In my 18 years owning a furniture store I heard a myriad of reasons why people needed to purchase a recliner. Some people replaced their beds with a recliner while others needed them for short term sleeping arrangements due to surgeries. Most of our customers were simply replacing their worn-out one.
I would ask every customer a series of questions to help them determine the best fit for their needs. Since online purchasing eliminates the luxury of customer service, I have developed this “Recliners Buyers Guide” so you will be equipped with more than the facts about the product.
I want you to know what those facts mean and how do they help you get the most for your money. Since you are the customer, this article will give you the information you need to make the best decision possible.
Things You Must Know Before You Buy a Recliner
How Big is the Space the Recliner Will be Setting In?
If you are replacing your current recliner, you already know how much space you have. But, if you are in a new home, you’re a first-time recliner purchaser, you’re putting your recliner in a new area, or you are buying a larger size recliner for the same space, you need to be sure your purchase will fit in your available space.
The type and size of recliner you purchase, (discussed later), will determine if it will fit into the area you want it to (see Outside Chair Measurements later in the article). Three feet of space behind the chair is sufficient for the back to recline while 2 feet of space in front of the chair will accommodate the extension of the footrest.
Most reclining mechanisms are operated with a handle or a power switch. If the chair has an exterior handle, found on the right side of the chair, that side will need at least 5 inches of clearance for handle operation. If the chair is power controlled, place the chair within plugin distance of an outlet.
Include additional space for any tables you want beside your chair. If you require a table, how big is it? Will the chair, any clearance you need, and the table fit into your designated space?
Measuring your space, adding the additional 5 feet of front to back clearance, the 5 inches width clearance, plus any table you place beside the chair, will determine if your desired recliner will fit within your designated space. (See wall-hugger recliners if you do not have 5 feet of front to back clearance.)
The Size of the Recliner Chair Should Match the Size of your Body
People come in many different sizes and so do recliners. There are small petite recliners for tiny little ladies, medium to large recliners for average size people, big man recliners for the tallest bulkiest of people, and the chair-and-a-half which is a great cuddle chair.
Most furniture is made for the average-sized customer. While shopping, you will find most petite and big man recliners tend to be higher priced than the average-sized recliner.
Comparing Your Body Measurements to the Measurements of the Reclining Chair
Shopping in a retail store offers you the opportunity to sit in their floor models to determine which chair fits your body size. For the perfect fit, your feet should touch the floor while sitting, your knees should bend at the top of the seat, your bottom should be at the back of the seat cushion, and the back of the chair should be tall enough to support your head when you recline.
If you intend to purchase online, you do not have this luxury. You could visit a brick and mortar store, find your model, then purchase it online. But, to save yourself time, this simple guide will help you determine if your online purchase will fit your body.
Measure your Body
While standing, measure the back of your leg from the floor to the back of your knee. Seat yourself and measure from the back of your knee to the back of your bottom. Then measure from your seat to the top of your head.
Understanding the Chair Measurements
There are two sets of measurements that you will be working with: the outside measurements and the seating measurements. The outside measurements let you know how big the chair and if it will fit in your home space. The seating measurements tell you if the chair will fit your body.
Outside Chair Measurements
These are the largest of the measurements listed. They include width, depth, and height.
The width is the distance from the outside arm across to the other outside arm. This measurement will include the padding on the arms that extends past the frame.
The depth is the measurement from the front to the back of the chair. This measurement includes the backward angle of the chair back and the inches of padding on the seat front.
The height is the measurement from the floor to the top of the padding on the chair back.
These are the measurements of the space your body touches. They include height, depth, and width.
There are 2 seat height measurements. One is of the front of the chair from the floor to the top of the seat padding. The other is from the back of the seat cushion to the top of the chair back.
The seat front measurement corresponds to your floor to the back of the knee body measurement. The measurement from the seat cushion to the top of the chair back corresponds to your seated bottom to the back of your head body measurement.
