Can You Repair Car Upholstery Yourself?

Car seat rip

An unsightly scratch or hole in your car upholstery can have a major effect on the looks of your vehicle's interior; however, with a few supplies and some good instructions, you can repair some of these damaged areas yourself. Whether you have fabric, vinyl, or leather seats, you may be able to dramatically improve your car's interior on your own.

Do-It-Yourself Repairs for Fabric Upholstery

These days, fabric upholstery is common, and fortunately, it's often easy to repair at home. If you're on a budget and have a few supplies on hand, you can perform a number of simple repairs.

Ripped Seats

  • Costs about $20
  • Takes about one hour, depending on the size of the rip

Whether you know how the seat ripped or you purchased a car with a tear in the upholstery fabric, you have an unsightly problem. In the case of a rip, the fabric isn't missing from the seat. It's simply torn, exposing the material beneath it. Here's how to perform the repair:

  1. Go to the craft store and purchase a curved upholstery needle. This type of needle allows you to work on flat upholstery without being able to access the underside of the fabric. You'll also need some extra-strong thread that's suitable for upholstery in the same color as your car seats, as well as a bottle of Fray Check.
  2. Thread the needle with a double length of thread. Slip the needle under the fabric at one end of the tear, and bring it up through the fabric about half an inch away from the beginning of the tear. Have a friend hold both sides of the tear together for you as you work.
  3. Use the needle to stitch on each side of the torn fabric, keeping your stitches a quarter inch away from the raw edge. Bring the needle from one side of the tear to the other, using the thread to bridge the torn spot. Continue doing this until you have fully closed the tear.
  4. Take about eight stitches in one spot to knot your thread, and then trim it very close to the fabric.
  5. Carefully paint Fray Check along both sides of the repair, paying special attention to the needle holes. While it may darken the fabric in this area slightly, it will help prevent further damage to your car seat.

Holes in Seats

  • Costs about $15
  • Takes about 30 minutes, depending on the size of the hole

Smaller holes, especially those less than two inches in diameter, are easy to repair at home. You can fix cigarette burns, damage caused by animals, and other accidents with a simple patch. If the hole is larger than two inches, you will have better results taking your car to a professional for the repair. Here's how you can repair small holes yourself:

  1. At the craft store, purchase a package of Heat N' Bond Ultrahold. Then pick up a scrap of fabric that is as close as possible to the color and texture of your car upholstery as well as a small piece of cotton muslin that's a bit larger than the hole.
  2. Measure the diameter of the hole at its widest point. Cut a piece of fabric in a neat square to use as a patch. Use a pair of sharp scissors to trim the hole in the upholstery so that the edges are neat and even.
  3. Cut a piece of Heat N' Bond that is four inches wider and longer than the hole. Cut a piece of muslin that's the same size. Use the silk setting on your iron and bond the muslin to the adhesive side of the Heat N' Bond, following the directions on the package. Allow it to cool.
  4. Tuck the Heat N' Bond inside the hole with the paper-backed side up and the muslin side down, carefully smoothing out the edges under the existing upholstery. You may need a long tool, such as a chopstick, to help you get the positioning right. Use a pair of tweezers to carefully remove the paper backing once the Heat N' Bond is in place.
  5. Tuck the fabric patch into the hole as well, carefully aligning the edges so it covers the entire hole.
  6. Test a small, inconspicuous patch of upholstery to make sure the fabric will accept the heat of an iron on the silk setting. If all goes well, place a pressing cloth or thin sheet of cotton fabric over the repair area to protect the fabric. Carefully iron the entire repair area and the surrounding fabric, following the directions on the Heat N' Bond package. Allow the repair to cool.

Do-It-Yourself Repairs for Leather Upholstery

Leather is a wonderfully durable material for your car's interior, but it can still sustain damage from a variety of sources. In the case of deep scratches, holes, or tears, you'll need to take your car to a professional for help if you want the results to look appealing. If the seats are only scratched, you can often fix the problem on your own.

Surface Scuffs on Seats

  • Costs under $20
  • Takes from 20 minutes to six hours

Automobile leather has a protective top coat, so many scratches and scuff marks are actually contained by this surface layer. You can repair the top coat of your leather at home with a few supplies. You can tell if the scratch stayed in the top coat if none of the color of the leather has been removed. Here's how to fix this problem:

  1. Start by trying to gently buff out the scratch with leather cream, such as Frye Leather Conditioning Cream. Use a soft rag and apply the cream to the scratch. Buff it in a circular motion. This may repair the damage.
  2. If that doesn't work, carefully clean the leather surrounding the scratch. Allow it to dry thoroughly.
  3. Pick up a can of acrylic lacquer from your local hardware store. Choose the sheen that's appropriate for your leather upholstery. Spray a tiny amount of the lacquer in an unobtrusive spot to make sure the look is appropriate.
  4. Very lightly mist the scratched area with the lacquer. Allow the coat to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions. Check the scratch, and apply more coats as needed to repair the damage.

Do-It-Yourself Products for Repairing for Vinyl

Vinyl upholstery is less common than it once was, but you'll still find it in some contemporary models. If you have a classic car, it is likely to have vinyl upholstery. No matter what kind of damage you have, you'll need special products to work on vinyl. These products work on small tears, cracks, and holes:

  • 3M Leather & Vinyl Repair Kit - This product works best on vinyl, although it says it can repair leather as well. You use it to apply matching liquid vinyl to your damaged seats, and then you can use the special grain papers to match the texture of your existing vinyl. You heat cure the vinyl to set it when you are done. This repair takes a couple of hours, and the product retails for about $17 from Autopia.
  • Permatex Ultra Series Leather and Vinyl Repair Kit - This option, which also works better on vinyl than leather, includes everything you need for small repairs, including the heat tool. You can use grain papers to match the texture. This works best on black vinyl, since you'll have to do less work to match the color. The repair will take a couple of hours, and the kit retails for about $16 on
  • Vinyl Liquid Patch - If your damaged area is very small and won't require texturing or stabilizing, this product may help. It bonds with the vinyl to form a very strong, clear surface patch. There's no color matching or heat setting required. Use this on holes less than 1/4-inch in diameter and tears less than one inch long. Your repair will take a couple of hours with drying time, and the product retails for about $4 at PerfectFit.

Repairs You Shouldn't Attempt

Repairing upholstery yourself can save a lot of money, but it isn't always the best choice. Unless you have great confidence in your skills, you should always call a professional in these situations:

  • You want your car to look as good as new. All of these repairs will show a little, no matter how carefully you perform them.
  • Your car has leather upholstery and has a hole, tear, or deep scratch. You can fix these problems, but the results are almost never good enough to improve the looks of your car.
  • Your car has extensive damage to any kind of upholstery. You can make small repairs yourself, but larger ones are much less likely to succeed.
  • Your car has damage to a seat belt or other safety equipment. Any type of repair can interfere with the safety of your vehicle.

Make Your Car Look Great Again

If you choose to repair the damage to your car's upholstery, you can save a lot of money. You can also dramatically improve the interior look of your car. With a little time, the right supplies, and a bit of auto detailing, you can make your car's interior look great again.

Can You Repair Car Upholstery Yourself?