Sofa buying guide

Buying a new piece of furniture takes time and consideration. Either you are looking for a sofa or armchair that have to match a pre-existing décor, or you’re designing the space around your upholstery, there are a lot of decisions to be made. From style, colour, pattern, to type of fabric, fillings, and so on. So many times we forget about practicality, and that the most important thing about a sofa, is that it should be comfortable. We get lost in the variety of options available on the market, and we end up with a sofa that “looks so pretty”, however it doesn’t fit through the door, or in our living room. To avoid that, measure the doors and the space where you want to place the couch, and just take your time to do some online research, before visiting any furniture shops.

Another aspect you should take under consideration, are your own needs. If you have a big family with kids and pets, or you’re entertaining a lot, look for a durable and stain resistant material, as well as a modular design, that can be divided in two or three individual pieces.  For a small apartment, choose a sofa with built-in storage to allow you make the most of the space. Investment-minded buyers will appreciate quality leather coverings and traditional fibres such as linen, silk and wool.

Last, but not least, think of how much time and money you want to spend on professional upholstery cleaning. It might seem like a long time before you will actually have to clean your sofa, but remember, even though a sofa looks clean, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. Your furniture, the same as carpets, attracts a lot of dust, pet hair, bacteria and allergens. While they are not visible at surface, they should be removed from deep within the fibres, on a regular basis.

Read our article to find out more about the things you should pay attention to when choosing you furniture. An informed decision will save you time and money.

The Frame

The frame

Whether your furniture will retain its shape over the years, depends mostly on the frame. A strong and sturdy one is a good indicator of a high quality sofa. One of the best frames are made out of Kiln-dried hardwood, which is recognised for its ability to maintain its stability over a long period of time. Hardwoods are usually obtained from trees such as oak, maple, cherry walnut, which are known for being stronger and better suited for most type of furniture making. What makes kiln dried frame better, is that up to 93% of wood’s moisture is removed during the drying process. This drastic reduction in moisture content is important as it helps to ensure the wood doesn’t warp or shrink with changes in humidity and temperature.

Frames made out of softwood (pines, cedar) can bend and break easily, while those made out of knotted wood are prone to cracks. Therefore, if you decide to go for a kiln dried frame, choose one constructed from hardwood, rather than softwood.

There is always the option of engineered wood, which is exactly what the names suggests: it has been engineered to achieve its present form. There are two types of engineered wood: plywood and particleboard. The first one is made out of several thin layers of wood, which are glued together. Depending on the type of wood and the thickness of the frame (at least 11 to 13 layers), plywood can be strong enough to support your sofa. Particleboard on the other hand, is not suitable for any weight- bearing frames, as it is made out of wood chips and fibres glued together.

The alternative to wood frames are metal sofa frames. However, these are not as elegant and they are prone to oxidation. Therefore, if you opt for a couch with metal frame, make sure it has been treated to protect against atmospheric changes.

Equally important as the material a sofa frame is made of, it is how it has been constructed. A good quality frame has reinforced joints that are dowelled, glued and screwed. For extra support and strength, the corners should be further strengthened by the addition of reinforcing blocks.

Seating Support

Seating support

Seating support is another aspect you should pay attention to, in order to determine the quality of a sofa. So give yourself some time to properly test it. Sit down on it and try it out in a way you would like to use your couch at home. Do you prefer to sit with your legs curled up, or to lie down on it? Factors like height and depth of the seat, as well as the cushion fill, will have a huge effect on how comfortable your furniture is. The inside seat depth is measured from the front of the seat to the back cushion, and the average size ranges from 21 to 24 inches. For taller people it is best to have deeper seats, but if you find it hard to rise from the seated position, try a shorter one.

When testing the quality of a sofa, what you should pay attention to is that it doesn’t sag when you sit on it, and it provides good support in the seat and in the back.

The eight-way hand-tied springs system is one of the best support systems. The craftsman connects each spring to the adjoining one with strong twine. The twine passes front to back, side to side, and then diagonally in both directions, thus tying each spring securely. It requires a lot of skill, time and labour, that’s why furniture pieces featuring this type of construction are typically more expensive. However, totally worth the money. Not only they are soft, supportive, flexible, and comfortable, but also more durable.

Another method is the sinuous spring construction. This is probably the most common type of sofa suspension in low- to mid-range priced sofas. If you have ever assembled a ‘fold out’ bed, you will most likely recognise these springs. They are strips of wire which are bent in a continuous zig-zag shape across the frame. While very hard wearing, they are less comfortable and creaky, especially if used with a metal frame. When looking at sofas with sinuous springs, make sure that the wire is at least 8-gauge and that there are at least two silent-tie wires running across and clipped to each spring.

