How to Buy a Couch

side angle view of a charcoal gray sofa

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

A couch or sofa is a major furniture investment, and one you may live with for decades, so it's important to make a good decision. Style preferences are a personal matter, but when it comes to choosing a high-quality sofa, there are objective criteria you can use to ensure you're getting a sofa you can be happy with for many years.

When buying a couch you need to consider how you are going to use it, the space it will be in, and the style which will be the best fit for your room. And since a good sofa can last you for years, it is also important to learn about quality before you determine which to buy.

When you are shopping for a new couch, follow these tips to ensure a great purchase.

Before Replacing Your Couch

While couches can last years, they also suffer a lot of wear and tear over time—particularly in households with children or pets. Fortunately, there's plenty you can do to revive an aging couch. You can restuff couch cushions to help it feel plush and comfortable again, reupholster it to give it a whole new look (and replace worn, torn, or stained fabric), and even fix any sagging.

That said, sometimes it's more cost effective to simply replace a couch. If your current sofa is damaged or otherwise beyond repair, a shape or type that doesn't meet your needs or style, or simply too small, you'll want to start shopping around for a new one. If you don't have a sofa at all, purchasing one will give your living space a central gathering spot, so you should start the search as soon as you can.

Buying Considerations for a Couch

Space

Make sure the size of the sofa doesn’t overpower the room or impede the flow of traffic. Measure the entire room, especially the wall against which you will place it, before you go shopping. Measure the height, width, and diagonal opening of all doorways in your house, too, and have these numbers on hand as you shop for your sofa.

More than one sofa has been returned to the store because the delivery service could not get it through the doorway. Many couches have legs that can be unscrewed and removed to make delivery easier, and, in some cases, a door can be removed from its hinges to enlarge the opening enough to squeeze in a large couch.

Doorway measured to fit new couch

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Materials

To keep your sofa looking its best, it is important to select the right fabric. If you have children or pets, you will, naturally, want a more durable and easy-to-clean fabric. Couches with high-maintenance fabrics, such as silk, are best for areas that are used infrequently. Microfibers are great in heavy usage areas, look attractive, and are easy to clean. Textured fabrics show less wear and tear than smooth ones, and leather is a good option if you are looking for longevity.

Just as in well-tailored clothing, patterns and stripes should match at the seams. Although it might not catch your eye right away, mismatched patterns or stripes will give you the sense that something is off. Stripes that match at the seams make a sofa look well finished. Patterns should be centered, and all seams and welts should run straight. Uneven welting and seams that are pulled to one side or another mean that the cover was badly tailored. With fabric upholstery, higher thread counts indicate a denser weave and more durable fabric.

There is considerable debate over which type of material is best for sofa cushions. Polyurethane foam is the most common material used, but it is important to find a balance between a firm foam that is long-lasting but may be too hard, and a soft foam that is comfortable but may break down too quickly. High-resilient (HR) foam is a step up, making for comfortable and long-lasting cushion. Very expensive couches often use goose down mixed with feathers, but you will pay dearly for this luxury, and the cushions will need to be plumped frequently. A hybrid type of cushion that some experts recommend is HR foam wrapped in down-and-feathers, which combines the best of durability and comfort.

Upholstery fabric and cushions can be replaced when they get old and worn, but no couch can be considered a good piece of furniture unless it has a solid, quality inner frame. If your goal is to buy a good sofa, start by learning about the frame. Cheaper sofas may have frames made from particleboard, plastic, or metal, but a good-quality couch will have a solid hardwood frame—preferably a "kiln-dried" hardwood frame made of oak, beach, or ash. Pine frames are economical, but they often begin to warp and wobble within five years or so.

Size

Pick a size that best serves whatever purpose you have planned for your sofa—entertaining, relaxing, reading, whatever. Seats should be comfortable for all members of your family, and you should get a couch large enough to seat everyone in your household, so you can all enjoy it together. If you entertain often, consider an even larger sofa, or plan to pair your couch with easy chairs or additional seating.

The primary fit consideration is the depth of the seats. Select deep or shallow seats, depending on your height—the couch back should support your back adequately with your feet flat on the floor and the backs of your knees just slightly forward of the lower seat cushion. And if the couch is where you like to nap, make sure to lay out on the couch and see if it is long enough for comfortable snoozing. If you're buying a recliner sofa, make sure it is comfortable in all the different positions.

Features

Couches may have cupholders, reclining seats, built-in beds, replaceable covers, built-in storage, and other features to suit buyers' needs and add greater opportunities for personalization. Some even have built-in coolers, plugs for charging devices, and other high-tech features. Consider your current sofa, or sofas you've used in the past, and what—if anything—you would like to add on to it. Knowing what you would most enjoy can help you sift through the array of features out there.

Types of Couches or Sofas

Sectionals

Sectionals come in many configurations and profiles and are good in cozy, conversational settings. For added comfort, you can have reclining sectionals, as well.

