Everything You Need to Know About Second-Hand Upholstered Furniture

There is nothing quite like the thrill of second-hand furniture shopping. It’s this excitement of discovering treasures that drives people to visit auctions, out-of-the-way second-hand dealers, estate sales, yard sales, and more. 

Somewhere between all the other bits and pieces of someone’s life, there may be a real diamond hiding: vintage upholstery in mint condition, a limited edition turn-of-the-century settee, or perhaps a next-to-new sofa that’s going to be perfect for your son’s college bachelor’s pad. 

But do you know everything you need to know about second-hand upholstered furniture? 

Luckily, we have loads of experience in helping avid collectors reach out to professional upholsterers, assess the quality of upholstery, deal with any defects, and fix up a great find into an upholstery masterpiece. Here’s how. 

Everything You Need to Know About Evaluating and Choosing Second-Hand Upholstered Furniture

Walking through an antique fair or a flea market with some odds and ends on display, the temptation is huge to simply grab that 1970s bargain and head on home. However, to avoid disappointment, you should take care when shopping for upholstered second-hand furniture items. 

When evaluating second-hand furniture, avoid the following items like the plague (because they may actually have it): heavily upholstered and overstuffed furniture items, smelly furniture (unless you know how to get the stink out for sure), and damaged furniture items. 

After all, you don’t want to spend your free time first repairing a furniture item before you can even begin to renovate it. 

Checklist for Choosing Second-Hand Upholstered Furniture

What you should do when checking out the local loot on offer is:

  • Check for badges or brand names – When you find a quality brand name on a furniture item, you know you are starting off with quality (even if you need to fix it up a little).
  • Check for bugs and other environmental damage – If the furniture’s upholstery is crawling with bed bugs and fleas, you will have your work cut out to clean up the item and make it salvageable. 
  • Choose quality frame material – Poor quality materials such as compressed wood or chipboard won’t last as long or repair as well as high-quality hardwood frames. 
  • Tally up the damage – When shopping for furniture that’s been pre-loved, it is essential to have a triage mindset. You can only save the items that are able to survive. The ones that are beyond saving will have to be let go. It is pointless to buy a second-hand furniture item and spend hundreds of dollars to reupholster that item. 
  • Check comfort – The item may be gorgeous, but will your butt think so too? Sit in the furniture item, test the springs, and ensure the furniture is sturdy and comfortable. And this includes the stuffing and upholstery too. Ensure the foam and stuffing are mostly still usable and only need a thin top layer at most as stuffing is quite expensive.

Everything You Need to Know About the Costs of Repairing Second-Hand Upholstered Furniture 

Before you hand out your precious cash, factor in all the costs of repairing the item. You need to factor in the cost of materials, tools, and resources like:

  • Hiring a steam cleaner
  • Buying permethrin sprays to kill off any nasty pests nesting in the antique upholstery you like so much
  • Time to effect repairs and clean up the piece
  • Reupholstery if needed (including the cost of fabric and amount required)
  • Replacing worn-out padding and stuffing to fill up the seats and armrests to the appropriate level 
  • Resurfacing the existing furniture frame 
  • Repairs to chair legs, armrests, back supports, etc. 
  • Transport costs if you don’t have a minivan or truck to use

When these items are all considered and weighed in, you need to consider if you can afford a substantial remodel of a classic furniture item, or if you should rather opt for a simpler but less extensive DIY repair hack. 

While undertaking a renovation of a great furniture piece is exciting, it can become a real pain when you don’t have the time available or the funds to purchase the new materials needed to deal with the project. 

Everything You Need to Know About Cleaning, Caring for, and Repairing Second-Hand Upholstered Furniture 

Second-hand furniture comes with a history. Often, this is why we buy these items. The chairs and sofas we all snatch up at auction all tell a story of time. Unfortunately, that time has also filled the upholstery with some nasty memories that need to be dusted, washed, and vacuumed out. 

Cleaning second-hand furniture means dealing with the furniture structure or frame and the upholstery and any loose cushions. For this, you will need a lot of space, time, and good sunlight. 

When you take the item home, be sure to first set it out somewhere in direct sunlight with good ventilation. Never take a pre-loved item home and simply plonk it into your home. Soft furnishings in particular can spread pests if you don’t treat them before moving them into your home.

Rather place the “new” item in your garage, fumigate it, and then proceed to clean it thoroughly to ensure there are no insect pests or nasty smells in the upholstery. I keep a large double bed plastic movers’ bag for this purpose. It fits nicely over the furniture I need to fumigate, so I simply slide it over, spray, close, and leave it for a few hours. 

A good cleaning-up session with some upholstery cleaner can do wonders to brighten colors and liven up dreary and neglected upholstery fabric. Always test any cleaner you are going to use on an out-of-the-way area to ensure the fabric isn’t too sensitive for the cleaner. 

Areas such as under the chair or sofa, or below the line where the seat cushions fit can be used for your test cleans. If you see signs of bleaching, damaged threads, and disintegration of the weave when you clean there, you may have to consider steam cleaning or even reupholstering. 

When an upholstered piece has been loved a lot, it may not hold up to such vigorous cleaning as a newly upholstered piece may. Be sure to use the correct upholstery attachments to your vacuum cleaner when you clean, and avoid placing the item in direct sunlight too often as this will further weaken the fibers of the upholstery. 

The Final Selection of Second-Hand Upholstered Furniture

I love buying second-hand furniture. These pieces carry a rich history. If you remove any lingering pests, clean them up, polish them here and there, and show these pieces the love and respect due to them, you have a wonderful furniture item. 

Be careful in the choices you make, be sure you can actually use the furniture item you choose and that it won’t simply go into storage when you get it home, and choose items you can salvage with minimal effort. 

Nobody likes rebuilding a furniture item from scratch unless it’s a valuable antique. Likewise, nobody wants to run up the expense of reupholstering a second-hand item when the upholstery is completely busted. Above all, enjoy the adventure of treasure hunting, reviving something from an era past, and add valuable items to your home.

If it does come down to a reupholstery project, partner with the team at Kovi Fabrics for the best designs and discounts to make your dream a reality.

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