Our sleeping surfaces are a constant source of innovation. Man has always seemed to share an important relationship with what we sleep on. Mattresses made of springs, memory foam or latex vie with each other for our attention, along with crib and air mattresses, toppers and pillows. Another often-considered choice is the futon and here we see how they can be ideal in some situations and how reading a few futon mattress reviews might help you if you are thinking of buying one.
A Futon is a traditional style Japanese padded mattress which can be folded away and stored when it is not used. The word “futon” is actually of Chinese derivation, though.
When we refer to futon sets now, as sold in Japan, where they are still widely used, we usually mean the bottom mattress, a thick quilted cover, a lighter blanket and a pillow. The understanding has moved on from simply meaning the mattress. Usually in the past they would have been placed on wooden floors at night and stored away during the day so that the room could be put to other uses.
As westerners started to import and market futons more and more, especially during the 1970’s, they applied some changes to the traditional Japanese futon mattress, to suit their customers’ tastes. There are not many tatami floors in the USA! Therefore most people use futons placed on a wood or metal frame and the fact that this frame can be folded in the middle means that they can be used as a chair or sofa, as well as a bed. They are usually sold in sets that will include the base and futon mattress covers, which are usually removable and can therefore be washed.
Let’s take a look at the mattresses, first of all.
The western mattresses are usually made thicker than the traditional ones with several layers of filling to them. They are usually quite flat, with an interior of foam, a synthetic batten fiber or cotton. Increasingly we are seeing the memory foam futon mattress replace these other materials, mirroring a trend we have seen in the standard mattress market. This is because of the comfort and support elements of memory foam, which is also designed to keep body warmth from heating up the sleeping surface.
They are also made in many sizes, often as large as our traditional mattresses. A full size futon mattress will measure around 54 x 74 inches, which is similar to a full size conventional mattress. The same applies to the Queen futon mattress, which measures around 60 x 80 inches. At the lower end of the size scale we have the twin futon mattress, at approximately 39 x 75 inches. The size you choose will be governed by the normal questions you need to ask, such as who will be using it, how often it will be used, which room it is going in etc etc. King size mattresses are sometimes available but are much rarer than other sizes detailed above.
Futon Mattress Covers
As with normal sleeping set ups the comfort level you will achieve from a futon set depends on the mattress and also the fabrics used in the covers. Nowadays the covers are made in a myriad of different qualities, designs, patterns and colors.
The cover you choose will depend on the location of the futon. Is it going into a guest room? Are the kids going to use it? Will it be used occasionally or regularly? Do you have pets? These factors will determine the quality you need.
If design is important to you, then you shouldn’t be disappointed. Many of the places that sell the futons and covers also sell matching pillows and cushions of all shapes and sizes. Solid ranges or printed design ranges are probably the most popular.
The covers can be made of 100% cotton or a blend of cotton and polyester. Some users say that the blended covers are the hardest wearing of all and they are less susceptible to shrinkage or to fading of colors, if they receive direct sunlight. They blend the “breathing” qualities of the cotton with the durability of the artificial fiber. Other materials used in the making of covers nowadays are microfibers and even denim style or faux suede fabrics. Choosing which fabric depends on the feel and look you want, but don’t forget to consider durability also. It will help if you find a reputable brand of cover with guarantees of quality, so then you can just concentrate on getting the style and the comfort that you want.
Most of the covers have zippers that run around 2 or 3 sides, to make them easy to slip over the mattress and taking care of them is usually made easy, as they can be machine-washed according to the label instructions.
Like the mattresses themselves, the covers are made in a variety of sizes so, if you are buying covers outside of a pre-packaged set, then take care to measure the length, breadth and height of your futon and buy the size of cover accordingly. You will see that the covers state a particular “loft” measurement. This allows for the thickness of the mattress to be taken into account when choosing and may save you from having your mattress either swimming in its cover or from fighting to slip it on.
