What Exactly Are Box Springs, and Do You Need Them?

Depending on your bed frame or mattress type, you might. Here's everything you need to know to choose the right support system for a good night's sleep.

Box springs are a common component of any bed set. But many new mattresses claim not to need this under-mattress support. While some people swear by their benefits, others find them bulky and unnecessary. Here’s exactly what a box spring is, its benefits, and alternatives. Aside from tradition or design, here’s how to determine whether you actually need one. 

What Are Box Springs? 

split box spings on bed

Getty Images/timyee

A box spring is a type of mattress support typically made of metal coils or springs embedded inside a wooden frame and covered in fabric. A mattress rests on top of it, so you’ll need one that matches the size of the bed. The purpose of a box spring is to support a mattress and elevate it off the ground at a comfortable height. They also improve airflow to help keep the mattress cooler. A box spring absorbs the impact of tossing and turning, and helps reduce wear and tear on a mattress sitting directly on a metal or wooden frame. Typically, a box spring should be replaced every ten years. 

While all mattresses benefit from having a firm foundation, most modern mattresses claim not to need a box spring. Here’s what you need to know if you’re looking for a new bed set. 

What Types of Beds Need a Box Spring?

Over a decade ago, box springs were practically required when purchasing a new mattress. They are designed for coil-based mattresses and offer additional support to absorb any shifts in weight atop the mattress. Nowadays, many beds don’t need a box spring including platform beds, adjustable beds, foam mattresses, air mattresses, and water beds. They are designed to provide their own support. However, some people still use box springs for aesthetics or height.

Whether your mattress needs a box spring will depend on the type of mattress and the bed frame you have. Most traditional or collapsible metal rail bed frames require a box spring because they are designed to hold a box spring. Without one, they do not provide sufficient support for the mattress. Innerspring mattresses are also designed for box spring use. And manufacturers may specifically recommend one for optimal use with their bed or mattress design. 

What Are the Benefits of a Box Spring?

Box springs are a strong and stable foundation for your mattress. They also elevate the mattress closer to hip height—making it easier to get in and out of bed without as much strain on the knees or back.

There are several benefits of a box spring. It helps evenly distribute body weight and support the mattress, preventing sagging and lumping. Their supportive coils help extend the lifespan of coil mattresses. Box springs can also enhance the comfort of the sleeping surface by providing additional cushioning and shock absorption. Last, they promote greater airflow through the mattress, which can help regulate temperature and prevent mold and mildew growth on the underside of the mattress. 

What Are the Alternatives?

There are plenty of mattresses that don’t need a box spring.

One of the most common alternatives is a platform bed, which features a solid base or slats that provide sturdy support for your mattress. Most platform beds have wooden legs that elevate the frame to a height that would be too tall if a box spring were added. These are all-in-one solutions that can be pricier than a normal bedframe alone but can be comparable when you factor in the combined cost of a box spring and a normal bed frame.

A mattress foundation is a solid wooden base, which may have slats to undergird the mattress. Foam mattresses could benefit from a lightweight foundation to create a firm surface. 

A bunkie board is a thin, sturdy piece of wooden board (usually plywood or particle board) that can be placed on top of a traditional bed frame. These are commonly used on bunk beds. A bunkie board provides a solid foundation similar to a platform bed. At just one to three inches thick, they provide support but not additional height. 

Adjustable bases are a must for adjustable beds. They allow you to customize the angle and height of your mattress for optimal comfort. These mechanical bed frames support a mattress that also moves with it, so these usually come together as a mattress system. They are powered by electricity and are highly adaptable to the needs of their user. Some even adjust separately on the left and right sides of the bed. Although these are more expensive than other mattress systems, these kinds of beds are ideal for aging-in-place, people with medical needs, and couples with different sleep preferences.

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