All about box springs

When considering the purchase of a mattress these days, consumers are faced with many choices. The decision is made more complex by the mystery surrounding box springs. To buy a box spring, or not to buy a box spring – that is the question. The answer is far from clear in most instances.

Given the advancements in mattress technology in recent years, new mattresses do not necessarily need a box spring for comfort. In many cases, however, one is required by the manufacturer warranty covering the mattress. And if you are still using an older, two-sided mattress or choose that design when making your next mattress purchase, the performance of the mattress will suffer without a box spring to provide optimal support and comfort.

To simplify the decision-making process, we have developed this handy box spring guide to help you determine if and when you need one based on your mattress and its warranty, your bed frame, and your bed foundation. We also provide multiple alternatives to a box spring that will serve the same purposes.

What does a box spring do?

The term box spring is now more or less interchangeable with the term foundation. Both are designed to perform certain functions:

  • Give support and stability to a mattress
  • Create a firm, flat surface on which the mattress can rest
  • Raise the mattress height and keep it off the floor

However, box spring is somewhat misleading since most newer designs have no actual springs in their construction.

Through the 1800s and the early- to mid-1900s, mattress foundations were constructed by placing metal coils in rows on thin iron straps held in place by and connected to each other with thick wire. This construction design was known as bedsprings rather than box springs. While the design served its purpose of acting as a shock absorber for the mattress, it was flawed.

Because there were so many connecting points among the iron straps, metal springs, and wire, the noise factor was significant. And since the coils were typically far apart, the bedsprings began to sag very quickly. Later, as the coils were placed closer together, housed in wooden frames, and then covered in cloth to provide better functionality, the term bedsprings was replaced with box springs.

Today, box springs or foundations come in a wide variety of styles. Modern manufacturers have found much more efficient ways to create lightweight support for a mattress – with and without springs. Those still constructed with coiled springs now contain a much larger number of coils which are individually wrapped and extensively padded for noise reduction.

Other foundations designed to work with newer memory foam and latex mattresses replace the springs with wooden slats made from beech or birch wood. The slats are joined to the outer frame by flexible rubber bolts or they are joined together with woven straps so they can be rolled up for transport. Both slat designs allow for breathability and ventilation.

Box springs and foundations are available in different heights just like mattresses. Standard options are 9” in height, whereas “low profile” options are 5” to 6”. The low-profile foundations work well for anyone who does not like to sleep too high off the floor or who prefers a lower, sleeker look for their bed. These height differences have no impact on performance or support for the mattress, but are purely related to aesthetics.

Does my bed need a box spring?

Most mattresses – particularly newer ones – do not require a box spring in order to be comfortable. That said, box springs or foundations serve some important purposes:

  • They provide a stable base for the mattress which minimizes sagging, reduces wear and tear, and increases the life of the mattress.
  • They keep the mattress off the floor. Low-profile beds are attractive, but a mattress sitting directly on the floor is not a good idea without taking certain precautions.
  • They meet the requirements of many mattress warranties which become void if you fail to use the mattress on one of the recommended bases.

Yes

These types of mattresses DO require a box spring:

  • Mattresses made in the older, two-sided designs. If you are using a two-sided mattress that can be flipped, you will need a quality box spring since mattress performance will suffer without it.
  • Any mattress whose warranty requires specifically that a box spring be used. Most mattress manufacturer warranties include some sort of requirement that the mattress be properly supported and will often specify the type of base that they consider acceptable.

These types of bed frames DO require a box spring:

  • Collapsible metal frames. These frames have no support for the mattress other than the outer edges. Without  box springs or a foundation, your mattress will not be supported properly, will begin to sag, and could fall through to the floor. In most instances, the mattress warranty will also be void without foundational support.

No

These types of mattresses do NOT require a box spring:

  • No-flip, one-sided mattresses. Most of the modern no-flip mattresses contain adequate support within the mattress itself. All that is required is a hard, flat surface of some type. You can choose to use a box spring, but it is not necessary for optimal mattress performance.
  • Mattresses that are compatible with adjustable bases. Because the adjustable base itself provides all the support needed, a box spring is not necessary.

These types of bed frames do NOT require a box spring:

  • Platform frame that is solid. A platform made of solid wood accomplishes the same objective as a box spring by acting as a stable base for the mattress and not allowing any sagging.
  • Platform frame with slats. Some platform beds use slats rather than solid wood to form the base on which a mattress will sit. As long as the slats are close enough together to give sufficient support, no box spring is needed. The slats can be straight or flexed, and can be made of wood, metal, plastic, or composite materials. Do note that most mattress warranties will specify the maximum allowable space between slats which is typically 4”.
  • Reinforced metal frame. Unlike the collapsible metal frames, reinforced models have additional metal supports running side to side the full length of the frame. These supports ensure that the weight of the mattress is distributed evenly and that sagging cannot occur.

