Experts urge you to think twice before painting your couch or chairs, here's why

We explore the pros and cons of painting your couch and leather chairs

A green sofa flanked by wooden side tables with tall black table lamps
(Image credit: Future)

If you've been scrolling social media lately, you'll no doubt have noticed the viral sofa-painting trend taking over TikTok and Instagram. 

Several influencers have shared their seemingly successful 'couch-crafting' projects online, giving lackluster sofas and chairs a new lease of life armed only with a paintbrush and some fabric paint. 

However, experts warn that for every quality refurb, there are plenty of furniture fatalities behind the scenes. There's more to these DIY projects than first meets the eye, and the reality of giving a thrifted leather couch a lick of paint is far from Pinterest-perfect.

Can you paint a couch?

Compelling videos like the clip below from TikTok user @TayBeepBoop certainly make us want to give this paint project a go. The results are quick and look undeniably good:


♬ original sound - TayBeepBoop

However, even the creator of this video acknowledges that these impressive results may not be long-term, with their client planning on reupholstering the vintage leather chairs in the near future. 

So, is it a good idea to pick up your paintbrush and give your couch a makeover? This is what the experts say: 

Can you paint a couch?

A living room with navy blue panelled walls and a burnt orange velvet sofa

(Image credit: Future/Brent Darby)

In a word, yes. It's definitely possible to paint a couch or leather chair, as demonstrated in the video above. However, interior designers generally caution against this DIY project. 

'DIY sofa-painting is all the rage on Tiktok with viral videos showing a fun, simple, eco-friendly and affordable way of redesigning your furniture,' says Michael Rolland, Managing Director at The Paint Shed 'However, this may be one of those trends where what you see usually isn’t what you get. In fact, the only easy thing about sofa-painting is that it’s easy to make huge mistakes which could lead to unnecessary costs.'

Devin Shaffer, interior designer at Decorilla, echoes these thoughts: 'I often get asked by clients if it's a good idea to paint a couch. Unfortunately, my answer is always: no, it’s not a good idea. I would not advise people to paint fabric sofas or leather chairs because paint rarely adheres well to these materials long-term. It’s very likely that while you’re trying to upcycle items to refresh your space, you’ll end up with a sofa or chair that not only looks old but is also in bad shape.'

The downsides to painting chairs

Living room with orange curved sofa

(Image credit: Davide Lovatti / Future)

There are several downsides to repainting sofas, chairs, and couches. 

'People expect their painted sofa to look like real quality pieces, but this just isn’t a reality with this trend,' explains Michael Rolland from The Paint Shed. 'Fabric paint, even the good stuff, is unlikely to cover wear, tear or imperfections. It’s even less likely to feel like the material of a brand new piece of furniture. It’s much more difficult to stop paint going dry, uneven and crusty than Tiktokers are showing.'

Copying this TikTok trend on a whim can easily damage your couch or chairs, and sometimes, they can look worse than they did before.

What tools do I need to paint a couch or chair?

A leather sofa with colorful scatter cushions

(Image credit: Dominic Blackmore / Future)

If you've read this far and you're still committed to painting your leather or fabric furniture, plenty of designers will support your decision. 

'I have a ton of experience painting leather, and if you use the right products and prep your surface correctly, your project can last for years,' reassures Beth Martin, Founder of Beth R Martin Design. 'The only downside to painting on leather is that the prep work takes much longer than you would think.'

These are Beth's tips for achieving a professional finish:

  • First, use a deglazer to remove any existing finish from the leather, sand the entire surface, and tape off any area you don't wish to paint. 
  • Only use paint formulated explicitly for leather or fabric because other standard acrylic formulas won't be durable. My absolute favorite leather paint is Angelus. You can purchase an Angelus starter kit from Amazon to swatch test different colors before committing to a shade. If you add their 2-Soft additive, you can use this same paint on fabric couches, too.
  • To make leather paint look its best, apply multiple very thin coats. I suggest you use an airgun; otherwise, it will be difficult to accomplish a professional finish on large surfaces like a couch. This VONFORN electric paint sprayer from Amazon is very well-reviewed and should do the job nicely.
  • Set your work with a heat gun, and your painting will last years.
A headshot of Beth Martin from Beth R Martin Design
Beth Martin

Beth is a designer who creates window displays, pop-up shops, interiors, and graphics for all kinds of companies, ranging from independent boutiques to some of the most prestigious fashion companies in the world. 

'Even if you prepare your project perfectly, leather that gets daily wear can still crack,' Beth adds. So, for the most success, stick to painting the backsides and other less-touched areas of chairs and sofas.

Alternatives to paint

Bookshelf ideas for bedrooms with blue painted walls and shelves

(Image credit: Future / Paul Massey)

'An affordable option that can help bring new life to your chair or couch is adding slipcovers,' recommends Devin Shaffer, interior designer. 'Change these, and the whole vibe of the couch will change with it. It’s easy to do, and you don’t have to commit to a long-term change.' 

Michael Rolland agrees: 'If you want to upcycle your couch or leather chairs, I’d suggest sewing removable covers for your couch as there is much less room for a disaster here. If you’re not as handy with a needle, purchase or thrift a slipcover. Also, investing in some quality scatter cushions can do an old couch huge favors.'

'On the other hand, if you are the kind of person who goes big or goes home, then invest in upholstering with new fabrics or leathers or even have the piece professionally dyed,' concludes Devin.

Choosing chair reupholstery is a fun process, and the results will typically be much more durable and long-lasting than anything you can achieve with a DIY paint job. 

Gabriella Dyson
Head of Solved

Gabriella is Head of Solved at Homes & Gardens. She is a DIY enthusiast and a lover of all things interior design, often found antiquing or browsing the aisles of her local hardware store. 

She has a particular passion for historic buildings and is in the process of renovating a Victorian coachhouse in the British countryside. 

For much of the past decade, Gabriella has worked as a freelance writer, crafting copy for national publications and renowned homeware brands. Most recently, she worked on Homebuilding & Renovating Magazine, focusing on case studies for the magazine and website, as well as writing features about issues surrounding historic and listed building projects.