The frames often come in flat boxes, in about 6 parts that you can assemble easily yourself, often using an Allen key.
Wood and metal are the most common materials used. A good frame should have adequate reinforcement in the areas that will get the most pressure. You should check how the slats join the frame and how sturdy the main frame is. Unlike conventional furniture it is possible to really check the “nuts and bolts” of the frame so that you know exactly what you are getting.
The main complaint we hear about futons is that the mattress slips down the frame when used as a chair. Some manufacturers have adjusted the frames to incorporate features that help to keep the mattress in place.
For example, metal frames may have “handles” on the seat sections. Wooden frame manufacturers prefer to use the same gripping type of material that is used to prevent slip with rugs on the floor. If you experience this with your futon your local bedding store may well sell this material, which can help solves your problem.
Who Can Use a Futon?
This makes them ideal set ups for people like college students, those living in studio apartments or small condos, people with an occasionally used guest room, or an attic where the kids spend time, or even the kids bedrooms. Most of these groups will get benefit from both of the key advantages of cost and space.
In apartments especially, sometimes the hallways and entry points to the rooms are narrower than in houses, meaning that it can be difficult to maneuver traditional bed frames and mattresses around. All parts of the futon fold away into much smaller bundles that can be easily moved about and re-assembled.
I owned a teak-framed futon base and a cheap futon mattress or two, some years back. I was constantly on the move; it seemed like every 6 months I was in a new rented house or apartment. I remember how easy it was to disassemble the bed with the Allen key provided, pack it up and carry it off in the car to the next location, without the need for a big truck. The base was excellent and could support the weigh of a standard mattress. It lasted many years and I remember it only costing a few hundred dollars.
In trendy designer furniture stores you will see futons in the upper price bracket reaching well over a thousand dollars but it is still possible to get a great futon bed set for a quarter or a third of that.
If you are using a futon as a furniture item other than a bed, it has the advantage over traditional sofas and chairs in that it is easily maintained. The removable covers can be machine-washed so any stains or spillages can be dealt with quickly, without the expense of hiring furniture cleaners.
How to Buy a Futon
There are plenty of reputable manufacturers and retailers with good online stores. You can check these sites for the basic specifications and also for some more general guidelines to the types of sets available. Read a few review sites and these will spark some questions that you will have as to the differing qualities and “life expectancies” of different brands. These questions are good as it will get you in the right mindset of not just accepting the manufacturers’ claims. They will arm you with better knowledge for when you venture to the local bedding supply outlet and check a few of the futons out yourself. When you talk to the salesperson, you can ask him his opinion about the things you have learnt.
All of this upfront time spent researching will give you a more rounded picture of what choices you have. You are more likely to purchase the best futon mattress possible for you; one that will satisfy you long-term, rather than just for a few weeks.
Once you have tested out some of the futon mattresses in-store and noted the exact ranges and models you may decide to go back online and try to find the ones you like. Many of the best online stores will offer promotions and sales on certain items and you may be able to find ones on your shortlist at considerably lower prices than in the actual store. As long as these are established sites providing warranties, secure payment processes and an efficient delivery process, then you should have no qualms about ordering online.
Caring For Your Futon
The best way to maintain your futon mattress is to air it in sunlight frequently, especially if it is used frequently or stored away for long periods. This helps to kill dust mites which may find a home in your full futon mattress.
Beating your futon with a carpet beater will also remove the unwanted dust particles that can accumulate.
A couple of times a year it is a good idea to take the mattress off its frame and check the bolts. They may loosen over time and can even start to buckle if not attended too, so a few turns with the Allen key will tighten them up and ensure stability. Also check that all of the slats are firmly attached to the frame. These few minutes of maintenance every 6 months will preserve your base well.
Futons are not for everyone, but they have been used by many people very happily over the past 40 years. The main reasons for this are their lower price, portability, ease of maintenance and their flexibility to be used as places to sit as well as places to sleep. They remain a great option in environments where space is limited.