How to Clean Second-Hand Upholstery

I have a little weakness for chairs. Vintage chairs. In their original upholstery. I wouldn’t consider myself a clean freak, but it does concern me that I sometimes bring home a 50-year-old chair that could be dirty. I don’t buy any upholstery from second-hand stores or Goodwill anymore because I am fearful of bedbugs, but I love a good estate sale from a clean home or the Everything But the House (EBTH) online auction site. Even in a “clean” home, there can be loads of dust, pet hair, and/or other allergens in the upholstery.

how to clean second-hand upholstery


Or like many of the estate sales I go to, everything may smell a little too much like White Shoulders perfume.

white shoulders

also known as Eau de Nursing Home

Regardless, I have a routine for cleaning my upholstered treasures that I thought I’d share with you! I recently found this big blue velveteen chair that I thought would be perfect for my teenage daughter’s bedroom – we’ve been keeping an eye out for just the right funkiness and color for a bedroom chair for her.

blue cookie monster chair

yes, I know it looks like Cookie Monster’s chair . . . 


It was in an elderly lady’s bedroom, and yes, it did smell like White Shoulders. Before you bring any upholstery into your house,

1) Let it air out for several hours outside.

If it’s a sunny day, that’s all the better because the sun beating down on it does it’s own natural germ-killing.

2)  Next, vacuum the entire thing with the brush attachment of my central vac.


cleaning upholstery fabric



3)  After that, spray Woolite Fabric & Upholstery cleaner on the entire thing.

woolite fabric and upholstery cleaner

you can find my secret weapon here

I also use this to clean spots or stains on any upholstery in my house, as well as rugs. I just used it last weekend to remove some set-in spots from a recent birthday party where some cake icing was kinda ground into the rug.

woolite upholstery cleaner

4) Stroke a clean, wet rag over the cleaner in the direction of the fabric (turning the rag and rinsing it out occasionally).


cleaning upholstery

5) Use a hard bristle brush to remove dust from any crevices or to scrub anything that looks like it needs scrubbing.

2015-05-22 11.14.13


6) Finally, vacuum the entire piece one more time and let it sit outside until it is good and dry.

So here is the Cookie Monster chair, all clean and ready to go in my teenager’s bedroom:

teenage girls room


It’s comfy, quirky, and it matches her decor, so we’re all happy!

funky chair


If you are looking for quality second-hand chairs, EBTH always has all kinds of upholstered options, some of which are vintage:

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.17.12 AM

bid on these chairs here

while others are nearly new, like this one I found this morning online:

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.14.52 AM

find this chair here

Look for sales in your area, or you can have them shipped. Or, take some time this weekend to do some hands-on shopping in local estate sales or antique malls. Hopefully, you won’t get there before me 😉

The struggle is real. This post is sponsored by EBTH, but the obsession for vintage chairs is my own personal demon. 


  1. ceil tarwater

    LOVE, LOVE the blue chair! At the very least after a good cleaning…you can always paint it with Annie Sloan chalk paint!!

    • Kristie Barnett

      Well Ceil,
      I’m not sure I’d try painting velveteen with chalk paint!!!

  2. Teri

    I have so much trouble getting smells out of my furniture after people wear perfume. It hangs in the air, stays on the upholstery, triggers my migraines…..

    I will try the Woolite. I hope it really is an odor eliminator, and not just a cover-uperer. Thanks for the tip!

    • Kristie Barnett

      Good luck, Teri – and let it air out as long as possible outside!

    • Heather J (vintage restorer)

      Try isopropyl alcohol mixed with water. Spay on, let evaporate and do this until the smell is neutral. That and sunlight will knock out a lot of the worst smells. There are also enzyme cleaners (made for pets) that are v effective for any unpleasant odor that’s not chemical.

  3. jeannie casey

    how mush did you offer and pay for the chair at the estate sale?

    • Kristie Barnett

      This one was $125 and that’s what I paid. I don’t like to haggle at estate sales – it’s either worth it to me or it’s not!