The seat depth is the measurement from the padded front of the seating area to the back of the seat. This measurement correlates to your back of the knee to the back of your bottom body measurement.
The seat width is an across the seat measurement from inside arm to inside arm. This measurement corresponds to the width of your body when seated.
Conclusion to your Body and Chair Measurements
Correlating these two sets of measurements greatly aides in getting the size of chair that will make you the most comfortable. These two measurements do not have to be a precise match. Being within a few inches of each other results in comfort, especially if the seating measurements are slightly larger than your body measurements.
Avoid the chair being so high in the front that your feet dangle when seated. Having your back supported by the back cushion is far better than inches of space between your back and the chair. This space will cause slouching when seated making your backache.
The back of the chair needs to be tall enough to support your head especially if you intend to sleep in it. Without the proper head support, your neck will ache and the comfort of the chair will be limited.
During my furniture store ownership, I liked stocking recliners with a back height measurement of 39-42”. These recliners tended to fit most persons, especially men that were between 5’8”-6’ tall. They also fit people who were taller because their height was in their legs, not their bodies.
NOTE: Manufacturers have added a new feature to reclining furniture: an adjustable headrest. Included in power recliners, this option allows the customer ample support for their head even though the back of the recliner is not as high.
Types of Recliners
I can think of ten different types of recliners. The major difference in type is the mechanism that causes the chair to recline. Check out these different types and their specifications before you purchase to ensure that you get one that will fit your body and your space.
These chairs are the most basic of recliners. The chair back will move from the upright position to a bed like position while the footrest simultaneously pops out and up to support the feet. The angle of the back lowering into the reclining position means you need additional space behind the recliner.
Occasionally manufacturers make a recliner where the movement of the back and the footrest are independent of each other. Expect to pay more for these features.
Recliners can be activated manually by pushing back on the arms forcing the chair to open, with a handle that springs the mechanism open, or electronically with a power switch.
High Leg Recliners
These reclining chairs differ from the recliner described above in that they look like a regular living room chair. Very often, the design on the backs of these chairs is wing-back. Again, you will need ample room behind the chair so that you can recline.
The legs of these recliners elevate the base of the chair several inches above the floor. Other recliners set with the base of the chair 1 to 2 inches above the floor.
The reclining mechanism can be manually activated by pushing back on the arms forcing the chair open or with a handle.
These reclining chairs are most popular for persons with limited space. This mechanism allows the body of the recliner to slide forward when the back reclines meaning the chair can be housed 3 inches from the wall and still recline. For persons who have space in front of the recliner but not in the back, these are ideal.
Again, the footrest will activate simultaneously with the back recline. It too can feature independent mechanisms between the back and the footrest, but you will pay more for this feature.
The mechanism is manually activated with a handle or a power button. Adjustable head and footrests are available on some power units for an additional price.
Rockers recliners were by far the most popular recliner I sold because of the comforting rocking motion. Not only does the chair recline, but when not reclining it rocks. (These two functions do not operate simultaneously.)
These recliners will need the full extent of the space I talked about at the beginning of the article. There is no combination of rocking and wall-hugging mechanisms.
The mechanism is activated manually with a handle, or by electrical power. The back of the chair and the footrest will function in unison. However, the rocking will lock when the mechanism is activated.
The mechanism on these chairs allows the chair to glide back and forth when not reclining. In all other aspects, this recliner is the same as the rocker recliner.
The mechanism of this recliner sets on a circular base. This chair will turn 360 degrees around. Sometimes the swivel is also combined with the gliding mechanism.
The space you will need for this recliner is the same as the rocker and glider recliners. Children love to spin these chairs around. If you are a senior and do not want this happening when your grandchildren visit, avoid this chair.
The mechanisms are manually or electrically operated, but you should know that the chair may swivel even when reclined. I sold compact metal framed swivel gliding chairs that were so loose that the chair would swivel when you walked by.
Swivel Glider Recliners
These reclining chairs are a combination of the previous two reclining chairs. The base of the chair is circular and enables the body of the chair to rotate in a circle. The gliding aspect of this recliner means the motion is a front to back movement without interfering with the rotation of the recliner.