The third option is web suspension. This construction is made by weaving fabric or elastic straps in a grid-like pattern. Used alone, webbing doesn’t offer very strong support, so it should be avoided on hard working sofas. It is commonly found on the lowest quality furniture so if your sofa has this suspension, make sure it’s from a reputable manufacturer with a good warranty.

Cushion Filling

Cushion filling

The cushion filling is another important component, that works in tandem with the frame and seating support. A sturdy frame provides an anchor for good seating support and filling augments it.

Foam is one of the most common cushion fillings and it can found in most sofas, either on its own, or mixed with other fillings. It offers firm support and a structured look, with crisp edges. Foam can come in various densities depending on the manufacturer and sofa. The denser the foam the less sagging you will experience over time, and the firmer the cushion will be. For a softer look and feel, foam can be wrapped in cotton or other type of soft materials. Dacron-wrapped foam is the cheapest option, but it won’t last as long.

There is also the option of reflex foam, which is a dense, supportive foam made from polyurethane. Is often used on memory foam mattresses, as a base to support a memory foam top layer.

For a very soft, luxurious sit, feather filled cushions are a great, yet expensive option. This type of cushioning will mould to your shape, and since it doesn’t have the same spring as foam, you will have to plum it regularly to help maintain its form and evenness. The most commonly used feathers for furniture are duck feathers, as they are small and have a natural curl that acts like a spring. Down cushions are considered the premium choice, and they are among the most expensive ones. However, they are suited to scatter cushions and back cushions only, as they offer no support.

Feathers used in combination with foam are a great option. It gives you the feel of a feather cushion with the support of a foam one. This filling is suitable for both back and seat cushions, however, it requires occasional plumping to maintain its shape and comfort.

Fibre cushions will give you a much more ‘sink-into’ feeling than foam, as fibre is a man-made filling of polyester strands full of air. It is a more popular choice for back cushions and arm fillings, as it is versatile and cheaper than feathers.

Foam wrapped in a layer of fibre is the most recommended seat cushion filling as it provides the support of foam and the softness of fibre, it is also cheaper than feather wrap. The look of a foam and fibre cushion will be similar to foams clean lines but with the added plumpness of fibre.

Types of fabrics

Types of fabrics

Natural fibres

  • Cotton – is a widely used natural fibre, as it’s also the most cost efficient one. Highly versatile material, cotton takes patterns and colours well. From crisp white to deep indigo, leopard print to cabana stripe, it comes in a nearly endless array of models. While it is great in terms of durability, resistance and fading (very important if your sofa is in direct sunlight), cotton is not the most suitable for everyday use, as it can stain easily and traps dust and dirt. If you decide to go for a cotton sofa, we recommend having it stain guarded right after you bring it home.
  • Silk – is one of the most expensive and luxurious way to cover a piece of furniture. Due to its great qualities, it will last you many years, if treated properly. Its main enemy is sunlight, so it should be kept where the sun won’t fade its colours and damage the fibres. Silk is a great option for those struggling with allergies. It is processed with water, steam and heat, so no chemicals are used. Plus, dust mites don’t like to live in silk, and fungus or mould can’t grow in it. In case of spills and soil, it should only be cleaned by professionals.
  • Wool – is very suitable for high traffic areas, as is durable and resistant to piling and staining. Wool is also breathable, moisture repellent, and people love it for its luxurious feel and striking looks, as well as its fine comfort. The fibres in wool have a coiled shape, which gives the material the ability to regain its natural form, which means your sofa will maintain its shape for years, without stretching or sagging. Downside of wool is when it gets wet, might develop an odour that it’s hard to get rid of. Depending on the blend, wool furniture can feel a bit rough or trigger allergies in some people. 
  • Linen – is best suited for houses with no kids or pets, due to the fact that it can wrinkle and stain easily. Its cleaning is better to be left to professionals, otherwise you might end up with a damaged or totally ruined sofa. Its anti-microbial properties and mildew resistance, makes it especially good for those living in humid climates, or those suffering with allergies. In linen, the fibres are so tightly oven, that they won’t loosen over time, which means dust and dirt are less likely to get embedded in the material.
  • Leather – a good quality leather exudes luxury and lends elegance to a space, hard to replicate with a fabric sofa. By its very nature, leather is more durable than fabric and so will last, on average, at least five years longer. Even tough leather is a hard and thick material, it can be easily scratched, and is also susceptible to cracking or splitting. In terms of comfort, leather becomes more comfortable with time, and considering that this material ages very well, you’ve got nothing to worry about. On a regular basis, leather sofas only require a light dusting and spills can be cleaned easily by wiping them off with a clean cloth. To prevent premature wear, as well as cracks and splits, your couch should be conditioned consistently and professionally deep cleaned once per year.

