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Box Spring vs. Foundation: What's the Difference?

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

The biggest myth in mattress buying is that you need a box spring. While a supportive surface for your mattress is paramount to its comfort and longevity, there is another option: a foundation. A foundation does the exact same job as a box spring but lasts longer and provides much better support. Not to mention it’s one less thing to lug upstairs to the bedroom every time you move.

As mattress professionals with over 50 years of experience, we’ve learned the benefits of foundations over box springs first hand. Plus, we want to make sure that every custom mattress we craft is as comfortable and long-lasting as possible. So, in this guide, we’re going to explain the difference between a box spring and a foundation, answer all your questions and tackle all the false assumptions people have about box springs. Let’s get started:

What is a Box Spring?

A box spring is a wooden frame with supporting coils or ‘springs’ inside of it. The coils are usually cone-shaped wires, which salespeople will tell you provide flexibility for stiff mattresses, or square coils which they say offers more support. The coils are always located inside the frame, with the top covered in anti-skid fabric so the mattress can lie directly on top of it.

The box spring is intended to...

  • Support the mattress

  • Make the mattress taller

  • Protect the mattress by absorbing impact

  • Improve the airflow of the mattress

For decades, the box spring was touted as a necessary purchase when buying your new mattress. However today, more people know about foundations or sleep on platform beds which replace the need for a box spring. It should also be noted that you should never put a memory foam or hybrid mattress on a box spring, as it does not provide the proper support.

Pros of a box spring

  • The coils are shock-absorbing, reducing motion transfer

  • The springs allow for good airflow

  • It supports the mattress

  • They’re great for tall people who need extra tall beds

Cons of a box spring

  • The coils can be noisy

  • The coils can sag and wear over time

  • The non-skid fabric frays and fails over time and is also easy to tear

  • They’re not compatible with memory foam mattresses

  • They make moving the bed more difficult, especially in staircases and narrow spaces.

We’re not hating on box springs; they’re the most affordable mattress base, but they are a bit outdated, and they. are. heavy. They’re definitely the best option for innerspring mattresses, but in this day and age, with the option of custom memory foam, hybrid foam and latex mattresses, why would you buy an innerspring anyway?

What is a Foundation?

A foundation, sometimes referred to as a platform bed frame, is basically anything that supports, raises and holds your mattress. Usually, it is made of a metal frame and wooden slats. Foundations provide a much firmer base for your mattress, especially those custom memory foam and latex ones. Foundations don’t require a separate bed frame like box springs do, making them a great style choice and easier to move than their box spring counterparts.

The foundation is intended to…

  • Support the mattress

  • Hold your mattress in the frame

  • Replace traditional box spring frames

  • Improve the airflow of the mattress

Foundations provide a very solid, firm surface for your bed to rest on, which makes it a great choice for people who would normally put their mattress on the floor and those who want to maximize the longevity of their mattress. Usually, people assume that a foundation is only good for a foam or hybrid mattress, but actually, this foundation works well for spring mattresses as well.

Pros of a foundation

  • Sturdy, even support

  • Can be used with any type of mattress

  • The most durable type of bed foundation

  • Good airflow thanks to open slats

  • Often made in modular forms, making them easy to set up, take apart and move

Cons of a foundation

  • Solid wood foundations can be heavy

  • Because they are sturdy, they don’t have a lot of give

  • Not ideal for sleepers who need a soft sleep

Depending on the foundation, you could spend way less or way more than for a traditional box spring. The main thing about foundations, especially modular ones, is that they’re a set-it-and-forget-it situation. They’re simple, no-maintenance, long-lasting, and versatile; the perfect complement to a thick, plush memory foam mattress.

Foundations are also hypoallergenic because there’s no fabric involved, which can be an allergen and will also collect allergens over time. If you’re someone with sensitivities, there’s no bed more hypoallergenic than a coated metal foundation and a latex mattress. Plus, foundations are space-saving in cases of huge beds like Alaska kings or crazy 12-foot-wide beds, where you don’t want to take up extra space with a whole bulky frame, headboard and footboard combo.

6 Biggest Assumptions People Make about Box Springs

There are many myths about box springs out there. Mostly, they’re just dated ideas that haven’t yet fully phased out. These are the most common box spring myths we’ve come across as custom mattress crafters:

1. Box springs last longer.

This is not the case. Because box springs have coils inside, these can sag and give way over time. When this happens, it can’t properly support your mattress, which can affect how comfortable your mattress is.

2. Box springs extend the mattress life and make it more comfortable.

Actually, a solid foundation will last longer, making your custom mattress last longer and remain more comfortable over time. Box springs have coils inside, which can seem like they would make your bed softer and more comfortable. However, over time the coils inside the box spring will sag and affect the life and comfort of your mattress.

3. Box springs are better for innerspring mattresses.

Typically, a salesperson will tell you that a box spring is for an innerspring mattress because it has springs that support, and evenly distribute the weight of the mattress. However, an innerspring mattress can be supported by a foundation, too, and this is usually the better option.

4. You should always use a box spring.

Nope. Not only is it not necessary to use one on an innerspring mattress, but it can actually affect the comfort and longevity of a memory foam or hybrid mattress. This is because the coils inside of a box spring cannot properly support a memory foam or hybrid mattress, causing the mattress to even feel differently when you lay down on it. Both memory foam and hybrid mattresses are designed to lay on top of the hard, sturdy surface that a foundation supplies.

5. You should always use a box spring for a spring mattress.

False. There is a common assumption that if you have a spring mattress, you need to have a matching box spring to support it. Often, mattress retailers will tell you that the springs in the box spring help distribute the weight properly. However, this is not the case. In fact, a foundation provides a much better, more resilient structure for your spring mattress.

