When it’s time to give Uncle Bob’s favorite chair a new look, you must first get rid of the old upholstery. Here are some tips for how to remove old upholstery.
Start with the Bottom
Flip the piece over. There may be a dustcover on the bottom. Using needle nose pliers, pry out the staples holding the dustcover to the frame. If there are tacks instead, you may need the forked end of a hammer, or a flat end screwdriver, tapped with a hammer, or a small tack claw, to loosen them. Be gentle, and careful not to harm the wood frame of the piece.
If there is no dustcover, use the pliers to pull the staples holding the fabric to the frame. When the fabric is off, flatten it out and mark it with where it came from. Also mark it with number 1, as the first piece you took off. Keep track of the order in which you work, so you can retrace your steps backwards when applying new fabric.
Proceed To the Back and Arms
Usually the back of a chair or couch is the last piece applied, so it’s the first, after the underside, you should remove. Use the same tools you used for the underside to pry the nails or stapes out of the frame and remove the fabric. Lay it flat and mark it as the back, number 2.
When the back and arm pieces are removed and marked, tackle any remaining trim or pleated ruffles. Mark where the folds of pleats are so you can replicate them with your new fabric. It’s important to try to preserve the original fabric, keeping it as intact as possible when you’re learning how to remove old upholstery.
You may be able to retain the existing padding if it wasn’t damaged as you removed the fabric. But if it is worn or crumbling, you’ll want to measure to replace it. Look carefully at the piece and take photos before you try to pull off the old padding. It might disintegrate, so wear a protective mask, gloves, and goggles to keep from inhaling or getting foam bits in your eyes. Have a vacuum ready.
With your pictures as a record, you can now replace the old padding. Using the old fabric as templates, carefully cut your new fabric and be mindful of the need to match stripes or patters. Stretch and attach it to the frame using an upholstery nail gun in the reverse order you took the fabric off—except for ruffles and trim, which should go back on last over the new fabric, carefully and neatly tucked in and fastened with small staples underneath (under the fold in the top of the pleated piece that attaches to the frame) so they won’t show.
When in doubt, there are many instructional videos for all kinds of different furniture available on YouTube. When you’re ready, make sure you have the right tools available, including gloves, a mask, and eye protection. That dust in an old chair can be nasty! Good luck with your upholstery project.