What’s inside your sofa? Beware chipboard and too much glue

A sofa’s component parts are not listed like ingredients in a ready meal, so eco minded shoppers need to ask questions about what's inside and how far it's travelled

We have become more mindful of how we consume everything from food and water to the energy in our homes but we still don’t ask too many questions about what goes into the make-up of our homes.

What materials have been used in its construction and what “ingredients” go into our shiny bright appliances, our flooring or the furniture we sit on or at every day?

According to data compiled by furniture chain DFS, we spend between a week and 18 days of our life planning the purchase of a sofa, a piece of furniture that we change, on average, every seven years.

According to a two-year-old report commissioned by UK firm Furniture Village, the average lifespan of a sofa is 11 years. During that time it will witness more than 1,200 arguments and 2,100 kisses, endure more than 2,700 food and drink spillages and have families sit down to watch more than 3,100 films together.


That’s one hard-working seat, so comfort is paramount. But how do you know what you’re actually buying? A sofa’s component parts are not listed like ingredients in a ready meal, so you need to ask questions – a lot of questions.


A solid frame is essential, explains Maurizio Tinti, export manager of Smart Home Interiors, who supplies Sandyford-based Curated with its sofa range. A sagging sofa is a giveaway of a not-so-solid frame. But that's hard to tell in a showroom where the stock is new and looking its Sunday best.

“If there is a structure to the sofa, then ask how it is put together, what is its frame made from, does it use wood, steel or another?” he advises. It could be made from a strong solid such as beech or the less strong poplar. It might use three different kinds of wood in one construction, or plywood, steel, aluminium or another, or MDF or particleboard.

An aluminium frame will be far lighter to lift than a solid beech design. But a chipboard or particleboard seat will also feel heavy to lift, so the weight of the seat isn’t necessarily a benchmark of quality, Tinti says.

His advice is to start by asking: what kind of wood do you use and how is itconstructed? Further questions to ask include how its component parts are joined together, and whether nails, screws and/or glue are used?

Where the sofa is made is another important consideration. Has it been made 100 per cent in Ireland, or have some of the component parts been imported from abroad? Has it been made in the UK or in Europe or farther afield, say China?

Finline Furniture makes its sofas in Emo, Co Laois, using kiln-dried beech, a timber that is even more durable than standard, which the firm imports from Germany, says operations director Kilian Finane. The construction is traditional in style and so are many of the models it makes. Typically, its frames are put together using screws, glue and staples, and a hessian layer separates its zig-zag springs from the seat cushions, which feature different densities of foam.

The kind of webbing used also determines its comfort levels. Historically, serpentine coiled springs were used to do this job. About 90 per cent of sofas are made using this method, Tinti says, with much of it now made using recycled product.


“Broader belts give a better sense of give and lift. After a few years, the cheaper elastic belts lose their elasticity.” So ask about the breadth of the webbing used.

The cushioning probably contains a polyfoam, often an aerated polyurethane. The density of the foam used is important, Tinti says. A higher per cubic density denotes a less aerated foam. The more aerated the foam is, the more you will compress it as you sit on it, which means it is more likely to sag as it ages.

Feather cushions are not for everyone. If a straight-line seat is what you’re after then feathers won’t suit, but they offer a degree of comfort and are just one high-end option.

Buying a sofa is a bit like buying a bed, says Rachel Morgans, home buying director at Arnotts and Brown Thomas. She suggests that if you're part of a couple who share a bed, you probably have different preferences in terms of its firmness or softness when it comes to your sofa seat choices and should factor customisation into your buy. The weight of each half of the couple should also come into play. Some styles – the Filiph range at Curated, for example – use mattress technology so you can custom-design two cushions within a sofa to suit each party's preferences.

When shopping for a sofa, sit on each model for at least five to 10 minutes. Be sure to make a decision based on comfort rather than just looks, Morgans says.

Some people prefer a higher-set seat, others want something set as low as possible, so consider too the height of the sofa’s feet and ask if they are adjustable to your preferred height before you commit.

Before you buy, ask if the fabric covers are removable and washable. If you have pets or have any family members who are in any way asthmatic, being able to wash the covers is a good thing, but this may fade the colour of the fabric over time.

The Sofa Factory offers a second set of covers in some of its sofa styles. This also lets you change the mood of a livingroom or den, say one light colour for spring and summer months and another texture and deeper colour for winter use.