As Hamlet once said, “To box spring, or not to box spring.” Okay, that wasn’t really Hamlet, but when it comes to mattresses, getting the right foundation is essential.
To demystify this semi-boring, but very important topic, we’ve broken down the dos and don’ts of bed foundations for you. Educate yourself so you can get better sleep.
What is a Mattress Foundation?
So, what exactly is a bed foundation? Not to get too technical, it’s whatever your mattress sits on. For many sleepers, their bed foundation consists of a set of wooden box springs. Other bed foundations trade box springs for a platform of wooden slats, and for the truly Spartan among us (college students) the foundation is the floor.
Every bed foundation choice is going to have consequences for your sleep. To put it simply, if your mattress isn’t supported well, you probably aren’t sleeping well. Wonky, broken, or weak bed foundations can lead to sagging in your mattress. That means your body lacks uniform support and you can wake up in pain.
6 Benefits of a Mattress Foundation
Need more convincing? Here are six reasons why a good mattress foundation will benefit your health (and your wallet).
- Improves support
- Increases the lifespan of your mattress
- Adds height
- Helps keep your bed clean
- Increases airflow
- Stops your mattress from sliding
To avoid pain and get the most out of your mattress, you need the right bed foundation. If your bed is supported right, your body will be too. So, don’t brush this off!
1. Improves support
A good mattress foundation is like a cape for your mattress that adds a bunch of superpowers. One of them is increased support. Without a foundation, your mattress will be more prone to sagging and lead to aches and pains that can ruin your whole day.
Mattresses are supposed to go on a foundation, not the floor. So, when you use a mattress foundation, you’ll experience the supportive benefits of your mattress as they were meant to be experienced.
2. Increases the lifespan of your mattress
Mattresses need love, too. After years and years of sleeping, binging Netflix, staring at your phone, and contemplating your life choices as the alarm rings at 6:30 on a howling January morning, your mattress can start to lose its vitality. Without the right support, your mattress could lose years of life. This is especially true for those who have a large bed size or a memory foam mattress, as these tend to be a lot heavier and prone to buckling.
A mattress platform provides the firm support a mattress needs to do its job longer and better, saving you thousands on the cost of buying a new mattress. If you think you’ve found the best mattress for a good night’s sleep, show it a little TLC with a mattress foundation and it will return the favor with years of solid ZZZs.
3. Adds height
Getting out of bed is hard enough. Why force yourself to do squats every morning when you could swing out of bed with ease?
A mattress foundation can add as much as 16 inches to the height of your bed, making access much easier and keeping you away from cold air, humidity, dust, and other bad stuff that dwells on the floor.
Adding a bit of height is especially important if you’re intending to keep your mattress for the long haul. You might be a spring chicken now, but in 15 or 20 years you’ll probably be glad you don’t have to hear creaks and cracks when you get out of bed.
4. Helps keep your bed clean
The floor is a dirty place. The closer your mattress is to the floor, the filthier it becomes. Hair, dead skin, bugs, mites, allergens, and who knows what the dog dragged in can all find their home on your floor.
Elevating your mattress with a platform bed frame keeps all that gross stuff away from your mattress — and from you. This isn’t just beneficial for your health, but it also keeps your mattress from becoming a popular hangout for microscopic invaders, mold, mildew, and moisture that can cause deterioration.
This is crucial for innerspring mattresses (mattresses with coils), as there is more space inside for mites and bacteria to make their home. Though it is also important for foam mattresses made of latex or memory foam.
5. Increases airflow
Ever wake up hot and sweaty? Your mattress might not be to blame. Breathable mattresses are only breathable if they are placed on a surface that promotes airflow. A mattress foundation allows your mattress to breathe freely, providing cooler comfort and reducing those sweaty nightmares. If you have the type of mattress that isn’t very breathable (like memory foam), the right mattress support can help deliver some much-needed airflow.
6. Stops your mattress from sliding
Some mattresses are prone to slipping, sliding, and ending up on the other side of the room. This can be especially annoying when it comes time to enjoy your mattress with a partner. Bring a little stability into your life with a mattress foundation. A foundation without wheels will anchor your bed to the floor and prevent your mattress from going where it shouldn’t.
Box Springs: The Squeaky Truth
Box springs are notorious for becoming a broken, saggy, and squeaking nightmare for sleepers who often resort to stacking several volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica underneath their beds for support.
Box springs are literally wooden boxes with metal springs or similar supports in them, and they’re often designed to pair specifically with spring mattresses.
