Do You Need a Box Spring with Your Mattress for a Good Night’s Sleep?

Find out if you really need a box spring to go with your mattress.

By Sheryl Grassie

Although you definitely need a mattress to sleep on, you may or may not need a box spring to support it. It depends on the kind of mattress you have and your personal preferences.

Origins of Box Springs

Let’s start with a little history. Originally, beds were made of naturally occurring materials like leaves, horse hair, straw, animal skins, feathers, or a combination of plant and animal materials found in the local environment. Variations like waterbeds surprisingly go back as far as ancient Persia circa 3500 B.C.E. Intentionally constructed mattresses developed over 10,000 years ago during the Neolithic period. In contrast, the box spring wasn’t developed until the late 1800’s.

During the Industrial Age (1760-1850) mattresses were more commonly made from cotton or wool and were produced in small factories. They were heavy, dense, and relatively thin. More affluent families slept on beds with a hard layer of wool or cotton on the bottom, and lighter, usually feather layers, on top.

These early mattresses were placed on a bedstead (the term for an early bed frame). Bedsteads could be simple affairs or more elaborately carved 4-poster structures. These wooden frames were crisscrossed at the base with either rope or leather for the mattress to lay on, and they could be adjusted by tightening the ropes to produce a desired level of comfort. This is where the term “sleep tight” comes from.

In the early 1800’s the term “bed frame” became popular to describe wooden bedsteads, and by the 1850’s metal beds became fashionable, having the advantage of more strength and less susceptibility to bugs and the elements.

In the late 1850’s, steel coils were invented as supports for furniture, and by 1865, they were patented as a bed base. In 1871, they were first placed inside a mattress resulting in the innerspring mattress. By the late 1800’s, these coils or springs were encased in a wooden frame or box and these “boxed springs” or “box of springs” became known as the “box spring” and went into mass production in the early 1890’s.

Particulars of the Box Spring

Box springs are essentially a type of foundation that is the predecessor to the earlier rope and leather supports. These box spring foundations have gone through a number of iterations over time, with more contemporary versions lacking actual coils altogether. The name “box spring” has been coined to refer to bed foundations in general. Here is a short look at their evolution in chronological order:

  • Coil Box Spring: The original coil structure. Made completely of metal and placed on top of a wooden platform or inside a wooden box.
  • Torsion Modular Unit: Had coils more like springs that better maintained their shape and offered better support.
  • Semi-Flex Foundation: Still had coils, but harder ones, and the unit was flat and firm for one-sided mattresses.
  • Wood Platform Foundation: Consisted of wooden slats in a frame with cardboard decking or backing.
  • Rigid Foundation or Platform Bed: Designed for heavy duty memory foam beds, they are constructed with lots of wood or metal slats and no decking.
  • Bunkie Board: A strong supportive bed platform that is thin, solid, and takes up less space.
  • Adjustable Base: Thin bed bases with an electronic architecture that can raise or lower parts of the bed to create a custom sleep.
  • Directly on the Floor: Although not a separate purchase like the items described above, with new one-sided mattresses, any solid surface can work. “You can even put a mattress directly on the floor and get plenty of support,” says Alesandra Woolley, one of our mattress experts.

The Changing Landscape of Beds

In the last hundred years or so, it has been common for beds to have three components: a mattress, a box spring, and a frame. These may have varied in cost and quality, and ranged from simple to elaborate or deluxe, but the essential components were the same. There were some exceptions to the trend of this triad, with the importation of the Asian style futon in the 1940’s, but for the most part, beds consisted of the same three elements.

Over time, the number of choices for beds and bed components has greatly expanded beyond the three elements that have made up most beds in recent history. We now have mattresses on platforms, mattresses with box springs with no frame, frames with built-in box springs, adjustable beds, beds on the floor, and more.

The box spring (called a divan in the UK) is a popular bed support in Western Europe and America. The use of a box spring is somewhat dependent on the part of the world you live in as it is not popular in certain parts of the globe: for example, in Asia people sleep on very hard, dense mattresses—or even just planks in rural areas.

Travelers often come back to the United States and Europe very grateful for our level of bed comfort after sleeping on extremely firm mattresses in other parts of the world. And comfort, along with several other variables, is the purpose behind using a box spring. Originally, it made the bed cozier but was also designed to elevate the bed away from cold drafts and rodents at floor level.

Reasons to Use a Box Spring

At present, there are four primary reasons for use of a box spring.

1. To extend the life of the mattress

The mattress is the more important, and more expensive, part of the equation. Box springs support the mattress by absorbing physical shock and reducing wear and tear.

2. To add comfort

The box spring works together with the mattress to provide a softer more comfortable bed. It cushions and absorbs the shock of body impact and supports different sleeping positions.

3. Ease of getting in and out

A bed higher, further off the floor requires less bending and is less stressful on the body. Especially as we age, a bed higher up is easier on the joints.

4. Keeping it clean

Dust, dirt, animal hair, and bugs all congregate at floor level. If the mattress is at floor level, it comes in direct contact with these elements. Raising the bed with a box spring allows air to circulate and keeps the mattress far cleaner.

Sets and Warranties

Manufacturers have designed mattresses and box springs as sets. There is a balance of height and density between the two that make for the most comfortable bed. Warranties are generally issued on the set, meaning if the mattress is used without the box spring, the manufacturer cannot guarantee how it will last. So, it becomes necessary to check exactly how the warranty works when purchasing. In some cases, if you get just the mattress without the box spring, it can void the warranty.


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