Futon Buying Guide: How to Buy a Futon

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Looking for an affordable, attractive solution for overnight guests? Don’t discount futons. The dorm room staple is back in a big way (in fact, it never left) with more options for mattress support and frame and cover styles. Add character to any room and give guests a comfortable place to rest their heads with this flexible furniture.

There are three steps to our futon-buying guide:  

Step One: Have a Plan

As with any furniture purchase, the first step to buying a futon is to consider your space. Small spaces are generally where futons are perfect, they traditionally come in smaller sizes to be used as a guest bed or a platform bed. There are several types of futons when considering how and where you will use it, as this will affect your choice of frame, mattress, and cover style. Traditional futons can be used for many years, depending on the material. Futons come in several variations and can even be as comfortable as a loveseat or a daybed.

  • Will you use your futon primarily for sitting and lounging or will you or a guest sleep on it with some regularity?
  • Will you place it in a guest bedroom or in a living room?  
  • What other furniture will surround your new futon?
  • How will the futon work into your current style?

There are a few futon-specific considerations to keep in mind:

  • Futons are extremely large when unfolded. Be sure you accurately measure your space to account for your futon’s size when folded and unfolded. It often helps to tape off the “shadow” of your potential new furniture so you can visually see how much space it will take up in the room.
  • Remember: The type of frame you select will affect the amount of space you’ll need for your futon. Some frames are designed to fit up against the wall, whereas others must be placed 8–12 inches away from the wall to accommodate the bed function. A frame with arms also will take up more room—folded or unfolded.
  • It is recommended that you customize your futon by purchasing your frame, mattress, and cover separately. This will ensure that you get the right support for users and a style that will match your décor. That said be sure the three pieces are compatible. You don’t want to discover that your mattress doesn’t fit the frame, for example.
  • If you will use your futon as a bed with regularity, consider the other furniture in the room. It may be helpful if the accent furniture is mobile or lightweight if you’ll have to move it often to accommodate the futon.
  • The mattress makes the futon. Be sure you take the time to test out various mattresses. You’ll be surprised by the many options out there!  

Step Two: Master the Mattress

Buying a futon mattress is like selecting a mattress for your bed, but there are some additional considerations. You’ll want a futon that provides a restful sleep, but you may ultimately prioritize flexibility and style if your futon will be used infrequently as a bed. Keep in mind the following:

  • In general, adult sleepers require a mattress that is at least six inches thick.
  • Wood frames are extremely hard. If you purchase a wood frame, consider a thicker mattress and/or a mattress pad.
  • Futon frames come in bifold and trifold. With a bifold frame, the mattress is folded once, while with a trifold frame, it is folded twice and therefore requires a thinner mattress. (Bifold frames are now industry standard, but trifold frames are still available.)
  • For optimal comfort purchase a mattress with innerspring coils, which will provide the highest level of support—much like a real bed. This is especially recommended if you or your guests will sleep on the futon with regularity.
  • Cotton batting and foam mattresses provide reasonable levels of support for short-term use and hold their shape over time. They are also lighter than innerspring mattresses.
  • The higher quality futon you purchase, the longer it will last. With infrequent use, a futon mattress can last up to 20 years.
  • Testing out mattresses in-store is the best way to determine which is right for you. Bring the whole family to find a mattress that will work for most sleepers.

Step Three: Combine Style and Utility

OK admit it: When we said “futon” your thoughts immediately turned to the creaky, oversized heap your college roommates picked up FREE off the sidewalk. But a lot has changed. Today’s futons are both stylish and functional with myriad frames and covers to choose from.

Key Points: Frames

  • Bifold frames (which fold once) have arms and legs like a regular sofa. They are now the industry standard. Most bifold frames are equipped with a system of rollers that allow them to easily convert from the sitting to sleeping position.
  • Trifold frames (which fold twice) were the first frames on the market. They are slightly bigger than bifold frames and more cumbersome. Some have legs like a sofa, while others sit directly on the floor.     
  • Wood frames are more traditional. If the frame is made from a high-quality wood such as cherry, oak, ash, or maple, it may be more expensive, but it will be sturdier and last longer.
  • Metal or steel frames are cost effective and extremely durable. They come in a variety of finishes that will match nearly every type of décor, but overall metal frames lend to a more contemporary look.
  • Wood composite or particleboard frames also are available and make for an inexpensive option. That said they are less durable. For safety, be sure that the seat and back slats (any area that will support a person) are sturdy and adequately reinforced.

Key Points: Covers

  • Futon covers range in price from approximately $30 to $300 depending on the futon's size. They come in a variety of materials from cotton and twill to micro-suede and leather. Covers allow you to easily change the look of your room.
  • When purchasing a futon cover, consider how often you like to change your décor. Purchasing multiple covers on the lower end of your price point allows you to switch up your look seasonally. If you are committed to one style, you may want to invest in a higher-end cover that will last longer.
  • If you’ll be using your futon as your regular couch, consider purchasing a more durable cover such as one made of a synthetic fiber. Acrylic, polyester, and rayon are all known for their durability. Consult our Fabric 101 guide for in-depth information on textiles.

Final Thoughts

Buying a futon is an involved process that should have a lot of consideration attached to it. Many people use futons as guest beds for when they have people over, and of course, everyone wants their guests to be comfortable. Futons even come in memory foam for additional comfort. Consequently, some thought is required when buying a futon. Always be sure to consider the type of frame the mattress will sit on and the mattress's thickness. Wood frames tend to be very hard, so if you get a wood-framed futon, ensure that the mattress is of adequate thickness for comfortable sleep.

Always get futon mattresses with innerspring coils that will provide support during sleep, just like a real bed would. Also, buy some covers to go with the futon. What type of covers you get is entirely up to you, but we recommend a synthetic fiber cover if intending to use the futon as a sofa extensively. This is because acrylic and polyester are incredibly durable. Also, be sure to get different colored sheets in bulk to rotate seasonally and change the appearance of the futon. Whatever you choose, a futon is an excellent and versatile piece of furniture you can get a lot of use from!