Are there affordable ways to reupholster a sofa?

Cheap Sofa Reupholstery

by Gary Foreman

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My wife and I have an older sofa that's looking pretty gross. We've cleaned it many times, but that just doesn't work anymore. We really don't want to put new furniture on our credit card, so we're looking for a cheaper option. Is there some way to get our old couch reupholstered affordably?

It's a good decision to not run up your credit card. You'll be glad you made the frugal choice to not charge hundreds of dollars and pay interest for the privilege.

And, yes, there are a number of different ways to replace that old, worn out sofa with something more appropriate. Let's consider some of the options you have.

The first thing to do is to analyze what you currently have. You say that it's stained, but how bad are the stains? Is it possible that a professional could do the cleaning job you could not?

Where are the stains? Often the back of the couch is fine and only the cushions and arms are worn or stained. Replacing the cushions and adding armrest covers could solve your problem at a much lower cost than replacing or reupholstering the whole sofa.

Turn the couch over and check its construction. You want to make sure it's worth reupholstering. Some furniture just isn't made to last. This is especially true with newer furniture. If you find particle or pasteboard, it's probably not worth the expense of reupholstering.

Also, don't commit to reupholstering until you've compared the alternatives. Used furniture is often better made, and because shipping isn't generally an option, prices are often quite low, especially if you find people who are moving. Look for estate sales and online (eBay and Craigslist).

Slipcovers are another alternative. If your sofa is a standard size, you may find a ready-made slip cover you like. Even a custom-made slipcover will be less expensive than reupholstery.

Let's assume that you've checked the options and reupholstery appears to be the best choice. You still have more options available.

Although reupholstery takes some specific skills, if you have some sewing experience, you might want to take it on as a do-it-yourself project. You'd still have the cost of fabric and materials, but the labor savings could be significant.

You'd also be able to save on the materials. Once you know how much fabric you'll need, you can shop anywhere. A simple search will turn up many fabric outlets online.

One way to save big on fabric is to find an end of bolt piece that's big enough for your job. Or look for a piece that was cut for another job where the customer changed their mind. Check online and ask at local upholstery shops.

If you don't want to go it alone, take a class in upholstery at an adult education class or at a sewing center. Not only will you have an instructor to lead you through the process, but you'll also have access to the heavy duty sewing machines needed for heavier fabrics. Your project will take a couple of months to complete, but the savings could offset any inconvenience.

Another low-cost option would be your local vocational school. Many teachers use projects in class as a hands-on experience for students. You'll pay for materials, but you'll pay very little, if any, for labor. And, since the work is being supervised by a qualified instructor, the results are generally quite good.

If you finally decide to use a professional reupholsterer, shop around if you're in no hurry. Some will discount a bit if you can wait until they don't have other work waiting. Prices will vary from shop to shop, so take the time to find out what's available to you.

Don't be surprised if a professional reupholstery job costs nearly as much as a new sofa, especially if you compare to cheaper new sofas. But, reupholstering a well-constructed couch could be money well spent. A sturdy sofa reupholstered in material you've chosen could last much longer than a cheaper new one.

Finally, no matter how you proceed, you're wise to avoid using your credit cards to finance your purchase. The extra interest expense makes any purchase an unfrugal deal.

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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