Cleaning Hacks

Heads up, Your Couch Is Dirtier Than a Toilet Seat—Here’s How to Clean It

Mary Grace Garis

Mary Grace GarisApril 26, 2020

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I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your couch—that thing that’s been your place of comfort and rest, particularly in this time—is disgusting. Yes, it’s been your home office, your favorite restaurant, your nap palace. But it has also been host to a horrifying amount of bacteria and, in general, houses “more germs than a toilet seat.”

“Couches are going to be germy due to the fact that we as humans shed millions of bacteria and other microbes from our bodies every hour,” says Jason Tetro, a microbiologist and author of The Germ Files. “The bacteria may not grow quickly, but if left to sit in a dark and humid environment, over time they may gain enough load to smell and possibly lead to infection, if the bacteria is a pathogen.”

So of course couches are disgusting, because they’re the accumulation of the shedding you and your partner and your friend and anyone who has sat there. And now that you basically live there (particularly if you’re WFH), it’s probably visibly worse. Sit up. Take a minute. Take a look at what you’ve done. Note the full loafs of bread that are in the cushion crevices. The coffee stains that have accumulated like giant tree rings in a stump. Look at it.

Okay, cool, now it’s time to clean. To take care of the immediate germy ick factor, Tetro recommends steaming. You don’t have to invest a trillion dollars on a device; affordable ones like this $27 handheld garment steamer exist. “It will not only get rid of the [bacteria] but also help to refresh the fabric,” he says. “You can also use upholstery cleaners, but just be sure to follow the instructions so you don’t end up with unwanted bleaching.”

Okay, but what are your options if you want to tackle the problem stat and do the best you can sans steamer?

“To help prolong the life of couch fabric, it is a good idea to vacuum the entire couch using a soft brush attachment,” says Katie Brown, owner of Rytina Fine Cleaners in Sacramento, California. “This step will prevent dust and pet hair build-up, and you’ll also be able to catch any unusual marks or spills that may have occurred. If you do have a spill, immediately absorb the liquid using a clean kitchen towel. Preferably a white one so that there is no accidental color transfer. And if the spill leaves a stain, then check the cleaning instruction care label.”

She notes that wet cleaning is best for rings left from liquid spills, while dry cleaning is best if you see oil-based spills from any popcorn-y, potato-chip-y snacking.

“It’s important to clean all pieces together in order to maintain the consistency of color and texture,” says Brown. “If home washing per your care label, do not overload your washer, maybe even wash one cushion cover per load, but clean them all. Condition the fabric [in the dryer] using a low temperature for a few minutes, then shake and hang to dry.”

In general, couch fabric can be notoriously tricky to take care of, especially since a lot of upholstered furniture is best cleaned using a professional service. If you want to keep on top of those germs during this high traffic, highly confined time, though? Well, maybe it’s time to invest in a washable slipcover.

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