Why Do Beds Have Box Springs? Before You Buy

When you buy a new mattress, the salesman will try really hard to sell you a box spring. However, if you’re like me, then you’ve been questioning the need for one. Maybe you’re even wondering what the heck it is.

Beds have box springs to provide a stable foundation to help distribute the weight on the foundation, absorbing changes in pressure due to shifting weight during sleep, reducing wear and tear on the mattress, and raises the bed to a more convenient height.

What Is a Box Spring?

Traditionally, most were made up of three components: the frame, the mattress, and the box spring.

Each of these components served a purpose. The wooden or metal bed frame sits on the floor and supports the box spring and mattress.

The mattress is the soft, supportive layer that you sleep on. That just leaves the box spring.

This semi-mysterious component is the same size as the mattress so that it can provide support. Typically, they include a wooden frame, a cloth cover, and coils in the middle.

However, it’s becoming increasingly common to see “box springs” that actually have other materials instead.

By Yahquinn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

What’s a Box Spring Supposed To Do?

If you’re anything like me, then you have probably scratched your head over this thorny question more than once. I’ve got one because it gives me a soft, comfortable place to sleep.

What Does it Do For Me?

It turns out that sometimes they are necessary for getting a good night’s sleep.

Let’s look at what they are supposed to do:

  • Provides a strong, flat, and supportive surface (base) on which to support and distribute the weight.
  • Absorbs impact as you move while sleeping.
  • Reduces wear and tear on the mattress by acting like a shock absorber and 100% of the surface area is supported. Foundations with slats have gaps in between them and this can cause damage, especially to foam models.
  • Raises the bed higher off the floor so that you don’t feel like you’re still sleeping like a college student.

Once you learn all of this, you began to see the wisdom of using a box spring. However, that’s not where the story ends.

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Is It Really Necessary?

When they were invented in the 20th century, they were indispensable. That has pretty much held true until the last ten to twenty years.

Lately, I’ve noticed a movement toward doing away from this type of configuration towards platform foundations with slats or wire grids. First, that name is kind of a misnomer as many models don’t contain springs anymore.

They can extend its life and improve the comfort of your bed.

In fact, because so many models no longer contain coils, it’s become common to refer to them as “foundations.”

When you have a platform foundation, then your sleeping arrangement has a built-in foundation. This means that you don’t need a box spring or an additional type of foundation to protect your mattress.

TIP: Remember that some stores will try to force you to buy a box spring to keep any warranty on the mattress intact.

Some manufacturers won’t stand behind a mattress that’s being used on an uneven, lumpy, or weak foundation that doesn’t provide adequate support or has gaps between slats larger than 3″.

If you’re keen to hang onto a warranty, then stick to the manufacturer’s conditions.

Many of the newer foam, latex, and hybrid mattresses that are on the market today aren’t designed to be used with a box spring, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need a foundation.

A platform made from plywood or any other strong, flat material provides the right amount of support. Even better, it probably costs a lot less than a box spring.

Does it Make a Bed More Comfortable?

To me, this is a subjective question. I don’t think that a box spring makes a mattress more comfortable, and that isn’t even necessarily its purpose.

Remember, some models need a strong foundation for shock absorption, support, and achieving the right height off the ground.

It doesn’t really matter if these goals are met with a foundation, a sheet of plywood, a series of wooden slats, or a DIY pallet foundation. For more information on how to build a pallet bed see my article here.

Any of these options, and others, have the potential to bring you a better night’s sleep.

Some of the best mattresses I’ve ever slept on didn’t have box springs. What they did have was high-quality mattresses and sturdy bed frames that had platforms and offered excellent support.

Why Do Some Beds Need One?

If yours doesn’t have an alternative foundation that provides a strong surface on which to rest, then it needs one.

How can you tell if yours needs one? Take a look at your frame.

Some are simple. They may be made of a metal square and four feet or casters. For added support, they have a single cross-member in the middle.

This is the Kind of Bed Frame That Should Have One

  • It’s low to the ground.
  • It doesn’t have enough support.
  • It offers no shock absorption.

However, before you shell out hundreds of dollars and yet more hundreds of dollars on a box spring, consider that you have alternatives.

What To Do if You Don’t Want One

If you want to save money when it’s time to buy a new mattress, then you may want to look for an option that does not require one.

TIP: Not only is going without a box spring more economical but also it’s environmentally friendly. Many of the construction materials and components are difficult to recycle, and too many of these items end up in landfills.

Perhaps the easiest and most wallet-friendly way to ditch your box spring is to modify your existing bed frame.

For the DIY’er, this is a good option. You could get a sheet of plywood with the right dimensions or use broad wooden slats to make a foundation. A couple of my articles my help you:

Replace Slats with Plywood here.

TIP: If you’re looking at a foam mattress, consider the recommendation that your slats have no more than a three-inch gap between them to provide the correct support and to avoid damage.

If you’re not feeling handy, then consider buying a platform foundation that has a built-in foundation.

You could spend hundreds or thousands of dollars, but if your needs are simple, then look at this affordable pine bed frame on the IKEA website here.

For well less than $100, you’ve made the box spring obsolete and saved yourself hundreds of dollars when buying a new mattress. But remember you get what you pay for as this is not a very sturdy option.

For more information see my article Do IKEA Beds Break Easily here.

Buying a platform bed also may be an attractive choice if you don’t like the idea of retrofitting your existing foundation because it will leave you sleeping so close to the ground.

It’s kind of like being a turtle that’s stuck on his back. Not a good feeling.

Nonetheless, there are people who don’t mind sleeping close to the ground. Their solution is the easiest and most economical option of all. They just have to put their new mattress on the floor.

So Do I Need One or Not?

It’s been about five years since I decided to live without one. This decision has in no way had a negative impact on the quality of my sleep.

It’s an economical, environmentally friendly choice, but it’s not for everyone. Still, it’s definitely something that’s wise to consider when you’re in the market for a new mattress.

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