Whether you call it a sofa, a settee or a couch, the long thing you plop yourself down on at the end of a hard day is likely to be one of the most used pieces of furniture in your living room. It’s also probably one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make for your home–which is why you’ll want it to last as long as possible. But just how long should a sofa last?
Well, as you may already have guessed, the answer is (like so many things in life), “it depends.” Most furniture experts agree that, on average, a typical sofa should last somewhere between seven and 15 years, depending on several variable factors.
That’s to say, you shouldn’t really start noticing any flaws or faults with a sturdy, well-built sofa before the seven-year mark, and many last much longer. If well looked after, a high-quality leather sofa can last a family for 15+ years, but all sofas will sag eventually, no matter the quality.
After seven years, the average sofa is likely to start showing more signs of wear-and-tear, and minor defects may be noticed–particularly if it’s well-used or not maintained properly.
It’s generally true that most things we buy aren’t built to last for as long as they used to be, thanks to the disposable consumer culture of today’s western world. But it’s still possible to find a sofa with a long lifespan–you just need to know what to look for.
Factors to consider
How long your brand new sofa will last depends on a great number of factors–including the quality of the fabrics and materials used, the internal design and frame structure, the type of cushion filling, whether covers are removable, the amount of use the sofa gets, and how well it’s looked after. Let’s look at each of these factors in turn.
1. The Sofa Frame
A good quality frame is a must if you want to prolong the lifespan of your sofa.
We’ve all sat on sofas that creak, squeak or crack at some point. These types of noises are a sure sign that the sofa’s frame needs attention.
To prevent this from happening to your new sofa in the future, take the time to choose as sturdy a frame as you can afford. There’s usually nothing you can do but buy a new sofa once the frame goes, so it makes sense to choose wisely.
Look for a frame that’s made of either hardwood or metal, and, if possible, avoid frames made of particleboard or plastic, as these may warp or crack. Particleboard frames are made from wood shavings and chips, rather than solid wood. Unsurprisingly, these are the cheapest but the least durable frame type, although they can be okay where less frequent sofa use is intended.
Check that the legs and joints of your sofa are an integral part of the frame itself, or secured with long metal screws and brackets, wooden dowels, or wooden corner blocks, and not just glue, nails and staples alone.
To test the strength of your frame, lift one of the front legs off the floor. If the other leg is still touching the floor once you’ve raised it six inches, this will tell you that the frame is weak and has too much give in it.
The most durable sofas are constructed from kiln-dried or engineered hardwood. Hardwood frames are heavier and much more dense than frames made from softer wood or particleboard. Their solid structure means they are usually the last component of the sofa to wear out, if they ever do!
Kiln-dried hardwood such as oak, maple, birch, mahogany, walnut, bamboo, cherry, ash, and beech can all make very durable sofa frames.
Soft wood, such as pine, costs less, but it may be prone to warping after the first five years.
When deciding which sofa to buy, ask the salesperson to show you some information about the frame’s joinery. This should tell you how the frame is constructed, as well as the type of wood used.
Metal is equally durable (and can be even more durable) than hardwood, but it is often overlooked as a material for building sofa frames. This may be because more specialised machinery is needed to manufacture them. The major benefit of metal frames is that they won’t snap like wood can. However, they can sometimes warp and bend over time, particularly when a sofa is heavily used.
2. Material – Fabric Sofas versus Leather Sofas
Good quality leather sofas can last 3-4 times as long as fabric or faux leather sofas. Leather ages very well, and its appearance can even improve with age, making it an attractive option for those who love a bit of rustic charm.
When choosing a leather sofa, avoid those labelled as “genuine leather” or “bonded leather.” These types of leather are created from glued together scraps, which may flake and disintegrate within a few years. Instead, opt for full grain or top grain leather, and, if you can, find a sofa that also has a semi-aniline coating, as you will find it’s easier to maintain.
Leather sofas are not as high-maintenance as some people think. An occasional wipe with a mild soap and water solution, a quick application of a leather cream every few months, and a hoover in the crevices now and again will keep your leather sofa in tiptop shape.
