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The futon is a furniture staple found in many homes these days. For some, it’s a convenient sleeping spot for guests or the homeowners themselves. For others, it’s a couch for sitting, lounging, and watching TV.
Indeed, a futon is a multi-tasking furniture piece that works hard in small spaces, such as studio apartments and guest rooms. It’s also an excellent alternative to a larger, heavier, more expensive sleeper sofa.
But buying a futon can be intimidating. There’s a lot to consider: the frame, the cover, the mattress.
Buy the wrong futon, and you could find yourself wanting to stand up as soon as you sit (or lie) down.
Luckily, we’re here to help!
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If you’re ready to buy a futon, go ahead and check out the five options in the matrix above.
If you’d like more general information about futons first, including how to find the right mattress, frame, and cover, read on. We’ll help you choose the right futon for your needs and budget.
The most popular futon size holds a full mattress. If you need a larger futon, shop for a queen. Looking for something smaller? You can also find many twin-size futons that fold into a comfortable chair.
The word futon originally referred to the Japanese traditional bed of a padded mattress, comforter, and pillow laid on the floor.
But in the west, the word futon has come to mean a covered mattress with a metal or wooden frame that folds up to transform into a small couch or armchair.
While similar in concept to a sleeper sofa, there are a few important differences between these two types of furniture.
A sleeper sofa mattress pulls out from underneath separate sofa cushions, whereas a futon mattress converts into sofa cushions when folded for seating.
Futons allow for far more customization than sleeper sofas do. You can tailor the comfort level and style of a futon by choosing the mattress and cover you prefer.
Futons are lighter than sofa sleepers, both in appearance and actual weight.
Futons are generally cost much less than sleeper sofas.
As a dual-purpose piece of furniture, futons are excellent for small homes, dorm rooms, and studio apartments. They also prove handy in guest rooms and children’s rooms. And of course, a futon is a great solution if you have occasional overnight guests but no guest room.
Before selecting a futon mattress, consider how often you’ll be using it. If you plan to sleep on your futon regularly, it’s worth paying extra for a higher-quality mattress. If you’ll mostly use the futon as seating, you’ll still want something comfortable, but you can save some money with a basic mattress.
A futon has three basic components: the frame, the mattress, and the cover.
The frame of a futon supports the mattress in both the extended sleep position and the folded sofa position.
And unlike the inner frame of a sleeper sofa, the futon frame is generally visible. As such, it plays an important role in style as well as function.
Wood – particularly oak, pine, and maple – and steel are the two most common futon frame materials.
Wall-hugger futons pull away from the wall a few inches as they are unfolded. This can be a nice feature, as you don’t have to pull the entire futon away from the wall to transform it into a bed.
Wooden futon frames have a more traditional appearance. Some are painted, but most have the look of natural bare wood.
Unless budget is your number-one issue, it’s best to stick with a hardwood frame rather than wood composite or particle board. Real wood is more attractive and also more durable.
Steel futon frames typically cost less than wooden futon frames and are very sturdy. Matte black is common, but you’ll find a wide range of other finishes as well.
Steel frames look more contemporary than wooden frames, and you can find a style to match just about any décor.
Need an ingenious space-saving design for a child’s bedroom? Consider a bunk bed with a futon setup on the bottom bunk. Pull the futon out when a friend sleeps over, and keep it folded up to provide a lounging or studying spot the rest of the time.
Once you narrow down your frame choice to wood or metal, you’ll have to decide between two frame configurations: bi-fold and tri-fold.
For easy folding and unfolding, choose a bi-fold futon with a slider or roller mechanism.
Tri-fold futon frames were the most common style of futon in decades past. When in the folded position, they take a shape something like the letter “A.” These pieces can be more difficult to fold and unfold than bi-fold models, and while some of today’s tri-fold frames do have short legs, they normally don’t have arms, giving them a casual, contemporary look.
Only one or two people can lounge comfortably on a tri-fold futon, as the mattress width creates the sofa seating area. This can be a plus if you’re using the futon in a very small room.
Make sure you have enough room for your futon in both the couch and bed configurations. It’s easy to forget that an open futon takes up a lot of space. Consider also any other furniture in the room that might need to be moved in order to accommodate the open futon.
If you still have nightmares about the thin, lumpy futon mattresses of decades past, you’ll be happy to know that today’s choices are far more comfortable.
A bi-fold frame requires a bi-fold mattress and a tri-fold frame needs a corresponding tri-fold mattress. Once you’ve determined whether you want a bi-fold or tri-fold frame, you can move on to comfort issues.
Just like regular mattresses, futon mattresses come in several different types. The most common types of futon mattresses are memory foam, innerspring, and cotton/foam blends.
Thick, traditional mattresses feel wonderful, but they don’t fold well. A futon mattress between six and eight inches thick strikes a good balance between comfort and easy folding.
Innerspring futon mattresses give good support and are generally quite firm. They are also quite heavy.
Memory foam futon mattresses conform to the body. They’re an excellent choice for people with arthritis or other painful joint or muscle ailments. Foam can be hot, however, and some people don’t like the way it “hugs,” which can make it more difficult to turn over during sleep.
Cotton/foam blend futon mattresses are lightweight, breathable, and provide fair-to-good support. You’ll find them at a wide range of price points, but be aware that the least-expensive futon mattresses are often the least durable and comfortable as well.
Regardless of which type of futon mattress you choose, it should be at least six inches thick for comfortable sleep. With a mattress thinner than that, you are likely to feel the hardness of the futon frame beneath you.
Foam or cotton/foam hybrid mattresses generally hold their shape in the sofa position better than innerspring mattresses, so take that into consideration if you plan to use your futon mainly for seating rather than sleeping.
While a futon cover isn’t absolutely necessary – and isn’t even an option with some contemporary futons – the use of a cover protects the mattress from spills/stains and offers you a way to add color, pattern, and style to your room. Futon covers are generally removable for cleaning.
Futon covers come in many different types of fabric, including leather and suede (real and faux), microfiber, and heavy cotton.
We advise potential buyers to choose the futon cover that best complements your room. You could even buy two or more futon covers and switch them out as the mood strikes you.
Q. How do I know what size futon mattress to buy?
A. You’ll need to select the appropriate mattress for your frame size. For example, a queen frame requires a queen mattress. The most common futon frame sizes are twin, full, and queen.
Q. Does a futon mattress need special sheets?
A. As long as your futon mattress is a standard size, such as twin, full, or queen, regular bed sheets should fit your futon just fine.
Q. I don’t have room for a full-size couch, and I prefer a smaller bed. What type of futon should I get?
A. If space is limited, you’ll find futons that transform from a comfortable single chair into a twin-size bed.
Q. How much do futons cost?
A. The price range for futons is very wide and depends on many factors, such as frame material, mattress quality, and the size of the futon. In general, you can expect to pay between $250 and $500 for a quality futon that will be comfortable for both sleeping and sitting. While there are certainly cheaper futons available, you’ll likely sacrifice quality, comfort, and durability.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.