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.
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!
Now to the nitty-gritty details.
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.
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 wood slats are less expensive than metal ones, over time, they tend to 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.
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 more bouncy 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.
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.
What’s up with the sumo wrestlers? Click here!
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 sitting 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
- 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 you sleep and sit on your bed.
- Add up the body weight of everyone who will be sleeping, jumping, and sitting on the bed. That, along with the weight of your mattress, will determine your foundation’s weight limits.
- Look for features that suit your needs. Consider height and head and footboard attachments, if you have them.
The Purple™ Platform Base
Purple recommends anyone with a Purple mattress uses the Purple Platform Base as well. This base was specifically designed to best support the Purple® Bed.
It is strong so it can support Purple’s hefty 140 lbs. of comfort technology, it’s an additional 2.5 inches taller than standard bases so it’s the right height without a box spring, and it’s quiet so you get uninterrupted sleep all night.
Using a weak or broken base with a Purple, or any mattress, can leave you in pain because your body isn’t being supported evenly. For better sleep, consider how solid your bed foundation is.
Want to try the Purple Platform out for yourself? Check it out here!