Before you kick that well-worn couch to the curb, try these wallet-friendly updates to add comfort, color, and style.

By Leslie Corona
Updated January 24, 2020
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Just because your sofa has seen better days, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to kiss it goodbye. No matter if your couch is starting to sag in spots, or it simply no longer suits your style, there’s an affordable way to refresh it. Droopy couch cushions? Try fluffing up flat cushion inserts with fiber fill. Craving a new look in your living room? Make over your couch with a slipcover—it’s much easier (and cheaper!) than reupholstering or buying a brand-new sofa. Here are nine brilliant ways to give your shabby sofa a facelift.

And if there’s just no saving your sofa? Shopping for a new one is your next step. Follow our guide to pick out your dream sofa.

1. Refresh the Fabric

Sometimes all a dingy couch needs is a little extra attention. You can hire a service to steam-clean and sanitize dirty upholstery (including leather); prices start at about $50. If pilling is your primary concern, try giving the cushions a face-lift with an electric sweater shaver, says Ashley Poskin, a home blogger in Chicago. (We like the Evercare Giant Fabric Shaver, $10; amazon.com.) Using a very light hand—pressing too hard risks damaging the fabric—move the device in circles to trim off the thin layer of fuzz. If you have light-colored upholstery, a sweater shaver can also help fade dye-transfer spots from dark jeans.

2. Plump Up Saggy Cushions

Refresh deflated back cushions with some fiber fill (try Fairfield Poly-Fil Premium Fiber Fill Box, $27 for 160 oz.; walmart.com). Unzip the slipcover and stuff layers of fill behind the insert—this keeps the cushion from looking lumpy in the front. Use a towel-wrapped ruler to shove the fill deep into the corners of the slipcover. The cushions may initially appear overstuffed but will flatten over time.

For the seat cushions, remove each foam insert, wrap it in layers of batting (like Mountain Mist Polyester Craft Quilt Batting, $15; amazon.com), and replace. It might be a tight fit, so enlist a helper to pull the fabric together as you zip. If you want a quicker fix, Poskin suggests adding thin, inexpensive pillow inserts between the sofa frame and cushions.

3. Erase Scratches from Wood

Rub away nicks on sofa legs and other exposed wood with the Tibet Almond Stick ($12; amazon.com). Los Angeles–based designer Amy Sklar swears by it. She says it’s like a Magic Eraser for wood.

4. Change the Legs

Switching out the sofa legs can upgrade the whole look. Prettypegs.com has a great selection of shapes and finishes for many furniture brands, including Ikea. While you’re at it, says Sklar, consider adjusting the height of your sofa. Take the style of furniture into account, though: Most modern sofas look best lower to the ground. Sklar suggests stacking some books underneath to experiment with proportions.

If your sofa’s legs are permanently attached, you can paint them a different color. Poskin recommends chalk paint for this project because it usually doesn’t require sanding or priming. (Try Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan, $35 per liter; anniesloan.com for stores.) When the paint is completely dry, coat the legs with Clear Chalk Paint Wax ($23 for 500 ml; anniesloan.com for stores) to seal the surface.

5. Swap Out Pillows

A couple of nice throw pillows can give new life—and a new vibe—to your sofa. Best of all, pillows cost a fraction of reupholstering, says Albert Nakash, a salesperson at Bettertex, an upholstery business in New York City. The most budget-friendly move is buying off-the-shelf options at a store like HomeGoods, but you could order custom pillow covers from an upholsterer or tailor. Prices start at about $45 per cover—not including the fabric. To save some money, use decorative fabric on one side and a more affordable neutral fabric on the other.

6. Slip on a Slipcover

Reuphostering a sofa can be almost as expensive as buying a new one. For a more affordable makeover, try a slipcover. It protects your sofa from messes and wear—you can take it off and wash it!—and lets you easily vary the look of your space throughout the year. (Megan Pflug, a designer in Brooklyn, New York, has a client who adds a white slipcover to her dark velvet sofa in the summer for a breezier feel.) Check out comfort-works.com or bemz.com for options that fit models from many retailers, including IKEA and Pottery Barn. Otherwise, consider a custom slipcover. It can be expensive, but it might be worth it if you love the feel (just not the look) of your sofa. Go for a performance fabric, like Crypton, or a durable material, like Sunbrella, if you have kids or pets. Remember to request swatches first.

7. Add Tufting

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can embellish lackluster cushions with tufting (indented buttons placed at regular intervals). Fluff the filling to make sure it’s evenly distributed within the cover. Then measure out where you want the buttons and mark those spots with chalk or pins. Thread a long upholstery needle with at least 18 inches of twine. Push it into each spot and all the way through the back of the cushion. Make a small diagonal stitch, then pull the twine toward the front and loop it through a shank-back upholstery button. Push the needle through the back of the cushion once again, tie off the twine, and trim the excess.

8. Paint a Sofa

For leather sofas, Pflug recommends this technique, noting that leather paint is very forgiving and durable: Thoroughly clean the surface with Angelus Leather Preparer & Deglazer ($7 for 5 oz.; amazon.com). Apply at least three thin coats of acrylic leather paint ($6 for 1 oz.; michaels.com) with a one- to two-inch soft-bristle brush. Let each coat dry for at least 45 minutes before adding the next layer. When done, seal with an acrylic finisher ($6 for 1 oz.; amazon.com) and let it dry for at least 24 hours.

If you have a fabric sofa, you can update the piping with an accent color. Line the piping with painter’s tape, dilute chalk paint with water until it’s somewhat transparent, and carefully paint with a fine detail brush. Remove the tape and dry the paint with a blow-dryer on low heat.

9. Apply Nailhead Trim

Nailhead trim can add a sophisticated touch to a contemporary piece. Stick on a dotted line of painter’s tape where you want the nails—along the base of the sofa, say. Use a spacer (like Dritz Home Space & Set Tool, $7; amazon.com) to ensure the spacing is even. With a rubber mallet or a hammer wrapped in a towel, tap each upholstery nail about halfway into the fabric. Check that the nails are straight, then remove the tape and tap them all the way in.