The Complete Guide on How to Buy a Sleeper Sofa
Sleeper sofas once conjured images of uncomfy hotel stays, childhood sleepovers at your grandparents’ house, or that notorious Seinfeld episode with Elaine’s borderline back-breaking Florida visit. Fast forward to today, though, and you’ll have no trouble finding comfortable — even stylish — pullout sofa options (and yes, there are options).
True to their name, sleeper sofas really hit the best of both worlds: You have 24/7 seating, plus a built-in bed. They’re perfect for everything from cozy movie nights with your partner to entertaining and accommodating guests. So it’s not surprising that Interior Define Chief Merchandising Officer Christina Holland reports seeing a recent sleeper sofa surge, triggered by the pandemic. “Oftentimes what once was someone’s extra bedroom has now been transformed into an office,” she explains, citing the increased demand.
Whether you fall into that category or just want to explore more multi-use furniture, note that you have other choices, too — there are sofa beds, futons, and even daybeds, all of which tend to be used interchangeably with sleeper sofas. Before you bring one home, it’s important to understand the differences between each, as well weigh the cost, comfort, size, and functionality (just like you would for a standard sofa).
Types of Sleeper Sofas
What’s the difference between a sleeper sofa and a sofa bed? Or even a sofa bed and a futon? They all function as similar sleeping/seating hybrids, but they’re actually quite different. Here’s the breakdown:
A sleeper sofa looks the most like a traditional couch, and it comes with a built-in mattress (ranging from Twin through King size). When it’s folded out, the sofa’s arms and back act like a headboard.
Pros: The next best thing from a guest bed, this is your most comfortable bet for long-term or frequent use. Sleeper sofas also have more variety in terms of style and silhouette.
Cons: Sleeper sofas weigh a lot and take up the most space. They’re typically more expensive than standard sofas, too. Also, the sofa-to-bed transition (and vice versa) requires effort.
Although commonly confused with sleeper sofas, sofa beds don’t have an internal mattress. Instead, the back of the sofa actually folds down to form a flat surface (similar to a futon), and the cushions become the mattress.
Pros: Better for smaller spaces, sofa beds run more compact — and usually more affordable — than sleeper sofas. They quickly shift from seating to sleeping modes, too.
Cons: Because of the smaller footprint, there’s less comfortable sleeping space and guests have to lie down lengthwise. Finding sheets can also pose a problem, since some sofa beds have non-standard measurements.
Futons have (wrongfully) earned a bad rep as dorm-exclusive decor, but there are plenty of more mature finds on the market. Construction varies, but they normally feature a covered, bendable mattress that sits on top of an adjustable bi-fold (or tri-fold) frame.
Pros: A futon is arguably the cheapest and most small-space-friendly solution that can accommodate one to two people. They’re also incredibly lightweight and the easiest to unfold and clean — you can swap out futon covers if the original gets too dirty.
Cons: Unlike sleeper sofas and sofa beds, futons lack style options and the same sofa allure — there’s no way of disguising that it’s essentially one large upholstered cushion. They’re usually more disposable, and not the most comfortable for sitting and sleeping.
Mainly designed for lounging, daybeds — as the name implies — look more bed than sofa. There’s no pull-out mattress component like a sleeper sofa, but you can opt for a similarly sized trundle bed.
Pros: A good budget-friendly option, daybeds reign supreme in both versatility and aesthetics. They’re easy to move around and reconfigure within your home, plus you’ll have no trouble finding chic choices to match your interior style.
Cons: The smallest of all the options and comparable to a Twin-sized bed, a daybed can fit just one person and lacks any convertible components.
What to Consider Before Buying a Sleeper Sofa
Think about your lifestyle and whether a sleeper sofa, sofa bed, futon, or even daybed would best fit your needs. Do you entertain or host often but don’t have a guest bedroom? It all comes down to how frequently the sleeping function would, realistically, be used. And if you answered, “truthfully, not that often,” you might be better off with a really deep regular sofa — if you have the space, that is.
