Whether you have a very small apartment and need a space-saving sleep area, or just want a tidy solution for when guests come to stay overnight, you’ve probably considered either a futon or sofa bed already.
But which do you actually need?
In this guide, we’re comparing futons and sofa beds side by side so you can figure out which is best for your needs. Although they may look similar, there are some key differences that you should know about before you spend a lot of money on either of them!
If you need a quick answer, read our quick summary and FAQ. If you want more detail, read the full comparison below.
Futon vs Sofa Bed: Quick Summary
Both futons and sofa beds are designed to be comfortable seating areas during the daytime and transform with a switch (or not-so-gentle tug) in the evening to become a sleep area.
In general, a futon is the smaller, lighter, more stylish option. It’s ideal for small apartments, offices, and households where the guest bed is rarely used anyway.
Sofa beds, on the other hand, are much heavier in construction and come in a wider range of bulkier designs. While futons are small and compact, you can find 3-seater sofa beds that pull out into a queen size, for example. Sofa beds are sometimes harder to transform from sofa to bed, but they provide a sturdier and larger sleeping area. That’s why they’re a better choice for small apartments where the sofa bed will be used every night.
In terms of comfort, they’re pretty evenly matched however! And don’t forget, the right mattress topper and a comfy duvet can make a world of difference.
What is a Futon?
The word ‘futon’ refers to the traditional Japanese style mattress and bedding. During the night, it’s a simple mattress laid flat on the floor. During the day, it can be folded away and stored.
But don’t worry, modern Western futons are a bit more comfortable! The concept is the same, however. Futons are simply mattresses that can be folded into a chair position or flattened into a sleeping position.
Most operate by either pulling the front seat piece out or pushing the backrest down to create a flat surface for sleeping on. Some have arm rests, but many don’t.
Typically, the frame is lightweight, and the mattress size is quite small. It’s perfect for an afternoon kip and will also keep your guests comfortable for a night or two.
That being said, the futon is quite limited and although it may be comfortable you won’t ever mistake sleeping on a futon for sleeping on a real bed.
- Simple and stylish,
- Great for offices and small spaces,
- Easy to open and close.
- Small sleeping area,
- Comfortable but not bed-like,
- 2-seater when upright – rarely can you find one larger!
What is a Sofa Bed?
Instead of a sofa being a folded-up bed (a futon), a sofa bed is a bed that’s hidden inside a sofa! It’s almost like your sofa swallowed a bed…
The first folding bed was patented in 1899 by Leonard C. Bailey, an African American entrepreneur. Thanks, Leonard!
Sofa beds are designed to be comfortable sofas. Importantly, they look just like sofas and unlike a futon, you might not even realize that there’s a bed hidden in there. Sofa beds are sturdier in construction and often quite boxy. They also come in a wider variety of shapes and sizes, so you can have full queen size beds pull out of them.
To operate a sofa bed, you might need to fold down arm rests, pull levers, and add supports for the mattress that pulls out. It requires more effort than a futon but is still a relatively quick and easy process.
The main draw to sofa beds is the comfort.
Also Read: How to Make a Sofa Bed More Comfortable?
- Very comfortable options available,
- Large bed sizes available,
- Looks just like a normal couch.
- Heavy to move and maybe too large for some spaces,
- Requires effort to turn from sofa to bed,
- Quite boxy in design, which won’t work with all décor schemes.
Sofa Bed vs Futon Guide
Let’s compare sofa beds with futons for every important aspect, to help you decide which is more suitable for your home.
Both sofa beds and futons are comfortable. The level of comfort also depends on the particular model you buy. Like with most things in life, the more money you spend the more likely you are to get a high-quality, comfortable item.
Futons: moderately comfortable bed but you may want to add a mattress topper and special pillows to increase comfort. As a seating area, futons are often not very comfortable. The folded mattress doesn’t offer the best support for your back.
Sofa beds: very comfortable if you purchase the right one! Sofa beds tend to have thinner mattresses, but more support beneath them. They’re also standard bed sizes, so finding a mattress topper to fit is easy. As a sofa, they are also very comfortable and definitely beat futons here.
Both futons and sofa beds come in different styles, colors and materials. However, they do have some distinct features.
