In-Depth Primer ~ Futon Mattresses

History of the futon mattress

In its most basic form, the futon mattress is a simple cotton mat that is flexible and therefore easily folded. The word “futon” is the English spelling of the Japanese word that describes their bedding system. This system includes the “shikibuton” (floor cushion) on which a person sleeps and the “kakebuton” (duvet/comforter) that covers the sleeping person. In Japan and other Asian countries, the futon is placed on tatami, a two-inch thick woven reed base. The floor mat (shikibuton) is the part of the system that has been transformed into the American futon mattress/sofa-bed concept.

In the early years of the American futon industry (1968 to 1974), most futon mattresses were handmade by cottage industry entrepreneurs. Today, the handmade variety of mattress is still available, but most futon mattresses are made in manufacturing facilities that are able to produce hundreds and even thousands of units per day. Traditional innerspring mattress manufacturers are producing most of the futon mattresses currently available for sale in the US market. Futon mattress materials are no longer limited to cotton – common materials also include wool, and various synthetics including foam, and polyester as well as cotton. Today the cotton and foam combination futon mattress is the best selling product in the market.

The innerspring futon mattress is also now a regular part of most manufacturers’ lines. Still available, but not as popular, are a number of hybrid products that take their positions alongside the cotton and foam variations and the 100 percent cotton futon. Cotton and wool futons; futons with tape edges and gusseted side panels (like conventional mattresses); and futons encased in solid color, upholstery, and designer print fabrics are also available.

Many futon mattress companies are now making softer, plusher, premium futon mattresses, offered at higher price points. This configuration is targeted to the mainstream consumer and the conventional furniture stores he or she shops in. Retailers and consumers understand this product because it offers a look and feel they are more accustomed to, similar to an upholstered sofa or sofa bed.

Futon Mattress Characteristics

Futon mattresses can be described using four basic characteristics: weight, firmness, rigidity, and flexibility.

Weight: What a futon weighs does make a difference in the consumer’s experience. Lighter is better as long as substance isn’t sacrificed. Typically a futon mattress of less than five inches thickness will “bottom out” when in use. Bottoming out means the seated or sleeping person using the mattress will feel the slats or supporting structure under the mattress.

Firmness: Firmness is a measurement of the “feel” of the mattress when used as a sleeping or sitting surface. Cotton and some visco foams will feel harder than softer materials like low density convoluted foams or polyester batting.

Rigidity: Rigidity is the ability of the futon to remain square-edged along the length when in a sofa position. Some materials are more affected by gravity than others. A slab of foam will maintain its shape when stood up against a wall, whereas a batt of cotton will not.

Flexibility: Flexibility is a measurement of how well the futon applies itself to folding. Folding is a key specification for a futon mattress when used as a sofa sleeper, but not when used on a platform bed.

Depending on the end 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 sofa 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. (The futon cover, therefore, will not wrinkle or look baggy after prolonged use.)

Futon Life recommends Premium futon mattresses with comfort layers of cotton, polyester batting, latex and visco elastic foams are also very popular. Be prepared to spend $600 or more for a high quality futon mattress that rivals the comfort and durability of traditional mattresses costing hundreds more.

Futon Mattress Materials

The 100% Cotton Futon

This is the traditional futon. A cotton futon is made of layers of cotton batting. The process of garnetting creates batting which is then set down in layers, becoming the basis for the mattress. Garnetting, in simple terms, is a process in which individual cotton fibers of various lengths are laid into a thin web by combing. The garnett machine creates these webs and then lays one web on top of another, forming a very specific size and weight of cotton batt.

The cotton batting for futons is made mainly from cotton that has been deemed unsuitable for textiles. Textile mills use the longer staple cotton that is separated from the cotton seeds in the ginning process. The shorter fibers, which are rejected by textile mills, are called gin motes. These fibers, part of a blend that may include picker, linter (the very short fibers that are removed from the seeds before extracting the cottonseed oil), and sometimes even some staple cotton become the batting or stuffing material for the futon mattress.

To create the futon mattress, cotton batts are laid out, one on top of the other, to the desired height (four inches, six inches, eight inches) and weight, and then the case (ticking) is either pulled over the batting by hand or is attached to an automatic stuffing machine which pushes the batting into it. (It should be noted that dealers who use terms like “six or seven layers” are missing the point. Six “layers” can mean six four-pound batts or six ten-pound batts of cotton. The term “layers” is therefore not acceptable, unless it is qualified by layer weight.)

The case is then sewn or zippered shut, and the futon is tufted. In the past, many of these futon mattresses were made by hand, using tools that were employed by mattress makers of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Some handmade futon mattresses are sewn with the seam (to close the case) running down the middle of the futon, while most machine-made products are end sewn or tape edged. Another popular closure is the zipper. This method is very convenient for both the manufacturer and retailer because it is so simple to use and does allow examination of the filling inside the mattress. The tufting may include up to 40 tufts, but a typical futon has about 28 to 32 tufts.

