Futon Mattress Configurations
To categorize each futon mattress configuration we will examine it in relation to the following properties or criteria: weight, firmness, rigidity, and flexibility.
Weight should be easy to figure out. What a futon weighs does make a difference in the consumer’s experience. Lighter is better as long as substance isn’t sacrificed. Firmness is a measurement of the “feel” of the mattress when used as a sleeping or sitting surface. Rigidity is the ability of the futon to remain square-edged along the length when in a sofa position, and flexibility is a measurement of how well the futon applies itself to folding. Depending on the end use of a particular futon mattress each of these characteristics takes on a different level of importance to the end use consumer. For example, if a customer is looking for a futon mattress for sleeping only, perhaps on a platform style bed, then rigidity is of little or no importance. But the person who is purchasing a futon mattress for a sofa that will only be used occasionally as a guest bed will put rigidity high on the list because a more rigid futon will hold its lines and not sag in the middle when in the sofa position. The futon cover, therefore, will not wrinkle or look baggy after prolonged use.
Futon Mattress Sizes
Futon Life Recommends
We recommend a minimum six inch 100% cotton futon for use on any convertible futon frame. A thinner mattress is acceptable, but only as a rolled-up, closet stored, floor or tatami mattress. The six inch measurement applies not only to the new product but also to how thick it remains over its usable life. To measure thickness go to the middle of the side, place a hand on the top and bottom of the mattress and squeeze your hands together gently. Measure the distance between your two palms. If it is not a solid five inches the mattress does not meet the minimum. Please remember that this method is not very scientific since each person’s concept of gentle is different. Close to five inches is good. Three inches is not.
The 100% Cotton Futon
This is the traditional futon. Before we tackle the mattress itself, I want to take just a minute to explain the process of garnetting. Garnetting is done to create batting which is then set down in layers, becoming the basis of the mattress. Garnetting, in simple terms, is a process whereby individual cotton fibers of various lengths are laid into a thin web by combing. The garnett machine creates these webs and then lays one web on top of another forming a very specific size and weight cotton batt. The cotton batting for futons is made mainly from cotton which has been deemed unusable for textiles. Textile mills use the longer staple cotton which is separated from the cotton seeds in the ginning process. The shorter fibers, which are rejected by textile mills, are called gin motes. These fibers, part of a blend that may include picker, linter (the very short fibers that are removed from the seeds before extracting the cottonseed oil), and sometimes even some staple cotton become the batting or stuffing material for the futon mattress.
To create the futon mattress cotton batts are laid out, one on top of the other to the desired height (4”, 6”, 8”) and weight, and then the case (ticking) is either pulled over the batting by hand or is attached to an automatic stuffing machine which pushes the batting into it. (It should be noted that manufacturers who use terms like “six or seven layers” are missing the point. Six “layers” can mean six four pound batts or six ten pound batts of cotton. The term “layers” is therefore not acceptable, unless it is qualified by layer weight.)
The case is then sewn or zippered shut and the futon is tufted. In the past many of these futon mattresses were made by hand, using tools which were employed by mattress makers of the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Some handmade futon mattresses are sewn with the seam (to close the case) running down the middle of the futon, while most machine made products are end sewn or tape edged. Another popular closure is the zipper. This method is very convenient for both the manufacturer and retailer because it is so simple to use and does allow examination of the filling inside the mattress. The tufting may include up to forty tufts but a typical futon has about twenty-eight to thirty-two.
Let’s consider our four properties. The 100% cotton futon ranks as one of the heaviest. A twin futon weighs in at about 38 lbs. to 45 lbs., a full from 48 lbs. to 55 lbs. and a queen from 59 lbs. to 75 lbs.. Flexibility is excellent and folding is relatively easy for the 6” futon, getting progressively more difficult with the thicker (ten inch) units. Rigidity is okay, with some sagging occurring in some units after prolonged usage as a bi-fold sofa. The firmness level starts out softer but becomes firmer after several months of use. As the futon is slept on the cotton will compact and become very firm, yet remain soft to the touch.
