Buying second-hand or “pre-loved” upholstered furniture can be a really great investment. The price is usually a big winner, and if you’re lucky, you can get some good quality furniture. With an even bigger pot of luck, the furniture item’s upholstery may also be in tip-top shape. At least, until you spend some time sitting on the sofa. That’s when the smell may strike you!
Second-hand furniture often has smelly upholstery. These furniture items have a history, and while this history adds to their charm, it can also create a bit of a stink. A plush chair that’s been around for 20+ years may have had any number of spills on the upholstery from chips and cola to more dubious spills. These all leave an olfactory footprint.
If your newly purchased second-hand sofa or chair has a funky smell to it, you have two choices: reupholster or a deep clean.
If you have the budget, you may wish to reupholster the furniture item. Be warned that you will have to potentially remove and replace the stuffing and padding too as this is often where a smell may really linger. When reupholstering, it is preferable to replace padding for a better and fuller look.
However, if you want to keep the upholstery because it may be really high-quality vintage prints or in top condition, there are ways to remove unwelcome smells from upholstery. Let’s get started!
Old upholstered furniture tends to smell musty. That unpleasant smell you get when you plop down in a favorite old armchair is from trapped dirt, bacteria, and mold spores. Cleaning the upholstery is about so much more than simply washing the upholstery.
Try these steps to clean and freshen upholstery on second-hand furniture.
The sun is a great cleaning agent. Most bacteria and mold spores don’t like strong light, and exposure to UV rays can definitely kill a fair amount of unpleasant smell-causing organisms.
To use the sun’s cleaning power, set the second-hand upholstered furniture item you bought outside in full sunlight. Remove any loose cushions, placing them separately in the sun. Ensure the springs, suspension, and all sides of the furniture item are exposed to strong sunlight for at least two to three hours.
Alternatively, you will have to consider whether the fabric is bleach proof, so you can opt for a serious medical-grade cleaning session.
Baking soda is a great cleaning agent. It doesn’t even have to fizz by adding water to clean fabric. Simply sprinkling the powder can provide an excellent “dry” cleaning agent.
Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda all over the upholstery. Use a stiff-bristled brush to work the powder into the piping, seams, edges, and around the zip or tuft areas. Leave the baking soda overnight to work its magic.
The next morning, use the same brush to further work the baking soda powder around the corners and edges of the upholstery and the nooks and crannies of the chair. Place the upholstered furniture item in the sun for an hour.
Next, use a powerful vacuum cleaner (a motor with more than 1600 Watts power is preferable) and an upholstery brush attachment to thoroughly vacuum the upholstery. Really work the vacuum cleaner into the edges and out of the way areas like under tufts, etc.
Use some good old-fashioned elbow grease to beat the cushions and padded areas firmly to dislodge any remaining baking soda. Vacuum again.
If you think that this means praying over some evil spirits that may live in the “antique” chair you bought, guess again. Spirits refer to distilled substances like vinegar or vodka.
If you are dealing with a few spots, then mixing baking soda, soap, and vinegar makes a great spot treatment. However, if you need to treat all of the upholstered furniture, the smell of vinegar may be too much. Using a spirit like vodka is much more effective since the smell of vodka evaporates quickly.
Should you try the vinegar solution, you can mix a cup of vinegar with a cup of water and spray this onto the furniture item. Be sure to really work the liquid into the areas between seat cushions and around piping.
When choosing a vodka to use, go for plain vodka without flavoring or “mixes” in it. Simply fill a spray bottle with the vodka, spray it all over the upholstered item, and rub it in firmly with the scrubbing brush. Allow it to sit for several hours, airing out the furniture or placing it in the sun.
You can also turn to mother nature with some lemon juice cleaning power. Simply mix lemon juice with equal parts water and spray over the upholstered furniture you want to clean and deodorize. The lemon will kill any bacterial organisms that may be producing a stale stink, while it also sanitizes the upholstery.
Unlike a dry-wet vacuum cleaner that sprays out soapy foam, a steam cleaner doesn’t actually wet the upholstered furniture. Instead, a steam cleaner forces heated air into the upholstery and padding to raise any pigments or particles that are in the fabric. By steam cleaning, the bacterial organisms and spores are raised from the fabric pile and can be vacuumed.
To ensure the same particles don’t settle back on the second-hand upholstery, vacuum the furniture item as soon as you have steam cleaned the item. Vacuuming after steaming will help remove any loosened particles for a precision clean.
Not all smells will come out. If the cause of the smell is too deeply ingrained into the furniture upholstery, it may be impossible to salvage the item. In this case, the only alternative is to replace the upholstery.
When viewing second-hand upholstery, you may be tempted to simply sit in the chair or on the sofa, but you should also use your other end—and smell the upholstery.
While sitting in the chair, use your hands to insert your fingers as deep as you can between the seat cushion and the chair sides. Rub your hands vigorously on the padded armrests and then sniff them. Any funky odors should be quite noticeable then.
Start by vacuuming the upholstered furniture. Then sprinkle baking soda on the upholstery, covering all of the exposed upholstery. Allow it to sit for up to 24 hours. Vacuum again, removing any traces of the baking soda.
Second-hand upholstered furniture has lived. These items hide crumbs, oily patches, hair, nails, skin particles, leftover food, and a host of other dubious spills and stains. With so much happening on the couch, there is bound to be a nasty smell.
Baking soda is a great smell absorber. Simply place some baking soda in an out of the way corner, changing out the powder every other day. Clean the upholstered furniture of smells by coating it in baking soda and vacuuming after 24 hours.
Coffee grounds have a really strong scent. As with the baking soda, simply sprinkle dry coffee grounds over the upholstered furniture. Leave 24 hours, then vacuum, removing any remaining coffee grounds. The coffee grounds will neutralize any odors, leaving a yummy coffee scent instead.
Nobody wants to sit on some smelly old sofa, no matter how wonderful its antique pedigree is. Cleaning up your smelly upholstered furniture isn’t impossible and you don’t need to send the whole sofa to the dry cleaners. Instead, follow the steps outlined here to recover and salvage your second-hand upholstery.
Expose it to strong sunlight, sprinkle with baking soda, wait overnight, and vacuum the baking soda. You can also spray the upholstery with either vinegar and water or vodka and even rub in some dry coffee grounds. With some ingenuity, you can also have upholstery free of nasty smells.
Learn about some other great cleaning recipes by reading the Kovi Fabrics blog.