing machine and wash the slipcover in cold water with a mild detergent. Avoid detergents that contain bleach of any kind, “bleach boosters” or “color boosters.” Caution: Woolite is not the best choice. Whichever detergent you use, be careful not to pour it directly on the fabric because it may leave a mark.
- Take it out immediately. As soon as the cycle is done, take out the slipcover. If you leave it in the machine for longer than 15 to 20 minutes, the fabric may get crease marks that are nearly impossible to remove.
- Dry it almost the whole way. Some slipcovers are air dry only (you can learn about this from the fabric care instructions). If yours needs to be air dried, hang it on a drying rack or clothesline until partially dry (don’t overlap the pieces or you risk mildew) or dry on the air cycle. If your slipcover can be put in the dryer, make sure that it’s big enough (small dryers can lead to permanent creases) and put it in on medium heat. You will have to open the dryer up every 30 minutes to an hour to shake it out as it will bunch up in a ball. Take it out before it dries completely (the seams should still be quite damp). Whether you air dry or use a dryer, put your slipcover back on the frame while still damp. Slipcovers shrink a little when they dry completely and you want that to happen after it’s back on the frame. If you accidentally allowed your slipcover to get completely dry and it shrunk to the point where you can’t get it back on the frame, all is not lost. Simply put it back in the washer, wet it again, and restart the drying process.
- Iron the hem if you’d like. Just before putting the slipcover back on the frame, you can iron the corner pleats or hem. Don’t iron the entire slipcover since that could stretch it out of shape. And don’t be stressed about wrinkles. After a few days the fabric will relax and smooth out. You could also lightly steam the slipcover after it has dried on the frame.
- Put it back on. You’ll need to start with an arm, then go to the back of the frame, then to the other arm. You’ll just have to keep pulling the slipcover down a few inches at a time, working your way around the frame. Don’t be afraid to put some muscle into it! Smooth the seams and cording, and pinch pleats into sharp creases. Leave the areas that tuck into the frame out and loose until dry. For the cushions, put the covers back on and stand them on end so they can dry completely. It’s okay to lean them against the frame or each other for support, but let them touch as little as possible. Rotate them every 20 to 30 minutes so that all sides are exposed to the air and to prevent water marks from forming. Make sure that your cushions are completely dry before putting them back on the frame. Your slipcover should dry in a few hours. To speed things up, open a window or turn on a fan. Do not sit on your furniture until it is completely dry.
- Store extra slipcovers correctly. If you’re lucky enough to have multiple slipcovers, store the unused ones in a cool, dry place, out of direct light. Prior to storage, wrap in a lightweight white sheet or muslin cover to keep dust off while allowing air to circulate.
Got 100 percent cotton, pure white slipcovers? You can bleach them if you’d like. Just know that chlorine bleach weakens the cotton fibers and accelerates the wearing-out process (oxygen bleach may be a better alternative). As always, test an inconspicuous area with whatever dilution you plan on using. Never allow full-strength bleach to come into contact with your fabric and don’t bleach more often than you have to.
Don’t wait until your slipcovers get super dirty to wash them. The more soiled they are, the less likely it is that they’ll get perfectly clean. A good rule of thumb is to wash them every 12 to 24 months. Also remember that there’s more to maintaining your slipcovers than periodic washing or cleaning. If you take care of your slipcovers, they can last for a long, long time.
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