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How to buy the best sofa bed

What to look for before you lay down your money – or your head.

grey sofa bed with mattress

Need to give friends and family a comfortable place to sleep, or like to lie down while watching movies on the weekend? When you're about to invest in a sofa bed, it's a good idea to find out all you can before laying down your money so you can get one that's as comfortable and convenient as your budget can manage. Of course, you can always buy a cheap and uncomfortable one if you'd prefer the relatives didn't stay!

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Why do I need a sofa bed?

When you start thinking about sofa bed shopping, it's often because the need for one is arriving imminently! Let us take the work out of choosing by giving you a rundown of the options available.

What type of sofa bed do I need? Bi-fold or tri-fold?

A bi-fold will be more comfortable because it has fewer folds, meaning it allows a thicker mattress. They're also a little easier to set up. We reckon a bi-fold is the way to go.

Frame types for sofa beds

Hardwood is more expensive than pine, and "kiln dried" hardwood means moisture has been removed, minimising future warping – although, as a rough guide, this will add at least $500 to the price of the sofa bed. However, whether it's kiln dried or not, a hardwood frame should last a lifetime as long as it's well constructed.

How hard is it to open a sofa bed?

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.

What fabric should I look for in a sofa bed?

Check the padding by kneading the frame along the back rails and arms, as hard or sharp edges indicate skimpy padding which is best avoided – it will last a shorter time and will be uncomfortable when you're sitting in the sofa position.

How much do sofa beds cost?

Your choice of fabric can substantially alter the price of a 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 fairly delicate.

Quality of sofa bed material

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.

What to look for in a sofa bed

  • 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 from seeping through. This is especially important in looser-weave fabrics.

Mattress types in a sofa bed

A common complaint with sofa beds is that you can feel the support bars through the mattress. To avoid this, test them in the shop first – your guests will thank you! Different types of mattress to consider include inner-spring, foam, futons and inflatables.


Foam sofa beds range from very basic and cheap, to memory-foam models costing well over $1000. With the basic models, their price is their main advantage; they might not be the most comfortable, but are reasonably long-lasting and can be a great option for kids. If you regularly have guests and want to give them the royal treatment, a more expensive memory foam sofa bed could be worth investigating.


Inner-spring mattresses are generally more comfortable than basic foam mattress, and aren't necessarily much 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.


Futons can be an inexpensive and long-lasting sofa bed option, but are fairly firm so they might be best for guests who prefer sleeping on a firm bed. Turn the futon over and air it regularly to keep it in good shape.


There are also inflatable sofa beds, which are basically sofa bed versions of an air mattress. They're not necessarily a good option for daily use as a sofa as they probably won't last, but they're a cheap and portable option for when guests turn up, and they offer more functionality than a basic air mattress. They are generally easy to deflate and pack away afterwards.

What kind of cushions should I look for in a sofa bed

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.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.