When considering the four properties of a futon mattress – weight, firmness, rigidity, and flexibility – here’s how an all-cotton mattress stacks up.  The 100% cotton futon ranks as one of the heaviest. A twin futon weighs in at about 38 pounds to 45 pounds, a full from 48 pounds to 55 pounds, and a queen from 59 pounds to 75 pounds. Flexibility is excellent, and folding is relatively easy for the six-inch futon, getting progressively more difficult with the thicker (ten inch) units. Rigidity is okay, with some sagging occurring in some units after prolonged usage as a bi-fold sofa. The firmness level starts out softer but becomes firmer after several months of use. As the futon is slept on, the cotton will compact and become very firm, yet will remain soft to the touch. A premium, full size, all cotton futon mattress should run about $250 to $450.

The Cotton Foam Futon

Soon after arriving on the West Coast, the futon began to evolve. Not naturally, of course, but synthetically. Futon makers, attempting to soften the firmness level of the basic cotton futon, added a layer or two of medium- to high-density (1.5 PCF to 2.0 PCF) polystyrene foam. Some have opted to use flat panels of foam while others are using convoluted or “egg-crate” foam. This type of futon costs a little more to manufacture, but the addition of the foam panels does several things that may make the finished product more comfortable. The overall weight of the futon goes down by 10 to 20 pounds, depending on the mattress size. The level of flexibility is lower than the all-cotton, but not significantly enough to make a real difference. The rigidity is excellent. The cotton/foam futon is perfect for a bi-fold sofa bed application because there is no sagging. The firmness level is medium firm. It is important to know the density of the foam in the mattress as well as how much foam is used (one inch, two inches, etc.). Too much foam reduces the advantages of cotton as a foundation.

Several other types of foam futons are currently available. Latex foam in varying degrees of “natural,” visco elastic, or temperature-responsive foam, and a product called Reflex™ foam made by Foamex, are popular.  A premium, full size, cotton and foam futon mattress should run about $350 to $1250 depending on filling materials used.

The Cotton & Polyester and 100% Polyester Futon

Polyester has been around the bedding industry for years, and more and more futon mattress manufacturers are using this synthetic fiber. Like foam, polyester is usually an additional fiber added to the cotton futon. This addition is handled in several ways. Some manufacturers place 100% poly batting within the cotton batts during the construction of the mattress itself, while others combine the polyester with the cotton in the garnett and produce “blended” batts (Wolf Corp’s Endura and Aerolife blends are fine examples of a cotton/poly blended batt). These futons are lighter by 10 to 15 pounds (and more) than the all-cotton product. In fact, several companies produce 100% polyester mattresses that are half the weight of an all-cotton futon.

Remember, not all 100% polyester futons are created equal. In fact, some of the units currently on the market have problems with “bottoming out.” Keep this principle in mind: a solid, well-stuffed six-inch poly futon should be an excellent sit and sleep cushion. Ask about “densified” polyester. This product is heat treated to condense the fibers into a pre-compressed form that will hold its loft longer than regular poly fill.

Flexibility with this product is good. Depending on the nature of the polyester fill itself, and the cotton-to-poly ratio, rigidity may go from fair to excellent, i.e., the more polyester, the more rigidity. The firmness level is definitely softer than the cotton/foam futon, and resiliency (the ability to maintain loft) is also higher than the all-cotton mattress because of the nature of the poly fiber itself. Branded fibers that are even more resilient are very expensive compared to the cost of cotton, but they do maintain a higher loft longer.

Another big advantage is weight. Lower weight means lower shipping costs and a product that’s easier to move around or change the cover on when its in your living room or den. A premium, full size, cotton and polyester mattress should run about $350 to $650.

The Cotton & Wool and 100% Wool Futon

If you have ever heard the expression “sleeping on a cloud,” and you wanted to actually feel that sensation, then the all-wool futon is for you. Wool is extremely resilient and therefore provides great support. Wool is also a naturally flame retardant fiber.

Wool is light. A six-inch thick, full size 100% wool futon weighs a mere 38 pounds as opposed to an all-cotton futon’s weight of about 56 to 60 pounds. Rigidity is superior, but flexibility is almost non-existent. A cotton/wool futon, with a batt of wool top and bottom, may offer the best of both worlds.

Permanently crimped wool is available, and several products have been given the endorsement by the Wool Bureau to use the “Wool Mark,” the officially licensed logo, designating that the product has passed a battery of tests concerning the quality of the fibers as well as the level of fiber migration through the ticking material.

The cost of wool is high ( A premium, full size, all wool futon mattress should run about $1150 to $1350) but the quality of the finished product makes it a viable and superior alternative to other materials.

The Innerspring Futon

Today it seems that every mattress company making futon-style mattresses has an innerspring unit in their line-up. Gold Bond Futon of Hartford, Conn., has the CottonCoil™ futon. Simmons once again entered the futon market with United Sleep Products making their branded pocketed coil Beautyrest® futon mattress. The CottonCoil employs a more traditional interlocking spring unit that is remarkably flexible. Wolf Corporation, August Lotz, Otis Bed, and many others are also producing innerspring futon mattresses. The market for these products seems to be strongest in traditional bedding stores where they understand the innerspring concept. These units are also slightly more expensive than the other configurations and tend to be a little heavier than most other futons. They also offer a certain level of comfort only attainable with an innerspring construction. A premium, full size, innerspring futon mattress should run about $450 to $750.

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"  

The sizes listed here for futon mattresses are the standard sizes for all mattresses as designated in the standard recognized by ISPA (the International Sleep Products Association)


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