  4. Paula Van Hoogen

    That chair is so like a Walt Disney costume for, say, the Queen Grandmother. If it could dance, it would! I used to have a dresser that had the cutest Disney legs and curvy body and also looked like it maybe would start dancing,LOL. How many chances d we get to use humor in decorating…isn’t it fun when it works?!!! Hope your daughter wants to take it with her for her 1st apartment. I think you just made a memory, Kristie :)…..

  5. Ruth Helm

    I ‘ve had good luck with white vinegar & water in a spray bottle, then vacuum the icky wet stuff with a shop vac or hand held type carpet cleaner. And like my Grandma always said “Sunshine is a good disinfectant” Let’s not count how many chairs I have either.

  6. Elizabeth Scruggs

    Love the chair!! and White Shoulders…omigoodness, what flashbacks that brings! Also love the clock on the wall- it looks great! 😉

  7. Beth

    Thanks for the step-by-step tips. That would make me feel better about getting second-hand upholstery.

  8. Linda

    My son and his wife are about to build a house. They are in love will all the navy and white things that are available right now. We were wondering what color wall paint to use in a home with white cabinets and lots of navy/white things to make the navy/white ‘pop’ ? Any good suggestions? I love this chair, too!

  9. Jordan

    Awesome tutorial here! It’s always great finding some used furniture – but you have to make sure it’s clean too. Thanks for sharing this!

  10. Tiffany

    Ok, just did my first bid on 4 items on EBTH! Feeling a little nervous and excited!

    • Kristie Barnett

      Good luck, Tiffany!!! I’d ask what you bid on, but you don’t want any competition 😉

  11. Jen

    Great tips! I’ll use your method next time I find a lovely used upholstered item! I do want to ask how you remove the musty smell from wood furniture? My daughter bought a great old oak chest of drawers, the drawers smell a little musty so I’ve put small boxes of clean cat litter in each and closed up. If that doesn’t work, do you have any other tips you use? Thanks!

    • Kristie Barnett

      I’m not sure – but I might try bowls of baking soda and close the drawers for a week, then line them with scented drawer liner?

      • Jen

        Thanks Kristie,
        Appreciate the baking soda idea! And definitely the scented drawer liner sounds wonderful even if all of the mustiness is gone.

    • Ruth Sherl

      I had an issue like that with a old chest i purchased. I used the baking soda dishes as well, I also used fragranced dryer sheets so many nice scents to choose from and i used them as dust like a cleaning cloth .I took fresh ones and layered several in the bottom of all the drawers the smell was gone after a few days . I also keep a few dryer sheets in all the drawers al the time, it makes for a very nice fragrance on your clothes . Good luck

  12. Alexis

    Thank you so much for this tutorial! I just picked this couch up for free (with all the original fabric & cushions), but it’s pretty grundgy after years of use. Now I just get to figure out how to get into all those tufted crevices!

  13. Wendy Piner

    My passion is for platform rockers. Sometimes they have hideous upholstery, but the frames are good. My passion started with my father’s “throne” he played on as a child (1922-1997). It was found in the old farmhouse my grandparents purchased. The rocker has a spiral spring mechanism, and dates to 1897.

  14. sabrina

    Thank You! I bought a gorgeous vintage pram with red upholstery that is almost a velvet type fabric and its super dusty and smells a bit. I was scared of ruining the fabric trying to clean it but ill try the suggestions you gave!

    • Kristie Barnett

      I hope it works, Sabrina! Let me know how it turns out!

  15. Abby Fields

    Okay, that chair is gorgeous! I heard that your local Chem-Dry Upholstery Cleaners can work magic if you do find something really good at Goodwill or something. I never thought about estate sales though! So smart!

  16. Anna Marie Dalton

    Hi there, I have some funky fabric chairs that I recently cleaned. The fabric has lost its lusture but I noticed when it was wet how much brighter it was. Is there a clear product . that I can use to paint on the fabric of my chairs so that it is brighter? Thank you

    • Kristie Barnett

      Hmm, like a poly/lacquer finish for fabric? I’ve never heard of that and would think it would harden the fibers. But who knows???


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