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The Pros And Cons Of Drop Cloth DIY’s

Update: My upholstered chairs are only a few weeks old and already they are showing severe wear. The structure of the textile itself is holding up fine, but it’s super absorbent when it comes to stains. Even though I diligently coated the drop cloths in several layers of Scotch Guard, every single morsel of food or drop of drink that spills on them leaves a blemish that is difficult to remove. I am going to take them outside this weekend for a thorough clean and bleach in the sun, to see if that improves. Based on my experience I would strongly recommend using drop clothes only on removalable upholstery fabric projects so that they can be washed and bleached. I still believe that they are a beauty economical fabric option, but perhaps not destined for dining room chairs.

Using painter’s drop cloth as an economical fabric choice for DIY and upholstery projects has been floating around the internet since at least 2010. That’s about six years, and yet when I set out to reupholster my dining room chairs with drop cloths I had a hard time digging up information about why it might not be such a great idea.  Drop cloth DIY projects are too numerous to count, but very few people have reported anything negative about their experiences. I don’t consider the absence of evidence as evidence of absence though, so I hunted down every last morsel of Pinterest drop cloth DIY fails out there and took a good hard look at whether or not this project was worth my time.

The pros and cons of drop cloth diy's and why you might not want to use a drop cloth for your project.

I won’t claim this list is wholly comprehensive, so let me know if there’s something important I haven’t included here. Like I said, finding reasons to avoid using drop cloths was hard because everyone wants to create a positive blog post. Regardless, there are definitely reasons the drop cloth project might not be for you!

The Pros of Drop Cloth DIY’s

  • They are insanely inexpensive (less than $3 a yard).
  • Drop cloth canvases are 100% cotton fibre (YAY).
  • They are a tightly woven fabric. Woven fabrics are great for homes with pets because its harder for the hairs to lodge themselves in a tight weave.
  • The material is durable and can stand up to repeated washing and abuse.
  • Drop cloths usually come with a salvage edge (i.e. a bound edge to prevent fraying), which can save you time on hemming a project.
  • The edge is easy to “fringe” if you want to create a vintage worn look. The higher the weight the less fuzzy the fringe will be.
  • Drop cloths have a very tactile surface complete with nubs, which will add a nice layer of texture to your room.
  • It has a vintage grain sack modern farmhouse look and feel.
  • It’s easy to bleach to a near white, or dye darker with fabric dyes, coffee or tea.
  • It tears easily along the grain line, making it easy to “cut” true straight lines.
  • The colour unbleached is very neutral.
  • The list of projects you can do with a drop cloth is nearly limitless.

The Cons of Drop Cloth DIY’s

  • Drop cloths do not spot clean well because they water mark very easily. You may find you have to spray down the entire surface with a mist of water after spot cleaning to eliminate water marks when drying, and that is a pain in the butt.
  • The first big issue with drop cloths is that they are not upholstery fabric, and were never intended to be upholstery fabric. You might not think this is a big deal, but it is. A great deal of upholstery fabrics have been treated or designed with technical skill that enhances durability and diminishes the risk of staining, stretching and warping. Many upholstery fabrics are spill-resistant or even spill-proof, but your drop cloth will not be.
  • Drop cloths vary a lot from brand to brand, and sometimes even within a brand from product batch to product batch, in terms of colour, quality and thickness.
  • Some drop cloths are not 100% cotton, so it’s important to pay close attention to labelling.
  • If you want a true grain sack look, a drop cloth is a fair approximation but it’s not perfect. Something like a hemp canvas will probably look and feel a lot more authentic, and is thicker and actually intended for upholstery purposes.
  • Drop cloths wrinkle badly and easily, many people reported that this lent what they felt to be a “cheap” look to their finished project.
  • Many drop cloths have visible seams because they are pieced together from smaller sections. The larger the cloth the more likely there will be seams.
  • Off-white fabrics (or white if you bleach the heck out of it) on furniture mean you might be washing your slip covers every couple days. If you are okay with the extra laundry than by all means, but if you aren’t, proceed with caution. Dirt, shoe scuffs, pet hair, grime, food, sweat, clothing dye bleed, it all shows on a light fabric. Guests might be scared to sit on your furniture – do you want anxious or nervous house guests? What can you live with? These are important questions to think about before you make a drop cloth slip cover for your leather sofa.
  • There are blogger reports of the fabric ripping with normal wear—however this could be due to over bleaching without neutralizing, resulting in weakened fabrics.

