It may be a diamond in the rough.

How to Determine if a Sofa Is Worth Reupholstering

by Linda Erlam

The sofa in your living room may be the third most expensive item you buy, after your home and your car. A good sofa can last many more years than its style, and may find itself doomed for the dumpster unless rescued and resurrected with reupholstery. If you are the new or prospective owner of such a sofa, deciding if it is worth reupholstering is a step-by-step process.


The overall weight of the sofa will tell you a bit about the quality of the wood that was used to make the frame. The heavier the sofa, the more solid the wood -- usually. If you can see any of the wood used in the construction, stick a nail into it. If the nail tip sinks easily, the wood may not be high quality hardwood. Hardwood is more durable than softer wood and indicates a better-quality sofa.


Turn the sofa on its side and remove one end of the dust cover. Remove enough that you can see some of the wood frame. Look at one join and note how the two pieces of wood are joined together. Screwed together is the preferable method. They may also be nailed or even stapled -- the least favorable fastener. Higher-quality furniture is made of solid wood, lesser quality of plywood and poor quality of fiberboard, or MDF.


Look at the seat springs. Coiled springs indicate a higher-quality sofa. These springs can be tightened or individually replaced by an upholsterer. Zigzag springs, which are strips of metal in a zigzag shape, can pull loose from the sofa and, while adequate for most daily use, are not indicative of a high-quality piece. These springs cannot be repaired; if they break, they must be replaced. A sunken seat is a giveaway of broken zigzag springs.


While you are looking at the springs, pay attention to the smell of the sofa. It may smell old and musty, but you should not smell mold, or other unpleasant odors. Odors become trapped in the upholstery and may leave with the old cloth, but you may not know this until the whole piece is stripped. All padding, foam and batting are replaced during reupholstery, but these components are left in place during recovering; only the cloth cover is changed.

Squeaks and Creaks

Grab one arm with both hands and wiggle it. If the arm wiggles freely, it is an indication that the body may no longer be connected to the arm, which is not good. Grab one corner of the back and wiggle the sofa. Squeaks or creaks are indicators that the joints are loose and will need tightening. This is not typically an issue if the piece is screwed together, but if the joints are fastened with staples or nails, they can’t be tightened adequately. Unless you were able to see a join when looking at the bottom of the sofa, you may not know until the piece is disassembled whether it can be fixed or not.

Shape and Style

The most durable sofa is not a good candidate for upholstery for you if you do not like the basic shape and style. While a considerable amount of cosmetic surgery can be performed on a sofa during upholstery, major reconstructive surgery is expensive and may out-expense the value of the piece. Padding can be added to arms; cushions can be added, or removed, from the back or seat; a skirt can be removed or added; and new feet can change the style of the whole sofa. The length, width, overall height of the sofa and basic shape of the arms are not easy changes.

About the Author

Linda Erlam started writing educational manuals in 1979. She also writes a biweekly newspaper column, "Design Dilemmas," in the "Lakeshore News" and has been published in "Design and Drapery Pro" magazine. Erlam is a graduate of the Sheffield School of Interior Design and is a practicing interior decorator and drapery workroom operator.

Photo Credits

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