Because of the inner mattress, sleeper sofas can get very heavy (read: a real carrying-up-stairs nightmare). According to Chris Stout-Hazard, co-founder of made-to-order furniture brand Roger + Chris, they also have more inner working parts and stress points, meaning moving them around down the line can potentially instigate internal damage. Basically, try to map out the sleeper sofa’s permanent home in advance.
In terms of sizing, you have a few decisions to weigh (and keep in mind when you’re measuring):
- Mattress size: Sleeper sofas can come with Twin mattresses (commonly in the form of an armchair or small loveseat), plus Full, Queen, and even King. But, Stout-Hazard notes, sleeper sofa mattresses run a few inches smaller than the one on your bed. For example, a true Queen mattress usually clocks in around 60″ x 80″, but a Queen mattress inside a Roger + Chris sleeper sofa is 60″ x 72″.
- Sofa size: From there, know that the mattress length, in any size, actually doesn’t equate to the overall sofa length. The total sofa measurement tacks on additional inches — at least 1.5 feet, notes Stout-Hazard — because of the surrounding armrests, which can be problematic for smaller spaces. “The width of the arm is going to determine how big that sleeper sofa actually gets,” he adds.
- Sofa style: The style of the sofa also influences its arm size — a Queen pull-out mattress within a bulky Chesterfield silhouette, for example, would proportionally make for a much wider sleeper sofa than one within a slim mid-century modern profile. The smaller the arms, the more sofa seating space you’ll have, too.
On the bright side, there’s really a practical option for any budget. Ranked in order by price, you’ll likely find sleeper sofas to be the most expensive, followed by sofa beds, with daybeds and futons on the lower end. It pays to splurge on a durable sleeper sofa, though, especially if it’s doubling as your primary everyday couch. “From a functional perspective, it’s worth the investment because it provides so much latitude around people’s ever-changing lives, and you can potentially get all of the aesthetic components of what you would really want in a normal sofa,” adds Holland.
Keep these budgeting tips top of mind as you browse, too:
- Set a price range. And use it to guide where you shop. Look for (and ideally test out) sofas, and compare reviews and return policies online.
- Stay on top of sales and promos. If you can hold off, consider waiting to buy until the next major holiday, when most furniture brands have significant sales. Sign up for emails from your favorite stores, too, so you don’t miss out on any spontaneous savings.
- Factor in shipping and delivery costs. Don’t be blindsided by taxes and fees (especially white-glove delivery) when checking out. Account for these within your overall budget or seek out brands that offer free shipping.
- Find out if assembly’s required. If so, you may end up enlisting the help of a local TaskRabbit for an additional — albeit usually small — expense.
Choosing a Sleeper Sofa Style
Nowadays, you can find sleeper equivalents of most sofa styles, whether you’re after the trendy mid-century modern look or even a smaller Twin-sized loveseat. Ultimately, it’s all about striking a balance between your lifestyle and aesthetic. Choose wisely, though, since it’s a splurgier piece you’ll probably want to have (and love) for the long term. To help get you started, here’s a crash course on some common sleeper sofa styles:
- Mid-century modern: This is your quintessential sofa from the ‘60s. Think clean lines, rectangular shape, bare tapered legs, and a tufted back.
- Lawson: A tailored and streamlined sofa that dates back to the early 20th century, the Lawson features rolled or square arms that are roughly halfway down from the back cushions.
- Sectional: Count on the same build as a regular sleeper sofa style, just with an additional chaise — and in some instances, this portion can also lift up and double as a storage spot. The mattress actually juts out next to the chaise for a larger overall sleeping surface.
- English roll arm: Tucked arms, bare legs, and soft curves are the hallmarks of the English roll arm sofa. Versatile enough to live among a variety of decor styles, this one is all about deep-seated comfort.
- Twin sized: The mini version of a Full, Queen, or King, Twin sleeper sofas pull out the exact same way, just with the mattress built into a wide armchair, condensed loveseat, or even a fold-out ottoman.
- Tuxedo: Streamlined and boxy, the arms of a tuxedo sofa are an extension of the backrest, which results in a uniform upper build. It has a removable cushioned seat to allow for the sleeper to fold out and no back cushions.