Modular Couches

A relatively recent development for sofas, modular couches allow buyers to pick a couch style and add on pieces to build their ideal sofa size and shape. The building blocks, so to speak, of these couches can be added-to, taken away, and rearranged to make couches of various sizes and shapes. These types of sofas are great for frequent movers—both because of their versatility and because they can be broken down into small pieces for easier moving—and growing families.

Sleeper Sofas

Sleeper sofas are an excellent option for those in small spaces or who host overnight guests often. Sleeper sofas have built-in beds that fold out of the couch, typically with an included plush surface similar in width to a full-size mattress. Once notoriously uncomfortable, modern sleeper sofas have evolved to offer rather comfortable sleeping surfaces.

Reclining Couches

Some couches will have seats—usually at either end of the sofa—with built-in recliners. These styles offer the same comfort and mechanism as reclining chairs, but with the width of a sofa.

Outdoor Couches

Buying a sofa that can be used both in and outside is also an option that works great for high-traffic spaces and convertible indoor-outdoor spaces. Outdoor fabrics have improved to the point where they are just as luxurious as indoor fabrics and offer ease in cleaning and sturdiness.

Futons

Technically a type of couch, a futon can be an affordable alternative. Futons consist of a convertible cushion and frame that can laid flat to form a bed-type surface or propped upright to form a sofa. Futons often lack arm rests and tend to have thick, sturdy frames.

Cost

You can expect to pay anywhere from $700 to $2,500 for a basic sofa. If you’re on a tight budget, visit clearance centers or ask for floor models. Sometimes, you can find good values at special sale events. More stylish sofas or couches with high-quality materials can cost as much as thousands of dollars, depending on the designer or retailer. Make sure to buy the best quality you can afford, as you’ll live with your purchase for a long time: A sofa can last you anywhere from ten to fifteen years.

In most cases, though, cost correlates directly to size: Smaller sofas cost less than larger ones. Various features can also increase the price—a sleeper sofa will typically cost more than a standard sofa of the same size and make.

Major furniture sales happen around Memorial Day, Presidents Day, and Labor Day each year in the U.S. Many companies also offer discounts around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. If possible, try to time your purchase around one of those dates, though note that many people will have the same idea, so supply may be low and you may experience delivery delays.

How to Choose a Couch

The various options for couches are practically limitless, and there's certainly something for everyone. The challenge is to find something that suits your taste, serves its purpose, fits in your space, and falls within your budget, which makes finding the perfect sofa no small feat. To start figuring out what might work for you, ask yourself these questions.

How Will You Use Your Sofa?

Determining the kind of usage your sofa will get can help you select most of the other features you need. So, how will you use your sofa? Will it primarily be used for everyday activities such as relaxing, reading, or watching TV, or will it be used only occasionally in a formal setting?

A sofa that will be used for relaxation can be deep and cushy with loose pillows. A formal one may have high-quality upholstery or a sculptural frame that provides more visual interest than comfort.

Who Will Be Using It Most?

Pay attention to any special considerations if you really want your sofa to be a good fit. For instance, use deep seating for a very tall person. For someone with bad knees, shallow seating and a tight back make it easier to get up from a seated position. Households with pets or small children may prefer a sofa that's low to the floor, so little ones can climb onto it with relative ease. Frequent hosts may want a sleeper sofa.

What Does the Rest of Your Space Look Like?

To select a sofa color or fabric pattern, always take into consideration any preexisting colors or patterns in the room. Neutrals work best in most rooms, especially small ones, but you can dress up your sofa by using more vibrant colors and patterns in the pillows or adding throws. A patterned fabric also works well in heavy usage areas as it can hide minor stains.

Go with a strong color if you want to make a bold statement, but if you do so, consider buying a sofa with simpler lines.

How Long Do You Plan to Stay Where You Are?

Depending on the type of couch you have, moving it can be a challenge—and there's no guarantee your current sofa will even fit into your next home. If you move frequently, consider a low-cost sofa that you won't mind donating or reselling when it's time to go. You could also purchase a modular sofa that you can rearrange as needed to suit every space you live in.

Where to Shop

A couch is a large, pricey purchase. For that reason, many people prefer to see their options in person, so they can make sure they like the feel and look of it before they commit—and so they don't have to deal with the hassle of having a large piece of furniture delivered, only to return it. Still, there are plenty of online options you can order for delivery, sight unseen.

Buying in-Store

If shopping in-store, don't be afraid to ask questions. Qualified sellers at furniture stores should be well-versed in what makes (or breaks) a great sofa, and they should be able to answer all your questions and help you find the perfect fit. They can also help you customize your purchase, if possible. While shopping, take your time, try many different types, and check these features.

Evaluate the Frame

The legs of the couch should be either integral parts of the frame or held on with screws or dowels. Avoid a couch if the legs are merely glued on.

One easy test for solid frame construction is to lift one front corner or leg of the sofa off the floor to a height of 6 inches or so. If the other front leg doesn't quickly rise off the floor, too, it's a sign the frame is twisting and is therefore weak. Any sofa that visibly twists or creaks under this test is one you should avoid.

