A Common Question About Mattresses
I've been in the mattress industry over a decade, and the number one question I hear from people is, "What type of foundation or support base should I use with my memory foam or latex mattress?"
As most of you know, a foundation is the support base or mechanism that sits underneath a mattress. Both memory foam and latex mattresses require a solid, uniform foundation to work properly.
How to Find the Best Box Spring for a Memory Foam Mattress
In this article, we will discuss the following bed foundations:
- Platform Bed Frames
- Wood-Slat Mattress Foundations
- Foldable Metal Platform Foundations
- Adjustable Bases
- Box Spring Replacement Foundations
- Bunkie Boards
You will also find information about whether or not it is okay to put your memory foam mattress on the floor, how to protect your foam mattress, and the differences between memory foam and latex.
Two Basic Types of Mattress Foundations
There are two basic types of mattress foundations in the mattress world today: box springs and foundations.
- Box springs are, for the most part, a combination of wood and steel springs that act like shock absorbers for a traditional innerspring mattress.
- Foundations are a more solid structure, for use with memory foam or latex mattresses, and are typically a solid wood top or wood-slatted system with a cover.
Do You Need a Box Spring or a Solid Foundation With a Foam Mattress?
All you need for your foam mattress is a solid base. Closely laid wooden slats, a metal base, a bunkie board, or even the floor will all do just fine in place of a box spring. That said, if your box spring is rigid and firm (less than an inch of give), it should be okay to use with a memory foam or latex mattress.
Typical foundations on the market today are either steel frame and steel frame/wood slat combinations or come with a nice zippered cover, and a solid wood top or even tacked cardboard. They are ideal for memory foam or latex mattresses because they provide a solid, uniform bottom for the foam cores. The less give you have, the better.
Why Do Latex and Memory Foam Mattresses Need Solid Bases?
Compared to traditional mattresses, memory foam and latex mattresses are quite heavy. Naturally, this means they require more support!
Can I Use My Old Box Spring With My Memory Foam Mattress?
Older box springs (typically ones that are over 10 years old) typically have too much give in their spring systems and are not a good support base for foam mattresses. If you have an existing box spring that is less than 10 years old and still in good shape, test it by pushing against the springs in several spots. Make sure the entire box spring has the same consistency in feel and has no more than an inch of give.
1. Platform Bed Frame
This simple type of bed frame is designed for use without a box spring, meaning it already has the built-in support necessary for any kind of mattress. Seeing as these frames are fairly simple and do not require a box spring, they are often cheaper than traditional bed frames. Depending on the style, they also provide ample under-bed storage space, which can be a big bonus for those living in small spaces. (Low-profile or floating platform beds tend not to provide any storage space, however, so be sure to check the details!)
2. Wood-Slat Mattress Foundations
Wood-slat foundations work well too, as long as the slats are close enough together. We like to see the slats no more than 3” apart or less, preferably 2” apart. You’ll need to measure or make sure with a retailer that the slats are close enough together. Otherwise, you’ll need to put a ½-inch to ¾-inch cut plywood or pressboard over the slats to create that solid, uniform bottom (these boards will typically be in two cuts that you’ll butt together, the bigger the mattress you have).
This Zinus wood-slat foundation is super sturdy at a great price, and it has a clean, modern look. The assembled height is about 10 inches off the floor, so with the mattress, it sits at a nice height off of the floor. I had a 10-inch mattress on mine—not too low and not too high, so it was easy to get in and out of bed.
In addition to their other benefits, slatted mattress foundations are a great option because they allow mattresses to breathe.
3. Foldable Metal Platform Foundations
I recently tested the Pragma bed platform with both a memory foam and a latex mattress. The platform worked beautifully with both types. It unfolds easily and folds right back up in seconds to store. The metal support stands are close enough together to provide that much-needed congruous support.
This foundation is great for guest beds that need to be put away after use but would also work well for a main mattress with longterm use. I highly recommend this platform foundation. It comes in a surprisingly small box because it is collapsible. It is also lightweight, which makes it easy to move (as you'll see in the video below), so it is great for storage.