- Chesterfield: Rolled arms combined with tufted accents are what lend the Chesterfield its distinct look. You can typically find this one upholstered in leather with nailhead detailing.
- Camelback: This aptly titled traditional sofa features a curved back that resembles the slope of a camel’s hump — sometimes it’ll have two. Camelbacks typically have bare legs, rolled arms, and no cushions.
Selecting a Sleeper Sofa Fabric
Sleeper sofa wear and tear is inevitable, since it’s a true double-duty workhorse. “Someone could drool on it, who knows!” jokes Stout-Hazard. Speaking of, they’re admittedly tougher to spot clean — if there’s a huge spill or stain on any non-removable cushions, it’s game over. Finding a forgiving fabric is crucial. Here’s how some common upholsteries stack up:
- Performance: When it comes to kids, pets, and frequent spillers, performance fabric is a no-brainer. These materials are manufactured or treated to prevent stains and are typically water and oil resistant — and they come highly recommended by both Stout-Hazard and Holland.
- Wool blend: Wool is incredibly durable and great for hiding stains but tricky to care for. Wool and synthetic blends are easier to clean and resist pilling.
- Linen: Linen upholstery is all about aesthetics, so naturally, it’s pretty high maintenance (read: it requires professional cleaning). Not only will it soak up stains, but it’s also prone to wrinkles and does not wear well.
- Leather: Durable and easy to clean (just wipe with a damp cloth), leather is a foolproof choice for those with families and pets. But be mindful of the type of leather: full grain and top grain are the most durable and highest in quality, whereas aniline leather is untreated and susceptible to scuffs.
- Velvet: Synonymous with luxury and offered in rich jewel tones, velvet can be made from a variety of materials, including silk, which is smooth, shiny, and delicate, and synthetics, such as polyester or rayon, which are highly durable and more affordable.
- Natural fibers: Silk and cotton are common natural fibers used for upholstery. Silk can be sensitive to daily wear and tear as well as sunlight, so it’s not ideal for an everyday piece. Cotton is relatively more resilient and durable, especially when featured in a blend.
- Synthetics: Often used for affordable or performance pieces, synthetics are made to emulate a natural fiber such as acetate (imitation silk), chenille (cotton like), faux leather, and microfiber (an extremely fine polyester).
Measuring Your Sofa and Entryways
The golden rule of thumb when measuring? “Make sure the depth and width of the sofa is smaller than your doorway so you can get it in,” says Holland. (And yes, measure every doorway in its path.) Sleeper sofas do get a bit trickier, since you obviously have the mattress component to factor in. Not to worry, though — follow these tips and tricks:
- Pinpoint the right size sofa: The sofa should fill the room, not overwhelm it. Pay attention to the back height in relation to the ceiling height and the number of cushions for the number of people you’d like to accommodate. Another no-brainer, but map out how much space the mattress would take up, too. And if you’d have to push a coffee table or armchair out of the way, could they still fit in the room once the sleeper is fully extended?
- Measure once: Check out both the sofa’s and mattresses’ dimensions on either the product listing online or the store’s tear sheet. Ask how the sofa will be delivered and if it comes with additional packaging. Compare those measurements to the height and width of the inside of your doorway and halls.
- Measure twice: “Consider the route your sofa needs to travel, and measure everything from your elevator to your hallway and door frame,” says Article’s product development manager, Nicole Hunt.
If you happen to measure incorrectly (we’re all human!), go ahead and call the couch doctor.
Checking the Sleeper Sofa’s Construction
When it comes to sleeper sofas and their counterparts, quality matters — arguably more so than for standard sofas because they’re for both sitting and sleeping. Having a basic understanding of the components that comprise a well-built sofa will help you invest in a piece that can withstand daily use. Note the major checkpoints to review before you buy:
Natural wood is the most solid and sturdy material — look for iterations that have been kiln-dried to prevent cracking and avoid excess moisture, especially kiln-dried hardwood. “It’s a hardwood, so from a longevity perspective, it holds up longer,” Holland explains. Plywood, an engineered wood, is also a common sleeper sofa material, but not always the most durable. In that same vein, MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and particleboard are some of the least reliable types of frames and more likely to fall apart.
