How to Reupholster a Couch to Give It a Brand New Look for Less

A grey couch with colorful pillows.

KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images

Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 20 hrs
  • Total Time: 2 - 5 days
  • Skill Level: Advanced
  • Estimated Cost: $100 to $1,000

Couch looking drab? Instead of buying a new one, transform your couch with a DIY reupholstery job. Whether you’re looking to give your space a complete makeover or simply restore its prior look, reupholstering your couch can be a huge change. Plus, reupholstering gives your old furniture new life without sending it to the landfill. Thus, it’s a very eco-friendly and sustainable design option.

What Is Reupholstery?

Reupholstery is the practice of recovering your furniture with new material. It typically requires the removal of all the furniture’s fabric to replace it with new fabric. It’s a widely used practice that allows you to revamp a piece of furniture with a frame that isn’t broken or damaged.

If you’re a thrifty shopper and can reupholster your couch yourself, it’s a relatively budget-friendly DIY project, especially compared to having it professionally reupholstered, which can cost thousands of dollars. But keep in mind that reupholstering a couch yourself is fairly time-consuming and requires some elbow grease to get the job done correctly. While we think it’s best for advanced-level DIYers, a motivated intermediate sewer could be successful, too. That said, we suggest that beginners try reupholstery on a smaller piece of furniture before taking on a couch reupholstery project.

Most of the cost to reupholster a sofa comes from the reupholstery fabric, which is relatively thick (that’s why it can be expensive). To snag a deal, browse for upholstery fabric at second-hand shops or use an inexpensive but durable drop cloth. If you decide on thinner fabric, keep in mind that it will wear more quickly and another reupholstery project may be in your future.

Warning

Throughout this reupholstery project, you’ll be removing a lot of staples. Wear shoes to protect your feet in case you step on a stray staple, and be careful to not send any staples flying toward your face during the removal process.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Staple remover
  • Staple gun
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Strong fabric scissors
  • Paintbrush (optional)

Materials

  • 10 yards upholstery fabric
  • Heavy-duty staples
  • Sewing machine (optional)
  • Sandpaper (optional)
  • Fabric glue (optional)
  • Furniture stain (optional)
  • Furniture sealant (optional)
  • Furniture paint (optional)

Instructions

  1. Measure Your Couch

    Take precise measurements of each piece of fabric on your couch, including the outside couch fabric, the interior fabric, the dust cover on the underside of the couch, and any round, upholstered cording. (If you plan to remove all fabric anyway, taking measurements may be easier if you remove all the fabric at this step, lay them out, and measure the dimensions of each flat piece.) Write down all of these measurements and use them to calculate how much fabric you’ll need to purchase for your reupholstery project.

    Bring your notes and measurements to your local fabric store and check out their upholstery fabric options. The thicker the fabric, the longer it will last on your furniture piece, but stapling heavy fabric to your couch frame may be more difficult than stapling thinner fabric. In this case, you’ll have to pick your poison, but we recommend purchasing thicker upholstery fabric. 

    Tip

    Purchase more fabric than you think you will need. More often than not, it will come in handy. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

  2. Remove Dust Cover

    Turn your couch upside down and take its legs off. Most couches will have a thin layer of fabric, also known as a dust cover, stapled to the bottom of the couch. Its purpose is to protect and extend the life of your furniture, protecting it from dust and pests or burrowing pets who want to find a cozy spot inside your comfy couch.

    Use a staple remover to carefully remove the staples around the dust cover and remove it completely. If you need more than a staple remover (or if you don’t have one), use your needle nose pliers and flathead screwdriver to remove the upholstery staples.

    Be careful to avoid rips or tears during the removal process. If the dust cover still seems functional, you can reuse it and staple it back onto your couch once you’re done with the reupholstery. Stash it in a safe place where it won’t get damaged for the time being.

  3. Remove Old Upholstery

    While you can successfully reupholster a sofa without fully removing the old fabric (just attach new fabric over top instead), we don’t recommend it to DIYers who want their couch looking as good as new. (Covering the old fabric with the new can look bulky and chunky.) This tactic does work if you want to cover up a small part of the old upholstery because of a tear or stain or if you don't have enough time to remove everything, though. If the thought of removing all the fabric seems daunting and you want an easier DIY couch refresh, consider making a couch cover instead of leaning on reupholstery to transform your furniture.

    Remove the old upholstery fabric on your couch very carefully. This will require removing a lot of staples, so stretch those fingers and take a big breath before diving in. Each couch is different, but in general, you’ll want to remove fabric pieces in the order that they were attached to the couch in the first place. 

    Usually, the first thing you will want to remove is the upholstery panel on the back of the couch, but you’ll be able to see if this is the case by looking at how your old couch upholstery was assembled. Always remove the top layer of fabric first and continue through the different layers of fabric throughout.

    Use your staple remover, screwdriver, and needle nose pliers to pry off each and every staple as you remove the layers of fabric. Take lots of notes and photos throughout the process so that you can refer back to them later on to determine how the original fabric was stretched and where it fit.

    Tip

    When removing staples, place the old ones in a bin or a box to keep them out of the way. If you have kids or pets walking around, you won’t have to worry about them accidentally stepping on a piece of metal. Once you’re finished removing the staples, dispose of them in the trash or bring them to a metal recycler who accepts heavy duty staples.

