Mattress 101

Mattress Foundation Guide

By Alesandra Woolley
Learn how to choose the right foundation for your mattress, your budget and your space

The foundation you choose for your mattress can have a major impact on the way your mattress feels and how long it lasts you. We get it…you’ve spent all this time finding the perfect mattress, and now you have to research the best foundation to put it on. Don’t sweat it: we’re going to help you navigate the world of mattress foundations and choose the best option for your mattress, your space, and your budget.

Why it’s important to have a good foundation for your mattress

A good mattress foundation can offer lots of sleeping benefits you might not even be thinking of. While it may just seem like an “add-on,” you actually want to think of your mattress and foundation as a pair. Here’s why your foundation shouldn’t just be an afterthought:

  • It provides added support. Putting your mattress on a strong foundation can help prevent sagging and can also change the way your mattress feels (in a good way); having the right support means you’re experiencing all the benefits of your mattress the way it was intended.
  • It helps your mattress last longer. A good, sturdy foundation helps keep your mattress structurally intact by absorbing some of the motion and weight put on your mattress, which helps it keep its shape longer.
  • It adds height. A foundation can add up to 16 inches of height to your mattress, which makes getting in and out of your bed easier. Most nightstands are constructed assuming you’re using some sort of foundation with your mattress so the height will be in-line with your overall bed height.
  • It keeps your bed in place. Good foundations help keep your mattress from moving around while you’re getting in and out of it, or while performing other night-time activities. (You know what we’re talking about.)
  • It helps keep it clean. Raising your mattress off the ground can help protect it from dirt, dust and mold.
  • It helps with airflow. Depending on the type of foundation you choose, it can help promote mattress breathability, and therefore, help you get a cooler night’s sleep.

Generally, you don’t want to put a brand new mattress on an old foundation. You wouldn’t build a new house on top of rotting wood, would you?

Factors to consider when choosing your mattress foundation

When choosing your mattress foundation, there are a few things you’ll want to pay close attention to. Some might be more important to you than others, but this shouldn’t be like that time you bought those new heels because they’re super chic but hurt like hell. Pain is not beauty when it comes to mattress foundations, so make sure you’re prioritizing things like comfort and durability. Most of these foundations will be hidden under bed skirts or covers anyway.Here are some factors that might influence which type of foundation you ultimately choose:

Here are some factors that might influence which type of foundation you ultimately choose:

TYPE OF MATTRESS YOU HAVE

There are certain foundations that work best with the type of mattress you have (or are about to have). For example, memory foam mattresses work best on solid, flat foundations like a solid platform, slatted bed frame (as long as the materials are sturdy), or even the floor. Most mattress brands will include the types of foundations they recommend on their website. The size of your mattress can also help inform how much support you need. For larger mattresses (queen, king and California king), you’ll want to make sure that your foundation can support the weight of your mattress as well as provide good center support so your mattress doesn’t sink in the middle.

BUDGET

Some foundations (especially the fancy adjustable bed frames) can end up costing more than your mattress. But you can get a decent foundation for a couple hundred dollars. While you don’t want to skimp on your foundation, there are more wallet-friendly options available.

DURABILITY/LONGEVITY

Pay attention to the quality of materials your foundation is made from. You’ll want to make sure it lasts you a while and is also built to adequately support your mattress.

EASE OF SET-UP AND BREAKDOWN

Some foundations that are shipped online and require assembly can be like a life-size jigsaw puzzle, while others are much simpler to build. If ease of set-up is important to you, make sure you pay attention to how it ships and what kind of assembly is required.

STYLE/DESIGN

Many foundations will be covered by a bed skirt or other bedding materials, which makes this factor less relevant, but there are some beautiful bed frames that can really serve as a statement piece to your bedroom. Even if style is not top on your list, you’ll definitely want to make sure your foundation fits your mattress and fits in your room. If you’re planning to use an existing headboard, make sure you map out the dimensions to see if it will still work with your new foundation.

WARRANTY

Not all mattress company warranties are covered if you use a foundation that’s not recommended by them. Make sure you take note of your mattresses warranty policy and whether they only cover damages or sagging if you’re using a recommended foundation. If you’re not sure, just ask. Most mattress companies offer a live chat service or have a customer service representative you can contact to find out.


The different types of mattress foundations and bed frames available

BOX SPRING

A box spring is a sturdy platform usually made up of a wooden or metal framework and covered in material. Traditional box springs were constructed with actual springs inside the framework, but modern box springs don’t contain the springs anymore, making them more lightweight and easy to ship/transport.

Box springs can be used alone or with a metal or wood platform base.   

  • Price range: ~$100-$300
  • Best used with: Most types of mattresses. Some memory foam mattresses require a sturdier platform, so be sure to see what your manufacturer recommends before choosing a box spring.