The Cotton & Foam Futon
Soon after arriving on the West Coast the futon began to evolve. Not naturally of course but synthetically. Futon makers, attempting to soften the firmness level of the basic cotton futon, added a layer or two of medium to high density (1.5 PCF to 2.0 PCF) polystyrene foam. Some have opted to use flat panels of foam while others are using convoluted or “egg-crate” foam. This futon costs a little more to manufacture, but the addition of the foam panels does several things which may add to the marketability of the finished product. The overall weight of the futon is lowered by 10 to 20 pounds, depending on the mattress size. The level of flexibility is lower than the all cotton, but not significantly enough to make a real difference. The rigidity is excellent. The cotton/foam futon is perfect for a bi-fold sofa-bed application because there is no sagging. The firmness level is medium firm. As a retailer, it is important to know the density of the foam in the mattress as well as how much foam is used (1”, 2” etc.). Too much foam and you lose the advantages of cotton as a foundation.
Several other types of foam are currently available to manufacturers. Latex foam in varying degrees of “natural”, viscoelastic or temperature responsive foam, and a product called Reflex™ foam made by Foamex, are hot right now. (There is a Foam Terminology sidebar on the following page.)
The Cotton & Polyester and 100% Polyester Futon
Polyester has been around the bedding industry for years, and currently more and more futon mattress manufacturers are using this synthetic fiber. Like foam, polyester is usually an additional fiber, added to the all cotton futon. This addition is handled in several ways. Some manufacturers place 100% poly batting within the cotton batts during the construction of the mattress itself, while others combine the polyester with the cotton in the garnett and produce “blended” batts (Wolf Corp’s Endura Blend is a fine example of a cotton/poly blended batt). These futons are lighter by 10 to 15 pounds than the all cotton product, in fact several companies produce 100% polyester mattresses that are half the weight of an all cotton futon.
Remember, not all 100% polyester futons are created equal. In fact, some of the units currently on the market have problems with “bottoming out”. Keep this principle in mind; (like our recommendation for cotton mattresses), a solid, well stuffed six inch poly futon should be an excellent sit and sleep cushion. Ask manufacturers about “densified” polyester. This product is heat treated to condense the fibers into a pre-compressed form that will hold its loft longer than regular poly fill. Flexibility is good. Depending on the nature of the polyester fill itself, and the cotton to poly ratio, rigidity may go from fair to excellent, i.e., the more polyester, the more rigidity. The firmness level is definitely softer than the cotton/foam futon, and resiliency (the ability to maintain loft) is also higher than the all cotton mattress because of the nature of the poly fiber itself. Branded fibers that are even more resilient are very expensive compared to the cost of cotton, but they do maintain their loft better too.
One important advantage of using synthetics is compliance to flammability laws. At this time FR foams and poly-cotton blends help manufacturers meet the federal FR cigarette test standards. Another big advantage is weight. Lower weight means lower shipping costs and a much more sellable product at the retail level, as the consumer attempts to move the futon around or change the cover.
There is also a polyester product on the market that is recycled. Rising Star Futon of Bend, Oregon has an exclusive contract to produce the WellSpring™ fiber from re-cycled pop bottles. The clear bottles produce a white fiber and the green tinted bottles produce a green fiber. The process involves melting down the recycled bottles and extruding new fibers.
The Cotton & Wool and 100% Wool Futon
If you have ever heard the expression “Sleeping on a cloud,” and you wanted to actually feel that sensation, then the all wool futon is for you. Wool is extremely resilient and therefore provides great support. Wool is a naturally flame retardant fiber, thereby allowing it to pass the FR Standard cigarette tests. Wool is light. A six inch thick, full size 100% wool futon weighs a mere 38 pounds as opposed to an all cotton weight of about 56 to 60 pounds. Rigidity is superior but flexibility is almost non-existent. A cotton/wool futon, with a batt of wool top and bottom, may offer the best of both worlds. Permanently crimped wool is available and several products have been given the endorsement by the Wool Bureau to use the “Wool Mark”, the officially licensed logo, designating that the product has passed a battery of tests concerning the quality of the fibers as well as the level of fiber migration through the ticking material. The cost of wool is high ($4 to $5 per pound for washed New Zealand and $7 per pound for mechanically crimped wool), but the quality of any finished product, along with the high consumer acceptance of the wool mark make it a viable alternative in this growing product category.