Futon vs Sofa Bed: What's the Difference & Which One Should You Pick

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Futons and sofa beds both fall into the category of space-saving furniture pieces. They both do double duty as a couch and a bed, therefore, they’re perfect for smaller homes and apartments, where you maybe don’t have a guest room, and excellent for studio apartments, as an efficient space saver.

But more often than not, futons and sofa beds are confused with one another. Futons and sofa beds vary in construction, design, functionality, price, and comfort. So, if you’re looking for an extra bed for guests, which one should you pick?

Here’s a breakdown of the differences between a futon and a sofa bed, to help you make the best decision for your home.

what is a futon

What is a Futon?

The futon originated in Japan, and is the Japanese word for ‘bed’. Futons are thin mattresses that are placed on the floor, and typically only rolled out when you want to sleep.

The adapted western-style futon is a thin, flexible mattress upholstered on a metal frame that can be used as a couch, then easily transitioned into a bed. Futons are usually less plush than a typical sofa or a bed, but in general, they’re quite supportive and great for naps and occasional guests.

The frame transitions between the two positions using a simple mechanism, often a hinge or click-clack. In the couch position, futons generally incline to 110 to 130 degrees, while in the bed position, it flattens to 180 degrees.

  • Futons are lightweight and easy to manoeuvre. They often lack armrests which makes them less bulky.
  • Futons are more budget-friendly than sofa beds due to their simple design and construction.
  • Futons do not come in standard bed sizes, and their height is lower than a standard bed frame. The mattress padding is also minimal, filled with cotton batting, wool, polyester fibre, or a combination of those materials.
  • Futons are usually less durable as the surface of the mattress becomes lumpy after a while, but if the mattress pad is detachable from the frame, they are easily replaceable.
  • Futons usually have a design flaw, in that there tends to be a crevice where the mattress folds from the sleeping position to the futon position. Depending on the specific futon, this crevice could create an unsupportive gap. Ours had a bar, and it was quite noticeable (and uncomfortable!) when I had the misfortune of rolling over it in my sleep.

Perfect for: Futons are great for extra seating options, occasional naps, and overnight guests. That said, futons are like a compromise offering average seating and sleeping comfort. But if you’re looking for budget-friendly, lightweight and space-saving furniture, then a futon is a great option. Great for kids’ rooms and sleepovers.

Pros of futons:

  • Lightweight and easy to move.
  • Transforms from couch to bed quickly.
  • Attractive and simple designs.
  • Ideal for small spaces.

Cons of futons:

  • Might not be comfortable to sit for long periods as the recline angle is too upright, and there is minimal cushioning.
  • Average sleep comfort.
  • Not as durable.
what is a sofa bed
sofa bed laid out

What is a Sofa Bed?

A sofa bed offers the best of both worlds: a comfortable place to sit, and a cosy bed for sleepover and guests. They look like any traditional sofa with armrests and thick cushions, and when it’s time to sleep, you can pull out the hidden mattress, put on a standard bed sheet and sleep like you normally do on a regular bed. In fact, sofa beds are so comfortable that some people use them as their regular beds!

Sofa beds usually have a real mattress inside the seating cushion, and you can pull the mattress out with a pull-out mechanism. Some sofa beds also have a simple fold-out mechanism like the Koala sofa bed.

Sofa beds come in standard bed sizes from single to a queen, and you can even find them with different types of mattresses, such as innerspring, memory foam or latex. Three-seater sofa beds tend to house queen-sized mattresses, but smaller sofa beds usually are a double.

  • Sofa beds can be heavy and difficult to move due to their construction. The addition of a separate frame and mattress adds significant weight, which means a sofa bed is more of a permanent option over a futon. This makes sofa beds less ideal for those who frequently move or regularly rearrange rooms.
  • While sofa beds come in various sizes, they tend to be larger than their futon counterparts. While their weight is certainly a hindrance, so is their size if you’re tight on space.
  • Sofa beds can be quite expensive, sometimes costing almost three to four times more than a futon. The high price tag is understandable, considering you’re essentially getting a quality sofa and a bed in one piece of furniture.
  • Because the mattress tends to be tucked away within the mechanism of the sofa bed, the mattress is slightly slimmer to accommodate the overall design of the sofa. While this might not be an issue for some, plus size sleepers may not be as comfortable sleeping on a sofa bed.

Perfect for: If you’re after a traditional-looking comfortable sofa to lounge on during the day and an above-average quality bed for you or your occasional guests, then a sofa bed is an excellent option for you. They are more expensive, and more of a permanent fixture than a futon, but they’re durable enough to last for years.

Pros of sofa beds:

  • The closest thing to a real sofa.
  • Cosy bed for sleeping and overnight guests.
  • Aesthetically pleasing.
  • Sturdy and durable.

Cons of sofa beds:

  • Heavy and difficult to move around.
  • More expensive than a futon.

Futon vs Sofa Bed: Which one should you pick?

Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. It comes down to your needs, budget, space availability and preferences.

Futons are a great, budget-friendly option for small spaces because they are lightweight, and easily convertible from a seat to a bed. However, you might have to sacrifice some comfort with futons while using them as a couch or sleeping.

On the other hand, Sofa beds are more expensive, but they serve as a sofa and a bed very well. Sofa beds tend to have armrests, whereas most futon models don’t, which helps create a cosy spot for those who like to lounge. When it comes to sleeping, sofa beds usually house a decent quality mattress so you can expect a good night’s sleep.

So, what's the verdict?

  • If you’re after uncompromised comfort, a sofa bed is the way to go. However, if you’re on a budget or space-constrained, a futon may work better for you.
  • If you’re looking for something for occasional naps or sleepovers, then a futon may be all you need. But if you require a piece of furniture that will serve as your main bed, then a sofa bed is probably a better investment.

Do you have a futon or sofa bed? Let us know in the comments below.

James Lee

James Lee

James is the content director at WhatASleep, a certified sleep science coach from Spencer Institute and our in-house sleep product expert. Over three years, he's personally tested hundreds of mattresses. He likes to keep his reviews simple, objective, and straightforward so that the readers don't have to go through decision fatigue which is often the case while shopping for sleep products.

He hails from Sydney and has a journalism degree from the University of Queensland and an MBA from Melbourne Business School.

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