How to Paint Upholstery

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photo: Julia Schein (Shutterstock)

When it comes to updating the interior of your home (especially on a budget), color is your best friend. A few coats can transform a room or hallway and make tired, worn furniture look like new.

But don’t limit yourself to painting wooden bookshelves and metal tables: you can also paint your upholstered furniture, like fabric chairs and sofas. Here’s what you should know.

What kind of upholstered furniture can you varnish?

While most upholstery can be painted, when working with fabric a tightly woven tends to give the best results. velvet, suedeand microfiber can all be painted.

But before you embark and invest the time, money, and effort painting a piece of upholstered furniture, you should do a thorough inspection of the piece. The paint can cover stains and the previous paint, but problems such as holes, flat pads and broken springs remain. So if the furniture has problems like this and you decide it’s worth moving on, fix the problems before you paint.

Which color works best?

There are different types of paint that can work on upholstery, so a lot depends on the material and personal preference. Highly pigmented chalk paint, latex paint and a mixture of latex paint and fabric medium are popular.

Charlie Leanna Murphyan interior designer and owner of The pink penthouse— a studio in Kyle, Texas — regularly paints upholstered furniture to match the rest of her rosy interior, and after some trial and error found that a coat of interior latex paint worked best for her. “I use latex paint because when it dries, it feels like faux leather,” she tells Lifehacker. “I can wipe it clean.”

In the past, Murphy has used chalk paint on upholstery but found it would crack. Similarly, in her experience, fabric spray paint tended to bleed.

How to prepare the furniture

Before you begin, remove any removable pads or pillows and vacuum thoroughly. Then tape off the parts of the furniture that should not be painted. Next, wet the fabric (a Spray bottle filled with water works well).

“This helps the color penetrate the fabric so you don’t have to apply as many coats,” explains Murphy. She also primes the upholstery fabric –although some people skip this step and apply two or three coats of paint instead.

How to paint the furniture

Once the piece is prepped, mix your paint (if needed) and make a small patch test on a hidden part of the upholstery to ensure your color and technique achieve the desired results. Assuming they do, it’s time to start painting.

Apply the color small sections, take the time to work it into the fabric. Don’t forget to paint along the seams, around the buttons, in the corners and in other crevices.

Here’s Murphy in action:

If you skipped the primer and are applying multiple coats of paint, use a sanding sponge or sandpaper (Approximately 220 grit) to work the color into the upholstery between coats.

Then leave the furniture alone until completely dry. After that, some people like to apply a Top layer of wax or liquid patina to seal the newly painted upholstery, but again it comes down to personal preference.

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