6. A box spring is the best way to lift your mattress.

Not true. Besides providing support, many people think that they need a box spring to lift their mattress higher. The height of a box spring does lift your mattress up to a nice height that makes it easy to get in and out of bed. However, a foundation can also provide the same height you know and love from a box spring. Both box springs and foundations usually sit 6 to 8 inches high. Some of the higher models will come in at 9 inches, and the lower-profile foundation and box springs sit around 4 to 5 inches high.

6 Things People Don’t Know about Mattress Foundations

Foundations are (sort of) new to the game; they came right along with the memory-foam-mattress boom. Especially now that you can literally buy a bed in a box, people are loving ordering custom-made beds online – mattress, foundation, bedding and all. They show up at your house in manageable packaging, and are simple to set up. But there are also additional, lesser-known facts about mattress foundations:

1. A foundation can replace a box spring.

Often, people do not realize that there are alternatives to a box spring. A foundation is a great choice to replace a box spring because it is sturdy and long-lasting. What's more, if you think your box spring isn’t working for you anymore, or you want to try and improve the comfort of your bed, you can easily replace it with a foundation since they are the same size and shape and provide similar support and lift.

2. Foundations are more reliable.

Because the coils in a box spring can sag over time, the solid surface of a foundation actually makes it much more reliable.

3. A foundation looks just like a box spring.

What many people don’t realize is that from the outside, a box spring and a foundation look exactly the same. Usually, your bedding will cover your foundation or box spring anyways, so you don’t have to worry about the aesthetics.

4. Foundations lift your mattress higher.

The reason many people love using a box spring is that it lifts the mattress up higher so it is easier to get in and out of bed. A foundation can provide the same boost in height as a box spring, usually around 6 to 10 inches.

5. Foundations can be used on all types of beds.

What is great about a foundation is that it can be used with any type of mattress — whether it is a spring mattress, foam mattress, latex mattress or hybrid mattress. Foundations are even compatible with custom mattresses and specialty mattresses. Many people wrongly assume something like a round mattress may come standard with a box spring, but this is not the case. Whether you’re buying a niche, custom-sized mattress or a standard queen, a foundation can be a great option.

6. Foundations can provide great airflow.

Foundations are made up of slats that usually sit one to three inches apart, which allows for good breathability and airflow for your mattress.

Box Springs vs Foundation FAQs

Five of the most common questions we get about bed foundations/box springs are:

Who would benefit from switching to a custom mattress foundation?

Everyone! Foundations offer the most evenly-distributed support, because every part of the mattress has the same material underneath it. This is opposed to box springs, which have isolated supported spots made of coil and wire. Pairing a supportive custom mattress with tailored contour abilities with a foundation is ideal for:

  • Back sleepers

  • Side sleepers

  • Overweight people

  • People with joint problems

  • Stomache sleepers

  • Light sleepers

  • Hot sleepers

Which type of mattress construction is best with a foundation?

While foundations support and extend the life of any type of mattress, they’re especially useful for memory foam and latex mattresses. And there are a few reasons for that:

  • Convenience. Custom mattresses made of latex and memory foam can be compressed to ship in boxes, making them simple to get up a small staircase before unpacking. Foundations, especially metal ones, also come in folded form, making them smaller and simpler to move as well.

  • Space-Saving. A foundation can be designed to fit the footprint of the mattress without all that other bulky stuff a traditional box spring bed frame has.

  • Flexibility. Foundations are the simplest type of bed frame, which means they’re also the easiest to find/build in unique sizes and shapes. You’ll never find a box spring for a short queen mattress or a folding mattress for a pullout couch. But you can find a foundation solution for those non-traditional beds.

  • Support. Box springs can compromise the supportive aspects of memory foam and latex mattresses, but foundations’ evenly-distributed support maximizes the supportive properties of a customized foam or latex mattress.

Can you tell the difference between a box spring and a foundation?

When looking at a bed frame, you can’t tell if it has a box spring or a foundation on top of it. This is because box springs and foundations are usually housed in wooden boxes. However, you may be able to tell the difference once you are on the bed. A foundation provides a much firmer surface than a box spring, so you may be able to feel the difference when you are on it. You may also be able to tell the difference over time since the springs in a box spring can sag and provide less support over time.

How do you rotate a mattress with a foundation?

Flipping a mattress requires you to lift the mattress up, and turn it around so that where you laid your head before is where you will lay your feet. When you flip your mattress, you don’t have to worry about the foundation since it will stay in place just as it is. On the other hand, if you have a box spring, every time you flip your mattress you should also flip your box spring. This is because just like your mattress, it will wear out in certain spots over time.

Why do salespeople want to sell you a box spring with your mattress?

Often, a salesperson will tell you that a box spring extends the life of your mattress. They may even tell you that without the box spring, your mattress won’t hold up to the warranty.

The reason behind this is that bed frames are usually not sold with any sort of base for you to lay your mattress on. This will cause your mattress to sag over time, and it definitely won’t be as comfortable. However, if you have a platform bed, or you decide to use a foundation instead of a box spring, your mattress will be sturdy and comfortable for years to come.

Why We Love Foundations for Our Custom Mattress Creations

Making mattresses is kind of our thing, and we’ve developed a real preference for platform bed frames (AKA foundations). There are just too many advantages over box springs, especially for memory foam, hybrid and latex mattresses. If you’re curious about our mattress models and custom bedding designs, take a look around our site and get started designing your new made-for-you mattress!


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