Basic introduction to:
Futon Mattresses, Futon Frames, Futon Covers and futon buying tips.

The Ten-Minute Primer

Are you looking to buy a futon? Our Futon Primer is the perfect place to start researching your purchase. If you only have a few minutes, check out our Ten-Minute Primer for a quick education before you go shopping. If you want to spend more time learning about futons, their history, the many options available to you and how to pick the right futon for your needs, look to our In-Depth Primer.

Basic introduction

What is a Futon?

A futon is a convertible sofa sleeper, a piece of dual-purpose furniture that can be used for both sitting and sleeping. The modern American futon is a descendent of Japanese sleeping mats. Now a futon is a three-component structure of frame, mattress, and fabric cover.

Benefits of a Futon

Futons are highly customizable. Because you’re not just buying an all-in-one piece of furniture, you can customize your purchase to your preferences. Choose a mattress based on the feel you prefer for your sleeping surface. Pick a wood, metal or upholstered frame. Cover your futon in any color or pattern with a removable cover.

Futon Mattresses

In the early years of the American futon industry (1968 to 1974), most futon mattresses were handmade out of cotton by cottage industry entrepreneurs. Today, the handmade variety of mattress is still available, but most futon mattresses are made in manufacturing facilities. Futon mattress materials are no longer limited to cotton - common materials also include wool, foam and polyester. Today the cotton and foam combination futon mattress is the best selling product in the market. The innerspring futon mattress is also a popular product.

Expect to spend $600 on a high-end futon mattress that will rival the comfort of a traditional mattress costing hundreds more.

Futon Mattress Characteristics

Futon mattresses can be described using four basic characteristics: weight, firmness, rigidity, and flexibility. Depending on the intended use of a particular futon mattress, each of these characteristics takes on a different level of importance to you, the consumer. For example, if you are looking for a futon mattress for sleeping only, perhaps on a platform bed, then rigidity is of little or no importance. But if you are purchasing a futon mattress for a convertible sofa sleeper that will only be used occasionally as a guest bed, you can put rigidity high on your list, because a more rigid futon will hold its lines and not sag in the middle when in the sofa position.

Futon Mattress Sizes

Name of size   Measuring


Single / Twin          39" x 75"  
Double / Full   54" x 75"  
Queen   60" x 80"  
King   78" x 80"  
California King   72" x 84"  
Extra Long      
Double/Full    54" x 80"  
Single/Twin   39" x 80"  
Seating Sizes      

Also known as

Double / Full Love Seat   54" x 54" Full Lounger (top portion)
Queen Love Seat   54" x 60" Queen lounger top (top portion)
Double / Full Ottoman   21" x 54" Full Lounger (bottom portion)
Queen Ottoman   21" x 60" Queen Lounger (bottom portion)
Single / Twin Loveseat   39" x 54" Twin Lounger (top portion)
Single / Twin Ottoman   21" x 39" Twin Lounger (bottom portion)
Chair    28" x 54"  
Ottoman for chair   21" x 28"  

Futon Frames

Useful Futon Frame Terminology

Conversion: The process of changing (converting) a futon from the sitting position to the sleeping position and vice versa.

Slat Rack: The platforms on which the futon rests for both convertible futon sofa-bed frames and stationary platform beds.

Seat Rack: The seat rack is the slat rack on which the user sits when a futon is in the sitting position.

Back Rest: The back rest is the slat rack on which the user leans when a futon is in the sitting position.

Tri-fold: A convertible futon frame that utilizes three slat racks. The futon mattress can hang over the back of the frame, be folded under itself on the seat rack, or lay flat as a chaise lounge-style seat. The tri-fold allows the futon mattress to fold twice along its usually shorter width.

Bi-Fold: A convertible futon sofa-bed frame that utilizes two slat racks. The bi-fold allows the futon mattress to fold once along its length.

Kicker: The kicker is usually a small piece of wood or plastic that wedges itself between the seat rack and the back rest so the frame can be returned from the sleeper position to the sofa position in a simple, fluid motion.

Wall-Hugger: A wall-hugger is a frame that can open to the sleeper position without the user having to move the base of the frame away from the wall.

Futon Frame Styles

The American version of the futon mattress started out on the floor, mimicking its Japanese cousin. As time passed, futon mattress makers began to see the potential of the futon frame as a new design alternative to the conventional sofa bed.

There are two main styles of futon frame: bi-fold and tri-fold. The tri-fold requires the futon mattress to be folded twice, while the bi-fold requires that the mattress fold only once. The tri-fold utilizes the shorter width of the mattress for seating while the bi-fold utilizes the longer length. This gives the inherent advantage to the bi-fold because it looks much more like a conventional sofa bed than does the tri-fold. It also provides a larger seating area. The bi-fold is the industry standard and is the more popular of the two basic styles.

Frame Materials

The best wooden futon frames are made entirely of clear (no knots or bark), finished wood. Common woods used in futon furniture manufacturing include oak, ash, pine, maple, and cherry. The type of wood strongly influences the price of the frame, with pine and poplar being less expensive and most hardwoods being more expensive.

Modern-styled metal frames are also becoming popular. A high-quality metal futon can be a stylish and functional addition to your living space. Be on the lookout, though, for cheap metal frames, such as the under-$100 versions sold at Big Box retailers like Wal-Mart. These frames don’t last long and offer a poor value.

Fully upholstered futon frames that look much like a traditional upholstered sofa are appearing in the market. If you like the look of a sofa but want the ease-of-use and functionality of a futon, this might be the product for you.

Futon Covers

Futon covers allow you the unique opportunity to change your room decor in a matter of minutes. Most covers zip on and zip off, making it simple to wash them or change them for a new look.

When you’re shopping for a futon cover, you have several options. You can buy an inexpensive, off-the-shelf factory select cover, you can order a cover from a swatch, or you can customize even further - some cover manufacturers will take fabric you send them and sew a cover for you.

In a retail store, futon cover prices can range from $29 up to about $300. The most popular retail price range is between $99 and $119.

Tips for Buying a Futon

When you’re shopping for a futon, the most important thing to remember is to put it through its paces! With the futon in the sitting position, sit on the mattress. Is it comfortable? Test the conversion mechanism - is it easy to covert the futon from sitting position to sleeping and back again? With the futon in the sleeping position, lie down on the mattress. Would you be comfortable spending a night on that surface?

Ask the retail sales associate to show you several different types of mattresses - different materials, different thicknesses, different styles. Find your preferred comfort level.

Make sure the retailer offers a written guarantee for their frames against breakage under normal use. Also, educate yourself as to how a specific frame works. Proper use of the mechanism will insure a long life for your new futon sofa sleeper.



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