At the heart of every living room, there’s a couch that has seen it all. Between the butts, pets, food spills and bare feet, your sofa can get really gross, really quickly. But it’s not like you can just pop the whole thing in the washing machine. Sure, you may be able to wash the slipcovers, but not all couches come with that option. Thankfully, baking soda, our favorite household workhorse, may be able to help deodorize your couch—with a few caveats (more on those later).
As we’ve pointed out many times before, baking soda is useful for cleaning and/or deodorizing everything from electric stove burners to sneakers, to mattresses, and it could also help your natural-fiber couch.
When it comes to your couch, baking soda will help deodorize it, which is not the same thing as cleaning it, Melissa Maker, a cleaning expert and founder of Clean My Space tells Lifehacker. If you’re looking to actually clean your couch, she says your best bet is to either hire professional cleaners to come once a year, or use a steam cleaner that heats up to a minimum of 212 degree F in order to kill the bacteria.
To get rid of odors caused by things like food spills, pet dander and dead skill cells, the easiest option is to regularly vacuum your couch, Maker says. Just make this part of your regular vacuuming routine: after you do the floors, move on to the upholstery. This way the odor-causing materials and bacteria will have less of a chance to build up and get to the point of smelling bad.
If you do want to use baking soda, Maker says that’s fine, and a good option for those who want to go the natural route and not use cleaning products with chemicals. She also notes that baking soda can cause a pretty big mess when you sprinkle it on your furniture, so regularly vacuuming the soft surfaces in your home like your couch (without baking soda) is probably easier in the long run.
If you do decide to go the baking soda route, here’s what to do:
Gather a few supplies: baking soda, some clean cloths and a vacuum with brush and fabric attachment. Start by wiping down your couch with a dry, clean cloth or clean stiff brush to get any dust or dried-on gunk off.
Next, sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda on your couch and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes, chemist and cleaning expert and Alexis Rochester tells Lifehacker. Seriously, the key here is making sure it’s a thin layer of baking soda and that you’re not too heavy-handed with it. Then after you’ve let it sit, vacuum up the baking soda with the fabric attachment.
But will it hurt your vacuum? “Baking soda won’t clog your vacuum if it is dry and applied in a thin layer,” Rochester explains. “If the baking soda gets wet, you will encounter the possibility of a clog.” So just stick with the dry stuff here and don’t add water. Maker says that another way around this is to use a wet-dry vac to vacuum up the baking soda, as those tend to have more durable filters and won’t clog as easily.
Though baking soda is an effective deodorizer, both Maker and Rochester point out that it won’t actually clean your couch. If you have stains, spot clean them with a clean cloth and cleaning solution that is suitable for your couch’s fabric (baking soda won’t cut it here).
Look for a tag on your couch, which should identify it as being in one of the following categories:
According to Rochester, using a water-based solution allows you to use some warm water and a little dish soap to clean up any additional stains. “If the tag says S for solvent-based, you will need to purchase a dry cleaning type of item to remove stains. If it says X, hiring a professional is your safest bet,” she explains.
Regardless of the type of couch fabric, before you use a cleaning solution on the whole couch, spot-test the cleaners on a hidden portion of your couch to make sure they don’t damage the fabric. You’re always better safe than sorry when it comes to your couch.
Finally, give your couch a chance to dry after you’ve done your deep and spot cleaning. In the meantime, try out other seating options in your space.
While baking soda is great for deodorizing couches made of natural fibers, what should you do if you have a couch made of something else? That’s another article for another day, but in the meantime, here’s some guidance on how to clean couches made from polyester, microfiber and leather.
This story was originally published on 5/20/16 and was updated on 6/18/19 and 6/19/19 to provide more thorough and current information.