What are box springs and does your mattress need one?

The white Zinus Jayanna Metal BiFold Box Spring for a mattress placed on a black metal bed frame
(Image credit: Zinus)

Box springs aren’t the most exciting bedroom purchase, but they can make a difference to how supportive your mattress is, depending upon which type you own. As we explain in our best mattress guide, most models can be used with pretty much any bed frame, but box springs can't be used with all mattresses. So what exactly are box springs and what do they do? Simply put, they are wooden and coil structures that match the size of your mattress, providing a stable and well-ventilated foundation. They also absorb shock and add height to your setup. 

While all of that is straightforward enough, there are pros and cons to using box springs. For example, they aren’t suitable for use with all mattresses as some, depending on what they’re made of, will be too heavy for a box spring. Here we run through all the essential information you need, including what difference they make, and how box springs compare to other types of bases and supports.

In this feature we also look at whether box springs can be used with memory foam mattresses, traditional innerspring models and the more affordable mattresses in a box.

What are box springs and what are they used for?

Most standard box springs comprise a sturdy wooden (or metal) frame filled with a secure set of wire coils to provide support for your mattress, improve airflow around it, and to provide shock absorption too. Box springs are wrapped in fabric, so they can look similar to the mattress when placed on a bed frame. They can be stylish and versatile, like the Zinus Jayanna Steel BiFold Box Spring , or they can be plainer, like the Amazon Basics Smart Box Spring.

Mattress and box spring

(Image credit: Getty)

Other reasons that you might want to use a box spring include raising your mattress higher – this is a good idea if you’re tall – and to provide a more stable foundation if you’re using a collapsible metal bed frame.

Box frames provide support for more traditional and thinner innerspring mattresses, but because mattress tech has developed so much in the past few years, box springs are not as widely used. Sometimes they can actually be worse for modern mattresses. Let’s look at why that might be…

Are box springs necessary for your mattress? 

Before you jump in and buy a box spring for your mattress, check that it is compatible. If you have a thinner innerspring mattress (which are prone to sagging) and a traditional metal bed frame, then using a box spring should be fine. If you have a hybrid, latex or all-foam mattress, then a box spring might not be suitable as the mattress could be too heavy for it. These newer models also use materials that are natural ‘shock absorbers’, so you won’t need this feature from a box spring.

Other reasons to use a box spring include because the mattress manufacturer recommends it. If you aren’t sure, then check the brand’s website first or contact them via customer service. In some instances using a box spring can actually invalidate a warranty or damage the mattress, so definitely check beforehand.

If you want to add height to your bed, then a boxspring is a good solution. But if your mattress doesn’t fit with a box spring, consider using a good mattress topper to add comfort and a few extra inches (think about using a mattress protector to keep your bed fresh too). You could also use a bed riser (these come in different heights). Alternatively, there are plenty of brands that offer thicker mattresses that will help boost the height of your bed.

Remember, box springs are only really recommended if you have an innerspring mattress. If you have a bed in a box, then box springs are generally not a good fit. 

A woman with dark hair lies down while hanging off the edge of a white mattress

(Image credit: Getty)

Do box springs make a difference to your mattress?

Box springs are mainly used because they keep the mattress ventilated, providing an excellent solution for people who sleep hot (also see our guide to the top cooling mattresses). They are also effective at helping reduce motion transfer on your innerspring mattress. If you have a metal bed frame, a box spring should provide even support for your mattress, preventing it from sagging in the middle. 

Box springs can also be used to make innerspring models last longer, providing a durable and stable surface for them to rest on. You can use them directly beneath your mattress either on a bed frame or on the floor.

How tall are box springs?

Box springs are generally 9 inches in height although some can be around 7 or 8 inches too. If you need the extra height because you are tall or find it easier to get in and out of bed more easily when you have that extra height, then box springs are a good solution. If you want something other than the standard box-spring height, there are much taller options (such as 16-inch box springs) available.

Box springs vs foundation: key differences

Placing your mattress on a foundation is another way to add support. Foundations are similar to box springs but comprise wooden slats instead of metal coils to reduce bounce. Foundations are good for all types of mattresses, and can be used with a bed frame or just by itself. They’re especially good for heavier memory foam models.

Foundations provide many of the same benefits as a box spring – such as added height and support – but foundations are generally more durable. Choose one with closely spaced slats (roughly 3 inches apart) to maintain effective ventilation, but also ensure the weight of the mattress is evenly supported.

A Saatva Mattress placed on a foundation on a grey fabric base

Saatva (pictured) makes a range of bed frames and bases, including simple yet supportive foundations (Image credit: Saatva)

You’ll find that many sleep brands will guide you through which type of base to pick. Saatva, for example, recommends using a foundation for its Classic model (read our Saatva Classic Mattress review) if you want a base that works with a range of bed frames.

Box springs vs platform: key differences

Platform beds are sturdy, supportive and affordable. They look pretty stylish too, combining a foundation with a frame. They also tend to be lower to the ground – with a height of anything from a few inches up to 1ft. So if you struggle to get in or out of bed easily, then a platform might not be for you.

Platform beds typically have a stable surface with wooden slats, and provide adequate airflow for most types of mattresses. However, if you are using an innerspring model, you might prefer the feel of a box spring as a platform bed can be quite firm. Many platform beds also come with added storage drawers built in, which is ideal if you’re short on space in your bedroom. 

Sleep innovator Purple makes a Platform Bed Frame that’s suitable for use with hybrid and foam models, including its own (read our Purple Mattress review to learn more).

Are box springs outdated? 

Mattresses have come a long way since the days of the traditional innerspring and there’s now more choice than ever with memory foam, latex and hybrids leading the way. However, because modern types are not always compatible with box springs, it means this type of support is being used less and less. 

Box springs are still an excellent choice when paired with innerspring mattresses though, and many people prefer the feel of them. In short, as long as you have some sort of foundation and it’s compatible with your bed, that’s what matters.

Do box springs wear out?

One disadvantage of box springs is that they tend to wear down quicker than other bases. This is simply down to the nature of coils and their tendency to deteriorate quicker, similar to innerspring mattresses, which tend to have a lifespan of five to seven years. To help yours last longer, make sure you are regularly cleaning and rotating it according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Read our feature on how often you should rotate or flip your mattress for more guidance.

Remember that extra weight can cause a higher level of wear and tear on a box spring, and heavy mattresses are not well-suited to box springs. Read the weight guidelines for your chosen box spring before purchasing to make sure it will work with your bed before you spend any money. 

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Grace Franks

Grace is an experienced sleep writer and mattress reviewer who also contributes to our sister site TechRadar, among other Future plc brands. She's a big fan of organic sleep products and has recently invested in a wool mattress topper that she quite happily describes as "life-changing." (Hey, we're serious about our sleep products). When she isn't testing mattresses or writing about sleep, Grace enjoys reading and creative writing, and incorporates meditation and yoga into her wellness routine.