The Legacy of Leftover Upholstery Fabric

When you start upholstering furniture regularly or open your own upholstery shop, you will find that leftover materials start piling up in the corners of your workshop. 

From foam, slips of backing material, and bent nails to old upholstery and broken springs — everything old that is removed from a preloved furniture item and replaced with new luxurious fabrics and crisp padding ends up lying about your workspace. 

The leftovers of the upholsterer’s trade can become a serious problem, especially when you need to dispose of these items yourself. Chucking these items in the garbage with your household trash isn’t a great idea. Not only is this wasteful, but it may also be illegal in some states. 

What Makes Up the Majority of an Upholsterer’s Waste Materials?

As an upholsterer, you will probably find the following items tend to multiply in your upholstery shop: 

  • Old upholstery covers that have been stripped
  • Broken zippers 
  • Bent nails and broken hardware like screws, tacks, and staples
  • Old foam or batting sheets 
  • Shredded or flaked sponge and foam from cutting padding to size
  • Broken chair legs, sofa arms, and springs
  • Different types of filling for baffled pillows
  • Cardboard rolls that upholstery fabric comes on
  • Packaging materials such as bubble wrap, news wrap, and boxes that manufacturers ship the ordered fabrics in
  • Leather off-cuts and leather strings

How to Keep Your Upholstery Shop Tidy and Organized

To process to dispose of upholstery waste requires that you sort these and keep things tidy. It’s not like you can drive to the local landfill every day and dispose of the day’s wastage. Nor should you! 

As the saying goes: One man’s trash is another’s gold. 

Getting people to take leftovers off your hands is easy if you make it easy for them to take them. Nobody actually likes to dive into a dumpster behind your shop

Firstly, it’s important to sort your upholstery waste as you generate it. That means you need to have a specific storage area or containers to store different things in. Consider these clever ways to sort your upholstery leftovers:

  • A large box for leftover leather and hides
  • A medium box for leftover buttons, gimp, and nailhead trim
  • An oversized wool bag (baling bag) to keep larger pieces of foam and padding in
  • A large plastic bag for shredded sponge and padding chips (be sure to spray it with anti-static spray first to stop the bits flying about your shop)
  • A couple of plastic barrels to keep cardboard rolls sorted, as well as to store new off-cuts from excess fabric
  • A large metal bin (preferably on wheels) to store leftover chair legs, armrests, and other chair frame parts 
  • A large box to store metal springs 

How to Process and Remove Upholstery Shop Wastage

Next, you should have a strategy for getting rid of your shop’s wastage. 

Fabrics and leathers are not intended to be dumped in landfills where the rain and water runoff can pollute the local rivers and streams with ink and dye these fabrics are stained with. Even leather will have gone through a chemical process that will leave the local waterways polluted if processed leather should enter these systems. 

Once you’ve begun storing wastage, you can consider what each of these items may still be good for. 

Repurposing upholstery wastage is a great way to source free materials and make something new out of the old. Plus, some upholstery fabrics are really durable, and people would be overjoyed to have access to old covers and new offcuts that can be used to make anything from jewelry to bags and book covers. 

To find these lonely upholstery pieces a forever home, it’s important to first decide who may want them in the first place. 

Ask yourself a few questions when deciding whether to keep a particular wastage item or throw it out.

  • Is this item recyclable? 
  • Which potential use is there for this scrap or offcut? 
  • Can I store it safely for a period of time until someone fetches it?
  • What can I do with it to safely dispose of it?
  • Can this item be used for filling, covering, or artwork?
  • How will I advertise for people to come to fetch it?
  • Can I potentially resell the scrap? 

Methods for Disposal of Upholstery Wastage

Once you have considered what kind of waste your upholstery shop produces, you can decide what you can use. Leftover fabrics and sponge shreds can be used to load your bazooka for filling baffles. The best way to store these is in plastic bags, but be sure to spray the bag with anti-static spray to stop the bits from clinging and flying all over your shop if a bag breaks. 

Larger upholstery fabric sections can be used to make novelty upholstery items such as pet furniture and padded quilt blankets. Older bits of upholstery fabric that are no longer fit for decor purposes can be donated to your local machine shop for use as rags. 

Charity institutions are always happy to take over scrap materials that can be used in crafts to make items for church sales and local markets. Charities may also take some leftover frames from broken furniture items, which can be used to make photo frames or stretch frames for sewing projects. 

Leather scraps can be used by home industries that make bookmarks, craft projects, handbags, and dog or cat toys. Avoid dumping leather scraps as the chemicals used in the tanning process will filter into the groundwater and is toxic to the fish and wildlife. Leather scraps can be reclaimed as environmentally-friendly faux leather, so if you work in leather a lot, find out which manufacturers may support you. 

To find people who may be interested in taking your scrap materials, you can advertise on Craigslist, electronic notice boards in your area, and even stick up a printed notice on your local shopping mall’s notice board. If you seek to sell the waste materials, you can approach schools, institutions, and even local prisons, which may use these materials in their workshops. 

Lastly, don’t forget the companies that do recycling. The sponge and foam suppliers may buy your offcuts and foam shards to press into new foam sheets. Even if they don’t buy, they may be happy to remove it for you, as long as the waste materials are packed neatly.

The Final Leftover

The waste material in your upholstery shop can be useful to someone else, but when it ends up in a landfill, it won’t serve any purpose other than pollution. Be creative in your waste management solutions, and you will find a good use for every scrap of paper, plastic, fabric, sponge, foam, zip, leather, or wood. 

A surprising benefit of building a network of people to whom you can pass your waste materials is that word-of-mouth marketing will happen organically, and you’ll find a few customers approach you based on someone else telling them what a great upholsterer you are and how effectively you manage waste.

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