What is a mattress foundation?

What is a mattress foundation, featuring a lifestyle image of Casper The Foundation Bed Base
(Image credit: Casper)

What is a mattress foundation and is it the right choice for your sleep setup? If you’ve just invested in a new mattress, or are considering purchasing one of our recommended best mattresses, you’ll want to make sure that you have a bed frame or base that will support it. Enter mattress foundations – a wood foundation with a flat and sturdy wooden board or slat system on top.  

Typically covered with an airy, breathable material, mattress foundations have grown in popularity because they’re compatible with a wide variety of mattress types. And, if you think about how important sleep is and how much time we spend in bed, you’ll no doubt see how vital it is to have not only a high-quality mattress but an equally supportive base underneath. 

With Labor Day fast approaching, this could be the perfect time to invest in a mattress foundation – keep an eye on our guide to this year’s Labor Day mattress sales to see the biggest discounts on mattresses, bases and all other bedroom furniture. But for now, let's go more in-depth with mattress foundations and explore how they can further enhance your sleep...

What is a mattress foundation?

A mattress foundation is a mattress base that’s sturdy, wooden and boxed. Unlike a box spring, a mattress foundation employs wooden slats or a wooden board to support your mattress rather than springs and coils. With a mattress foundation, these slats (or board) are placed within a wooden box, which is then covered with a breathable fabric. 

Most modern mattress foundations also come with legs so that you can use them as not only a foundation but also your bed base. However, you can also use them in conjunction with a bed frame to add both height and support to your mattress.

The main benefits of a mattress foundation are...

  • Compatibility with most mattress types
  • Provides a strong base for your mattress
  • Keeps your mattress stable throughout the night
  • Durability and even support

How much do mattress foundations cost?

As with most things in the sleep world, you’ll find a huge range of prices when it comes to mattress foundations. But, in general, you can pick up a foundation for less than many other types of bed base.

In the US, Casper offers its queen-sized mattress foundation for $349. However, if you want to raise the foundation off the floor, you’ll need to add a compatible metal bed frame for an extra $149. You may be able to save even more on this already-affordable setup during Casper mattress sales.

At the other end of the pricing scale, Amerisleep’s high-end mattress foundation retails at $1,299, although you’ll regularly find it discounted to around $800 in ongoing mattress sales.  

Prices are slightly cheaper in the UK. Ikea offers a double-sized mattress foundation for £254. It's basic yet sturdy — and will get the job done if all you need is something to keep your mattress stable. 

Or go for the ‘Signature Bed’ from one of our favorite mattress brands, Emma. This mattress foundation has legs and you can even choose to add storage drawers underneath. Retailing at £778 for a double, we’ve seen it offered for as low as £389 in Emma mattress sales

What are mattress foundations made of?

What is a mattress foundation, with a look inside the IKEA ESPEVÄR bed base

(Image credit: IKEA)

In general, mattress foundations follow a broad construction pattern. A wooden or metal frame is accompanied by an interior of wooden slats or a solid board. Both the frame and the slats / board are often covered with fabric. They are designed so that the mattress will slot completely into the frame, which will cover the sides of said mattress entirely. Mattress foundations vary hugely in height as well, adding anything from 5 to 15 inches. 

Some mattress foundations come with detachable legs (as opposed to already-attached), and others can be used in conjunction with various bed frames. Think of a mattress foundation as the modern version of a box spring. But, because it’s springless, it won’t sag or break down over time as box springs are prone to do. 

The most common components of a mattress foundation are:

  • A wooden or metal frame – This is the same height (or fractionally taller) than a mattress and is designed for said mattress to slot directly into. The frame is sometimes covered with fabric for added comfort.
  • Wooden slats or a solid wooden board – At the bottom of the frame you’ll find either wooden slats or a solid wooden board. These support the mattress when it’s lying on top of them. The slats / board are also often covered in a breathable fabric, which helps to promote airflow and protect the mattress from snagging on the wood.
  • Legs / frame – Some mattress foundations come with detachable legs whilst others are part of a more solid frame with permanently attached legs. You’ll also find mattress foundations that can be used in conjunction with a separate bed frame so you can raise your mattress off the floor.

Are mattress foundations comfortable to sleep on?

The simple answer to this is ‘yes’ because the whole ethos of a mattress foundation is to add extra comfort and support to your mattress. How does the mattress foundation help to make your mattress more comfortable?

First, the frame is designed to be a snug fit for your mattress. This means that the mattress won’t move around during the night, no matter how restless a sleeper you are. This is obviously aided by the slats / board at the bottom of the frame. But these also provide rigidity and stop the mattress from sagging in different parts. 

Mattress foundations can also aid with temperature regulation, especially when used in conjunction with one of the best cooling mattresses. Many manufacturers choose to cover the slats / board with an airy, breathable fabric. This helps to keep air circulating, which in turn will leave sleepers feeling cool. Casper’s mattress foundation in the US and Ikea’s Espevär foundation in the UK are good places to start looking for cheaper but still comfortable options.

How long do mattress foundations last?

