Can you clean a fabric headboard? It depends

If you have a fabric headboard that is a light color, the chances are that you have noticed the fabric around where you lay your head becomes discolored over time.  To be specific, it gets yellow.  That’s gross, but it’s part of being human.  Our bodies release sweat and oil.  

I have a light grey linen headboard and I’ve tried several methods to clean it up.  Whether or not the headboard is cleanable depends on two things: 1.) what you’re trying to clean off and 2.) what color your headboard is.  

I will share the methods I tried, which ones worked and which ones didn’t.  You might get different results, depending on what’s on your upholstered bed.  It might go without saying, but it’s a good idea to spot test a small area before you test it out on the entire fabric headboard.  The type of fabric you have can make a difference.  

It’s never a mistake to start with vacuuming your headboard, but the real issue isn’t dirt.  Vacuuming the headboard is the best way to eliminate pet and human hair so you can have a relatively clean slate to start with.

Method 1:  Baking soda and water paste

I made a paste of baking soda and clean water and rubbed the paste into the headboard.  I let the cleaning solution sit for a couple of hours and then used a vacuum cleaner to get off as much as possible.  I used the upholstery attachment to brush loose as much as possible.

This method didn’t work, it just gave me light stains.  I love baking soda as a stain remover and use it to clean a lot of things, but it’s not the answer for upholstery.  

Method 2: Water, alcohol and dawn dish soap

 This cleaning technique is more effective if you can remove the upholstered headboard from your bed frame and lie it flat on the floor, I discovered after Method 1.  

The first step is to get a brush, rubbing alcohol (70% isopropyl alcohol or higher) and Dawn dish soap.  Mix these in a spray bottle:

  • 1 cup of rubbing alcohol (roughly 1:1 ratio)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 tablespoon of Dawn dish soapShake the bottle gently to combine the ingredients.

Apply the alcohol solution to the stain, spraying it generously onto the fabric.  I used a brush to get the solution to penetrate the stain.  

I read that you shouldn’t rub or scrub because it can damage the fabric.  But I also read that if you brush the fabric it can help to release the stain.  Since my first method failed, I wasn’t in the mood for being gentle.  I brushed the cleaner in aggressively. Then I used a clean cloth to blot out as much of the excess moisture as possible and let it dry.    

This cleaning method did make the stain lighter.  I tried repeating the process even though it didn’t work the first time. 

Method 3 – Use a detergent made for sweat and body oil

What’s on the headboard is either sweat or body oil or both. It’s yellow and it developed right behind where our heads rest. My skin and scalp are as dry as the desert, but my husband’s skin is nice and dewy. He will probably look 60 when he’s 80 and I’ll look 90, but my side of the upholstered fabric headboard will be clean. This isn’t because he uses hair products or doesn’t wash his hair. Some people are just naturally more lubricated.

The first two methods didn’t work on yellow body oil stains.  It’s time to try something different.  I tried an activewear detergent mixed with water (Rockin Green Activewear).  I used the same technique as with the baking soda.  I made a paste and rubbed it in and allowed it to sit.  I removed any excess water with a soft cloth and waited.  

The drying process made the whole adventure take a lot longer than I expected, but I felt it was the right way to really evaluate the results.  

Method 4 – Fabric Cleaner and handheld vacuum

I brought out the Bissell and used upholstery spot cleaner and hot water.  This little tool has been the best tool for cleaning every other stubborn stains in my house, but it, unfortunately, can’t touch oil.

I had great hopes that ONE of these methods would work, but I hate to watch anyone watch a video of failure.

Lessons Learned: 

Whether or not you can successfully clean your upholstery fabric headboard depends on what’s on it.    If it’s pet hair or dirt, yes!  You can clean it any handheld vacuum.  If it’s sweat or natural oils, NO!  Oil is a ten on the scale of tough stains.  It’s next to impossible to get out.  I tried four different ways, but none worked.  

Something I read suggested that cleaning on a more regular basis is the answer.  I’ll never know the answer to this, but realistically regular cleaning is not going to happen because it’s heavy.  

If you want a fabric headboard, don’t get a light color.  When you get a new bed, get a darker fabric that won’t reveal sweat and body oil.  OR get a headboard with a removable cover that you can put in the washing machine.  I have been able to get sweat and body oil stains out of sheets successfully because I can soak them.

This brings me to my next project, how to make a slipcover for a headboard. If you liked this, you might like how to clean a faux fur rug or how to clean marble floors and counters. I had a lot more success on these projects.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *