For decades, box springs have been the primary method used to keep mattresses safe from dust and to create space between a mattress and the floor. They have been praised for being stable, sturdy and highly resistant to dust, dirt and many types of rot and bacteria. However, in recent years, evidence has emerged which suggests that box springs may not be the universal solution they were once thought to be.

As with all bedroom good and accessory purchases, our recommendation here at Brand Name is research, research, research! A box spring might be exactly what your mattress needs to provide that extra boost to your nightly comfort. However, it's just as equally possible that a box spring might not be the right solution for you at all, and another option would suit you much better - perhaps even one which you have never heard of before!

That's why this guide will not only be providing an in-depth look into the pros and cons of box springs, but also exploring several other emerging options and identifying some situations in which these alternatives might be preferred instead.

​What is a Box Spring?

A box spring is, to put it as simply as possible, pretty much exactly what its name suggests: a box with springs. More specifically, a box spring is a square or rectangular item consisting of a series of metal coils (or springs) arranged in a regular pattern and then covered by either a wood, metal or plastic frame, a layer of soft fabric such as cotton, or a mix of both. A box spring is placed above any pre-existing bed frame but below the main mattress. Some people like to cover their box spring with a fitted sheet or zip-up protector, similar to one which might be used to cover the mattress itself. This can help keep the box spring clean and stain-free.

The primary purpose of a box spring is to create some space between your mattress and the floor of your bedroom. This keeps the mattress from picking up dust, dirt, food crumbs, clumps of pet or human hair, or any other sorts of debris which your floor might accumulate during your daily life. This will keep the mattress clean and prevent it from gathering stains. This can be extremely beneficial as mattresses, especially large, dense, bulky ones, can be particularly difficult to clean.

In addition, box springs can serve a number of other functions. They can absorb and spread out your weight as you get on and off your mattress, preventing the mattress from sagging or losing its shape or picking up a permanent "impression" of your body if you regularly sleep in the same position. They are also believed to promote ventilation, as air is allowed to travel above, below and through the mattress. This makes your mattress much less likely to retain warmth during the night, a phenomenon known as "sleep hot" which has been identified as a direct cause of sleepers around the world waking up in the middle of the night feeling overheated. Above and beyond this extremely helpful tactic, increased ventilation through and around the mattress can also decrease the likelihood that mold or mildew will grow, as any moisture (from sweat, ambient humidity or spilled liquids) will dry out quickly.

As you can see, a box spring can be an extremely beneficial addition to your mattress setup. It can help keep you comfortable and healthy and make cleaning, drying or airing out your mattress a less frequent task than ever before. However, recent studies have also identified a number of potential drawbacks connected to the long-term installation of box springs in the bedroom.

​The Disadvantages of Box Springs

First and foremost, when you break down the different component materials of your average box spring, you might be surprised to discover an unexpectedly high amount of dangerous chemicals lurking around every corner. The metal springs or coils which make up the foundation of the setup are usually made from lightweight aluminum or steel and do not contain or are not treated with any nasty chemicals in particular. However, coils alone do not a complete box spring make. Many have a wood frame or a wrapping of fabric to support them - and it is here where a number of harmful chemicals have been identified, including those which are known to have extremely negative effects on human health.

Let's start with the wooden frame. Pure, natural, organically and sustainably harvested hardwood is usually safe and free from chemical treatments. However, box springs featuring frames made from hardwood are growing increasingly rarer; even those which remain available for purchase tend to be on the expensive side. Instead of the safer, sturdier hardwood, a lot of companies rely on cheaper, lower quality plywood or particle board. Instead of single sheets of one type of wood, these boards are made up of chips from various different types of wood, often attached to one another with glue or a similar sealant. They are less durable and generally experience shorter lifespans when compared to hardwood, so they are enhanced with chemicals in an attempt to improve their performance. Some chemicals which are used to treat plywood and/or particle board include formaldehyde and pentachlorophenol, both known carcinogens or cancer-causers.

Additionally, the fabric covers or stuffings used to make box springs more comfortable are not entirely safe from hazardous chemicals. True, some of them are natural and usually fairly safe, including cotton, linen, muslin, and bamboo. However, synthetic (man-made) fabrics such as polyester or rayon often contain chemicals which can damage the internal organs when inhaled by humans. When it comes to box springs, even natural alternatives such as cotton are not always completely safe - they can be bleached, infused with dangerous chemical insect repellents, or treated with harsh synthetic dyes made from ingredients such as sodium hypochlorite, chromium or zinc.

Unfortunately, the potential drawbacks of the box spring are not limited to the presence of chemical health risks. Although box springs have been proven to promote ventilation and thus prevent the mattress itself from growing mold and mildew or playing host to dust mites, as it turns out, the interior of the spring itself can often be seen by insects and bacteria as the perfect home. Box springs with wooden frames, especially if they have not been treated with chemical insect repellents (which, as mentioned above, present major health risks to humans) are in fact extremely likely to attract dust mites, mildew, rot, and larger insects such as bedbugs and, in some cases, even termites. If you have an untreated wooden box spring, especially if it is several years old and does not experience regular cleaning, you may in fact be sleeping on top of an insect or dust mite colony every single night.