  • Adjustable frame. Bed frames that are adjustable do not require a box spring. Because they allow you to shift mattress angle and height, a box spring would interfere with functionality. Adjustable frames do not typically work with innerspring mattresses.

Keep in mind that lower profile beds without box springs may be desirable aesthetically; however, for those who suffer from joint, hip or back pain, or for the elderly, a bed that is closer to the floor may present difficulties when getting in and out of it.

What can I use instead of a box spring?

If you are not a fan of traditional bed height and appearance, there are certainly alternatives to a box spring. These include adjustable bases, platforms and even the floor.

Low-profile box spring. Box springs are now available in a low-profile design that functions like a traditional box spring but is about half the height, giving you a much sleeker look. These serve as a happy medium between a very low platform bed and traditional height box springs.

Platform bed. Other than placing your mattress on the floor, a platform bed is the lowest profile option for your mattress. Platform beds typically stand only about 18” high as compared to an average bed height of 25”, or antique beds which can sit as high as 36” off the floor.

Bunkie board. This oddly named surface board is a thin sheet of wood that sits between your bed frame and your mattress. It provides the foundation the mattress requires and eliminates the need for a box spring.

Mattress on the floor. You can choose to place your mattress directly on the floor, but there are several things to consider before doing so.

  • It simply doesn’t look good. The bed is typically the focal point of the bedroom. If the mattress is placed directly on the floor, any aesthetics are lost.
  • It will make your mattress firmer since there is no flexibility in the support beneath it.
  • It makes getting in and out of bed difficult.
  • It reduces airflow and breathability under and around your mattress which can cause moisture build-up.
  • It is not hygenic since anything that is on the floor has easy access to your mattress, including dust, allergens, and dirt.
  • It may void your warranty since most manufacturers require that their mattresses be supported by either a box spring or some type of alternative.
  • Mold can become a serious issue when your mattress is placed directly on the floor, especially if you live in a humid climate. To reduce the risk of mold, at the very least invest in a mattress encasement.

Where can I buy a box spring?

You can purchase box springs in a variety of stores, from mattress showrooms to big box discount stores, but the best source may be wherever you bought your mattress. If you purchased your mattress from a brick-and-mortar store, the staff there can guide you in selecting a box spring that works well with your existing mattress or a brand new one.

If you purchased your mattress online, be sure to research what types of box springs will work with the model you selected. Many brands manufacturer and offer their own foundations made specifically for each mattress model they sell. If not, they will provide details and information about what sorts of foundations will work with each mattress model.

Box spring FAQs

What does a box spring do?

Box springs raise the height of your mattress, making it easier to get in and out of bed. They also act as a sort of shock absorber to reduce wear and tear on the mattress itself.

Do I need a box spring?

Box springs have become more and more unnecessary as mattresses have advanced in design technology. However, almost all mattresses require some sort of support system, whether it is a box spring, a frame with inner supports, a wooden platform, or an adjustable base.

What types of box springs are there?

The terms box spring and foundation are practically interchangeable. The various types include traditional box springs, low-profile box springs, platforms, bunkie boards, and adjustable bases.

Is there a difference between a box spring and a foundation?

Traditional box springs may have wrapped coils as a part of their construction, whereas a foundation is sometimes nothing more than a hard, flat surface. The differences between the two are becoming fewer and fewer as box springs are now made in most cases without coils or springs of any kind.

How big should a box spring be?

A box spring should be the same length and width as your mattress while the height can be based on your preference. Platform beds can be longer and wider than your mattress if you prefer that look for your bed.

What kinds of mattresses require a box spring?

Mattresses made in the older, two-sided designs that can be flipped require a box spring. This is also true of any mattress whose warranty requires specifically that a box spring be used.

What kinds of bed frames need a box spring?

The only bed frames that require a box spring are the collapsible metal types that have no support other than the outer edges of the frame.

How much does a box spring cost?

Cost will vary depending on the size you require and on the manufacturer and brand. Typically you can plan to spend between $50 and $250.

How long can I expect box springs to last?

The lifespan of a traditional box spring is 8 to 10 years.

Can I put my mattress directly on the floor?

You can, but it is not advisable.

If I buy a new mattress, should I also buy a new box spring?

If your box spring is not the same size as your new mattress or it is showing signs of wear, tear, and sagging, you should invest in a new one. You may also need to buy a new one if your new mattress warranty requires it.

If I use a wooden platform as my foundation, what wood is best?

Platform wood should have no knots, be as smooth as possible, and be resistant to rot.  Premium white pine is a good choice that works well.  Avoid any sort of pallet wood since it can often be both flammable and toxic.

Will using a traditional box spring with my new foam mattress change how the mattress feels?

Not necessarily. Oftentimes, your existing box spring will work well with a new foam mattress, but it is best to check with the manufacturer. Because foam mattresses are often heavy, it’s important that whatever base you use is sturdy and that it allows even distribution of the mattress weight.