The components that keep the frame together are also significant. A sofa solely attached by dowels or glue won’t be as sturdy as one with a mix of the two and/or screws.
3. Sleeper Sofa Mechanism
Every sleeper sofa has this — it basically refers to all the big metal beams that support and surround the mattress. A sleeper mechanism also plays a structural role: It takes on the suspension work and helps hold the sofa’s frame. “If you don’t use a good one, you’re weakening the sofa,” notes Stout-Hazard.
Other mechanism priorities? Look for locking features, which keep the pull-out mattress — you guessed it — locked in place, adds Interior Define’s Holland. And if you have a chance to check out a sleeper sofa in person, “make sure that the lifting of the sleeper in and out is smooth,” she says. If you can’t try before you buy, tap into furniture sites with in-depth product videos online.
When settling on a fabric, durability and ability to withstand daily wear is essential. The Martindale rub test is a good indicator of fabric quality, notes Article’s Hunt. In the test, a machine is used to simulate natural wear by repeatedly rubbing fabric with excessive force to see at what point it starts to break down. The higher the rub count, the more durable the fabric. “You’ll want something that can withstand 25,000 rubs or more,” says Hunt.
5. Cushioning and Fill
There’s both the cushion and fill of the sofa itself, plus the mattress, to consider. Know your options so you can prioritize the most pleasant sleeping and sitting experiences:
A sleeper sofa mattress will be “thinner than what you have on your main bed, but it’s the same construction methodology,” says Stout-Hazard. Look for one that’s at least five inches thick. As for filling, “a good quality sleeper sofa will have either a coil spring or memory foam mattress,” he adds. There’s no right or wrong choice; here’s how they differ:
- Memory foam: First developed by NASA engineers, memory foam is highly revered for its softness and adaptability. A viable option for side sleepers, it conforms to the body especially well. It also makes the sleeper sofa feel better to sit on, even when the bed’s folded up. However, memory foam mattresses lack bounce and, in some cases, trap heat.
- Coil spring: You likely slept on a coil spring (also known as innerspring) mattress growing up. It’s the traditional go-to and is still pretty common. This filling relies on metal coils to provide bounce and comfort — the more coils a mattress has, the comfier. For added support, some also have a memory foam layer.
Sofa Cushion Fill:
When the bed’s not in use, you’re sitting directly on top of the mechanism portion inside, so sleeper sofa comfort is absolutely paramount. That’s where fill comes in. Do you prefer firm? Sinkable? Both? Some sofas feature a mix of two fills, one for the backing and the other for the cushions. Here are some common fill types:
- Goose or duck feather down: Down-fill sofas are higher end, plush, and luxurious — but truthfully not always the most long lasting. For sleeper sofas, you’ll most likely find this in the back pillow filling rather than the seat cushions.
- Fiber fill: This is a synthetic insert that’s usually combined with either foam or down to make it less firm and more affordable, respectively. It’s better suited for sleeper sofa back pillows as opposed to cushions, according to Stout-Hazard.
- Foam: Most sleeper sofas feature a foam fill, which typically feels more firm. Some higher-end brands use a multi-density foam paired with down and feathers for extra cushioning.
- Spring coil: This seat cushion filling usually involves springs that are wrapped with foam or feathers. It requires less fluffing versus a regular down cushion and holds its shape better over time. Spring coils make for a slightly bouncier sofa overall.
Buyer’s tip: Whether browsing online or IRL, see if you can ask the brand questions on everything from construction to weight constraints to gauge the sofa’s durability. “A good way to ask is to say, ‘Is this suitable for an Airbnb setting?'” advises Stout-Hazard. At the very least, read customer reviews, especially if you can’t test out the sleeper sofa.
