Differences between recovering & reupholstering a sofa

Sofa image by Yuriy Panyukov from Fotolia.com

If you have a sofa that is stained, tattered or just plain unattractive, you may be considering whether to recover or reupholster it. Technically, the differences between recovering and reupholstering are minimal -- if you reupholster, you have recovered. However, if you recover, you have not necessarily reupholstered. Learn the differences between recovering and reupholstering to make the choice that best fits your time and budget and achieves the look you want.

Reupholstering: Technique

Reupholstering a sofa means replacing the existing upholstery with fresh fabric. Reupholstering requires tailoring the fabric to fit the sofa precisely. It requires advanced skills, including the use of upholstery nails. Upholstery is a craft that can take years to master. Professional upholsterers can give you a sense of the labour your piece would require and the cost it would entail.

Recovering: Technique

Recovering a sofa can mean several different things. It can mean reupholstering, using a slipcover over existing upholstery or tucking a loose fabric throw over the sofa to create a new look. Recovering generally results in a more loosefitting finished product than reupholstering. Slipcovers may include fabric ties, elastic or buttons that allow you to adjust the fit.


Reupholstering a sofa can be expensive, but the results can make your piece look brand new. Invest in reupholstering a piece you value highly that has a structure you like. Recovering can also be expensive, if you purchase fine fabric to sew your own slipcover. Recovering is relatively inexpensive when you purchase a standard-sized pre-made slipcover. Tucking a sheet or blanket around the sofa is the least expensive method of recovering.


Take on a DIY reupholstering job if you want to learn new skills and do not require perfect results. Be patient and willing to undo any mistakes. You will need a sewing machine, staple gun, hammer, upholstery nails, fabric and possibly new batting and foam for the job. Recovering with a slipcover is somewhat less labour-intensive, but making your own requires tailoring skills. Choose one or more swathes of fabric to recover a piece simply, by tucking the fabric around the sofa and between the cushions. Secure the look with safety pins hidden behind the seams.