When activated, the reclining mechanism locks out the gliding aspect. The chair may or may not continue to rotate in the reclining position. This mechanism is manually or electrically activated. The manual apparatus could be a side handle, a pull handle, or a button, while the electric activated will mean the chair must be plugged in.
These are recliner chairs that, when fully reclined, have little if any angle to the position of the back. They are specifically designed for persons who sleep in their recliner chairs.
These chairs come in several different sizes and will require more room behind them than the other recliners listed because the back lays out flat. They are manually or power-operated and sometimes the back and the footrest will function independently of each other. A caution concerning these chairs, there may be a notable space between the seat and the back of the chair when it is fully reclined. This space can be filled with pillows for comfort. Just remove the pillows before you return the recliner to its upright
Lift Reclining Chairs
We sold lots of these types of chairs. They also come in an assortment of sizes. They are designed to aid the user in standing up from the sitting position.
My mother-in-law had a lift chair. She suffered from emphysema and asthma which resulted in her growing too weak to rise on her own. This was her only chair, and she sat in it with the chair seat partially raised.
These chairs operate by power only. A motor activates the mechanism lifting the chair upward from its normal position, downward from the lifted position and will continue into the reclining position. The back and the footrest operate simultaneously.
Types of Handles Enabling the Reclining Mechanism
Several different types of handles attach to the reclining chair mechanism. The handles activate the mechanism by releasing the metal from the locked position and freeing it so that you can recline the back of the chair with the weight of your body.
Exterior Side Handles
There are three types of exterior handles used in today’s recliners. All of them are found on the right side of the chair. One is made of wood, or materials designed to look like wood the other two are plastic. While the wood handle is found on the lower right side of the chair against the frame, the two plastic handles are located under the right arm cushion closer to the top.
The wood-look handle is directly attached to the metal of the mechanism and operates by pulling up and back on the handle. It will then rotate towards the back of the chair when the chair is reclined. This handle will extend out from the side of the chair about two inches but seldom adds to the width of the chair because of the padding on the arm cushion.
The two plastic handles lay flush with the side of the chair. These two models are attached to the mechanism with a slender flexible cable. One of the plastic models is a pull-on lever that will snap back into place after the hand releases it. The other plastic handle has a push button that releases the mechanism when pushed.
Interior Pull Handles
There are two types of interior pull handles. I refer to them as interior because they are located inside the right arm, between the arm and the seat cushion.
The first pull handle discussed, is referred to as parachute pull. It is located as stated and is triangular shaped like a parachute pull cord handle. It is attached to the mechanism with the same type of cable as discussed above.
The other is a flat metal lever that is pulled the same way as the wood handle discussed before. It is attached directly to the mechanism releasing it when it is pulled upwards.
Motorized or Electric Mechanisms
The motorized mechanism is extremely popular today. They are included in every lift chair and any other recliner that is indicated as “power”. Each mechanism has an attached motor and must be plugged in for operation. Some manufacturers offer a backup power unit at an additional cost.
Motorized recliners are especially useful for surgical patients with right arm or shoulder issues, or for weaker persons. They are operated with the push of a button which is extremely convenient for the elderly.
Occasionally the back of the chair and the reclining back will come as independent operations, (adding to the price of the reclining chair), but the norm is for the back to recline simultaneously with the rising of the footrest. A popular feature of motorized recliners is their ability to stop the recline position anywhere within the parameters of the reclining ability. If you want your feet to rise half-way, you stop the footrest at that point.
Please note: the power mechanism does not function as fast as the other types of mechanisms. This will require patience because you will need to wait before standing or you could damage the mechanism when exiting the chair. Also, it is recommended you plug these recliners directly into the wall, use an extension cord at your own risk
Power Recliners Options
We love all our gadgets, don’t we? Many of the more sophisticated power reclining chairs are equipped with adjustable headrests, adjustable footrests, heating units, and massaging devices. The chair may or may not house all these wonderful features, but you can bet if they do the manufacturer is telling you about them in the description. Each additional feature is at an additional cost.