This is because spring beds need the box spring to give a little to support the pressure of our bodies. A traditional spring coil mattress set upon a solid bed foundation isn’t the ideal of sleep comfort. In fact, they’re far from ideal in many respects.
Besides that, however, box springs aren’t ideal for supporting other mattress types. Since they don’t provide even support, they don’t work well with memory foam, latex, and Purple® mattresses. In some cases, traditional box springs can even void the warranty on these types of mattresses.
Do You Need a Bed Frame?
If you use box springs as a bed foundation, you don’t technically need a bed frame. Regardless of what it’s sitting on, the box spring will support and protect your mattress. Any surface will work as long as it supports the span and weight of you, your mattress, and your bed springs.
But remember, the bed frame does elevate your mattress to a comfortable sitting height. Setting the box springs directly on the floor may lose you 8 to 12 inches, which might have you adopting a deep-kneed sumo wrestler squat while trying to get out of bed. And, you’ll be losing the storage space between your foundation and the floor. So, no more space for that collection of clothes hangers, dried roses, or orphaned socks to live.
Do You Need a Box Spring If You Have Slats?
In most cases, you do not need a box spring if you’re using a bed with built-in wood slats, like those commonly used in a platform bed. Adding box springs to this setup only increases the height and weight of your bed, not the support. Platform bed slats are designed to support your mattress without the use of box springs. Adding them will just give you two foundations and a bed that looks like a Dagwood sandwich.
However, some metal slat kits are designed to act as a bed frame and support for a box spring and mattress set. If the slats are spaced too far apart a heavy mattress by itself would sag and poke through like a butt on a flimsy lawn chair. Not good for any sleep position. In that situation, you’d need slats to support your box springs and box springs to support your mattress.
Metal slat kits — like the ones pictured above — are designed to support box springs along the edges and middle of the bed frame.
Bed slats have several advantages over these other options. Cost is one. Wooden slats are generally less expensive than box springs.
Repairability, a word we may have just invented, is another—if a single slat breaks, you can replace it, not throw away the entire set. You can even make your own wooden slats!
But one broken part of a box spring means the entire thing is ready for the trash heap — unless you’re an upholster-carpenter phenom. In which case, you should probably just stop reading this and make your own customized super bed treehouse fort.
Bed slats are also easier to move than unwieldy box springs. Roll ’em up in one arm, bring ’em along in your moving van, car, or bus trip, then reinstall when you move your bed. No more scraped knuckles and profane exclamations while trying to turn a 90-degree corner with a set of unbendable box springs.
Another great thing about bed support slats is that they can be made to fit any size bed, from a twin bed up to a king bed.
Some platform beds or similar setups may use a solid plywood sheet as a mattress foundation. While solid plywood is certainly supportive, it doesn’t facilitate air circulation as well as bed slats.
Metal vs. Wood
While a wooden slatted bed is less expensive than a metal bed with slats, over time, it may bend, sag, or break under the weight of your mattress. Too much sagging will affect your sleep position and comfort level, as you inevitably sink lower and lower, forming a U-shape with every passing year.
The more expensive metal slats are much more durable and don’t bend or sag as easily as wooden ones. Some are even designed to adjust their lengths to fit different bed widths.
Do Bed Slats Make a Difference?
Yes, they do! Bed slats help make your mattress more comfortable and supportive. They also increase airflow from your headboard to your toes which can help your mattress last longer.
What Is the Best Wood for Bed Slats?
If you want to be a DIYer and build your own bed support slats, you’ll want to consider the best types of wood for them. Douglas Fir and Southern Pine are good choices because they are strong woods that are resistant to warping. It is a somewhat difficult process to create your own slatted bed frame, so unless you’re experienced with carpentry, it’s probably a good idea just to buy one.
How Far Apart Should Bed Slats Be?
The distance between your bed slats will definitely affect the support you feel while you sleep. As a general rule, the bed slats should be about 3-4” apart. This is enough room to allow for airflow to the mattress, but not so much that you lose support.
What Mattress Is Best for a Slatted Bed?
Any mattress will work just fine! Of course, we’re partial to Purple Mattresses. Purple’s patented Hyper-Elastic Polymer™ helps keep you support and cool, which is usually why you would want to pick a slatted bed.
Another option folks use on their slats are bunkie boards. This broad term encompasses any sort of solid piece of material — usually wood — set on top of slats and covered in fabric. Back in the day, this would be a piece of plywood or particle board, but you can now buy high-tech versions made with wood chips or wood strips.