  4. Add Stuffing as Needed

    With the couch cushions removed and uncovered, use this time as an opportunity to re-stuff them to look plump and new again. But be wary of over-stuffing, which can make your couch look a bit gaudy and over-the-top. Use your own judgement here. This seemingly simple re-stuffing step can do wonders for an old, sagging sofa.

    You can purchase stuffing or poly-fill at your local craft or big box store. Or, for a more budget-friendly option, you can buy used pillows or cushions at your nearby thrift shop, cut them open, and reuse the stuffing for your own cushions.

  5. Refinish Frame

    Now that you have removed all of the old upholstery fabric, you’ll be left with padding as well as the frame of the couch. If the frame needs a refresh or if it isn’t quite your style anymore, you can refinish it here before you attach the new upholstery fabric. 

    Apply stain or paint, sand it down, or do whatever you need to do to get the frame looking in tip-top shape. If you do decide to stain or paint it, be sure to add a sealant to prevent it from bleeding onto clothes or cushions in the future.

    Keep this process in mind when perusing second-hand shops for a new furniture piece for your living room. If you find an inexpensive sofa that’s almost your vibe, you can always refresh it and make it more your own by reupholstering and refinishing the frame.

    If your couch is an expensive antique or family heirloom, you may want to skip this step so as not to ruin the finish.

  6. Cut and Attach New Fabric

    You can use the upholstery fabric you removed as patterns to cut your new fabric. That way, the new upholstery fabric is sure to fit your couch perfectly. Use photos and notes as a reference, too. Use strong, sharp fabric scissors to cut the upholstery fabric to avoid snags or frays.

    Attach your new upholstery fabric using your notes and photos as a general guide as you go along. You will attach each piece of fabric in the reverse order in which you removed your old upholstery fabric. In other words, the fabric piece you removed first will be the last piece you attach and vice versa. In most cases, you’ll start with the fabric panel on the front of the sofa and move to the arms, then to the back of the sofa.

    Pull the fabric so it's taught and then use your staple gun to staple it onto the frame of the couch. If the fabric is attached loosely, it won’t look as nice and can become wrinkled after use. Be sure to use heavy-duty staples for this, as conventional staples won't have enough power to hold the fabric as tightly.

  7. Reattach Dust Cover

    After you’re finished stapling the new fabric onto your couch, it’s time to reattach the dust cover that you removed at the beginning of the project. This piece of fabric covers up all of the staples underneath, leaving the couch looking neat and tidy (and covering up any mistakes).

    You can reuse the original dust cover that you removed. Or, if it’s in bad shape, cut and attach a new piece of fabric as your dust cover. Use a piece that matches your new upholstery to make the couch look seamless. If you're really in a pinch, you can use a bed sheet, but remember that thinner fabric won't last as long and may leave your couch more vulnerable.

  8. Cut and Add Trim

    Many sofas come with decorative cording or trim to cover up staples and add a decorative touch. If that’s the case with your couch, purchase some matching cord and use strong fabric glue to attach it to your sofa. The trim will give your couch a nice finished look while covering up any unsightly evidence of your upholstery. To make it look seamless, it's important to find high-quality fabric glue and follow the instructions on the back of the bottle.

    Tip

    If you can’t find any matching cord, purchase what you can and use a sewing machine to make a cover for it using any extras of your upholstery fabric. If there’s no upholstery fabric left, choose a fabric that pairs nicely and follows the color scheme.

  9. Add Finishing Touches

    Lastly, add finishing touches to your couch to make it look even more beautiful. If desired, repaint or stain the couch legs that you initially removed. You can also sew pillow covers to make cute matching throw pillows using any leftover fabric. Experiment with different shapes and sizes to find the style that's right for you and your space.

    If your couch had tufted cushions, purchase a tufting kit from your local craft store to add decorative buttons and threading.

When to Call a Professional

Reupholstering a couch is a meticulous and time-consuming project that takes a lot of patience and hard work. There’s no shame in calling in a pro if you’re in over your head. If you’re not a skilled DIYer, consider taking your couch in to be reupholstered professionally. Call your nearest professional upholstery business to make an appointment.

Professional couch reupholstery can cost between $600 and $4,000, which is often just as expensive as it is to buy a whole new couch. The total cost will be determined by the condition of your couch, transportation expenses (if the pro has to come to you), and extra features like tufting, new fabric, and labor. Labor costs between $40 and $100 per hour on average.

You can save a good chunk of money by DIYing your reupholstery. When you complete the project yourself, you won’t pay for labor or transportation. Instead, you’ll pay for tools and supplies. But you should take time into consideration, too. If you’re missing work because of this project, it may be more cost-effective to leave it to a pro.

Upholstery fabric can cost between $50 and $70 per yard when you purchase it new. If you’re reupholstering a love seat, you may only need five yards of fabric. A sectional, however, will require up to 40 yards. Take into account the size of your couch before deciding whether or not to have it professionally reupholstered. Smaller projects may be more DIY-friendly, whereas sofas with frilly details, like lots of trim and skirting, may be more difficult.