How to Choose the Right Type of Recliner

Woman relaxing on reclining chair, looking away

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When modern recliners were introduced in the late 1920s, their popularity began immediately as people discovered a new level of comfort. With the touch of a button or lever, you can recline the back or bring up the footrest. Today, with so many different recliners to choose from, you can have all the comfort you need in any look you want, but having many choices make it challenging to decide the one that's best for you.

A recliner may be just what the doctor ordered by providing extra neck and lumbar support for some people with body aches or spinal conditions. However, when it comes to recliners, one size does not fit all. This guide can help you determine what you're looking for to best match your individual needs.

What Is a Recliner?

Recliners are upholstered armchairs that can be tilted backward, usually with a footrest that extends out in front. Recliners vary; some can recline, rock, swivel, massage, and lift a person out of their chair.

Before Replacing a Recliner

Good recliners tend to be expensive, and most have a 15- to 20-year lifespan. Sometimes the chairs fail, whether it's a mechanical, electrical, or aesthetic issue. It can entirely stop the recliner from working if it's something as simple as a lost screw or bolt.

A furniture repairperson can often diagnose and fix most issues, including the motor, internal mechanisms, broken springs, and upholstery. The cost to repair could be nominal. But, on average, reclining chair repairs cost in the $200 to $350 range. It's considerably less expensive than getting an entirely new chair. If your chair is well within the 20-year time frame, consider getting a repair estimate before making a new purchase.

Buying Considerations for a Recliner


Recliners are much more oversized than you think, and when reclined, they can take up even more space than you might expect. When considering purchasing a recliner, you've probably thought of the best spot for it. Now, measure that space where you want it to go and get a general measurement of the entire room.

It's best to measure all your furniture in the room with it. Take measurements of all the doorways to ensure it can get inside the room. Allow at least five to ten inches of space between the wall and the head of the recliner at full extension. If you plan to place a coffee table in front of it, give an allowance of at least five to ten inches of space between the table and the foot of the recliner.

Take a photo of the room, and share it with the salesperson, especially if you want to match fabric colors with other colors in that room, such as your other upholstery, drapes, or wall colors. Get a second opinion from a salesperson if a recliner will fit in your room.


Recliners come in all types of fabrics, including leather and faux leather, performance fabrics, and soft fabrics like chenille, microfiber, and velvet. People with pets and young children will want to consider performance fabric; they're soft, thick, and stain-resistant. Leather is another good choice for homes with children and pets since it's easier to clean than most other fabrics—although it's often a pricier choice. You also have the flexibility of choosing from many colors, too.


Recliners come in all sizes, from petite (shorter under 5 feet, 4 inches) to extra tall (taller than 6 feet, 3 inches). The chair size you get should be determined by the person expected to occupy the chair the most. You should need at least 35 inches in width for a small recliner. A medium recliner will need a space at least 40 to 45 inches wide. The largest recliners will need at least 50 inches in width. Each manufacturer has different dimensions, so it helps to go to a showroom and try them out for size.


  • Rocker or Swivel: These recliners do exactly what their names say. They rock or swivel (sometimes both). This type of chair is handy for someone with insomnia because the rocking motion induces nodding off. Many people use their recliners to sleep instead of a bed. A rocker recliner is also a favorite with nursing mothers because it provides comfort for the mother while the rocking motion relaxes the baby. A swivel base allows you to pivot and face any direction you desire. 
  • Wall-hugger: Wall-hugger recliners take up less space and are a good choice for a smaller room. Most recliners are available as both wall-huggers and rocker recliners. You tend to sit up straight in a wall-hugger, making it easier to get up from the seat. Some wall-hugger recliners can be adjusted to sit higher, so people with bad knees find it easier to get up from them.
  • Power-operated: At the touch of a button, you can recline or return upright; it eliminates the need for handles or hand levers.
  • Built-in USB or other accessories: Charge your devices from the comfort of your chair. You don't need extension cords or to move your chair closer to an outlet.
  • Lay-flat: This feature allows a person to recline in a flat position.

Types of Recliners

When choosing a recliner, you should be able to find a recliner to go with your existing decor. You can also find recliners designed to be beneficial for orthopedic conditions like limited mobility or back problems. There are lift recliners and massage recliners—practically a recliner for every type of style, taste preference, and budget.

Lift Chairs

A lift chair is a recliner with a motorized mechanism that pushes the chair up from its base, making it easier to get up from the seat. It is usually recommended for people with limited capacity to use their legs, and it is handy for someone with weak knees. Lift chairs come in different shapes and sizes, so it is easy to find one to fit every body type. This type of recliner is usually significantly more expensive than rockers or wall-huggers.