The adjustable head and footrests allow you to extend the support of your head in the back of the chair and in the pad you rest your feet on. This is an answer to the person who needs more height or length for proper support of their head or feet.
The heating units are like having heated car seats. When activated the seat cushion and sometimes the back of the chair warm up. If you are not a fan of leather because of the cold this could be a great alternative.
The massaging device is more like the vibration machines sometimes available in motel beds. Recliner chairs seldom have deep massages, but it is quite relaxing to sit in your recliner and experience the massage mechanism.
Notes: The reason I have explained all these handles to you is so that you would know what kind of handle you have in case you need to replace it or the mechanism.
What Kind of Fabric Do you Require?
Just as important as knowing what type of reclining chair you want you will need to determine the cover or fabric you want. The kind of upholstery or fabric, factors into your lifestyle and your budget.
Your lifestyle determines if you need something easy to clean because of children, pets or health issues. If you are wanting a leather reclining chair in a large size with all the bells and whistles, expect to pay more than with fabric. If you need something custom covered (may not be available online) to match your décor you will spend more than if you purchased something displayed on the showroom floor.
For the purposes of this article we will discuss upholstery in four main categories.
Microfibers became the wonder fabric of the furniture world 10 to 15 years ago. Originally developed to be a fabric that complemented leather furniture, their stain resistance and durability was a huge plus.
Comprised of 100% polyester (a form of plastic) the fibers were so tightly woven that stain-causing agents did not absorb into the fabric, making stains removable with a hot damp cloth. As time went on the original microfiber was copied resulting in some compromise to its quality. Still, these fabrics are more stain-resistant, or cleanable, than conventional fabrics.
There are a plethora of styles, textures, and designs in the microfiber cover including ones that look like leather. Its tight weave makes it ideal for animals as their claws should not leave scratches on the surface or puncture holes in the fabric.
Cleaning Microfiber Fabrics
We were told to advise persons to clean microfiber with hot water on a rag. Do not soak microfiber with water, it will leave a water ring. Do not put soap or detergent directly on the fabric because it would be difficult to get all the soap up and then the soap would gather dirt.
For a particularly nasty spill, a caked-on spill, or a dried spill, scrape the excess off the top of the spill, get as hot a water as you can stand, use dish detergent, make suds in the water. Put the suds on a clean rag and rub into the soiled area (especially if it is an oil-based stain). Then clean the area with clean hot water on a rag.
I have a microfiber sofa and the oil from his hands collects on its arm. I use this method and add a scrub brush to the process. I am always amazed by how well the sofa arm looks after the process.
I have used a toothbrush to clean other stains. I once used Goo Gone to remove sticky tape residue. My sofa cushion has no tape residue and it is not spotted where it was cleaned.
The lighter colors of microfiber fabrics are the same as light fabrics and light leathers, they will show dirt sooner and will be harder to clean than the darker colored microfibers.
- Vinyl and Bonded Leather
Vinyl is plastic, a less expensive option to leather. There are many colors and textures in the vinyl world. Vinyl is not a “breathable” fabric and many of my customers complained that vinyl caused them to sweat, or that they hated sticking to it.
The greatest asset with vinyl is its cleanability. Spills are easily wiped off with a wet rag, so people with small children like this cover as an option.
Pet nails can be a problem with vinyl creating scratches and puncture holes. Scratches can be unsightly and when they are deep enough the vinyl will need to be repaired.
It is best not to wait because the tear will increase with use, making it unrepairable. There are professional businesses or over the counter retail repair kits. My training in repairing leather and vinyl causes me to recommend having repairs done professionally.
Bonded leather is a thin piece of leather bonded to a fabric back. Because they look like leather, contain leather, but are not entirely leather, recliners covered in this are far less expensive than leather.