Our top picks:

Split foundation box springs are another good option if you have a small space or need easier transportation. Two separate pieces make up the full size of your bed. If you decide to use a split foundation, you’ll want to make sure you have a platform base or bed frame to rest it on so the pieces don’t separate or move around.


METAL BED FRAME

Metal bed frames are most commonly used to help keep the box spring in place and add even more height to your bed. Some metal bed frames are adjustable to fit the size of your bed.

  • Price range: ~$50-$150
  • Best used with: Box springs. (You won’t want to put your mattress directly on a metal bed frame – there’s not enough support and will cause your mattress to sag in weird places.)

Our top picks:


METAL PLATFORM BASE

Metal platform bases are a great way to support and raise your mattress while getting great storage underneath your bed. You can also place your mattress right on top of these platforms – a box spring is not needed.

Some assembly is usually required, but it’s much easier to break down and transport than a box spring. If you plan on using a headboard, you may need to purchase additional connector pieces in some cases. 

  • Price range: ~$90 – $200
  • Best used with: Most types of mattresses. Some memory foam mattresses require a studier or more solid platform, so be sure to see what your manufacturer recommends before choosing a platform base.

Our top picks:


SLATTED BED FOUNDATION

Slatted bed foundations are made of wood or metal frames with planks of wood, metal or other materials spaced out across the frame.

Depending on the height, slatted bed foundations can also offer great under-bed storage. They can also provide better airflow if you are placing your mattress directly on top of one.

  • Price range: ~$90-$500
  • Best used with: Most types of mattresses. Some memory foam mattresses require a certain distance between the slats or sturdier material (i.e. solid, non-flexible wood), so be sure to see what your manufacturer recommends before choosing this foundation.

Our top picks:


BUNKIE BOARD

A bunkie board is a piece of wood (usually plywood) or metal that can be used with an older box spring, foundation or platform bed for additional support underneath your mattress.

A bunkie board may be a good option if you are purchasing a new memory foam mattress (which is heavier and requires a sturdier foundation than the traditional innerspring mattress), but you don’t have the proper support with your current bed set up. It’s also a good way to add additional support for bunk beds. (Hence the term, bunkie board.)

  • Price range: ~$50 – $200
  • Best used with: Older box springs, foundations or platform beds that need added support to hold a foam, latex or hybrid mattress.

Our top picks:


SOLID PLATFORM BED

A solid platform bed will typically provide the most support and durability of all the bed frames. They also tend to be the most stylish if that’s something that’s important to you. However, with that comes a higher price tag. You can still find affordable solid platforms, but more material means more money.

Another thing to keep in mind with a solid platform is that you’re cutting off most of the airflow through the mattress, so it can cause heat to get trapped in your mattress while you sleep.

  • Price range: ~$200 – $2,000
  • Best used with: Heavier memory foam, latex or hybrid mattresses that need additional support.

Our top picks:


ADJUSTABLE BED FRAME

Adjustable bed frames allow you to adjust the angle or elevation of your bed to a number of different positions, typically by remote control. Basically, they’re the crème de la crème of mattress foundations.

Aside from being awesome, they can also provide a number of health benefits. This bed frame can help alleviate back and joint pain, sleep apnea, acid reflux and snoring. It can also help promote healthy blood circulation. (It’s the same concept as elevating a body part after an injury.)

As you may have guessed, adjustable bed frames can cost a pretty penny – sometimes even more than your mattress. If it’s time to treat yourself, then an adjustable bed frame might be for you.

  • Price range: ~$650 – $2,000
  • Best used with: Most types of mattresses but can work especially well with memory foam or hybrid mattresses that are a little more malleable.

Our top picks:


FLOOR

Believe it or not, your floor can be a viable solution for a mattress foundation…in some cases. It’s sturdy, flat and can hold the weight of your mattress evenly.

If you decide to put your mattress directly on the floor, it won’t be able to breathe as easily as a lifted platform and will be more prone to dust, mold and allergens. Setting your mattress on the floor can also make getting in and out of bed more difficult, but you will be exercising those quad muscles more! 

  • Price range: As long as you have a floor, free 🙂
  • Best used with: Foam and hybrid mattresses tend to work best on the floor. However, before you get set on this option, make sure the floor is on the list of recommended foundations for your particular mattress. Some warranties won’t be honored if you’ve been using your mattress on the floor.

If you’re still not sure which foundation is going to work best with your mattress, it never hurts to reach out to the company you bought your mattress from and see what they recommend. Let them know what you’re willing to spend and what size bed you have. Even if you don’t love what they come back with, it might at least help you narrow your search.

Just remember that what you put your mattress on can be just as important as the mattress itself. A strong foundation can help you experience all the benefits that your mattress has to offer.

If you have any questions about mattress foundations or have a foundation that you love, let us know in the comments below.

By clicking on the product links in this article, Mattress Advisor may receive a commission fee at no cost to you, the reader. Read full disclosure statement.

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