Box Spring vs. Foundation: What’s Best?
When they’re buying a new bed set, a lot of people focus almost entirely on the mattress, leaving the base as an afterthought, but this is a big mistake—one that could cost you good sleep (and even a good mattress).
Your bed base is an essential component of your sleep experience. Not only does it provide support to your mattress; it affects everything from the height of your mattress to its apparent firmness to its ability to stay cool throughout the night.
Nowadays, there are almost as many kinds of bases as there are types of mattresses, and if you get a base that’s incompatible with your mattress’s firmness, weight, or material, you’re setting yourself up for just as much discomfort and sleep disruption as you’d experience if you bought the wrong mattress.
Don’t let the fear of bad sleep keep you from upgrading to the right mattress and bed base. In our post, we cover everything you need to know about the most common mattress supports—box springs and mattress foundations—and discuss what mattress types they’re designed to pair with.
A box spring is a wooden or metal frame with a network of steel support springs interspersed at uniform intervals. Box springs are usually covered in a breathable fabric, with an anti-skid layer on top and a simple layer of dust-protecting cloth on the bottom. They’re made to sit within your bed frame, adding height to your bed and supporting your mattress.
Due to their inner coil system, box springs typically provide better give and bouncier support than mattress foundations. And since they have this extra give, box springs can help absorb shock and reduce pressure—this can make overly-firm coil mattresses more comfortable, but on the flip side, it can make soft mattresses feel even softer. Not to mention, these coils also make the box spring prone to sagging.
Mattresses They’re Compatible With
The box spring was created in the late nineteenth century as a companion to the recently-invented innerspring mattress. As such, it’s best suited for these mattresses. The extra give in the box spring coil network will help distribute the weight of the innerspring mattress more evenly. It can also aid the mattress in evenly distributing the bodyweight of the sleepers on top of it.
The coils in the box spring promote airflow beneath the mattress—offering additional cooling to the already cool innerspring. The springs also act as shock absorbers for the bouncy coils inside the innerspring.
Since they have more give than mattress foundations, box springs are usually not compatible with any kind of mattress besides the innerspring (like memory foam or latex). Why? These mattresses are heavier and can cause the weaker box springs to sag or compress too much, resulting in damage to both the mattress and box spring.
Pros and Cons
While there are a few pros to the box spring, there’s a good reason they’re starting to lose out to the mattress foundation.
- Space between coils promotes airflow
- Offers more compatible support to innerspring mattresses
- Coils act as shock absorbers
- Metal springs can squeak and creak with motion
- Springs don’t last very long
- Coils are prone to sagging
- Not compatible with memory foam, latex, or hybrid mattresses, as well as most other mattress types
Mattress foundations are wood frames with evenly-placed wooden slats across the top to provide stable support. Like box springs, mattress foundations are usually covered in a breathable fabric, but these bases are much sturdier than box springs. The rigid wooden beams offer stronger support with very little give, which can make your mattress feel firmer and provide consistent support for foam layers.
The intervals between the slats on a mattress foundation determine its level of support—the closer together the slats are, the firmer the mattress foundation. Ideal spacing for slats is usually 2 to 3 inches apart; this spacing will offer firm, even support and prevent sagging, whilst still allowing for some give. In fact, most mattress warranties specify slatted foundations contain slats no more than 3 inches apart, as wider gaps between slats can cause damage to the mattress.
Mattress foundations are generally a better overall bed base than box springs because they’re more durable, longer-lasting, and sturdy enough to bear a lot more weight. They also offer firmer support across the center of the frame, meaning they can help prevent mattresses from sagging in the middle.
Mattresses They’re Compatible With
Mattress foundations are compatible with just about any mattress. Because of the more rigid wooden construction, they can bear the weight of heavier, more modern mattresses like latex, memory foam, and hybrids.
While box springs are generally better for innerspring mattresses, mattress foundations can be a good choice for overly soft coil mattresses, as they offer enhanced support. If you’re wanting to firm up your existing coil mattress, a mattress foundation may be a better option than box springs.
Pros and Cons
Mattress foundations have a lot of things going for them, but there are a couple of drawbacks. One of the biggest issues is that these bed bases can make firm mattresses even firmer, reducing the comfort of your sleeping surface and even creating pressure points—something to keep in mind while selecting mattress firmness.
- Strong, evenly distributed support
- Resists sagging
- Will last a long time
- Compatible with virtually all mattress types
- Sturdier construction, less prone to damage
- Heavy, can be harder to move
- Can create pressure points if slats don’t allow some give
- Can be a more expensive option than box springs
Can I use a bunkie board with my base?
Bunkie boards are useful for when slats in bedframes are too far apart, or you don’t want to invest in an entire mattress foundation, as these supports are meant to reinforce your mattress on a bed base. These boards are large, single pieces of rigid wood, often made of composite or plywood to reduce cost, and they’re fine to be placed on top of both box springs and a mattress foundation for an extra layer of support.
You can also use bunkie boards to firm up a too-soft mattress. Just slide a bunkie board between your mattress and foundation to give it a little more resistance to weight.
What are some other types of bed bases?
Aside from box springs and foundations, there are a couple of other ways you can support your mattress. Platform beds are one. These bases are basically mattress foundations made to stand on their own. They have the same fundamental construction—a frame with metal rods or wood slats across it—but they have legs and stand on their own. Platform beds can come with headboards and footboards, and they also generally don’t have a fabric cover. Some come with storage space as well.
Another option is the adjustable bed base. Adjustable bases make it possible to elevate your head or feet to get into a more comfortable position, and they might also come with extra features like body massagers and lighting. These bases can be a lifesaver for people who have trouble sleeping while lying flat because of age or disability.
Can I put box springs or foundations on the floor?
Technically, yes—you can put both box springs and foundations directly on the floor, but it’s generally better to avoid doing this. Since airflow underneath the bed is eliminated, moisture can build up inside the base and mattress, which might make your mattress break down faster.
Leaving your bed base on the floor also allows for dust and dirt buildup. Not to mention it makes it easier for any pests scurrying around on the floor to crawl right into bed with you. If you want to avoid dust, moisture, and six-legged bedfellows, it’s best to have a platform or a bed frame.
How much should box springs cost?
Thankfully, box springs are a lot cheaper than a mattress, and you can expect to pay $100 to $300 for a quality traditional box spring on its own. If you’re purchasing a new mattress and you know you want a box spring to go with it, you might also be able to find deals where you can buy them as a set or get the springs for free with the mattress purchase.
How much should a foundation cost?
Mattress foundations have a much larger price range than box springs, meaning you will pay anywhere from $200 to $2000 for a quality foundation. But there’s no real reason for a foundation to cost thousands of dollars since you can get a sturdy, high-quality mattress foundation for between $200 and $500.
Though mattress foundations have more durability and firmer support than box springs, the box spring can still be a good option if you prefer a bed with more give or you simply like the feeling of a “bouncy” bed.
Whichever bed base you choose, just make sure you’re not skimping on quality. The base you put your mattress on can affect everything from its firmness to its support distribution and tendency to sag, and a cheap or incompatible mattress base can seriously impact the overall comfort level of your bed.
The good news is a lot of mattress manufacturers offer information about the best option for their products, so consider checking with them for recommendations before you buy.