Many bonded leather items were sold by uninformed sales personnel who misrepresented or did not inform the customer of what they were getting. Just as with microfiber fabrics, the introductory fabrics were far superior to the knock offs that came later.
One advantage bonded leather has over fabric is cleanability. Simply clean up any spills with a damp cloth. For active families or persons with health issues, this cover is an ideal choice. Another advantage of bonded leather is the fabric backing. It provides additional protection from rips and tares because the fabric stabilizes the leather making small punctures less likely to bleed into rips and tares. Pet nails will leave scratches but there will be a less negative effect
The major disadvantage to vinyl and bonded leather covers is the effect body oils and use has on them. With vinyl’s, the sheen of the fabric diminishes with use making the seat, headrest, and the area where your hand’s rest have a different appearance than the rest of the recliner. Bonded leathers have the same issue and with the advent of the knock off cheaper versions of this cover, the leather can peal from the fabric backing.
Both these types of covers, after extended use, have the same issue with cracking. Avoiding use with greasy or soiled clothes on and not wiping oily soiled hands on the arms will extend the life of the chair. Cleaning the chair regularly will aid in keeping the vinyl and leather in premium condition.
- Leather covers
This is my least area of expertise because leather is abundant and popular in today’s market. I will tell you what I know.
There are lots of leather options in upholstery. You will hear phrases such as “top grain leather”, “split leather”, “leather/vinyl match”, and “stamped leather”, to name a few.
Top grain leather is the part of the hide that is on the surface of the animal. It is the most expensive portion and will be reflected in the price of the recliner.
It is soft, supple and breathable. It contains the flaws of nature created by animal or insect bites and the creature’s scars of healing from injuries. This does not affect the durability of the leather, yet it adds a great deal of character to the look of leather.
Split leather implies just what it is: the hide has been split in order to get more than a single-use from one hide. It is 100% leather, durable, and beautiful but not as supple or as expensive as top grain leather.
Stamped leather refers to the process used to give the leather a certain appearance. The hide is softened then stamped inputting a grain or a specific grain appearance into the hide. This process is also done on vinyl’s and bonded leathers to give them a “leather look”.
Leather vinyl matches are almost universal on reclining furniture, so much so that manufacturers usually mark their “all leather chairs” with a label stating the same.
In reclining furniture, this is a plus for two reasons. One is the movement on a piece of reclining furniture causes the fabric to stretch and release, especially in the back. The second; it reduces the price of the recliner.
Leather vinyl match means the recliner is covered in leather wherever you touch and vinyl in all the other areas, such as the back, the sides under the arms and the lower sides of the arm and back cushions. Vinyl has a better memory than leather, so when it is stretched it returns to its original shape. Do not be afraid of the quality of the “leather vinyl” match recliner, you still get the benefit and feel of leather, but you also get a price break and durability with vinyl.
Leather can be scratched and punctured. Here again, have rips and tears repaired by a professional if possible, as they have all the materials necessary to match the grain texture and color of your leather.
- Other Upholstery
This category of upholstery options does not fit into the above categories. There are many different types of fabrics such as olefin, polyester blends, chenille, cotton, linen, nylon, rayon, wool and many more. If you want your recliner to be covered in your choice to match your décor you will have to shop at a retail furniture store that carries a manufacturer that offers upholstery options.
When you purchase online, you may have color options, but you will seldom if ever, have upholstery options unless you are buying through an online retailer or the manufacturer themselves. Discussing the differences in this category would result in pages and pages of text. What I think you should know is that natural products such as cotton, though durable, can be less stain-resistant than synthetic upholstery such as olefin or a polyester blend.
The Shape or Stuffing or the Reclining Chair
Just as one size does not fit all, one stuffing style does not fit all. Some chairs have a pillow back look while others are stitched and tucked in different patterns to add support and contour to the recliner. How do you know which recliner will be comfortable for your body after hours of use?
My best advice: Pay attention to the overall look of a chair that you like to sit in, especially if you have set in it for long periods of time. How is it stitched? What are its contours and cushions shaped like?