Above and beyond all health issues, studies have also found that the average box spring is not nearly as durable as most customers consider it to be. True, in the early months or even a year or two of life, a box spring will provide support to your mattress and help you feel more comfortable at night than ever before. A mattress on top of a brand new box spring will, on average, most likely feel softer than one sans spring. However, over time, the box spring - and the mattress atop it - can in fact quickly begin to sag, dip and lose their form. Wood can rot, metal can warp, and even springy coils can collapse in on themselves, creating a sleeping setup that is ultimately doing more harm than good to the sleeper.

It must also be brought to customers' attention that box springs are in fact not a universal solution for every mattress. Studies show that they tend to work best with mattresses which are already designed to be soft or comfort, such as those with low indentation load deflection (ILD) values. (If you're not sure what an ILD is, what it means for your mattress, or how to measure or calculate one, never fear - we've got the guide for you right here!) Thicker, denser, firmer and/or more supportive mattresses, such as those made from natural latex or memory foam, often do not pair well with a box spring. The box spring can make a mattress which is supposed to support key areas of your body instead feel too soft and cause you to experience a nightly "sinking" sensation.

In conclusion, before purchasing a box spring, you should be careful to make sure that it is compatible with your mattress. If you feel that your mattress will not work well with a box spring, there is no need to worry! While several decades ago box springs seemed to be the only option for added support and comfort at night, today, there are a wide range of mattress supports and frames available on the market. The section below will outline a few of the most popular ones and provide some tips to help you pick out the perfect one for your unique bed.

​Mattress Supports, Frames and Foundations

If a box spring isn't right for you, don't worry - you've got options! Perhaps you need something thicker and sturdier. Or maybe you're searching for that perfect mix between softness and firmness. Or perhaps you don't actually need any additional support at all, and should instead focus on finding the best, highest quality and more durable frame for your bed.

Whatever it is you're looking for, we're here to help! The following list covers some of the most popular mattress support options currently available OTHER than the seemingly omnipresent box spring.

​The Mattress Foundation & The Platform Bed

Some advertisers have described the foundation as "a box spring without the springs". However, we feel that that description isn't entirely accurate. Rather, it focuses too much on what a mattress foundation ISN'T, rather than on what it IS.

So let's fix that. A foundation features a rectangular frame, usually slightly elevated, made from sturdy wood. On the outside, it may slightly resemble a standard box spring. However, on the inside, it features no metal coils or springs at all. Instead, the foundation supports your mattress via horizontal slats, usually made from wood but very rarely made from metal instead. Some foundations feature slats covered or padded with a light, natural fabric such as cotton, while some do not.

A bed with a built in mattress foundation is typically referred to as a platform bed. If you own a platform bed, you will not need to purchase any separate foundation or box spring at all.

Foundations provide a far greater amount of support when compared to box springs. They are much more durable and can safely last for years and years without beginning to sag, lose their form or collapse inward. They provide uniform support to all areas of the mattress, allowing denser models such as natural latex or memory foam to provide support to key areas of the body such as the spine, neck, shoulders and hips. As a bonus, foundations are also considered to be extremely aesthetically pleasing, as they can be made out of many wood types featuring different colors and grains. Alternately, a foundation can easily and simply be upholstered with any type or color of fabric.

However, it is important to note that foundations - especially those which come pre-attached in the form of "platform beds" -  are typically larger and bulkier than box springs. They take up more space in general, and may not be the best option if you have either a very small mattress or a very small or cluttered bedroom. They also tend to be more expensive than other options mentioned on this list due to the large amount of high quality wood and fabric used in their manufacture. Lastly, a foundation or platform bed may not be quite as efficient at providing ventilation as a box spring, because it is not as open or "airy" on the inside, meaning not as much air may be able to flow around and through it and the mattress above.

Despite these few drawbacks listed above, foundations and/or platform beds are generally considered to be one of the highest quality and most supportive options currently available.

​The Metal Bed Frame

The metal bed frame is probably the most common, widely available, inexpensive and reliable alternative to the traditional box spring. It is not at all difficult to purchase a metal bed frame; they can be found almost anywhere where beds and bedroom accessories are sold. As their name suggests, these frames are made entirely from metal. Iron and the more lightweight steel are the most common metals used; however, brass and even aluminum are also not unheard of.

Like the platform bed and the foundation, the metal bed frame usually utilizes a pattern of horizontal slats enclosed by an outer frame. The slats are designed with the purpose of providing equal, uniform support to all areas of the mattress and preventing sagging or collapsing. While they are durable and sturdy, metal bed frames are generally considered to be less aesthetically pleasing than the platform bed, foundation or even the box spring.  However, you can mitigate this by purchasing a metal frame with a shiny finish or a unique color. Unlike box springs and foundations, a metal bed frame will usually not be covered with any sort of fabric - however, if you are crafty, this could make a fun DIY project for your bedroom!

