How to Paint Upholstery

How to Paint Upholstery

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Photo: Yuliya Sham (Shutterstock)

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

But you don’t have to paint wooden bookshelves or metal tables. You can also paint upholstered furniture like sofas and fabric chairs. Here are some things to consider.

What kind of upholstered furniture can you paint?

While most upholstery can be painted, when you’re working with fabric, a tighter weave tends to produce the best results. Velvet, suede, and microfiber can all be painted as well. Before you spend your time, money, or effort painting upholstered furniture, make sure to inspect it thoroughly. While the paint will cover up any stains or previous colors, it will not fix problems like flat cushions, holes, or broken springs. If the furniture has issues like these, you should fix them before you paint.

What kind of paint works best?

There are several different types of paint that can work on upholstery, so a lot comes down to the material and personal preference. Popular choices include highly pigmented chalk paint, latex and a mixture latex paint/fabric medium.

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Charlie Leanna Murphy, an interior designer and owner of The Pink Penthouse–a studio space in Kyle, Texas–regularly paints upholstered furniture to match the rest of her rosy interior, and after some trial-and-error, found that one coat of interior latex paint works best for her. She tells Lifehacker that she uses latex paint because it acts like faux leather when it dries. “I’m able to wipe it clean.”

In the past, Murphy has used chalk paint on upholstery, but found that it would crack. In her experience, fabric spray paint tends to rub off.

How to prep the furniture

Before getting started, take off any removable cushions or pillows and vacuum everything thoroughly. Tape off any furniture that isn’t going to be painted. Next, wet down the fabric (a spray bottle filled with water works well). This helps the paint absorb into fabric so you don’t need to do as many coats,” Murphy explained. She also primes the upholstery fabric. However, some people skip this step and paint only two or three coats.

How to paint the furniture

Once the piece is prepped, mix your paint (if necessary) and do a small patch test on a hidden part of the upholstery to ensure that your paint and technique achieve the results you want. If they do, it is time to paint.

Apply the paint in small sections, taking the time to work it into the fabric. Paint around buttons, seams, corners, and other crevices.

Here’s Murphy in action:

If you skipped the primer and are doing multiple coats of paint, use a sanding sponge or sandpaper (about 220 grit) to work the paint into the upholstery between coats. Leave the furniture alone until it dries completely. After that, some people like to apply a top coat of wax or liquid patina to seal the newly painted upholstery, but again, it comes down to personal preference.

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