Massage Recliners

Massage recliners massage your back and the backs of your legs and sometimes come with a heating function. They can help lift you or recline. Sitting down in one can be comforting at the end of a long day. Massage recliners generally cost more than rocker or wall-hugger recliners, but you might be able to find one in your price range since it comes in a wide range of prices.

Classic and Contemporary Collections

If you want a recliner but do not like how it looks, you can get a high-leg one that looks like an armchair. These recliners come in wing-back and contemporary styles for aesthetically-minded home decorators who don't want to give up on recliners. Choices include an impressive array of fabrics with a wide range of colors and textures. They are typically more expensive, and most come with a push-back reclining mechanism, so it doesn't need a handle or hand level.


You can find recliners starting at $250, spanning the gamut to $5,000. The average amount spent for one is between $500 and $2,000. As you add accessories and features, the prices go up. Fully powered recliners, lift, and massage chairs are your pricier options. However, online sellers like Amazon, Wayfair, and Overstock will have recliners with these features for less than $500.

How to Choose a Recliner

Your main objective will be to get the right fit for you and your room. Try out various recliners to gauge what you like and don't like.

How do you know if you have the right fit for you?

The arms should be at a comfortable height and feel cushioned. You should be able to reach the reclining mechanism without much effort. While reclined, your legs and feet should fit on the footrest without hanging off much. Your back should feel supported, and the headrest should help your head and neck lay comfortably.

What are ways to determine the higher quality of the recliner?

The recliner should be made of a sturdy hardwood and steel frame. If getting leather, make sure it's full- or top-grain leather. The padding should be made of high-density foam to prevent sagging. Test the lever, handles, and reclining actions; they should be smooth, effortless, and quiet.

Where to Shop

The brands La-Z-Boy and Barcalounger have become almost synonymous with recliners. You might even hear people referring to their reclining chairs by this brand name even though there are many other recliner manufacturers, such as Ashley, Bassett, and Lane. Your best bet will be to visit a showroom to try out the recliner you're thinking about getting.

Buying in-Store

First and foremost, before buying, try it on for size. It should feel comfortable, like sitting in a catching mitt, gently hugging the contours of your body. You shouldn't feel cramped. If you're unsure if it's right for you, ask a salesperson to help you determine if it's a good size for you and if it can fit in your home. Don't forget to bring your room measurements.

Closely inspect the recliner, looking for flaws in construction, such as the seam stitching and lifting mechanisms. If you notice flaws in the showroom; you might want to steer clear of that model. Ask the salesperson about the defect to see if there is a legitimate reason for the issue. Showroom pieces should be able to withstand people trying them out.

Ask the salesperson about your delivery options and warranties. Some retailers offer an extended warranty, which might be a good idea, especially if you expect heavy use or have children or pets.

Buying Online

One of the most significant benefits of ordering from an online store is many provide free delivery. Also, the selection is extensive, and the prices are often less expensive. Usually, for an extra fee, some will offer "white glove" service or "in-home delivery." This service means it's delivered to the place inside your home where you want it, unboxed, assembled (if required), and they take away the packing materials. Confirm with the store exactly what their delivery options are and what's included; it varies by retailer.

Read the fine print about the return policies. Some online retailers will make customers pay for return shipping (unless the item arrived damaged). The process for returns can be hassle-riddled, so make sure you know all the details before committing to the purchase.

Where to Buy a Recliner

Most furniture retailers sell recliners; however, recliner retailers have the widest selection. You can sometimes find recliners at yard sales, estate sales, and other secondhand shopping opportunities. It is common to try models in a showroom and buy online. The salespeople would like your business, so ask about discounts. Brick and mortar stores have higher overhead costs than online stores, so do not be surprised about the in-store prices reflecting the difference.

  • How do I know what size recliner to buy?

    The size of the recliner depends on your available room space and the size of the primary user of the chair. Recliners come in several sizes. Generally speaking, small or petite is suitable for shorter people, averaging about 5 feet, 3 inches, or less. Large recliners are made to fit 6 feet, 3 inches, and larger people. Medium-sized chairs work for most average-sized people. A good measure: When reclined, your feet should not dangle much over the edge of the chair.

  • How long do recliners last?

    Depending on the quality of the recliner and the amount of use, a new recliner can last from seven years to about 20 years. If a well-constructed chair gets frequent, daily use, it will last about 7 to 10 years. If it's made of leather, it adds another five years to the chair's life. Adjust up and down based on heavy use, rough use of children or pet's sharpening their claws on the upholstery.

  • What are the pros and cons of manual vs. power recliners?

    The benefit of power recliners is they are much easier to use, requiring very little bodily strength. A truly luxe experience, you only need to press a button. The drawbacks are several: They're much heavier, need to be situated near an outlet to work, and have motors that can burn out over time.