Metal bed frames are inexpensive and require very little maintenance, as they are difficult to damage and can last a decent while without needing a replacement. However, it is possible for one of the metal slats or outer frame components to bend or break. If this occurs, we recommend replacing the frame or having it professional repaired, as it may be difficult to repair in your home unless you have prior metalworking or welding experience.

​The Hybrid

As its name suggests, the hybrid combines elements of the box spring, the foundation or metal bed frame, and even some components not listed above, such as memory foam. Due to their nature, hybrids are significantly more variable than other options; as a result, it is difficult to describe exactly what a hybrid mattress support is as each individual one may in fact be different. However, a standard hybrid combines a smaller number of metal springs or coils taken from the box spring with the pattern of horizontal slats supported by an outer frame used in the design of the mattress foundation. The area in between the coils and slats may be padded with memory foam, foamed natural latex, or a lightweight synthetic foam made from ingredients such as polyester.

As you would expect, the hybrid support combines the best qualities of all of its various components. It is soft and comfortable while also managing to be durable and supportive. It provides ventilation to the mattress, preventing the buildup of mold, mildew and moisture and discouraging dust mites and other insects. The hybrid support even manages to offer a unique benefit all its own: it absorbs shock and does not telegraph motion. What does this mean? Well, if you are sharing a bed with someone else, and that other person tosses and turns throughout the night, you will not feel it at all on your side of the bed! This makes hybrid supports ideal for larger, shared beds, especially if your significant other, roommate or family member is a restless sleeper.

However, hybrid mattress supports also bring with them the drawbacks of their separate elements as well as the advantages. Like a box spring, it can sag and collapse over time, especially if the slats are also made from lower quality materials and bend, break or snap. Due to the presence of both springs and slats, many sleepers have reported hybrids as being extra likely to develop "squeaking" noises over time from their various parts rubbing against each other. They are also unlikely to be chemical-free, and could potentially be treated with any of the harmful solutions described earlier in this article. In addition, they are large, bulky, and difficult to move - like the foundation - and can potentially retain heat during the night - like plain memory foam.

​Other Alternatives

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, and there are several alternatives currently available which are not described here in detail. For example, some people may choose to forgo any sort of frame, foundation or support entirely and instead merely put their mattress on the floor. This will allow the mattress to be supportive and remain firm without much risk of sagging or collapse. This is also sometimes an excellent option for infants or young children, as they are more likely to fall out of bed during the night and a mattress being placed directly on the floor means that there is less risk of sustaining damage from the fall.

However, placing a mattress directly on the floor does not offer any ventilation options, and can easily cause sleepers to overheat during the night as air is not allowed to pass through or around the mattress. In addition, it may cause the mattress to collect dust, making it a perfect home for dust mites or other insects. If you intend to place your - or anyone else's - mattress directly on the floor, it is recommend that you cover it completely with a mattress protector (see here for more information) in order to repel as much dust as possible.

Other options potentially include things such as the adjustable bed, which is often found in locations such as hospitals or extended care facilities. This bed is adjusted via an outside source, usually some form of button or remote control, and is capable of raising and lowering various parts of the bed independent from one another. These beds provide excellent support and allow you to target individual areas of the body which might be suffering from pain, stiffness or other afflictions. However, due to the amount of technological components required, these beds are still probably the most expensive option.

In conclusion, box springs have been around for many years and do not show any signs of going away any time soon. They can still provide a number of benefits such as helping mattresses feel softer and more comfortable and providing ventilation to avoid overheating during the night. However, if you have used a box spring before and are finding that it is not the right solution for you or your bed, there is no reason to be despair. Although box springs may have once seemed like the only option, this is no longer the case - and, in fact, as more and more drawbacks of box springs have been identified, it has become increasingly clear that a wide variety of beds, mattresses and people require a wide variety of options. Do you research before purchasing a bed support in order to make sure that you choose the number one option for YOU, YOUR bed and YOUR unique sleeping needs!

If you would rather add a support and comfort boost to the top of your mattress rather than the bottom, we've got you covered there as well! Check out our articles about mattress toppers here and here or mattress pads over here. Of course, don't forget about the pillow, too - check out this article or perhaps this one to learn more! If it's dust mites, insects or bacteria you're worried about, you can read up on the benefits of natural latex - and its many inherent resistances - here or find out all about mattress protectors here. Lastly, if harmful chemicals concern you, you can check out our various articles on the benefits of mattresses and other bedroom accessories which are vegan, organic, or chemical free or read up on the GreenGuard Mattress Certification which helps to ensure that these standards are met.

As always, our catalog here is filled with a stunning variety of natural latex mattresses and other bedroom accessories. Whatever it is that you might be looking for, we guarantee that our amazingly thorough Brand Name collection features exactly what you need!

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