How to Paint Upholstery Fabric With Chalk Paint

5 Materials
3 Days

Have you ever painted upholstery fabric before? Me neither...but my sister-in-law has! She painted a whole chair that was covered in fabric and it looked incredible. If she can do it, so can I. So I gave it a shot and the result is amazing!

The antique bench before

We have this beautiful antique bench in our front entry way that was passed down to us from my husband's family. It was not very pretty when we received it so we had it recovered about five years ago to coordinate with our cranberry, sage and gold decor. Since I refreshed the entire first floor with a lighter coat of paint, the bench does not work in the space anymore.

For a really quick fix, I tried using different throw pillows and blankets but nothing really hid or diminished the pattern on this bench.

I contemplated having the bench recovered again. However, that would require spending a lot of money on something I just did a few years ago.

I also considered deconstructing the piece but that would entail a lot of time and effort. Since I wanted to make a quick fix to this bench, deconstructing it was my second choice.

So I decided to paint the upholstery fabric.

Tape around the edges if necessary.

Making the Decision to Paint the Fabric

My sister-in-law has done this before and the pieces she refinished look amazing. This bench is hardly used: it is in the front entry hall, nobody really sits on it and is mostly used to lay coats and bags on when people visit.

I'm not going to lie...I was a little nervous to paint the upholstery fabric. Since this bench is an heirloom, I did not want to wreck it. To build my confidence, I told myself that the worse case scenario was having to recover it. Although I have never done a project like this before, this pep talk is how I mentally prepared myself to "just do it." What did I have to lose?

I envisioned the bench to look like it was recovered in a light, neutral fabric. There's a trend to use drop cloths as window treatments and upholstery fabric, so that's the look I was hoping to achieve without actually recovering the piece in drop cloth or similar looking fabric.


  • Fabric Medium
  • Chalk Paint
  • Paint Brush
  • Water
  • Painter's Tape
  • Disposable Container to Mix Paint and Fabric Medium
  • Spray Bottle with Water (I recycled a Windex bottle)
  • Clear Wax - I used Minwax Paste Finishing Wax
  • Wax Brush or Cloth - figure out what works best for your fabric. I preferred working with an old sock.

First coat is on.


  • Tape up any areas where you do not want to apply paint.
  • Vacuum and remove as much lint, dirt, etc. as possible before starting.
  • Mix 1 part fabric medium to 2 parts chalk paint.
  • Start with the back of the piece. As a rule of thumb, it is always best to begin any project with the back, inside or a place you don't regularly see. This gives your room to tweak the process or fix mistakes before you get into a rhythm.
  • Spray the fabric lightly with water in the area that you are working on. Rub the water spray into the fabric so the fabric is lightly damp. The paint will glide on and soak in to the fabric better if it is damp.
  • Paint fabric and allow it to fully dry in between coats. I had to do three coats to cover the floral pattern.
  • Give painted fabric at least 24 hours to dry before top coating with clear wax. Although the bench looked really good after painting, it is important to protect the color with a top coat.
  • Apply wax with a wax brush or cloth. I usually use a cloth when I apply wax - it's a personal preference. Again, start with the back of the piece or in a spot you won't regularly see. To apply, I started with a blue shop towel and it left a blue film so I switched to a white paper towel. The paper towel left too much lint on the painted surface so I wound up grabbing one of my husband's athletic socks and that seemed to work best.
  • Play around with how to apply the wax. Different fabrics may work differently so see what rhythm works for you. I applied it then buffed it out to even out the finish.

Needed three coats to cover that pattern.

The Result

I am amazed with how good this bench looks!!! I still need to clean up the edges where the paint seeped under the tape but overall, I love it!!! The bench looks more traditional, cleaner and coordinates with my decor. I am still working on how to decorate and warm up the space, but am very happy with the result.

After completing this project, I have to say I would TOTALLY do it again. For me, it was worth trying to paint this bench before deconstructing or recovering it. I knew if the paint did not work or did not look good, I could easily fix it by deconstructing or recovering it. I would not do this if we were planning to sit on the piece a lot because I am not sure how the finish would hold up to serious traffic.

Since this project turned out so well, I am planning to paint a few other outdated low traffic pieces we have so they match my decor. Why replace these items when we can inexpensively refresh them?

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Stacy Ling

Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

3 of 4 questions
  • Cdemby Tony
    on Nov 16, 2019

    It looks great! But I worry a bit when you tell us that you don't know if it would hold if it is used frequently. Will the paint crack? Will the fabric get stiff, or is it still fabric-soft?

    • Lwilliams
      on Nov 17, 2019

      I've read in other posts that if you lightly sand the fabric between coats it keeps it soft and pliable and holds up well to regular use.

  • Marianela
    on Nov 16, 2019

    Beautiful!!!!! Now how do you fix vynel or leather peeling sofa??? Please advice

    • Mily Ulloa
      19 minutes ago

      I used shoe Shinola. It comes in different colors that you could try...

  • Gabrielle Falk
    on Jan 15, 2020

    Looks incredible. Think that I might have had the bench seat re-upholstered, professionally. Doesn't the paint crack after a while? Or flake. Paint is not generally known to 'bend and be flexible'. Unless in the US OF A there is some sort of upholstery paint, that will bend, flex etc.. What about people sitting on the bench. Are they banned???

    • Teressa Brunson
      on Jun 12, 2020

      The fabric medium helps the paint not dry hard, I’ve done it to my out door furniture and it has worked however red fads easily in the sun no matter what. We sit on these regularly.

Join the conversation

3 of 30 comments
  • Stunning job. Much more beautiful than before but it had great bones.

    • Stacy Ling
      on Jan 21, 2020

      thank you so much! I agree...the old fabric wasn't doing it any justice!

  • Anna Ibarra
    on May 12, 2020

    It’s so pretty. I just love it. I bought a settee over 15 and a fully upholstered with very similar fabric. I’ve been also wanting to upholstered, but I paid more for it and not sure if Inwant to do this to somethingI paid so much. I have done it on less 2nd hand pieces. So I’ll see. Lol

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