Best Places to Shop for Sleeper Sofas
Ready to bring a sleeper sofa (or sofa bed or futon) home? Here are some of our favorite spots to shop:
If You’re Looking for a Deal
- Amazon — Your one-stop shop for, well, just about everything, Amazon unsurprisingly rises to the occasion when it comes to stylish sleeper sofas for any price point. Take stock of some of our favorite brands, too, from Novogratz to Amazon-exclusive line Rivet.
- Wayfair — It’s the ultimate win-win-win at Wayfair, where cool, comfortable, and cost friendly combine. The best part? You can type in your exact width, depth, or height requirements to get the best sleeper sofa match.
- Home Depot — There’s truly a little bit of everything at this hidden gem: a ton of sofa beds, plus loveseats, sleeper sofa sectionals, and even a few foldout ottomans. None skimp on modern style, either, and you can shop by price range, upholstery, color, cushion, and more.
- Overstock — Thanks to recurring flash sales and can’t-miss deals, Overstock makes it easier than ever to bring home your dream sofa. Filter your search down to preferred seat comfort (firm, soft, etc.) and even assembly-free selections.
- Walmart — Walmart’s extensive collection feels right on the money for small spaces, but you’re still guaranteed to find something for any seating capacity and size — and yes, that means assorted mattress sizes, too.
- Target — The retailer is well stocked with amazingly affordable, compact pieces — especially sofa beds and futons — that are great for short-term use in a dorm or first apartment.
- IKEA — A longstanding purveyor of contemporary, affordable pieces, the Swedish home brand has you covered with luxe-for-less sofa beds and sleeper sofas, starting at $139.
If You’re Looking for What’s Current
- Kardiel — If you’re after chic sofa beds, look no further. Pick your favorite colorway from one of their modern, low-slung silhouettes — which includes a super smart sectional with a rotatable chaise.
- Urban Outfitters — UO takes trends and turns them into affordable buys that are perfect for a dorm or small space. With a slew of modern and even traditional styles, you’ll find just about everything here, sleepers and sofa beds included.
- West Elm — Another trendy furniture connoisseur, West Elm can err on the pricier side — but you’re bound to lock down a quality, keep-for-years style. The brand boasts practical sleeper sofas with storage, plus a surprising selection of living room-worthy futons that could rival most regular sofas.
- CB2 — This Crate & Barrel spinoff always stays on top of all the trends, even for sleeper sofas. Not only that, but their many of-the-moment daybed options feel equally on point.
If You’re Looking for Customization
- Apt2B — It’s all about simplicity and sophisticated designs at Apt2B, where you have the freedom to select your sofa profile, 50+ color options, leg finish, and an innerspring or memory foam mattress.
- Ballard Designs — Ballard Designs combines classic silhouettes — slipcovered or not — with over 350 custom fabrics, quirky patterns included. Order up to 10 free swatches before you make a decision, as well.
- Interior Define — For contemporary made-to-order furniture, Interior Define’s converted some of their customer-favorite sofas into sleepers and sectionals. Choose everything from fabric to seat cushion fill to the type of mattress, plus optional storage. You’ll also find equally customizable (and sleek) daybeds here.
- Roger + Chris — With 1,034 colors and 32 sleeper styles (and counting), Roger + Chris lets you play designer, even down to your mattress size of choice. And at top-notch quality, too — everything’s built in their North Carolina factory.
If You’re Looking for the Classics
- Arhaus — Socially conscious brand Arhaus carries stylish pieces featuring craftsman-built frames, durable performance fabric, and sustainable, eco-friendly materials. Most pieces are contemporary in build, but their sleeper sofas still maintain an old-school feel.
- Joss & Main — A Wayfair sister site, Joss & Main is loaded with sleeper sofa or sofa bed staples that won’t go out of style — all without breaking the bank. The brand also leans into useful product specifics, like weight capacity.
- Pottery Barn — If you want something timeless, from Chesterfields to slipcovered roll arms, Pottery Barn is the place to go. The retailer offers an abundance of classic forms and shapes, which you can customize to your style.
- Ashley Furniture — Count on budget-friendly prices and can’t-go-wrong selections via Ashley Furniture. There’s a little bit of everything, from sleeper sofa sectionals to classic sofa beds, but their futons skew especially on trend and in style.