How to clean upholstered dining chairs – 6 hacks to banish stains and spills

Upholstered dining chairs might be the comfiest dining option, but they are also most prone to stains – here’s how to clean them

Upholstered dining chairs around a wooden table in a very bright sunny dining room
(Image credit: The Cotswold Company)

If comfort at the dining table is a priority, then upholstered dining chairs are the way to go. However, in a room so prone to spills, splatters, and stains, keeping them clean and smelling their best is a nightmare – especially if children are involved. 

From removing red wine stains to dealing with crumbs, cleaning upholstery in a dining room can sometimes seem like an uphill battle after every big meal or fun family occasion. 

Luckily for us, professional cleaners have perfected the art of cleaning these chairs and keeping them spotless – all without too much manual scrubbing. This is what they suggest. 

How to clean upholstered dining chairs

The first thing to do when cleaning upholstered dining chairs is to check the care label, usually on the base of the chair, to see if the material is ‘wet-cleanable’ or dry clean only, begins Jennie Holmes, cleaning expert and branch manager of ServiceMaster Clean. This will help direct the method and the products you use to clean the chairs.

If in doubt, always spot-test any cleaning products in an inconspicuous place before committing to a full clean. 

1. Remove debris

A single upholsered dinging style chair with wooden arms. A blanket draped over it

(Image credit: Layered Lounge)

The first step is to remove any loose debris – both before deep cleaning upholstered dining chairs, and when cleaning up after a dinner party

Jennie Holmes, cleaning expert, recommends using a microfiber cloth to remove any loose debris, and then using your vacuum to remove smaller bits. ‘Especially around buttons or seams etc.'

2. Use mild detergent or upholstery cleaner

Someone pouring liquid laundry detergent into a drawer

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Much like washing couch cushions without damaging them, it is best to use a dedicated upholstery cleaner, or a mild detergent at most, to remove any stains or discoloration without risking further damage, says Erin Zanelli, co-owner and Founder of Tranquil Home:

‘For stains or soiled areas, prepare a solution of mild detergent or upholstery cleaner diluted with water, following the manufacturer's instructions. Apply the solution sparingly to a clean cloth or sponge, then dab at the stain in a gentle, blotting motion. Avoid rubbing vigorously, as this may damage the fabric fibers.

‘Once the stains are lifted, dampen another clean cloth with plain water and blot the treated areas to remove any residual cleaning solution.’

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3. Use an enzyme-based cleaner for food stains

Light grey dining room with wooden sideboard

(Image credit: Davis Interiors)

In the case of truly stubborn stains, you can try enzyme-based cleaners, adds Jennie Holmes, cleaning expert. ‘These will “eat” into the stain and remove it,’ she explains. 

‘As always, test this on an inconspicuous area first and always blot and never rub as this can damage the face of the fabric.’

4. Try steam cleaning

Someone using a steam cleaner on couch cushions

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Just as you would steam clean a couch, you can steam clean upholstered dining chairs to break down surface dirt and sanitize the chair after meals. 

Before steam cleaning, check the care label to ensure both the upholstery and the chair stuffing are safe for high temperatures (some foams and velvets, for instance, may melt or misshapen). 

When picking the best steam cleaner, opt for one with an upholstery attachment to make this process easier and safer.  

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5. Avoid color transfer and watermarks

Dining room with modern furniture and traditional gallery wall

(Image credit: Emily Henderson/Sara Ligorria-Tramp)

A good cleaning tip to keep in mind is using plain colored cleaning cloths to avoid color transfer from the cloth to the upholstery – especially in the case of white or cream dining chairs, warns Jade Piper, cleaning expert and operations manager at BetterCleans:

‘Don't use colored cloths or sponges as the dye might transfer onto the upholstery and cause more stains. And be careful not to oversaturate the fabric, watermarks are an eyesore caused by too much moisture.’

6. Dry naturally

Upholstered dining chairs around a wooden table

(Image credit: The Cotswold Company)

With the chairs cleaned and returned to their former glory, it is time to let them dry. Air drying is the best way to do this, allowing them to sit in a well-ventilated space to air out, says Erin Zanelli, eco-cleaning expert. ‘You can also use a fan to expedite the drying process,’ she adds. 

If you need to speed the process up, using a dehumidifier near the chairs will pull moisture out of the surrounding air and encourage faster drying, reducing the chance of musty odors being left behind. If the weather is on your side, you can also put the chairs out in the sun to dry and further deodorize. Leaving them out for a short amount of time shouldn’t cause any sun bleaching, but this is something to consider with darker-colored fabrics and woods.  


Will baking soda remove stains from upholstery?

Baking soda, when mixed with distilled water into a paste, can be a good stain remover for light, fresh stains on upholstery. When applying the paste, blot the stain gently, rather than rubbing it in, and allow it to sit for up to an hour. Then, remove with a damp (not soaking wet) cloth.  

How long do upholstered dining chairs last?  

Well-made upholstered dining chairs that are cleaned and cared for properly can last anywhere between seven to 15 years. This is because upholstery generally wears out far more quickly than leather or plain wood, especially if they are used regularly or not cleaned correctly. Designs made from solid wood with thicker cushions typically last longer.  

With the chairs clean, it is good to look for some maintenance tactics to prevent them from becoming dangerously stained again in the future, recommends cleaning expert Jade Piper. She suggests applying some fabric-protecting finish to keep the stains out. 

‘You can also buy washable seat covers. They come in different colors and patterns so it’s easy to match your home’s aesthetic. It would also help to clean it once every six to 12 months, but if you want to be sure it still looks as good as new, maybe vacuum it once a week.’

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.