As it’s a thick, durable, non-absorbent material, leather doesn’t fray and spills are easily wiped away–although you’ll want to be more careful with a white or cream leather sofa when it comes to things like red wine and curry! Leather doesn’t absorb smells or fur either, which is good news for pet owners.
What’s also good news for pet owners is that minor scratches can usually be concealed with a little leather polish. Households with cats may struggle to overcome this problem if the scratching gets out of hand, though.
If you have young children or pets that like to jump or play on the sofa, leather may not be the best option for you. It’s a less forgiving material than upholstered fabric cushions, which have more bounce.
There are actually very few disadvantages to a leather sofa, but of course, it is often the pricier option. You tend to get better value for money with a leather sofa, as it should last a lot longer, but the initial outlay can be prohibitive for some.
There are also fewer colours and patterns to choose from, so a leather sofa won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
There are both benefits and disadvantages with upholstered fabric sofas, too. For one thing, you’ll have a much wider choice of fabrics, colours, styles and patterns.
When shopping for a hard-wearing fabric sofa, it’s best to choose synthetic fabrics like polyester, olefin and microfibre, as these are durable, more stain-resistant, and they don’t fade quickly. Cotton and linen are also okay, but it’s best to avoid loose weaves as they tend to snag. Fabrics with patterns woven in are less prone to wear-and-tear than those with printed patterns.
Before deciding on your sofa purchase, be sure to check its Wyzenbeek double rub count. This is a metric used by fabric manufacturers which describes how many rubs it will take a particular fabric to start looking worn. Basically, the higher the rub count, the longer your sofa will look good. Aim to find a sofa with a double rub count of 20,000 or more to ensure you’re getting the longest possible lifespan.
Your fabric sofa cushion covers will need a wash once in a while to keep them fresh. This is usually a simple job though, as most can simply be unzipped and thrown into the washing machine.
Stubborn stains on some fabric sofas can be quite difficult to deal with. A good scrub may be necessary before washing thoroughly on as high a temperature as you can achieve without shrinking the fabric.
Pet fur clings to some fabrics, but this doesn’t pose much of a problem if you don’t mind brushing it off periodically.
So, a fabric sofa can be a great option for some. If you go for a solid build with removable, synthetic fabric covers, you should get at least 8-10 years’ wear from it.
3. Cushion density
Worn out sofa cushions not only look unattractive, but can be very uncomfortable. So, when you’re choosing a new sofa, it’s important to consider the type and density of the foam padding used inside the cushions. Cushion foam density is a significant factor when determining how long your sofa might last.
Most sofa cushions contain polyurethane foam, as this is inexpensive and easy to handle. Polyester fibre is also inexpensive, but it flattens quickly. Goose and duck-feather fillings are very comfortable, but they are prone to clumping. The best option for plump cushions with a luxury feel is goose down mixed with feathers, but this can be expensive (around double the price of polyurethane foam). It’s also a high-maintenance option, as the cushions need fluffing frequently. Down-polyfibre blend is cheaper, but it also flattens fast.
While high-density foam is more durable, some people find it too hard. On the other hand, softer, low-density foam deteriorates more rapidly with frequent use. High-resilient (HR) foam is slightly more expensive but is more comfortable than high-density foam and is also long lasting.
For longer-lasting sofa cushions, look for HR foam that has a density of at least 2.0 (and preferably 2.5+ if your budget allows), with thick foam cores of 5+ inches.
If your sofa cushions have completely lost their bounce, and plumping them is no longer working, then they are probably worn beyond repair. You may be able to find replacement cushions, but you might struggle to find an exact match to the originals.
Most sofas manufactured today contain sinuous springs (also known as serpentine springs). These are preassembled units of supportive snaking wire. They’re a good option, but the one downside is that they can sometimes bear down on the frame, and they can sag over time if the metal used isn’t very heavy.
