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Futons 101

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What is a Futon?

The word "futon" essentially means bed in Japanese. Unlike ordinary spring mattresses, futons have a unique flexibility allowing them to fold neatly onto a specially designed wooden or metal frame. The frame can be adjusted and because the futon mattress is malleable, it can bend with the adjustment of the futon frame.  The way in which these two components operate together provides the functionality of outdated sleeper sofas without the sleepless discomfort and potential back problems associated with them.

When selecting a futon, it is vital that you recognize there are many poor quality futons on the market. For this reason, you are urged to shop at professional futon shops where you are most likely to find knowledgeable futon sales people. Having a knowledgeable futon sales person is probably the single most important thing in obtaining a quality futon that is right for you.

Futon Mattress Quality

A good quality futon need not be made up of many layers or necessarily be of a particular thickness. Use caution when a sales person resorts strictly to tactics involving layers or thickness as a means of suggesting higher quality. While layers and thickness are important to explore with your futon sales person, you should also insist your futon sales person explain what is important about each specific layer and illustrate how they interact to establish the overall quality of the futon mattress. What do all these layers do? How should they influence my purchasing decision?

Futon Mattress Consistency Differences

Before we venture further, it is essential that we address the matter of subjectivity when talking about comfort. At Futon Planet, one of our favorite, possible over-used terms is that "comfort is subjective," meaning that a futon mattress that one person adores could be highly undesirable to the next. Like shoes, cars, colors, fragrances and friendships, we all have personal preferences. Some people will prefer a firm futon while the next will want their futon mattress to be exceptionally soft.

Another important factor is to consider our futon's application. For example, will it be used as a primary guest for you and your spouse? Will if go in the back room for the kids or pets to lounge on? Are we intending this futon to be for guests? Are our guests older, on the heavier side, particular, easy to please? Do we want them to make extended visits or hit the road the next day? Ok, we don't need to answer that last question.

The truth is that we really do want our guests to think well of us as hosts. We would prefer for them to be comfortable, though we do not always want them extend their stay because we offer them luxury. Some people might make the mistake of ordering a firm futon because that is what they prefer, themselves. This is a mistake. Contrary to what most people say, when they visit one of our retail stores, most people actually prefer the soft mattress followed by the medium.

While most of us think firm is better, it is imperative that we keep in mind that "firm" on a futon is not the same as "firm" on a bed. Futons, by nature tend to be very firm. Most cotton and foam futons do not compress and respond the way people are used to. This has something to do with people complaining about futons being hard. This is because, cotton compresses and if a futon mattress is not rotated with some frequency, continues to get harder as people sit and sleep in the same place. As a general rule, futons do not get softer with use. In fact they get harder as the cotton compresses.

Futon Rotation or Do The Futon Shuffle

To combat potting and compression of you futon mattress--especially cotton filled futons,-- you should rotate and fluff your futon periodically and based on your futon's usage. When you rotate your futon, you will want to flip it the first time. The next time you should rotate your futon mattress 90 degrees. The next time you will flip. The time following, you will rotate it 90 degrees. And so on. Trust us, this is the way to make the most out of your investment. You could conceivably extend the life of your futon ten fold, by rotating and flipping your futon in this manner. By the way, this is how you get logevity from pillows, cushions, and even your coil mattresses in the bedroom--all though not all coil futon mattress should be flipped.

Cotton and Foam Futons

Generally, it is considered desirable to have a cotton batting that is treated for flame resistance and to help prevent dust mites from infesting the mattress. The cotton batting should be pre-compressed, preferably under 300 lbs. of pressure or more.

Modern futons generally come with foam cores. We recommend a minimum of two core layers of foam that have a density between 1.6 and 1.8. We prefer to see futons with 2 inch foam sections, but there are also reasons to have 1 inch. Just remember that higher density foams compress less which make them more resilient and therefore firmer. The thicker the foam, however, the more volume or loft the futon mattress will have and the this will also make the foam a more active ingredient in the futon mattress. A very think layer of foam is of little use. Thicker foam will be responsive and aid in creating both cushion and spring to the mattress.

Futon Casing, Tufting & Zippers

The futon should also be tufted and the casing (outer shell) a futon with seems that are 5 surged stitching are best in that they should never unravel. If zippered futon mattress are used, it is a good idea to buy a futon cover that will help prohibit pets or children from getting access to the cotton in the futon mattress. Also, one should never try to remove the casing of the futon mattress. As a general rule, if you remove the casing of your futon, you will find it nearly impossible to return your futon to its original consistency.

Futon Mattress Thickness

Although, futon mattresses can be thin, those that are thin are not might be very uncomfortable when placed on a futon frame. With thin futon mattress, you can feel through to the wooden slats or metal bars of your futon frame. A general rule of thumb is to avoid any mattress that is less than six inches. This does not mean that because you have just purchased a futon that is six inches or greater, in thickness, that you have purchased a futon that you will not eventually feel through to the slats or bars of you futon. Again, initial thickness does not ensure eternal thickness as implied above.

A sales person who recommends a thicker mattress, with quality layers that have been compacted or compressed under pressures of 300 lbs and above, should be well received by the savvy futon shopper. Also, futon mattresses that are roughly eight to nine inches, tend to make the best looking futons since they are most likely to fill a standard or custom made futon cover the best. 10 inch or thicker futons can force a customer to select an expensive custom loft futon cover.

Some companies will tell you they sell 10 inch mattresses and that any standard cover will fit their futon mattress. If they say this, you can rest assured that it is because their futon mattresses have either low compression, unsubstantial foam, or both. Now you are being educated in Futonology, wouldn't you say?

Futon Mattresses Break-in Period

Like a new pair of shoes, quality made futon mattresses often take time to break in. Sometimes they will fail to stay put when converted from bed back to sofa again. This is common in newer futons and simply means it is in need of use. Sitting on it, perhaps while doing some light reading for an hour or so seems to do the trick. Preferably, you should scoot down the length of the mattress every ten pages should do the trick to break it in evenly.

Spring Futons or Coil Futons

Futon mattresses with coiled springs deserve a lot of attention. A shopper should avoid cheap coil mattress altogether. Coil mattress made by American companies such as Futon America are always the best choice than futons shipped in from elsewhere, that may or may not have gone through customs. Be careful, about some bed mattress companies that use their labels on futons. While they might make quality traditional bedroom mattresses they may actually be out-sourcing their futon production and then just slap on their labels for royalties. You might not be getting the same quality you expect from their regular mattress line.'


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