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What Is A Mattress Foundation? (Explained)

Your mattress supports you all night long, but what is supporting your mattress? Keep reading to find out what to look for in a mattress foundation.

Once you find the perfect mattress, it's important to make sure that you are using a bed frame or base that will properly support it. There are several options when it comes to mattress foundations, but not all of them are created equal. Which one will work best for your particular bed? That's the question we'll be digging into today.

After investing your money in a good mattress, it is probably not the best idea to just place your mattress right on the floor. You need some sort of bed frame or mattress base to keep your mattress elevated and clean. Certain mattresses work best with certain bases, and it is actually specified in a lot of mattress warranties that they must be placed on a compatible bed frame. Don’t worry though, mattress foundations have got your back! (hardeehar)

Why Is It Important To Support Your Mattress?

Ensuring that your mattress is properly supported help you sleep better and help keep your mattress in good shape for longer. When you place your mattress on a flat and supportive base, it is provided with enough stability to absorb shock and prevent shifting and sliding while you sleep. It also makes the mattress more comfortable and allows you to fully reap the benefits of a well-made bed because the base helps the mattress evenly distribute weight. When your mattress and the base that it rests on offer the proper support, you are far less likely to wake up with an achy back or sore hips.

Keeping your bed on a good foundation also prolongs the lifespan of your mattress. The support that a base provides to your mattress minimizes premature sagging and wear, which keeps your bed looking newer longer.

mattress on the floor
Sleeping on a mattress without a bed frame or foundation can shorten the bed’s lifespan significantly

Keeping your bed lifted off of the ground with a base also adds height to the mattress and helps to keep the bed cleaner and free from allergens like dust and bacteria that can easily accumulate when it is too close to the floor.

Elevating your bed off the ground with a mattress foundation can also be a useful solution for folks who sleep too warm or who suffer from hot flashes. The added height off the ground allows for more airflow under and around your bed, which keeps the bed cooler at night. Research has proven that sleeping in a cooler temperature environment as opposed to a warmer one has a myriad of benefits on your sleep quality.

What Is A Mattress Foundation?

The main defining feature of a mattress foundation, and the way that you can tell it apart from a box spring, a bed frame or another structure for supporting and elevating your mattress, is the flat and sturdy wooden board or slat system on the top of the foundation. 

Foundations can be made of many materials, but most commonly, they will be comprised of wood, or a wood and metal combination. The support system is also commonly covered in a fabric layer that keeps all the elements together, looks sleek, and prevents splinters and scratches on the underside of your mattress. They can also vary in height, with some short foundations on the market only adding 5” to your bed’s height while others can add nearly double or three-times that. 

helix adjustable bed frame review
Foundations can be used as the sole support for your mattress, or combined with a bed frame for a complete bed set up

The main reason that mattress foundations have grown in popularity over the past several years is the ability to comply with nearly every type of mattress. Hybrid mattresses, all-foam mattresses, and even air mattresses will all be compatible with a flat and supportive base like the one provided by a mattress foundation. 

Moreover, foundations are usually pretty versatile when it comes to the set up of your bed. If you already have a bed frame, either one with steel slats or one that requires a foundation or box spring, you can place a foundation right inside the bed frame before placing your mattress down. The foundation will provide the right amount of height and support for your bed set up.

Some mattress foundations, too, can serve as the main base for your bed. There are several mattress foundations that come with detachable legs, so you can use the foundation on its own or in conjunction with a more intricate bed frame.

The option of using a mattress foundation with legs as the sole support base for your mattress is a great space saving solution for folks living in small spaces or studio apartments. Even if you don’t have room for a full bed frame with a headboard and footboard, a foundation with legs can be an affordable and conservatively sized option to provide your mattress with a sturdy base.

Foundations Vs Box Springs

Chances are high that you’ve experienced a traditional box-spring or two in your life. Your parents might still have one hanging around in your brother’s old bedroom/ your mom’s new scrapbooking studio/ the room that you sleep in when you come home for Christmas as the only sibling without a significant other (we know how it is). Box-springs were once among the most popular bed bases but have recently been dethroned by more light-weight and versatile mattress foundations. 

