Like the Holy Roman Empire, which, as any good high school history student can remind you, was neither holy nor Roman, the box spring presents a bit of a paradox. These days, many don’t even contain springs. And, you could probably argue, it’s not much of a box, either. So how did we get here?
Mattresses have been around for thousands and thousands of years. Box springs, on the other hand, are relatively new. For most of human history, beds were simple palettes or stuffed with straw or feathers. Coils, which were already used in furniture, started being used in mattresses in the 19th century. It wouldn’t be until the 1950s, however, that the innerspring mattress would become the most common mattress in American homes. While they offered a distinct advantage over older mattresses (no lumps!) they often included a box spring for added comfort. By resting the mattress on a box spring, which also had metal coils, the mattress felt softer than if it was laid on a hard surface. The box spring also helped absorb some of the shock of the sleeper, helping extend the life of the mattress.
The box spring also helped absorb some of the shock of the sleeper, helping extend the life of the mattress.
While box springs with actual springs are still around, it’s more common to find box springs made out of wood with an interior that looks more like a wooden palette: A box wood frame with slats running across the top. These slats support the mattress and, in theory, keep it from sagging. But do you need one? It depends, but the short answer is probably not. There are a few things to consider, though.
First, does your mattress even need a box spring? We tend to think of innerspring mattresses as the “traditional” mattress, but, in some ways, it might be a blip on the map between stuffed palettes and foam mattresses. Shortly after coil mattresses surged in popularity, Tempurpedic sold its first memory foam mattress. These days, foam mattresses are growing in popularity and there’s reason to think that might continue: One Consumer Reports study found that owners of innerspring mattresses were the least likely to be happy with their mattress choice. And many manufacturers of foam mattresses will actually recommend you don’t put those types of beds on a box spring. In fact, it can actually cause it to sag. Foam mattresses usually require some kind of platform or foundation, separate or on the bed frame itself, to support it.
Many manufacturers of foam mattresses will actually recommend you don’t put those types of beds on a box spring.
Besides the mattress, you can also consider the bed itself. These days, the real reason you may need a box spring is to provide a foundation for your bed. Some bed frames are just that: A metal frame with nothing in the middle. A box spring gives the mattress something to rest on. But many bed frames and most beds have some kind of support in the middle, either in the form of slats or a platform. Box springs can also be used in lieu of a frame: it keeps the mattress off the floor without needing a frame or bed. In the end, guidelines from the manufacturer of both your bed and mattress are going to let you know what is and isn’t possible.
But there’s another reason even innerspring mattress owners can skip this purchase if possible. All mattresses, no matter the material, have just gotten more comfortable over the years. Today’s mattresses are also just way thicker than their midcentury counterparts. We just don’t need the support and comfort a box spring would provide anymore. As to why you’ll still see them for sale? Besides the fact that there are times you might need one, well, it often means they get to tag on an additional $150 or more onto your purchase.