Bunkie boards add as much or even more support than box springs, without adding height.
Mattress foundations are designed for today’s high-tech memory foam, latex, and space-age polymer mattresses, which don’t need the same type of support as traditional coil spring mattresses.
Like their bouncier cousins the box springs, mattress foundations are made from metal or sturdy wood and covered in breathable fabric. But mattress foundations don’t include coiled springs. They’re simply a solid frame box to support your mattress and raise it to an appropriate height off the floor.
While mattress foundations are meant to sit on a bed frame while they support your mattress, some models come as free-standing units that have their own support legs — much like platform beds with slats.
If you’re looking to swap your old box springs for a mattress foundation, you’re in luck when it comes to sizing. Mattress foundations come in the same dimensions as box springs. The standard height is nine inches, or you can go low with a four or six-inch version.
Consider which size of mattress foundation will get you to your desired height for sitting, sleeping, and folding clothes.
For those fancy schmancy peeps out there, an adjustable or power base may be the best option for a bed foundation. An adjustable base can move the head and feet up or down using a remote. This is great for severe snorers, avid readers, and those who just like customizability.
These foundations often come with a slew of other features, such as massaging vibrations, Bluetooth, and reading lights.
For the connoisseurs of slumber, the Purple PowerBase adjustable mattress foundation is truly the platform bed to rule them all.
This adjustable foundation provides optimal support for your mattress, enhancing the benefits and lifespan (any mattress fits the Purple PowerBase, but it works especially well with a Purple mattress). It also adjusts to multiple positions to make it easier to sleep, read, binge Netflix, and more. One of the coolest positions is the zero gravity option, which makes you feel like you’re floating in space David Bowie style. It’s ridiculously comfortable and also promotes heart health, spinal alignment, and proper breathing.
The PowerBase Split King turns each side of the bed into a customizable comfort zone. One sleeper can go flat with the touch of a button and the other can stay upright for an all-night True Crime binge. Sleep with a snorer? Touch the anti-snore button to adjust your partner’s bed to a snore-free position.
Another great feature of the Purple PowerBase is the massage function. And no, this isn’t like the massage chair at the mall that gives you shell-shock. The Purple foundation uses resonant-frequency massage to deliver targeted vibrations to precise areas of the body. The science is complicated, but it basically makes you feel like a hot pad of butter on a delicious stack of pancakes, melting into warm, dreamy bliss.
The Purple PowerBase is thick, padded, and ultra-durable—not like a wiry metal bed or creaking adjustable bed that you’ve always suspected might be a Decepticon. It is controllable with a bedside remote or your smartphone and has other cool features, such as under-bed lighting (to keep the monsters away), USB charging ports, and adjustable height positions.
The Purple PowerBase comes in 4 mattress sizes and fits all mattress brands. It also includes an outstanding 20-year warranty. The most advanced mattress foundation on the market, the Purple PowerBase delivers blissful sleep and optimal support no matter your mattress.
Why Get a Mattress Foundation?
Foundations provide several benefits. First, they give your bed height. Although the floor is a great, sturdy place to put your bed, it might be difficult to get in and out of bed if it’s on the ground.
If you get a foundation, get one that’s right for your bed. If you have a spring coil mattress, get a box spring that can absorb some of the pressure; otherwise, a sturdy, even foundation is best. The proper foundation will limit wear and tear on your mattress, extending the life of your bed.
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And don’t forget about air flow. When a foundation can’t “breathe,” you’ll wake up a sweaty, hot mess. Appropriately spaced slats let air move between the floor and your mattress, and box springs and foundations are covered in breathable material for the same purpose. Adequate airflow keeps your bed — and you — cool all night. That’s why setting your foundation directly on the floor is the wrong move for keeping cool.
Lastly, mattress foundations keep your bed away from dust and allergens that may exist on the floor. Plus, they can add a stylish element to your bedroom decor.
How to Shop for a Bed Foundation
You can find a mattress foundation online or at mattress stores. We’ll help you pick the right one with our handy shopping guide.
- When looking for a foundation for your mattress, first check the warranty. Make sure you know which kinds of foundations (often a box spring) will void your warranty.
- Consider that box springs can’t bend. Depending on your bedroom, you may need a more flexible, lightweight foundation, or slats if you live in a small apartment.
- Decide how high you want your mattress to sit. Remember, your foundation is going to add to the overall height at which