Change the appearance of any upholstered furniture with paint.

Painting Upholstered Furniture Fabric

by Kim Blakesley

Upholstered furniture seems to last forever, but the original color might be fading, dirty or outdated. Change the appearance by painting the surface with fabric medium and a water-based paint such as latex or acrylic paint. This process will change the texture of the fabric and create a hard yet flexible surface.


Clean the upholstery thoroughly and allow to dry prior to starting the painting process, especially if an oily or sticky surface is present. The paint will cover a spot in the fabric but will not adhere to an oily surface. Sticky areas may cause bumps in the paint or nonadherence of the paint. Use a degreaser to remove such spots.

Mixing the Paint

Mix your selection of water-based paint with equal parts of fabric medium. Fabric medium thins the paint slightly so it will absorb more easily into the weave of the upholstery and also prevents the paint from getting as hard as it would on its own. To begin, mix 1 cup of water-based paint, 1 cup of fabric medium and 1/2 cup of water in a container.

Painting the Upholstery

Remove all cushions, pillows and arm covers from the furniture item prior to starting the painting process. Wet the upholstery as you paint. Spritz an area approximately 12 inches square with water. Apply the paint mixture over the wet surface. Blend the paint as you go and work it into the fibers of the upholstery. Continue with the same process over all upholstered areas. The water helps the fibers of the upholstery absorb the paint mixture so that it flows easily across the fabric. Apply a heavier layer of water if you find your paintbrush is sticking to the upholstery or you seem to be going through more paint than expected for the area you are covering. Once your piece is entirely painted, allow it to dry completely, then repeat the process for a total of two coats.


Areas of your freshly painted upholstery will be rough in some places. Certain upholstery fabrics may be rough over the entire surface. Rub your hand over the upholstery and locate the rough spots. Sand these areas with 220-grit sandpaper until smooth. Wipe the surface down with a lint-free cloth to remove all sanding dust.

Final Coat

Mix the final coat with 1 part water-based paint to 1 part fabric medium. Wet the upholstery as you go and paint the surface with a smooth, even coat of paint. Remove any ridges or globs as you go. Allow the paint to dry completely. Seal with a spray acrylic sealer to help protect the paint.

About the Author

Kim Blakesley is a home remodeling business owner, former art/business teacher and school principal. She began her writing and photography career in 2008. Blakesley's education, fine arts, remodeling, green living, and arts and crafts articles have appeared on numerous websites, including DeWalt Tools, as well as in "Farm Journal" and "Pro Farmer."

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images