Money-Saving Hacks for Renovating Furniture

hand using paintbrush on wood furniture

Furniture is expensive! In fact, just buying the essential pieces for a one-bedroom apartment can cost $3,500 or more! Add in some decorative items and extra pieces of furniture like ottomans or side tables and suddenly, the total price tag can climb as high as $7,600. Even at big-box and discount retailers, basic pieces can add up to a budget-busting total. But luckily, there are lots of ways to save money on furniture.

Thrift stores, Facebook Marketplace, estate sales, and apps like Mercari abound with great deals on secondhand furniture. Many of these pieces are solidly made and might even last longer than newer things made of fiberboard and other wood alternatives. However, used pieces often look used, so they might need a bit of love before you can use them in your home. Some furniture restoration projects, like having a sofa reupholstered, can cost nearly as much as it would just to buy something new, but many other projects are fairly economical and not all that difficult. Look at different ways to refurbish bargain finds and you’ll see that you can satisfy both your design sense and your budget!

Clean Your Furniture

sofa and chair in living room

A lot of used furniture needs nothing more than a good cleaning to bring it back to life. Different types of furniture and different materials require different types of cleaning.

Upholstered Furniture

All upholstered furniture made after 1969 is legally mandated to have a tag with a cleaning code. The code tells you how to best clean the fabric.

  • Code W: Any water-based cleaning solution can be safely used.
  • Code S: Use only water-free or dry cleaning solvents. These chemicals must be used in well-ventilated spaces and far away from any open flames, including candles.
  • Code W-S: Either solvent-based or water-based cleaners can be used.
  • Code X: No home-based cleaning solutions can be safely used on these fabrics. Your only options are professional cleaning or vacuuming.

Leather Furniture

Leather pieces like armchairs and sofas are classic pieces of furniture that can last a lifetime. Luckily, leather can be very easy to clean and restore to good condition.

  • Start by thoroughly vacuuming the furniture.
  • Combine equal parts water with white vinegar. Dip a microfiber cloth into the solution and rub it into the leather using circular motions. Repeat the circular motions with a dry towel.
  • Does the leather have spots of mildew or mold? If so, make a solution of water and rubbing alcohol and rub it over the spots.
  • Stray pen or pencil marks can be removed by spraying hairspray over them and buffing them out with a clean cloth.
  • A grease spot can be removed by sprinkling baking powder over the area. Let it sit for four hours and then wipe it away with a clean, dry cloth.

Wood Furniture

Real wood furniture can be very expensive, but often, a thorough cleaning is all that a used wooden dresser or dining room table needs to be restored to its former glory.

  • Start by dusting and thoroughly wiping down the furniture. If the piece has drawers, remove them so they can be cleaned thoroughly.
  • With older pieces, often, the place to start is by removing decades of buildup from everyday use and other cleaning products. Steep two black tea bags in boiling water, then let the water cool. Dip a clean cloth in the tea and use it to thoroughly wipe down the furniture.
  • Does the piece have water stains? If so, make a mixture of toothpaste and baking soda and work it into the stain. Remove it with a clean cloth.
  • Homemade furniture polish can be made by mixing a quarter-cup of white vinegar with a cup of olive oil. Rub it into the wood with a clean cloth, going with the grain of the wood.
  • Commercial preparations like Restor-A-Finish can bring damaged wood back to its original condition.

Refinish Wood Furniture

rustic wooden table

Some wood furniture is so far gone that cleaning it won’t be enough to make it shine like new. Or perhaps you just want a different look for your furniture; after all, who hasn’t stopped to admire a dark-colored piece of furniture against a light wall when scrolling through social media? Refinishing furniture can be expensive, but with a few tricks, you can restore your bargain find while saving your decorating dollars.

  • The first step is to clean the piece. Make sure not to use furniture polish or commercially available restoration products.
  • Next, thoroughly inspect the piece. You’ll want to make sure all of the parts are in good repair. This is the time to repair any issues you find.
  • Dressers, desks, and cabinets have hardware. If the hardware is in good shape, clean it and reuse it. If the hardware is missing, broken, or just dated, remove it now. Look for replacement hardware that will fit the existing holes, or fill the holes to open up your options. This will also make bargain-hunting easier, as you won’t be limited to a particular size. Try big-box stores and sites like eBay for affordable options.
  • It’s time to strip the original finish from your piece. Different removers will work better with different types of finishes, but no matter which product you choose, you’ll want to take your time and use plenty of it. Also, be sure to do this in a well-ventilated and well-protected space while wearing gloves and clothes that you don’t care about.
  • Next, you’ll want to apply a coat of sealant to the piece.
  • Finally it’s time to paint or stain the furniture. Thin, even coats look the best and last the longest. Save some cash by checking the “oops paint” shelves at your local hardware and paint stores. You’ll find high-quality paint that was rejected by customers who weren’t happy with how the color turned out. Mistinted paint is usually steeply discounted, and it’s often perfect for small jobs like painting a piece of furniture.
  • The final step is to apply a coat of finish. The finish can either be glossy or matte, depending on your style; either way, it will help to protect the paint or stain from damage. This is incredibly important for pieces like tables that take a lot of wear and tear during use.

Upcycle Old Furniture

colorful refurbished furniture

Another great way to get one-of-a-kind furniture at a serious discount is by upcycling. With a little creativity, you can turn a piece that’s obsolete (think media cabinets for CRT televisions) or damaged into something new.

  • An old window frame with busted glass can be painted and have the glass replaced with pieces of chalkboard. Suddenly, you’ll have a cute, functional piece to hang on your walls.
  • Combine an inexpensive small bookcase with some old shutters painted to match, add some wooden feet, and you now have a unique storage piece.
  • Simple wooden dressers are easy to come by, and it’s easy to dress them up so they don’t look like dorm furniture. A glossy coat of paint in a bright color and some well-chosen hardware can give your dresser a designer look for very little effort and money.
  • An old entertainment center is easy to convert into a play kitchen for your kids.
  • You can also turn an old TV stand into a very stylish dog bed.

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