Sofa beds comparison and buying guide

Make a comfortable decision about the sofa bed you choose.
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  • Updated:1 Jul 2008

06.What to look for

Sofa frame

Push down on the back rail and arms and try to wiggle them. A little give is OK, but it shouldn’t be excessive. For greatest strength, frames should be assembled using dowels, with corner blocks to reinforce joints.

Hardwood is more expensive than pine, and ‘kiln-dried’ hardwood means moisture has been removed, minimising future warping. As a rough guide, this will add at least $500 to the price of a sofa bed. A hardwood frame should last a lifetime, as long as it’s well constructed. Two of our sofa beds already had cracks in the pine structure, which doesn’t bode well for their longevity, although they both come with a warranty.

Check the padding by kneading the frame along the back rails and arms. Hard or sharp edges indicate skimpy padding.


Inner-spring mattresses are more comfortable than foam, and not a lot more expensive. Rotate the mattress periodically to prolong its life. You can add a ‘topper’ to make a mattress thicker, but you’ll have to store it somewhere.

A common complaint with sofa beds is that you can feel the support bars though the mattress. Test them in the shop first, to avoid this.

How many folds

A bi-fold bed is better because it allows you to use a thicker mattress, and the fewer folds in the mattress, the better. It’s also a little easier to set up. However, the sofa has to be of a design that can accommodate its depth.


Your choice of fabric can substantially alter the price of the sofa bed. But unfortunately, the cost of fabric isn’t a reliable guide to its quality. For example, big retailers can keep prices down on popular fabrics due to mass-production and buying power, whereas more expensive fabrics may have racked up their costs due to lower production rates and consequent loss of economies of scale. Also, some commercial-grade fabrics (for use in cinemas or offices, say) can be tough but cheap, while more expensive ones may be more delicate.

As a guide to quality, when you’re in the shop, ask for fabric samples or swatches, so you can give the fabric a better appraisal than you could by just looking at the finished product.

  • Fabric should be firmly woven. Hold it up to the light and see how tight the weave is.
  • Look at the raw edges of the fabric to check for any evidence of fraying or unravelling. This could mean that the fabric stretches and pulls away at the seams of your sofa.
  • Stretch the fabric diagonally and release. Does it completely recover? If not, the fabric may wrinkle and buckle over time.
  • A latex backing may be applied to the back of the fabric to help prevent seam slippage, make precise cutting easier and prevent dirt seeping through. This is especially important in looser-weave fabrics.

Setting it up

Test the mechanism in the shop, both pulling out the bed frame and pushing it back in. If it’s too hard, keep looking. But bear in mind it can get easier once you get the knack and the joints loosen up.


Check the seams and piping, to make sure they’re straight and unpuckered. Also check the fabric lies straight, especially if there are obvious stripes or a linear pattern (either printed on the fabric or within its texture). Note, however, that unless you’re buying floor stock, the sofa bed that ends up in your home may be better or worse than what you saw in the shop.

A look at the general quality of upholstering provided by the manufacturer might give you an idea of what you’ll get, so look at a variety of similarly priced products in the store. Check what your rights are regarding returns/replacements if you’re not happy with what you get.

If the sofa isn’t going to be standing against a wall, remember to check the rear as well.

Back cushions

Loose polyester fibre fill looks plump and luxurious at first, but the contents can settle and redistribute themselves. Better-quality cushions have walled compartments to keep the fibre in place.

Feathers (or a feather and down mix) are another option, and while they need attention in terms of plumping and fluffing, longevity isn’t as much of a problem in back cushions as in seat cushions.

Seat cushions

Are the cushions reversible? You’ll get more life out of them if you can flip them (check the piping allows this), or at least swap them from side to side.

The warranty on the cushions gives an indication of the quality of the foam. Feather-filled cushions are more susceptible to damage than foam or a foam/feather combination. Cushions with feathers in them may have shorter warranties.


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