Upcycling an Old Couch - Choosing a Target

Introduction: Upcycling an Old Couch - Choosing a Target

We've all seen them - discarded furniture that never seem to go away, and just get uglier.

There have been a number of instructibles already on taking the wooden parts from old furniture and reusing them, but I haven't seen much time devoted to the other 90% of the beast, the cushions.

The key to reusing anything you find on the side of the road is to be safe.

This instructible assumes you have common sense so if a couch looks like something is living in it, you can smell it before you see it, has been sitting in the rain, or anything else that makes you pause, then you are too late, move on to the next (hopefully fresher) one.

Many couches/chairs are perfectly fine, they are just old, people are moving out, etc. and are no longer wanted. Often the chair is a hideous pattern that would never fit in your house or the fabric is worn/ripped, or the cushions are all mashed out of shape from years of people sitting on them, these are just fine! Avoid ones with odd looking stains, or where the foam stays flattened when you squeeze it.

I harvested several cushions from an old couch at an apartment that I saw the guys carrying out to the dumpster. If you can ask the people why they are getting rid of the furniture even better.

Why get foam from an old couch? Well, if you go to a craft/fabric store and see how much foam costs, you will quickly understand why. A few square feet of foam cost me $30 the last time I bought some, as an example.

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Step 1: Surgery Time

So you have some cushions that look okay, now what?

Well, you could always use them for their intended purpose and just have extra cushions for people to sit on, but where is the fun in that?

As a short list:

  • reupholster and use as cushions for existing furniture
  • carve up for puppets (see below)
  • Use for costuming (see below)
  • Use for specialized shipping (see below)

The Operation

Cutting the foam couldn't be easier. Scissors, x-acto knife, a Dremel, or my personal favorite, an electric carving knife...yes, the one you only use once a year for a turkey!

Since the foam is so thick, the biggest challenge is cutting straight lines through the entire block without mangling the whole thing, and the electric knife helps with this beautifully. The key is the nice long blade and the fact that the blades reciprocate, so cut through the tough foam quickly.

DO NOT use a foam cutter or a hot knife! The foam rubber is completely different than Styrofoam and does not cut with heat, it melts and gives off really nasty fumes! Use a knife.

NOTE: Some cushions have a "rind" of white batting on them to help against abrasion from people sitting on them. You can just stick your fingers under that and "peel" it off like you would the skin on an orange to get to the actual foam. I recommend doing this since the batting is much harder to cut than the foam.

The method I prefer is to use to cut out shapes once I am down to the foam is a felt-tip marker and mark out the shape I need on the top and side of the foam block, then get to cutting.

NOTE: this can be messy depending on how you are cutting the foam, so do outside or someplace you can vacuum easily.

Step 2: Puppets, Costumes, and More!

The nice thing about the size of the cushion is how large it is. You can carve off large flat sheets or thick chunks, depending on what you need.

For a puppet, I cut a block larger than what I wanted the puppet head to be, then shaped it using scissors and eventually a dremel, and even sandpaper can work if you go slowly.

For the head I made, after shaping it I slit it up the back and hollowed it out so I could fit my hand in to work the mouth. One benefit to this is that being thicker, the puppet is much stronger structurally.

The main project I am currently working on right now is a Krampus costume, and I wanted horns that are large and imposing, but not going to hurt people if they get hit by them, and can actually go through a doorway without damaging them or the doorway, and perhaps most importantly, not weigh very much since I will be wearing them.


After cutting out the basic horn shape, I inserted a piece of coathanger into it so I can attach easily to a mask and also so I could decide on the actual shape of the horns.

Next I coated the horn shape with a layer of liquid latex, and then after drying, it allowed me to form it some by hand; in this case I twisted it to give it a spiral pattern. The last picture shows the basic horn on a mask to show size. With the coathanger as support, they would work fine straight, but you can also bend the wire to shape them into ram horns or whatever other type of horns you want, and the foam being flexible will bend naturally and look great.

This is a huge help when it comes time to painting since you can paint them while still straight, then bend them into the curled ram horn shape for instance.


I need to mail a somewhat fragile sculpture, and the worry of trying to pack it so it doesn't break is one that always haunts me. Usually it's fine, but a few times items have been damaged in shipping.

With a custom-made foam insert you never have to worry again. Since you can trim the foam with scissors, you can make the foam conform to the exact shape of whatever needs protecting. Plus, with being able to salvage foam for free from discarded furniture, the cost is minimal, the foam is lightweight, and you can make the outside of the packing fit the box exactly so nothing can slide around during shipping and the foam keeps everything protected from being dropped or otherwise bumped.

I hope this tutorial gives you a starting place to upcycle and make cool projects, and keep useful material from just ending up in a landfill.

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    3 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Bringing discarded furniture into your home increases your risk of having to deal with an expensive bed bug problem. Are you sure you want to do this?


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks for the question, and you are correct, that can be a cause for concern. To make sure I wasn't bringing fleas or anything into my house, I put the three cushions I collected into plastic bags after removing the fabric.

    I tied off the ends of the bags and let them sit in the sun for a couple hours, and the digital thermometer reading said the temp reached 115 degrees, which should eliminate most problems. I've never had any issues this way, but YMMMV.

    Again, if when you are looking at a potential piece of furniture, look at it carefully and if you see bugs, either dead or alive, in the cushions, move on.


    Reply 3 years ago

    140 degrees or above is the temperature needed to kill bed bugs. Heat treatments are not seen as effective in killing bed bugs--many heat treatments need to be performed multiple times. As a licenced exterminator, I'd advise against picking up abandoned furniture and bedding.