Some more expensive sofas contain “eight-way hand-tied springs.” These are said to be more supportive and more comfortable, but some furniture experts are of the opinion that they are no better than serpentine springs.
Your sofa springs should be packed close together, and they should make your seats feel firm. You shouldn’t be able to feel the springs through the upholstery at all.
One way to check the quality of the springs is to sit firmly on one corner or the outside edge of the sofa and listen for any creaks or squeaks. Any noises like this would suggest that the springs are incorrectly placed or are hitting the frame.
It’s usually best to avoid sofas without springs. The flimsy webbing or mesh that is often used instead of metal springs tears easily, and the seats are invariably uncomfortable when sitting on them for longer periods.
Of course, the lifespan of your sofa will also very much depend on how much usage it gets, as well as what types of usage.
Children jumping on it, adults sleeping on it, people eating while seated on it, pets playing on it, etc–all these factors will partly determine how long your sofa will last, and how often you’ll need to replace it.
Wear-and-tear such as persistent stains, saggy cushions, fraying fabric, and pet fur, combined with persistent odours can all be signs it’s time to look for a new sofa. Regular vacuuming and steam cleaning helps, but eventually the odors and stains will overcome most fabrics.
If your sofa has come to the end of its life and you’ve decided that it’s time to buy a new one, remember to consider who will use it, and the likely types of usage it will need to withstand before committing to a purchase. If you have young children and pets, it’s advisable to choose a sturdy, robust sofa that’s designed to resist these inevitable daily abuses.
Positioning a sofa directly in front of a window that receives direct sunlight is not a good idea. Not only will the colours fade much more quickly due to photo-degradation (which causes the breakdown of dyes), but the ultraviolet rays can also weaken the fibres of your sofa. If you have no other option but to place your sofa in the path of sunlight, your best bet would be to choose fabrics that are as fade-resistant as possible. These will usually be synthetic fabrics.
The temperature and humidity levels in the room will also affect your sofa’s lifespan. Cold and damp environments can cause soft furnishings such as cushion covers to become mouldy quickly, and that’s the last thing you want!
When considering how long a sofa should last you, value is another factor. If your sofa is a precious antique piece, you will want it to be cared for properly and preserved for a very long time. Similarly, if you shelled out a lot of money on a top-of-the-range designer item, then you will obviously expect it to last a lot longer than a less expensive version. Obviously, sofas made with lower-quality materials will deteriorate a lot faster, and will inevitably need replacing a lot sooner.
Therefore, it’s best to think about value-for-money rather than the initial outlay, if possible. Ask the retailer to give you an idea of how many years, on average, they would expect the sofa you’re thinking of buying to last. Then divide the cost of the sofa by that same number of years. Whichever gives you the lower figure is the best value-for-money.
For most people, a sofa is a considerable investment, so it’s always advisable to take your time, crunch the figures, and carry out some research before deciding on a potential purchase.
How bad should I let my sofa get before replacing it?
- The seats start sagging to the point where they no longer support your weight;
- The fabric has become so irretrievably stained that you can hardly work out where the pattern ends and the stains begin;
- The frame is breaking down to the point where it’s squeaking, creaking or cracking loudly every time you move position;
- The fabric or leather is torn beyond repair;
- There’s an overwhelming unpleasant odour that persists, no matter how many times you clean the cushions–and it’s coming from the direction of your sofa.
As we have seen, there’s really no definitive answer to the question–how long should a sofa last? It could be 5 years; it could be 25 years–although most experts agree that the average lifespan is around 8-10 years. But it really all depends on the quality and durability of the frame and the fabric, the foam density of the cushions, the type and amount of usage your sofa gets, and its surrounding environment. One thing is certain though–proper care of any sofa will extend its lifetime.
While it’s sometimes possible to reupholster or replace the cushions to give your old sofa a refresh, if you can hear persistent creaking and squeaking, or you get an uncomfortable sinking in feeling every time you sit down, or you notice visitors hold their noses whenever you invite them to take seat, then it’s probably time to let it go and seek a new one.