Julia Woodbury is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University. She delights in the written word and has interests in magazine writing and editing.
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Let's say that you have one of those couches that can be taken apart. The cushions are not attached and the covers zip off. If you feel like it is time to wash those covers, simply take them off the foam or batting cushion and wash them in your washing machine with regular detergent. The type of cycle and water temperature you will use will depend on the material your couch is made of. Machine washing and spot treatment should take care of minor stains and general dinginess.
Perhaps you have a couch that doesn't have removable cushions. If the upholstery is a little dirty or spotted you can get a rag and some carpet or upholstery cleaner and scrub the dirt out. If the couch has stains that are too big for just a rag and some scrubbing, you can rent an upholstery cleaning vacuum. Most vacuums are able to shampoo the upholstery without getting it too wet.
Moving on to the more difficult situations, let's suppose that you have a soggy, smelly problem on your couch cushion. Food, drinks, and urine can seep beyond the cover and into the actual cushion. If your cushion is removable and small enough you can remove and machine-wash the cover and then machine-wash the actual cushion. Only try this if you can skip or disable the agitation step in your machine washing cycle. You will want the cushion to just soak in soapy water, then rinse, then spin. The agitator in a washing machine can shred a foam or batting cushion. If you are dealing with urine, add up to a cup of vinegar to the wash to remove the smell. You can also use store-bought products specially designed to remove pet and kid urine.
If your cushion is removable but too large to fit in the washer, you can try washing it in a bathtub or outside. To do this wet the cushion all the way through. Work in the soap (clothing detergent or deodorizing product of your choice) and let the cushion soak in the soapy water for a while. The dirtier it is, the longer you will want it to soak. Once again, if you are trying to remove the smell of urine, use a cup of vinegar in the water or the prescribed amount of odor lifting products. If you are working in a bathtub, use the shower nozzle to rinse out the cushion. If you are working outside, try using the hose. You will want to soak the cushion and then squeeze it out by punching it down or standing on it. Repeat the soaking and squeezing process until the water runs clear of suds.
If you have a big, smelly stain that is penetrating the cover and cushion and you can't remove your couch cushion you will have to get a little creative in your cleaning. Because the cause of the smell is deep in the cushion you will have to find some way of getting to it. If you can, you may want to make an inconspicuous cut in the cushion that is large enough to remove the foam. From there you can clean the cushion then put it back in and sew up the cut. If you're worried about the problem being repeated (example, you have children or pets) you may want to sew in a zipper so you can remove the cushion in the future.
Once you have washed and rinsed your couch cushion you will have to dry it completely before putting it back in the couch. A common drying method is wringing out as much water as possible and then setting the cushion out in the sun to air dry.
Another option is to wring out the water until the cushion is damp and then set it in front of a heater or use a hair dryer to finish the job. Be careful to not create a fire hazard while doing this. Don't leave focused, continuous heat on the cushion for to long, especially if it is foam.
If the cushion is being stubborn and refusing to dry you can try a more active method. Get a large batch of clean, dry towels. Place one under the cushion and another on top. Squish the cushion by lying or standing on it. Replace the towels when they get too wet to absorb more water. Repeat the process until the cushion is damp enough to dry with a heater or in the air.
Your final step is to prepare for the future. If you want to waterproof the foam or batting in your cushions, put it in a plastic bag fitted to its size, then put the cover over it. A plastic bag also comes in useful if you are trying to fit foam back in its cover. Simply put it in the bag, squeeze out all the air so that it becomes vacuum packed, then put the cover over it and let the air back in. The plastic layer will protect your cushion from future spills and accidents.