Pragma Bed Mattress Foundation
4. Adjustable Base
Which adjustable base would I recommend? By far, the ones manufactured by Leggett and Platt. They are durable, last a long time, are backed by a good warranty, and are built with quality components and craftsmanship. I own their ShipShape adjustable base, and in four years, I haven't had one problem with it (and I've moved twice in that time).
What amazed me the most when I received mine (and during my moves), was how easy it was to assemble and disassemble. They really had the consumer in mind when designing this base. Need more convincing? Check out the video below.
If my word isn't enough for you, the leading memory foam mattress company (which I dare not name because of their trademark restrictions, just think of the glass-of-wine test on the mattress) uses these adjustable bases almost exclusively with their models.
Note: Adjustable bases allow you to choose the angle of your bed (i.e., by raising the foot and/or head sections. They usually come with either remote or manual controls (which are cheaper but more difficult to deal with).
5. Box Spring Replacement Foundations
If you like the height that your box spring provides but it's too old to use with your new foam mattress, a box spring replacement foundation is the way to go. That way, you still have the height you're used to without sacrificing any support.
This Classic Brands Instant Foundation comes in all sizes and is very easy to assemble. It's perfect for memory foam and latex mattresses. I've tested it myself.
6. Bunkie Boards
A bunkie board (or bunky board) is a flat object used to support your mattress. It is usually made of plywood or particleboard and is a simple and cost-effective way to provide a solid base for your memory foam or latex mattress.
Bunkie boards are particularly great because they can be used to update your existing setup to get it ready for your new mattress. This means you can top your old box spring, other foundation, or platform bed with a bunkie board to make sure it will be able to support your new mattress.
Strapped for cash? You can make your own super-simplified bunkie board with a piece of plywood. Be aware, however, that if you take this route, you should treat or cover they plywood immediately. Plywood is prone to chipping, meaning it could easily snag your mattress or sheets if left alone.
Is It Okay to Put Memory Foam on the Floor?
I get this question a lot: Is it ok to put a memory foam mattress directly on the floor? The simple answer is yes. Why? Because these mattresses need a solid, uniform bottom, and a floor provides that. The floor functions like a foundation.
Now, this will be a very low-profile bed because you don't have the elevation that a foundation and frame would give you. This means getting out of bed will be a bit difficult. However, many people do this, particularly folks who are just starting out and trying to save some money.
How to Protect Your Foam Mattress
While providing a proper base for your foam mattress is essential to protecting it and extending its lifetime, caring for your it doesn't stop there. Here are a few more ways you can protect your foam mattress.
- Rotate and/or Flip Your Mattress Every 3–6 Months. This will ensure that pressure is spread evenly over the mattress, keeping any one part from becoming overly worn.
- Let Your Mattress Breathe. If possible, choose a breathable support base (e.g., wooden slats). This will help extend the life of your mattress.
- Use a Mattress Cover. Using a cover that's easy to remove and clean will help keep your mattress in great shape by keeping it from coming into contact with UV rays, promoting good hygiene, and preventing spills from penetrating its dense (and tough-to-dry) material.
- Keep Your Mattress Out of Direct Sunlight. Foam mattresses can break down and turn yellowish when exposed to harsh sunlight, reducing their longevity.
- Don't Jump on Your Mattress. This type of sudden and "unnatural" pressure can cause permanent sagging.
Memory Foam vs. Latex
These mattress types probably seem nearly identical to anyone who isn't a mattress specialist, so allow me to explain a few of the ways they differ.
Conforms to the *exact* shape of your body
Conforms to the general impression of your body
Doesn't allow for motion transfer (i.e. you will hardly feel your partner's movements)
Allows for a good amount of motion transfer (i.e. you will feel your partner toss and turn)
Made of polyurethane and a series of chemicals
Available in both all-natural and synthetic options
What's Special About Memory Foam Mattresses?
Memory foam is special because it adjusts to the exact contours of your body and bounces back slowly (i.e. if you press into the material and lift up, it will take a little while to resume its original shape).
Pros of memory foam mattresses:
- Ideal for back and side sleepers because in these positions, memory foam aids spine and neck-bone alignment and provides better hip and shoulder comfort than traditional mattresses.
- Ideal for couples who are light sleepers, as movement on one side of the bed will hardly be felt on the other.
- Ideal for people with allergies, as memory foam is hypoallergenic and dense enough to keep dust mites, dirt, and bacteria from penetrating the mattress.
