Antique upholstery holds a unique place in our homes, often blending history and aesthetics seamlessly. Owning these timeless pieces comes with a responsibility to care for and preserve their charm. Cleaning antique upholstery requires a delicate touch and specialised knowledge to ensure the integrity of the fabric and the wood beneath. 

Here’s how to safely clean antique upholstered furniture so you can enjoy these precious pieces for a long time to come

How to Maintain Your Antique Upholstery

Realising the value of Antique Upholstered Furniture

Antique upholstered furniture is more than just a seat; it’s a piece of history and art. Each scratch, stain, or faded patch tells a story. Recognise the historical and aesthetic significance of your antique work as you embark on its cleaning journey. Understand that the goal is to maintain its character rather than achieve a pristine, factory-new look.

Gathering the Essential Cleaning Supplies

Before you start, ensure you have the right tools and cleaning supplies on hand:

  • Soft Bristle Brush or Vacuum Cleaner: Use a brush with gentle bristles or a vacuum cleaner with a fabric attachment to remove loose dust and debris.
  • Mild Upholstery Cleaner: Choose a cleaner specifically designed for delicate fabrics and antique upholstery.
  • Distilled Water: A better option is to use distilled water instead of tap water in order to prevent material from being damaged.
  • Clean Cloths and Soft Sponges: Opt for lint-free, soft cloths and sponges to avoid any potential abrasion.
  • White Vinegar: This natural cleaner can be helpful for particular stain removal.
  • Cornstarch (Optional): Cornstarch can assist in removing grease stains gently.

 The Initial Assessment: Inspecting Your Antique Upholstery

Begin by closely inspecting your antique piece. Inspect it for any damage, wear, or structural issues. Understanding the condition of the upholstery and the underlying frame will guide your cleaning process. Identify the type of fabric used in the upholstery, as different materials may require different cleaning approaches.

Dust and Debris Removal

Start the cleaning task by using a soft brush or a vacuum cleaner with a fabric attachment. Gently brush or vacuum the entire surface, paying extra attention to crevices and seams. Be cautious around delicate areas or loose threads to avoid causing any damage during this stage.

 Testing a Small, Inconspicuous Area

Always perform a spot test before applying any cleaning solution to the visible areas of your antique upholstery. This step is crucial to check for colourfastness and to ensure that the cleaning product won’t harm the fabric. Choose a not clearly visible spot, such as the underside of the furniture, and follow the spot testing procedure recommended on your chosen cleaning product.

Cleaning Stains From Antique Upholstery Without Damage

  1. Creating a Mild Cleaning Solution. Dilute your mild upholstery cleaner with distilled water according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Ensure the solution is gentle and suitable for antique fabrics.
  2. Dampening a Cloth or Sponge (Not Soaking). Apply some cleaning solution to a fresh cloth or soft sponge. Wring it out thoroughly to ensure it’s damp but not dripping wet.
  3. Gently Blotting the Surface. Begin by gently blotting the stained or soiled areas of the upholstery. You should not rub or scrub, as you can damage the fabric fibres. Work from the outside of the stain toward the centre to prevent it from spreading.
  4. Addressing Stubborn Stains with Caution. For persistent stains, such as ink or wine, using rubbing alcohol on cotton swabs can help.
  5. Apply the alcohol directly on the stain spot, using a small, circular motion to avoid spreading the stain further. However, exercise caution, as excessive rubbing can cause discolouration.

 Removing Odours from Antique Upholstery

Musty odours can often accompany antique furniture. Here are some basic measures to get rid of unpleasant smells:

  • Dealing with Musty Odours: If your antique upholstery has a musty smell, place a bowl of activated charcoal or coffee grounds near the piece for a few days. These natural odour absorbers can help neutralise unpleasant odours.
  • Using Baking Soda as a Natural Odour Absorber: Sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda on the upholstery and let it sit for a few hours to absorb odours. Vacuum it away afterwards, ensuring that no residue remains.

Allowing for Proper Drying

After cleaning, ensure that your antique upholstery dries thoroughly. Proper drying is essential to prevent mildew and other issues. The following useful tips will help you to cope with the drying process with ease:

  • Use clean, dry cloths or towels to blot any excess moisture gently.
  • Allow the upholstery to air dry thoroughly in a well-ventilated area.
  • Avoid direct sunlight and heat sources during this process.
  • Promote air circulation by opening windows or using fans to speed up the drying process. 

Protecting and Preserving Antique Upholstery

To preserve the beauty of your antique upholstery, consider the following:

  • Applying Fabric Protector (Optional): After cleaning and drying, you can use a fabric protector designed explicitly for antique textiles. The protector helps create a barrier against future stains and spills.
  • Regular Dusting and Maintenance: Maintain a normal dusting routine to prevent dirt and dust accumulation. Keep your upholstery clean between deep cleanings by wiping it with a soft cloth or brushing it gently.
  • Seeking Professional Restoration (When Necessary): If your antique upholstery requires extensive repairs or restoration, it’s advisable to consult a professional with expertise in antique furniture restoration. Attempting complex repairs yourself may lead to irreversible damage.

Maintenance Tips for Antique Upholstered Furniture

Proper Placement and Avoiding Direct Sunlight

Position your antique furniture away from direct sunlight. The upholstery can fade and deteriorate from prolonged exposure. Consider using light-blocking curtains to protect your pieces.


Rotate cushions and pillows regularly to ensure even wear and ageing. This hack prevents one area from deteriorating faster than others.

Periodic Professional Cleaning

Schedule an upholstery cleaning service. Professional cleaners can identify potential issues early and recommend appropriate maintenance or restoration.


Antique upholstered furniture must be cleaned with respect for its history and craftsmanship. You should have your antique furniture professionally cleaned at least once a year to maintain its beauty. Through careful and proper maintenance, you will be able to prolong the beauty of this stunning piece of furniture.