Recliners are one of the most popular choices for homes because of their comfort and durability. However, while the design seems simple, there are several different models with varying types of assembly. If you are going to take apart your chair, first consider what type you have: A two-position, a slider/rocker, or an electric model.
Once you know, you can focus on how to take apart the old recliner and put it back together for repairs. You should be able to distinguish between the models because one will have a handle along the side, one will rock back and forth, and the last one has a button you push to raise and lower the footrest.
The back of the recliner is one of the essential components of the chair. It is where the manufacturers tend to hide many of the mechanisms necessary to allow the footrest to move. There are three central types of back your chair might have:
- Locking levers
- A locking catch or tab
- Bolted on
Each one will have a slightly different system necessary to remove the fabric, so gather these tools and follow the steps for your recliner.
Tools you need
You only need a couple of tools for the process, but it is a good idea to wear gloves that will protect your fingers from being pinched in the moving pieces of the recliner. For most situations, you just need the following:
- A screwdriver
How to remove it
- Locking levels
Let’s start with the locking levers mechanism. If your recliner back is held in place with dual levers, then this is the style you have. Follow these steps:
- Search for the metal posts on the back of the chair
- Once you have found them, carefully flip the levels
- This disengages the fabric of the back, and you should be able to carefully remove it without damaging the upholstery
- Locking catch or tab
Tabs and catches are common among modern recliners. These are small hidden metal components that connect the upholstery to the central wooden frame of the chair. It is recommended you wear gloves when working with this style because it is easy to accidentally pinch your fingers in the tabs. To remove the back, follow these steps:
- Feel the upholstery to understand where the tabs are
- Slide a screwdriver between the upholstery and the back of the chair
- Move the tip of the screwdriver under one segment of the tab to lift it up and pop it open
- Repeat this step until all of the tabs have been opened
If the recliner has basic metal catches, the process is similar. The catches are designed to automatically lock in place, so you just need to open them and slide the fabric off the back.
Bolts are one of the simplest mechanisms to undo. All you need to do is unbolt the snaps using your fingers and then move the fabric to expose the interior of the recliner.
How to reinstall it
To reinstall the back, you just need to retrace your steps. For all three of these methods, the first step will be to align the fabric you removed with the bolts, tabs, or levers. Once the fabric is in place, just move the levers, bolts, or tabs back into the right position.
There are numerous reasons why you might want to take apart a recliner for the upholstery. Sometimes you need to replace the fabric because it has become worn out. In other situations, maybe you want to repurpose the material for another project. Whatever the case may be, you want the upholstery to remain as intact as possible to avoid damage to the fabric and the recliner.
Tools you need
Since removing upholstery is more difficult than taking apart the back of the recliner, you will need more tools. Luckily, the steps for removal are consistent across all types of chairs, so you can be sure about the tools you need. To prepare yourself, gather the following, and be sure to have a pair of gloves to protect your skin from getting pinched.
- A utility knife
- Seam ripper
- Plastic sandwich bags
How to remove it
Removing upholstery can be a long and tedious task, so set aside at least an hour. Before beginning, take a good look at the recliner. This allows you to get a grasp of what type of recliner you own, and you can then make an informed decision about which part to begin with. For example, sometimes there are highly visible seams that let you know where the upholstery has been folded together. This helps you avoid having to slice directly through the fabric, potentially limiting what you can do with the material. Once you have an idea of where you would like to begin, follow these steps.
- Remove the seat cushion of the recliner if it is not attached to the base. If it is connected, use your utility knife to cut the cushion away.
- Unzip the cushion and remove the upholstery. If there is no zipper, once again, use the knife to cut through the material and pull it away from the pillow.
- Flip the recliner, so it is laying on its side, and the bottom is fully exposed.
- Using your pliers, carefully remove the thick staples holding the upholstery in place along the bottom.
- Remove all visible screws and bolts and put them in your sandwich bags. It is a good idea to keep them separated, so they don’t become mixed up. If possible, put the label on the bags where each group of screws and bolts came from.
- Move the recliner upright so you can focus on the back of the recliner. This section is often the last one put in place, so it should be the first one eliminated.
- Use your utility knife to slice through the stitching holding the fabric in place. If there are staples, remove them with your pliers.
- Next, focus on the arms of the recliner. The upholstery might be glued, stapled, or stitched, so you will need to use either your pliers, utility knife, or scissors to remove the fabric. Be flexible to achieve your goal.
- You will next focus on the sides. You want this material to come off in as few pieces as possible. Use your tools to undo the staples or stitching holding it in place and pull the fabric down and off.
- Finally, focus on the footrest. Cut through the stitching on one side with your scissors and then remove the upholstery in one piece.
There should no longer be any upholstery on your recliner. This means all the internal components are exposed, and you can see some of the cushions. Avoid tampering with the chair at this point if you want to reupholster or repurpose the mechanisms for another project.
Extra tips and advice on how to take apart a recliner safely
There are a couple of tricks that will make the process of taking apart an old recliner safer. In particular, it’s important to remember that there are moving pieces that could cut or trap your fingers. Never stick your hand inside the chair if you can’t see beyond the upholstery for your own safety. Some of the best advice is:
- Never rip or pull the upholstery because it could break, become trapped in the interior of the chair, or even jam the recliner.
- Use a screwdriver to flip levers if the gap between the chair and upholstery is too narrow for your fingers.
- Always cut away from your body and never point your tools at yourself while working.
- Wear goggles to avoid getting staples in your eyes while working.
- Move the recliner to the middle of the room and away from the walls. This gives you more room to work.
- If you don’t think you can remember how to reassemble the recliner properly, write down every step you take. You can then follow the steps in reverse order to ensure you put the chair back together the right way.
- If you need to know how to take apart a recliner sofa, follow the steps in this guide but use a drill to unscrew any safety bars underneath the furniture.
- If you want to remove leather from a recliner, understand that the material will be difficult to save.
Knowing how to take apart an old recliner should not be a niche skill. With how popular this style of chair and sofa is, every home is bound to have one, and maintenance is inevitable. The entire process should be simple and uses basic household tools. The key tips to remember are that the chair should be on its side during disassembly and that the back is often a separate piece that can be removed with little work. Following this guide, you should now be able to take apart your leather or upholstered recliner with little difficulty.