Does it have a pillow look on the top of the back? Are their tucks with buttons in them? What direction and kind of pattern does the stitching make?
Take a picture of the chair you found to be comfortable and compare these patterns to the one you want to purchase. If you cannot set in the chair to determine its comfort understand there will be some risk to the comfort of your purchase.
Shipping Recliner Chairs
Almost universally reclining chairs are shipped as two pieces in one box. The back of the chair is one piece and the seat with mechanism are one piece. Each piece is individually wrapped in plastic with the seatback laying between the arms on the seat cushion.
To assemble the back to the seat, remove the plastic. On the inside of the seat back and the lower outside of the chair back are metal pieces. Once located the metal on the chair back will slide together with the metal on the back of the seat.
Line up the pieces of metal allowing the back to slide into position, then push the back of the chair downward until you hear a click. This will lock the back into place.
To check if the back is locked, pull on the upper corners, one at a time. If the back of the chair lifts it is not locked into place. You will need to push again until it locks.
Must Know Concerning shipping
Purchasing online has its own unique aspects where shipping is involved. Know what your rights are to return the item BEFORE YOU BUY. You may have to pay a shipping expense to return it.
Some shipping terms state the item will be delivered to your sidewalk. Expect the item to be left curbside, in the elements at delivery. It would be wise for you to arrange to be there when the item is delivered. Be advised, the box will be too large for one person to handle and the driver will not be required to take it into your home.
If the box is damaged or dented (except minor indents on corners) it would be best for you to open the box and check all its contents before the driver leaves. If the chair is damaged, refuse the shipment.
One of the most important jobs I had as a business owner was helping the customer understand warranties and how they are enforced. The manufacturer of the recliner determines and states the terms of the warranty. They will attach those terms to the recliner. The retailer can only enforce those stated terms.
Lifetime means “the life of the product, not your lifetime. Limited Lifetime means you share in warranty responsibility. You will have to pay for parts if your kids or grandkids bend the mechanism jumping on it when elevated.
Warranties are honored with normal household use and adherence to proper cleaning instructions. Believe me, the requested pictures and descriptions of problems will reveal if the problem is a result of abuse.
Most manufacturers want you to be satisfied with your purchase. Therefore, they will do everything they can to correct flaws in the construction of the recliner, such as a broken frame, a non-functioning mechanism or motor, unsewn seams, or tears in the fabric that are present when the chair arrives.
Repairing the recliner is their number one priority so they will replace mechanisms and motors. They will hire repairs on upholstery seams or send you sewn pieces or non-ripped pieces to have the chair reupholstered. Most often they will cover reasonable labor for upholstery repairs.
Be prepared to clearly state the problem as well as remitting pictures of any the problems and all the labels with the required numbers. You will need your receipt of purchase, the model number, and the serial number the manufacturer has placed on the chair. (These numbers are usually found on the underneath side of the footrest.)
The mechanisms for recliners can get damaged in shipping. If the mechanism is not functioning the manufacturer will replace it, but you will have to assemble it, take the damaged one off your chair and put the new one on. None of this difficult to do.
You will also need patience. Working with the manufacturer is key and though this is an inconvenience, they are just as desirous for your satisfaction as you are. Being patient and kind will go a long way in getting the satisfaction you require.
Please do not let this deter you from purchasing online. Problems are not the norm. You would have to go through the same process if you purchased from a retail store unless they are conscientious and do all this for you.
Thank you very much for reading through this information. This may be far more information than you wanted, but if you had any questions in any of these areas you are now far better equipped to move forward and purchase a reclining chair that will fit your needs for the next several years.
If you need to make this purchase for health reasons these guidelines give you the proper understanding for an informed purchase, eliminating the need to have to deal with another unwanted issue. If you are purchasing because it is time to replace your recliner, you now have the information that will help you find a chair that is right for you.
Enjoy sitting in, lounging on, even sleeping in your new recliner. May it serve you well for years to come.