Help! My Couch Is Humiliating!

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

Here is my squalor.

I've had my sofa for about four years. The piece is still in great shape and beautiful except for one thing: For some unknown reason everyone prefers to sit in one specific spot on the couch — the far right side. Over time, the spot where people rest their head while sitting there has developed a nice dark, round, greasy spot in the shape of humiliation. The cushion is not removable and neither is the fabric. For now, I have just been throwing a blanket over it so nobody has to see it and so it doesn't get any worse. How can I get rid of that greasy spot?

Before we do this thing, everyone should go on and click play so we can enjoy a thematic soundtrack to our couch triage efforts.

Our Letter Writer didn't specify what type of fabric the couch is covered in, for shame, for shame. But actually I'm glad he didn't because it gives me the excuse to introduce you to the Couch Cleaning Legend. You'll find the cleaning information you need on the couch's care tag, and will interpret what you find there thusly:

W = Wet/water cleaning only
S = Dry solvent cleaning only
SW = Dry solvent and/or wet cleaning
X = Professional cleaning or vacuuming only

If you've got a W on your hands, go ahead and get an upholstery cleaner; I prefer the foaming ones, and ones like this Bissell dealie because it comes with a brush attachment that will help greatly in getting that greasy stain up off your couch. As always with these kinds of cleaners, be sure to test it out on a less visible area of the furniture to be sure it doesn't cause any kind of damage to the fabric. You could also go in for a steam cleaner — you can rent them from most hardware, home-improvement or grocery stores for about $30 a session. An important caveat here is that if your couch contains polyester it will not react well to the heat from the steamer.

Because it's a grease stain we're talking about, it will also be good to know that products like Pine-Sol and Lestoil are great as oil and grease stain treatments. If you've got the time and inclination, you may want to dab a bit of one of those things on the stain, allow it to work for 15 or so minutes, and then break out your upholstery cleaner.

If you're working with an S, you should march right on down to your local hardware store for a can of dry-cleaning solvents. We talked before about using dry cleaning solvents to clean up a car interior that had been treated to a butter wash, so I'll give you the short version here.

First things first: because these are chemicals we're talking about, you'll want to wear protective gloves, make sure you've got some ventilation in your workspace and test the product on the fabric to be sure it's safe to use. Once your set-up is in place, put a small amount of the solvent on a clean white- or light-colored rag and blot at the stains.

You may be tempted to use a lot of solvent, but dry-cleaning solvents work best when used sparingly. That's an important thing to know, I think! The final step, once the stain is gone, is to remove the solvent by going over the areas where you've used it with a clean, wet white- or light-colored rag. Oh, one last thing — once you've wet the rag, be sure to wring it out so that it doesn't saturate the cushion.

If your couch is an SW, you can choose your poison. But you already know that because you're wicked smart.

And finally, if you've got an X why in the world did you buy such a fancy couch, stud?!? I mean … you should hire a professional cleaner or use the old cornstarch trick. The old cornstarch trick, by the by, involves putting a heap of cornstarch (or talcum) on a greasy stain and allowing it to sit for upwards of 5 or 6 hours. It works best, it will not surprise you to learn, on flat surfaces. Given the placement of this particular stain it might be off the table, solution-wise, but I mention it anyway.

I keep my car pretty clean, ever since the first time I unexpectedly had to give my boss a ride. However, over the 9 years I've owned it, a good amount of coffee and other beverages have slopped into the console cup holders and change slots, all of which are solid and tough to reach into. What is a good way to get out the accumulated crud, particularly when my fingers don't fit in the smaller slot?

Well you could certainly do what every car-owning friend of mine has done and ask me to come by with my tiny marsupial hands to manually clean out the console! Might you have a child? Employ the child! Child labor has always ended well for everyone involved.

But if you're hellbent and determined to act independently in pursuit of a clean console, sure I've got some ideas for you.

If what you've got stuck in there are a whole bunch of crumbs, you could certainly grab for a can of canned air and blow 'em out. They may just settle back down in the console though. It's a good detailing tool to know about though, generally, so I mention it here. Particularly great on vents and such which isn't what you asked about but we're here and having such fun, so why not prolong our time together?!

An important note on the use of canned air: always use it before you vacuum the car's interior. Canned air will blow whatever crumbs and lint and such that's in the console all over the place. So if you vacuum first, then use canned air, you'll just have to vacuum again.

More than likely, however, what's hanging around in there is a combination of crumbs, dust, spilled drinks that have dried into a sticky film, and other things I probably am better off not knowing about. For that, you'll want to employ a long, narrow tool to which you've applied an all-purpose cleaning solution. Your Fantastiks, 409s, Simple Greens — that sort. Do be sure to take a gander at the ingredient list to be sure whatever it is you're working with is free of ammonia which, over time, can cause plastic consoles and dashes to crack. Windex is sadly guilty of this. Sorry Windex! Love ya otherwise. While you're checking out the ingredient list, you might as well also make sure the product is safe for use on plastic, which it probably is.

So once you have an all-purpose cleaner, you'll need a tool — here, you should feel free to use these few suggestions as a starting off point to fuel your creativity. You'll also want to take into account the severity of the film you're looking to remove and use a sturdier tool for more serious messes. Some ideas:

  • Q-Tips
  • A bottle brush
  • A soft-bristled toothbrush
  • A clean paintbrush to dust vents and/or knobs
  • A microfiber cloth taped to a dowel, pen, the end of a paint brush, etc. This can be used both wet and dry, which is a nice feature. Plus it's super MacGyver-like and that's always cool.

If you wanted to get really fancy about things, you could invest in a shop vac with a crevice tool attachment. Here's one model just to give you a sense of what I'm talking about and also so that we can all sit around like a bunch of 12-year-olds tittering at the name Vac N' Blo.

Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, 25 February 2014); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.

Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.