Synthetic fibres

Synthetic upholstery fabrics were made for superior durability and clean ability, with a cheaper manufacturing costs than natural fabrics. They are made by synthesizing chemicals and/or natural products, and then woven into fabrics we use in our everyday lives.

  • Polyester – is an affordable, yet durable fabric. A good choice for outdoor furniture, as it’s water repellent, mildew resistant, and its colour doesn’t fade, so no need to worry about sun exposure. Polyester is great for homes with pets, as it can retain more damage than natural materials. It won’t stop all of the damage that your cat or dog can cause, but it will resist the impact of their claws and teeth better than other fabrics. In terms of cleaning, a damp cloth can often remove the dirt and debris that tends to collect on the furniture. Blended with other fibres, such as cotton, it will offer a softer look and feel, and your sofa will remain breathable.
  • Olefin (POLYPROPYLENE) – is second most produced synthetic fibre next to polyester. It is durable, mould resistant and dries fast. Comparing with the first one, olefin is a touch more resistant to direct sunlight, which means it will hold its colour better. Also, is chemically stain resistant so there is zero need for water repelling chemicals and antimicrobials that can affect your health. It’s good for the planet too, as no water or land are being used during the production, and was once waste material from oil production. That makes olefin one of the greenest textiles, with the lowest carbon footprint.
  • Nylon – is rarely used alone, but in combination with other synthetic or natural materials. It is very resilient, so when blended with other fibres, helps create one of the strongest upholstery fabric. Nylon is also great for eliminating napping and crushing in velvet or chenille, however is susceptible to pill and can fade in high sunlight or UV situations.
  • Acrylic – resemble wool and is soft to the touch. Very durable, stain, wrinkle, and fade resistant, this type of fibre was the original “go to” for outdoor upholstery fabrics. Much more affordable than its natural “sibling”, acrylic dries quickly, it’s easy to clean and maintain, and it’s lightweight.
  • Rayon – many textile manufacturers choose rayon because it can mimic silk at a much lower cost and dyes easily. While it has many good qualities, resiliency is not one of them. Rayon does not recover from crushing, which happens when sitting, as well as some other fibres. Another downfall is that liquid spills and water-based cleaners can be harmful, as the fibres can start to lay flat and not “bounce back”.
  • Faux suede (microfiber)- Faux suede is a synthetic microfiber material that includes tiny polyester fibres woven to make a tight fabric. This results in a soft suede-like or velvety material that gives the sofa, a smooth, sleek look. If you love the feel and look of real suede sofas, this is a great alternative, also suitable for busy homes, with kids and pets. Microfiber is easy to clean, stain resistant, and not as prone to tears and rips as much as other fabrics. Plus, its dust resistant ability, makes it a great choice for those who suffer from dust allergies.
  • Velvet – in the past, velvet was typically woven from silk. Today, cotton, linen, wool, and synthetic fibres (often in combination) are commonly used. Sumptuous, silky and fabulous to the touch, velvet takes colour exceptionally well, producing uniquely rich hues with lots of depth and richness. The downside of this type of couches is that they stain easily and they are, well, expensive! However, if velvet is what you want, then look for one that is woven of polyester, which is easy to clean, resists fading, crushing, stains and heavy traffic. All the tactile and visual benefits, and none of the headaches.

Final thoughts

Choosing the right upholstery furniture for your home should be a thorough process. From the online research for the most suited fabric for your family, to the in store testing of the sofa to make sure is comfortable enough. Since there are a lot of efforts, time and money involved, it makes total sense to take good care of your sofas and chairs, and try to maintain their appearance for a longer period of time. Doing that, is also beneficial for your family’s health and wellbeing, as clean sofas and carpets, means less dust and allergens, and improved indoor air quality.

At Happy Clean, we offer upholstery cleaning services at the highest standards. Our agents are fully trained, and can deal with the most stubborn stains and high levels of dirt. The cleaning method, that we are using, wet extraction method, is the most efficient in removing the build-up of debris and bacteria, leaving your furniture clean and sanitized. To maintain your sofas good look, as well as prolong their life span, is recommended to have them professionally cleaned at least once per year, even twice in houses with many occupants and a lot of traffic. If you want to find out more about the benefits of professional upholstery cleaning, read our next article.