Ask About the Joinery

Although the method by which the frame parts are held together may not be immediately evident, the sales person or printed technical specifications should have this information.

Look for frames that are joined with wooden dowels, double wooden dowels, wooden corner blocks, or metal screws and brackets. Never buy a sofa that is assembled with only staples, nails, or glue, although these may be used to provide additional reinforcement.

Test the Arms

A sofa with a good hardwood frame assembled with dowels or corner brackets should be a quality piece of furniture, but it is still a good idea to forcefully test the arms of the sofa to make sure they are very tight, with no give when you lean on them. In a family with active children, the most common area of failure on a couch (other than the upholstery) is the arms.

As you test the couch, push hard on the arms and look for any sign of wobble. Avoid any couch that isn't rock-solid.

Arm resting on white couch arm next to side table with plant

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Consider the Springs

The springs that hold up the cushions on a couch come in three levels of quality. Least expensive (and least durable) are those that are not springs at all, but just webbing or mesh. Avoid these couches if your goal is a quality piece of furniture.

Most couches use what is known as serpentine springs—sinuous pieces of snaking wire that span the gap between frame members. These offer good support, but they may sag over time if the metal isn't heavy-gauge.

Luxury sofas are fitted with what is known as eight-way hand-tied springs, which are very comfortable but also expensive. Some experts dispute if hand-tied springs are any more comfortable than good serpentine springs, but you can be the judge of that.

Feel the springs through the upholstery. Good springs will be quite firm and spaced close together for good support. There should be good support without too much give when you sit on the couch.

Feel the Padding and Cushions

The frame and all the corners of the couch should be well padded. Run your hand over all corners to make sure you can't feel the edges of the frame through the upholstery. If you can, the upholstery may wear through quite quickly, and your couch will not be very comfortable to use.

Seat cushions should be firm and resilient and fit snugly within the sofa frame. The cushions should regain their shape after you press down and let go. A cushion that stays put when you press down will be flattened in no time, end up looking unsightly, and feel uncomfortable when you sit on it. Cushions that do not fit snugly will also lose their shape quickly and the edges will start looking unsightly.

Hand testing padding on white couch

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Test the Operating Mechanisms

If your couch is a recliner or sleeper, make sure to operate the mechanism repeatedly and aggressively to make sure it operates smoothly and easily. Reclining, or motion furniture is generally more expensive, and you are paying for a functioning, smoothly-running mechanism. Don't overlook any mechanical glitches or rough operation you notice—these will only become more pronounced after repeated use in your home.

Evaluate the Upholstery

If there are any buttons, check to see that they are sewn on securely. Loose buttons will come off and quickly get lost.

Look for the UFAC Tag

For fire safety reasons, look for the gold UFAC tag, indicating that the sofa manufacturer certifies that it has been made in accordance with UFAC methods. UFAC—the Upholstered Furniture Action Council—was founded in 1978 with the purpose of making upholstered furniture more resistant to ignition from smoldering cigarettes. UFAC claims that the number of household fires has gone down considerably since these standards were put in place.

Buying Online

If you are buying a couch online, do your research. Read reviews, read all the product information you can find, and take advantage of any virtual assistant or question and answer features the site may offer. If you can, try to find a nearby showroom with the type of couch you're considering—you can go try the sofa there.

Once you've made your decision, pay attention to the return policy and delivery options. Some companies offer white glove delivery where the deliver brings the item into your home and sets it up for you—and sometimes even removes the old one—while others will simply ship the couch to your door, and the rest is up to you. Select the best delivery option for you and your space, and always make sure that you have the option to return the couch if it's not what you hoped for.

Where to Buy a Couch

Most large furniture retailers sell couches. A number of newer companies also sell couches online, and you can often find sofas at yard sales, estate sales, and other secondhand shopping opportunities. You have plenty of options: The key is to find that perfect balance of style, function, comfort, and price.

FAQ
  • How do I know if I need a new couch?

    While couches—especially well-made ones—can be repaired to extend their lifespans, most are not made to last forever. If your couch is sagging, looking worn, uncomfortable to sit on, or damaged and you don't want to put the time and effort into fixing it up or it's beyond repair, it's time to purchase a new one.

  • What's the difference between a couch vs a sofa?

    As the terms are used today, there's no difference between a couch and a sofa: The words are used interchangeably today. Traditionally, a couch meant a low piece of furniture meant for lying on—similar to what we might consider a chaise lounge today—while a sofa had arms, backs, and cushions.

  • How do I get rid of my couch?

    Used or old couches can be resold, donated, or hauled to a landfill, depending on their condition and quality. Take care to dispose of your old couch responsibly and try, if at all possible, to reuse or recycle before tossing it.

  • How do I clean a couch?

    Couches should be cleaned regularly, and according to their material. Couches with fabric upholstery should be cleaned differently than leather couches. If you are purchasing a used couch, be sure to clean it thoroughly before enjoying it.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. "UFAC." Upholstered Furniture Action Council (UFAC).