It might be a little bit confusing to think of these two as competitors, because box-springs technically fall into the definition of foundations, but they are a bit like the beta-test version of modern foundations. They paved the way for the foundations that we have now, and definitely had a few bugs that needed to be worked out.

box spring
Both foundations and box-springs add height and support when added to your favorite bed frame and mattress

The main reason that box-springs have lost popularity has to do with the increasingly evolving market of memory foam and other foam mattresses. Box-springs, as the name suggests, are comprised of a grid-like collection of metal springs encased in a wooden box and covered in a flexible fabric. With foam beds, which tend to have a lot more give than hybrid beds, the metal coils can sometimes pierce and damage the bottom of the foam bed, leading to a ruined bed and, often, a voided warranty. 

Box-springs still work perfectly fine with innerspring and hybrid beds, but they are often not as comfortable as sturdy foundations. The springs provide a good amount of support but also give the bed a lot of bounce. Some people might love a bouncy bed but, especially if you share your bed with a partner, that much bounce can be disturbing to your sleep as the slightest movement tends to carry throughout the entire bed. 

Box-springs also tend to have a shorter lifespan than foundations and often tend to squeak, especially if a few springs have broken. 

And, if you needed one more reason to see why box-springs have fallen out of popularity, wooden foundations are generally cheaper and more light-weight, making them an attainable option for seniors and college students alike, as well as everyone in between.

How To Choose A Mattress Foundation

Mattress foundations are extremely useful, but it can be almost as difficult to find the right mattress foundation as it is to find the perfect mattress. Every bed will require different things from a mattress foundation, so a good place to start your search is with the same company that makes your mattress. A lot of mattress manufacturers have started selling bed frames and bases that are compatible with their mattresses. This is a sure-fire way to know that your foundation will work with your mattress and to ensure that your warranty will stay intact. Some companies will even offer bundle packages if you buy a mattress and frame or foundation at the same time. 

It is definitely not necessary to buy a foundation from your mattress manufacturer though, especially if you’ve invested a lot of money into a new mattress and aren’t willing to cough up more dough than necessary for your foundation. 

In general, mattress foundations are going to be a fair bit less expensive than a mattress, but they can still cost a few hundred dollars. If you are looking for an affordable bed frame that is still stylish and sturdy, we have reviewed a few from Zinus that won’t break the bank. There are also lots of great foundations available on Amazon or at Walmart

Bed Frame And Foundation Options

Ultimately, the mattress foundation that you choose should support your mattress and your body well and also be compatible with your bed frame (if you use one). Heavier folks, for example, should opt for a thick and sturdy foundation while children’s beds are usually able to be placed on a thin and light-weight board base. There are a variety of options available, but in general, mattress foundations will fall into a few different categories.

Platform: Platform bed frames and platform-style foundations are both options. If you have a platform bed frame, you typically won’t need a foundation as the frame should offer all the support that you need. You can add a foundation, though, if you’d like to give your mattress a little extra height. Platforms are usually wooden rectangles with a base support of either wooden slats that are spaced a few inches apart or a solid board. Platform foundations, with slats or a solid board, can be placed directly into a bed frame in place of the detachable slats, or used on their own if they have detachable legs. Platforms are great for people who need some space saving solutions as they typically keep your bed elevated off the ground and allow for ample under-bed storage.

zinus mia modern studio platform bed frame review
One of our favorite bed frames from Zinus uses slats for a supportive base

Bunkie Board: Usually the cheapest bed foundation option, bunkie boards are typically low-profile and made of a solid piece of affordable wood, ply-wood, or MDF which is wrapped in fabric to provide a solid and sleek sleeping surface. Bunkie boards will typically only add an inch or two of height to your bed but are a good option for dense foam mattresses and other mattresses that just need a bit of solid stability. Memory foam, especially, will benefit from a bunkie board because the pliable foam has a tendency to sink into the gaps between slats or the tops of springs on traditional platforms and box-spring bed bases. 

Adjustable Foundation: These tend to be the most pricey mattress bases, but for good reason. Adjustable mattress foundations can move to elevate your head and feet and are great for people who like to read or watch TV in bed as well as for those who suffer from a host of health issues. Elevated support relieves pressure points and allows for proper blood circulation and has also been linked to reduced joint pain, alleviated snoring and sleep apnea symptoms, diminished digestive, respiratory and inflammation issues, and many other benefits. These foundations work with most beds, except for those that contain steel border wires for support, as the metal makes it difficult for the mattress to move with the base and can lead to the mattress and the foundation being damaged. 

tempurpedic sealy adjustable bed frame base
Adjustable bases are great solutions for a myriad of sleep issues