How long your mattress lasts is directly impacted by the foundation it’s resting on. A good quality mattress foundation could easily last 10 years and this can, by extension, help prolong the life of your mattress. 

The lifespan of your mattress foundation is also up to you. Make sure you take good care of your foundation by adhering to these two points:

  • Maintenance – We’re used to rotating our mattresses every 3 months, but it’s amazing how often people forget to rotate their mattress foundation at the same time. Just like your mattress, rotating your foundation will help minimize wear and tear building up in one specific place. 
  • Hygiene – Tempting as it is, don’t make a habit of breakfast in bed. Crumbs attract bugs. To prevent bacteria, dust mites and bed bugs, make sure you vacuum your foundation every 3 months. Wash your sheets regularly and always use a mattress protector.

Just like a mattress warranty, various mattress foundations come with their own terms and conditions, which can give a rough estimation of how long a manufacturer thinks their foundation will last. 

Some of the more expensive mattress foundations also offer a trial period. Much like the popular mattress trial periods, this will allow you test the foundation at home over several weeks (or months) before deciding whether or not you want to keep it. 

Do mattress foundations work with all mattresses?

What is a mattress foundation, using Amerisleep Bed Base as an example

(Image credit: Amerisleep)

Mattress foundations are a great investment precisely because they do work with all mattress types. However, there are a few things to take into consideration. 

First, make sure that the mattress foundation you’ve chosen can cope with the weight of both your chosen mattress and the combined body weight of the people who will be sleeping on it. 

Second, make sure you get the right kind of mattress foundation for your mattress type. Innerspring mattresses are the most forgiving and are durable enough to be placed onto most bases. But modern mattresses such as memory foam, latex, polyfoam or hybrids work best on either a solid board base or slats that are no more than 2.75 inches apart.

Who should buy a mattress foundation?

There aren’t many people who won’t benefit from a decent mattress foundation. They help to improve the lifespan of your mattress and provide a multitude of other benefits. We’d recommend them for:

  • Extending the lifespan of your mattress - A good quality foundation protects your mattress from damage and tears by keeping it encased. 
  • Those looking for a firmer feel to their mattress - The additional support also helps to reduce wear and tear. 
  • Restless sleepers - A mattress foundation helps to absorb motion by keeping the mattress stable within its frame.
  • Hot sleepers - A good mattress helps pull heat from the body to prevent sleepers getting too hot. It'll lift the mattress up and allow more air to circulate under the bed. Breathable fabrics covering the slats or board will also help to vent the mattress. 

Who shouldn’t buy a mattress foundation?

Although mattress foundations suit almost everyone, the key is in the word almost. They might not suit you if:

  • You want a very soft bed that allows you to sink into it, as the foundation may be too firm for your requirements. Consider a mattress topper instead.
  • You want a base that has a little give and flex in it. Again, if you want to make your bed softer, consider purchasing a mattress topper.
  • You want a bed you can move on a regular basis – mattress foundations are heavy to shift about. 
  • You’re prone to building up pressure points as this can occasionally happen with firmer surfaces.

What is a mattress foundation: Summary

Emma Signature Bed

(Image credit: Emma)

A mattress foundation is a wooden or metal frame with wooden slats or a wooden board generally covered in breathable fabric that provides support and comfort to your mattress. Compatible with all the major mattress types, a good quality mattress foundation will help to extend the lifespan of your mattress and protect it from damage. The base will also help to give sleepers strong, even support throughout their mattress.

There are a variety of mattress foundations on the market but expect to pay around $400 for a decent queen-sized foundation in the US, with popular brands such as Casper starting in this bracket. In the UK a decent but basic mattress foundation from Ikea starts at £254 for a double, with a more luxurious offering from Emma coming in at over £700 full price (frequently reduced to just under £400.

If you're a restless sleeper or prone to overheating, a mattress foundation is an easy way to upgrade your sleep setup. The right mattress foundation can transform your bed so that it's more stable or cooling. Best of all, a foundation will work with most popular mattress types — from memory foam mattresses to hybrid mattresses. Just make sure to purchase the right type of foundation for your mattress type first.

Ready to purchase a new mattress foundation? Check out some of the best deals we're seeing right now...

Claire Davies
Senior Sleep Editor, Certified Sleep Science Coach

Claire Davies is Tom's Guide's mattress expert and main sleep product tester with over 15 years' product review experience, and she is responsible for all mattress and sleep coverage on the site. A qualified journalist, Sleep Editor and Certified Sleep Science Coach, Claire writes about all things related to sleep, from mattress reviews to the latest sleep techniques and research. Claire has interviewed a wealth of experts, from mattress designers and innovators to neuroscientists and doctors of sleep medicine. Before taking on the role of Sleep Editor, Claire worked as Health & Wellness Editor at Top Ten Reviews, and before that was a Senior Content Editor at T3. Claire is super-passionate about how consistent, good quality sleep can boost our physical and mental wellbeing, and would love to hear from PRs and brands regarding sleep products, services and research that can help our readers sleep better than ever.