Using Steam For Installation

  • Using steam on backrest upholstery
  • Steaming foam on automotive seats

The success of an upholstery installer is directly related to their experience, knowledge, and tools. Here we will be discussing one of the professional upholsterer’s secret weapons: steam. Steaming is an indispensable tool in restoring broken down or compressed foam and helping to heat your new upholstery kit without drying out the leather. Steam can make foam plump back up and restore its factory shape lost over time with use and the effects of upholstery shrinking.  Steam can also make leather and vinyl malleable and affects the installation results quite dramatically. However, it is important to note that the heat from the steam can damage an interior if misused.  So make sure that if you decide to use steam on your interior, you do so sparingly as you learn how to use it effectively. This article will cover both steaming the foam before installation and steaming the new upholstery as you are installing it. There are also several videos that we have made which show this process, and they will be linked below.

Foam Steaming

Steaming the seat foam can make a huge difference in your new interior’s overall fit and finish. Most of our interior patterns are based on the original seats in brand, new condition. However, many interiors are not in brand new condition by the time they are being reupholstered. Even the application of the original upholstery at the factory can compress the foam.  So it is always a good idea to steam the foam before reupholstering your seats.

Please take a look at the pictures to the right to see how much steaming the foam can improve the shape of the foam and return it closer to showroom condition.  Steaming the foam will also add new life to the seats to restore some of the density and spring within the cushion.

Backrest foam steaming before and after

Steaming the Foam Before (Left) vs. After (Right)

Foam steaming before and after

Steaming Foam Before (Right) vs. After (Left)

Upholstery Steaming

Steaming the foam might seem a bit more obvious once you understand the concept, but steaming the upholstery is actually the most effective “trick” used in the upholstery trade to get great fitment with leather and vinyl interiors.  Steam is unique in that it applies a “wet heat.”  Most of the time, the application of heat to anything will dry out that substance.  This is the key to why steam is so effective in working with leather and vinyl.  Both leather and vinyl will relax and become much more malleable with the application of heat.  However, leather is very susceptible to drying out if heat is applied directly.  Vinyl is just less susceptible to heat, but if enough heat is applied, then the vinyl could melt.  This is why steam is the key.  It applies a “wet heat,” which allows both the vinyl and leather to heat up to a temperature that makes them easier to manipulate without having them dry out or melt so quickly.  However, the heat from the steam can still dry out the leather or damage the vinyl if left in the same spot too long.

So, it is very important to apply the steam to the inside of the upholstery so that it is not directly against the leather and to keep the steam moving around inside the cover.  This will heat the upholstery evenly and at the same time keep the steam from damaging and specific parts of the upholstery.  After you steam the upholstery, it will become extremely malleable and much easier to adjust and place properly to help accomplish a wrinkle-free install.

Upholstery Installed without Steam (Left) vs. with Steam (Right)

Upholstery Installed without Steam (Left) vs. with Steam (Right)

Upholstery Installed without Steam (Left) vs. with Steam (Right)

Upholstery Installed without Steam (Left) vs. with Steam (Right)