Futons: these are often small and minimalist in style. They will often be on legs but can also be flush with the floor. These sofas wouldn’t look amiss in the corner of an office. Rather than looking comfy and good for kicking your feet up, they are simple and stylish. With many cheap futons, they literally just look like folded mattresses on legs.
Sofa beds: when used as a sofa, a sofa bed looks like a standard couch – albeit a bit boxy. As the mattress is folded up (usually in the seat of the sofa) it means that the sofa must be quite deep and large – often flush with the floor. This gives sofa beds a boxy style that looks great for Netflix and chill but not particularly stylish.
Ease of Use
By ease of use, we’re talking about how easy it is to turn the item from a seating area to a sleeping area – and back again.
Futons: super easy! You don’t need to work different levers or figure out how to slide different parts together. To turn the seat into a bed, you just need to fold down the back or pull the front until it’s a flat surface. Furthermore, futons are lightweight and simple, so if you have arthritis or a mobility issue, they are a good choice.
Sofa beds: sofa beds can be as simple as a futon or more complex. Usually, you’ll need to take off the sofa cushions and pull out the mattress. You may also need to rearrange the cushions to create part of the mattress or add additional legs to support the weight. Although sofa beds are easy enough for one person to handle, they’re not as easy as futons.
The price largely depends on the brand, size and materials of the futon or sofa bed. Here is the rough price range you can expect for each if you shop on Amazon. This isn’t the only place to buy futons and sofa beds, so check our ‘Best Places to Buy’ section below too.
Futons: $80 for a cheap model, $200 for a standard model, up to $700 for a luxury model.
Sofa beds: $150 for a cheap model, $500 for a standard model, up to $2,000 for a luxury model.
Sizes and Weight
Just like the price, the size and weight can vary drastically depending on the brand and materials you choose.
Futons: nearly all futons are 2-seater sofas, with many narrow options for small spaces. Many are also light, but there are some very heavy futons for sale that are made of solid hardwood. Nonetheless, if you need small and light you should opt for a futon.
Sofa beds: we’ve seen single seat sofa beds to 3-seater sofas and corner sofas that can become sofa beds. There’s a much wider variety of sizes available, although they’re all quite heavy and roughly the same boxy shape.
For durability, there’s no way to compare all futons with all sofa beds. It really depends not just on the brand, materials and opening mechanism, but how often you will use it.
To ensure you have a durable futon or sofa bed, follow these tips:
- Look for models that have wide, solid feet,
- Simpler is better when it comes to the mechanism – nothing can go wrong with just pulling flat a futon besides the hinges, whereas a complex automatic electric sofa bed has more chance of going wrong,
- Choose a model from a well-known brand so it has a good warranty,
- Try to choose a model that also has spare parts available so you can repair it.
Again, this depends on the materials used. Typically, futons have a longer lifespan as the mechanism to open them is simpler – usually just a hinge that can be replaced if necessary. For sofa beds, the lifespan of is shorter – metal frames tend to bend and dent, for example.
The material of the duvet or cushions also has a limited lifespan. Memory foam lasts for approximately 5 to 10 years, if it’s used every single night. This means that a well-used bed will wear down quite fast. If the mattress isn’t replaceable, your futon or sofa bed could be thrown away in as little as 5 years. But according to our research, most futons and sofa beds last a decade or more as a guest bed.
When it comes to cleaning, futons are typically easier than sofa beds because you only have one big piece of furniture to clean – the mattress itself is the pillows. With sofa beds, cleaning the pillows, mattress, and sofa construction itself is a longer job.
If cleaning is a big concern for you, choose a model that has removable and machine washable covers.
Best Places to Buy
Here are our top 5 places to buy both futons and sofa beds:
What is a futon?
A futon is a mattress bed that folds up into a small sofa-like chair. It is simple, lightweight, and uses the mattress itself as sofa cushions.
What is a sofa bed?
A sofa bed is a couch that has a pull-out mattress in it. They come in a range of sizes and are heavy to move and operate.
What’s the difference between a futon and a sofa bed?
The futon is simple, small and folds up the mattress as a comfy seat during the day. Meanwhile, a sofa bed is a normal couch that has a mattress hidden under the cushions that can be transformed into a bed.