How I Clean my Vintage Rugs + Leather Sofas

I’m really excited to share today’s post, because I get so many questions on these topics. I think that cleaning rugs and sofas yourself is one of those things that people WAY overcomplicate. Today, I am sharing my simple methods that I have been using for years along with some tips from my friend Allison, who sells vintage rugs for a living.

I want to start by saying I love to buy things made of natural fibers like wool and leather. Now I know that if you are vegan, this may not always be the way to go for you. But I choose these materials because they last, they are better for the air quality in our home than conventional synthetic carpet materials, and they are very easy to clean without any harsh chemicals.

You want to know the number one thing I use to clean my rugs and sofas? Water.

I am serious … just water! Let’s start with rugs. I love to buy vintage rugs because they have already lasted generations in someone else’s home. I feel lucky that our home gets to be a part of their story and it’s important to me that I keep them in good condition so that when we are done with them they can go on to live in many other homes. They are made to last.

The number one thing I do to reduce wear and tear is not wear shoes indoors (or do it very minimally, because life happens!). I wrote a big post here about how much it can help your stuff last when you don’t wear shoes in the house. It makes a BIG difference over time.

The second thing I do is try my best to keep our rugs vacuumed, even just once a week or a couple times a month is better than nothing.

I never take my rugs to a professional cleaner anymore, because in the past when I did, they came back smelling like cleaning chemicals, but still not clean. So frustrating when you wait weeks for that and pay for it. Now, I clean up any of our messes (remember we have two dogs and a toddler) myself just by simply spot cleaning the rug and letting it air dry.

To spot clean, it depends on what it is. For small stuff like spilled food, I would just use a wet cloth with water. So much of the time the main thing is to just get whatever it is up out of the rugs before foot traffic grinds it in.

For a really bad mess, I use the same thing I use to for laundry stains—Seventh Generation Stain Remover and the follow up with a wet rag.

In the past, a couple times I have fully given my rug a “bath” either in the tub or outside with a hose and then let it air dry outside. But since we have stopped wearing shoes indoors I haven’t needed to do that.

Allison’s advice for caring for vintage rugs is to wash them with water only. For a serious mess, take it into the bathtub and run water through the rug on the spot only. Then let it air dry. Never clean with chemicals. She says in all her years of working with vintage rugs she’s never had to get rid of a vintage rug because it couldn’t be cleaned. But synthetic rugs hold onto odors and always end up in the trash.

For our leather sofas (from Article), I get SO MANY DM’s about them and how they wear over time with kids and pets in the mix.

The sectional in our den takes more of a beating since that is our television room. We let the dogs on our sofas as much as they want. And we occasionally let Nova eat snacks on the sofa (not every day since she is still using a high chair, but a couple times a week while she watches a movie or something). We eat dinner on our sofa (or snacks) after Nova is in bed almost every night. We’ve had quite a few messes big and small, including a big oil spill from Chinese carryout one night.

I did not pre-treat our sofas in any way (Scotch Guard, etc.). To me, it is not worth it to use those toxic ingredients even though it will definitely help your leather stay in better condition for longer.

One of the things that drew me to the Article sofas (as opposed to some of the more tailored looking leather options) is that they already feel sort of worn-in when they are brand new, so I felt like they would age more gracefully.

Anyway! To clean them, I use a wet cloth and scrub them really well. It makes a giant (scary looking) dark/wet mark that will be gone within 30 minutes. This has worked to keep them nice for the past few years, even including our gross oil stain incident. Sometimes it takes a couple scrubs. I would say I do this a couple times a month (but only as needed) to keep our sofas looking fresh.

To keep our home smelling fresh, I make my own room sprays using something like 20(ish) drops of essential oil and distilled water. I keep these alllllll over our home and spritz rooms when I am cleaning up.

I hope this post has been helpful! I definitely believe that as Americans we sometimes use way too many products that aren’t necessary just because it’s something we’ve “always done.” Maybe five or so years ago, I asked Laura what she used to clean her counters and she looked at me kind of confused and said “just water.” Ever since then, I have used water only to clean my counters in our day-to-day life.

The same exact thing happened with paper towels. I used to feel like I couldn’t clean the house unless I was stocked up on paper towels because it’s just what I had always done. But after we switched to reusable cloths (it’s been close to a year now and I will never go back, by the way!) I realized how silly that was. Lesson learned, sometimes you don’t know what you need and don’t need until you try living without it.

xx – Elsie

Credits // Author: Elsie Larson. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.
  • I can absolutely vouch for those Article sofas. I coveted them for *years* here & elsewhere & when the Hubbin gave me the green light to replace our family rooms sofas, I beelined right for them. 😉 We had a MAJOR coffee spill at one point but all it took was a wet (not sopping) sponge & it’s like it never even happened. We have a few scratch marks from where the cat launches himself from the arms at our youngest (it’s a fraught relationship) but he actually avoids them most of the time. Seriously one of the best buys we’ve ever made. <3

  • I have already try your advices and they are really works! You are always writing interesting articles which I am reading with great pleasure!

  • Water is our cleaner if choice too. We have an instant-hot water dispenser at our kitchen sink, and that takes care of just about anything.

  • I have the same Article sofa and LOVE it – I also find that things clean up pretty easily with marker and even the occasion unnoticed pen streak (ahem, toddler) kind of fades over time. My only question – have you moisturized your leather couches at all? Before we replaced our windows we had a scorching hot, very sunny living room for a summer – our couch needs some love, but I don’t want the leather to turn a totally different color…

    • I have the same sofa but I live in Phoenix, where it’s too dry not to moisturize the leather. I use coconut oil every few months and my sofa still looks new.

  • I have the same leather Article sofa in my home and I’ve been trying to figure out how to go about cleaning the blue from my denim jeans that is rubbing off a little on the seat. I’m excited to try your water/cloth method!

  • Water alone doesn’t work always, therefore for some difficult to remove stains on vintage rugs I use a solution of mainly water with a little white vinegar and it works out alright.

  • Great tips! Thank you!

    Years ago, I worked in a Danish/ European furniture store. We suggested plain Dove soap to all our customers for cleaning leather because it adds some moisture back into the leather. We have a leather sofa, similar leather to yours, that is 20 years old and it will crack and get dry in some spots if you don’t moisturize it somehow. Kinda gross but it gets darker in spots from skin oils too.

  • The water doesn’t dry out the leather? I have a white leather sofa that is so expensive to keep clean with all the creams, so if I could just use water that would be great!

  • I’m from rural Scotland. In my family (and extended family) we wouldnt even think of using paper towels to clean with. I mean, you can really scrub or wipe with them and what a waste! I thought paper towels some people had in their kitchens was to use as paper napkins (serviettes). Sometimes we just get told we need things by marketing agencies (adverts, magazines articles, product placements) but in reality we don’t. Don’t get me started on alcohol hand gel and wet wipes… (PS I’m a doctor, and alcohol hand gel in hospital is beneficial in some circumstances but mainly, just wash your hands!)

  • I want to banish paper towels from my life too! How do you keep them from smelling after a few days? Even after washing!!

      • For reusable clothes and washcloths and towels, I add about 1/2 cup of vinegar into the washer and dry on high. This helps to keep that ‘musty’ smell away longer. Also, you can do an empty load in your washer with just vinegar and bleach to freshen it up and keep all of your laundry smelling better and getting cleaner.

      • Whoops, yes, the cloths!! The cloths I buy always get musty really quickly and I cannot figure out why!! I see the vinegar wash, below, so I’ll try that out. 🙂

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