What Your Need To Know

  • Open the package if possible and examine the cloth you are about to purchase for your drop cloth DIY project. Investigate for seams and quality of the fabric.
  • If you can’t open the package in the store, take it home and open it carefully. If it doesn’t pass inspection place it back in the bag and return it. Most hardware stores don’t really care if you opened something as long as you don’t shred the packaging.
  • If you bleach your drop cloth DO use a neutralizing agent to stop the bleach from destroying your fabric. There are different products out there, but a bath of 3% hydrogen peroxide mixed with water at a 1:10 ratio will do the job.
  • Pre-shrink your drop cloth. Do it. Don’t ignore me and beware this horror. Pre-shrink it no matter what you intend to do with it, because you never know if you’ll need to wash your drop cloth DIY.
  • Laundering the drop cloth will soften the fabric, which you most often want. If you were trying to preserve that stiff clean look, starching the fabric will return it to its former glory after being pre-shrunk.
  • Consider spraying your fabric with Scotch-Guard or another protective treatment to help improve the drop cloth’s resistance to dirt. Though drop cloths clean well, the cotton fabric will be susceptible to absorbing liquid and trapping dirt. Treating the fabric will lengthen the amount of time between washes, and if your project is going to be un-washable (like mine) then it’s best to be safe, rather than sorry.

The pros and cons of drop cloth diy's and why you might not want to use a drop cloth for your project.


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  • Reply The Mama Nurse

    I must be living under a rock! I always thought drop cloth was just for catching the inevitable paint splatter, but now it seems like a great cost effective option. Thanks for you helpful and honest discussion about pros and cons.

    April 2, 2016 at 6:17 pm
    • Reply Jenn Schleich

      Ya who knew! I’ll let you know how it works out.

      April 5, 2016 at 6:24 pm
  • Reply michelleloubert

    I am so relieved to find this post! I made an inner pillow cover out of laundered drop cloth and haven’t got around to sewing up the upholstery fabric outer pillowcase. Today, I am hand washing splatters from a spill on it. I am going to take your advice and mist the whole thing with water as I use a toothbrush to scrub out the stains. Hopefully that with do the trick.

    February 2, 2017 at 10:04 am
  • Reply Kathryn

    Thanks so much for your post. I appreciate the pros and cons.

    July 3, 2017 at 11:13 pm
  • Reply Melissa

    I notice that there is such a thing as laminated drop cloths and I wonder if that would solve the easy staining issue? I have small kids which makes clean-up a serious consideration. I also don’t want to spend a lot of money on upholstery fabric…because I have small kids. Any thoughts or experience out there?

    September 9, 2017 at 7:00 am
    • Reply Jenn Schleich

      I’ve never even heard of laminated drop cloth. I’m concerned that it would be akin to a plastic table cloth – i.e. it wouldn’t have the look of linen that you are going for with drop cloth. Let me know if you try it out!

      September 11, 2017 at 3:15 pm
  • Reply tehsinajaffer

    Wow, this looks beautiful! What dimensions did you get to avoid the shrinking horror?

    October 19, 2017 at 4:31 pm
  • Reply Aksinia

    Thank you! I’ve been wondering about the real downsides of drop cloths. I think if I’m going to go to the effort of reupholstering my couch I will spend a little more on the fabric, so I can be proud of my efforts for longer. We’ll see if I stick to this one I’ve actually priced it out! 😋

    November 6, 2017 at 11:11 pm
    • Reply Jenn Schleich

      Good luck! I think that’s a smart choice.

      November 18, 2017 at 9:38 pm

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