I bought a Zinus Memory Foam mattress back in 2012, and it's still going strong! The odor was minimal upon opening, and the foam has proven durable.
What's Special About Latex Mattresses?
Latex is far more bouncy than memory foam (it would recover far more quickly from the hand test above). It is also much firmer. There are two different types of latex used for mattresses—natural and synthetic. Synthetic latex mattresses have a bit less bounce and may feel more similar to memory foam.
Pros of latex mattresses:
- Natural latex is all-natural and easy on the environment, making it a great choice for environmentally conscious people.
- Latex mattresses have lots of little holes punched in them, helping to promote air flow and keep the bed cool while you're sleeping.
- This increased air circulation means latex mattresses are less prone to developing mold and bacteria.
If you're considering latex, the Pure Green Natural Latex Mattress is an excellent choice. It's a bit pricey, but the quality is very high and the components are all natural—100% natural latex foam, organic wool, and organic cotton.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2009 Brian Anderson
Melanie on January 15, 2020:
We have two identical same brand, twin memory foam mattresses. Both are on wood slats with a platform frame. One of the twin beds has a thin futon between the bed and wooden slats. The other bed has a new box spring foundation between the bed and wood slats. The bed with the thin futon provides the perfect comfort and height of the bed. But the bed with the box spring foundation made the bed dense and hard as a rock I would not use a box spring foundation in this case as it makes it so hard and uncomfortable.
rg on July 22, 2019:
Hey guys, it’s was difficult to decide what type of base to use under my new memory foam and after researching further I decided to use 3/4 inch flat wood cut in 2 for support on my cal king bed. Let me say it was the best decision made and the cost was only 80.00 for a nice smooth quality wood surface on top of the bed frame. Very solid.
Jeffrey Alpert on May 29, 2019:
Question: My foam mattress has venting holes on its bottom. I assume they are for a purpose. But all the foundations I see are covered with unvented materials. What to do??? Thanks!
brians601 on December 27, 2017:
I have had 3 memory foam mattresses during a 5 years period and both caused pain in my side/hip area.
- First was a 12 inch memory foam bed.
- Second was a latex 12 inch gel and memory foam.
- Third 14 inch gel and memory foam.
I'm not a "heavy" person, 6' 2" 195lbs.
Same issue with all 3 mattresses. Looking back now I think maybe the biggest issue was the foundation. It would feel like the cross-bar was sticking in my back.
Regardless, I recently switched to an air mattress and they seem to work the best for back and side pain. Since the switch (3 months ago) I haven't woke up with ANY pain in my back or side.
If you do switch to an air mattress a bit of advice, buy a high quality one. If you want to try one out I guess you can pick up a cheap one from a place like Walmart and if you like it upgrade and keep the cheap one as a spare.
The problem with the cheap mattresses is if you buy one for $50-$70 and you have sex on it expect to find a hole or have it pop. I had this issue with 2 mattresses (both the same brand/kind). First time I woke up to the bed busted in the morning, second time the bed popped like a god damn balloon mid-session.
Switched to a nice never flat $200 mattress and haven't had an issue since. Bit more then I anticipated spending but I had to get a king size... I didn't want to have to buy more bed sheets.
There are much cheaper high quality options out there, especially if you're looking for a full or queen size bed. You can find a good quality mattress for $125 - $150. There's a queen size Serta on Amazon now with a never flat pump for $124.
If you check out some air mattress reviews you might notice that most of the complaints are either about how they pop or that they are too cold. Don't listen to the reviews! 90% of the time a mattress pops it's caused by something the user did. I had 2 pop on me, both times were totally my fault. If you take care of a good quality air mattress it will last you a long time, besides most come with a lifetime warranty. And the best way to resolve the cold mattress issue is to use one of those 1 inch foam mattress toppers they add that little extra comfort and they keep the bed warm.
Deb on October 22, 2017:
So to be clear...I can use a box spring on top of a platform then my memory foam mattress on top? .... can I top my box spring with plywood too?
Nadine on August 10, 2017:
Q: I will be putting this king size 14" gel foam mattress in my fifth wheel on top of the 72" x 80" platform that raises hydraulically. Two questions: 1. will it damage the mattress to hang 2" over on each side (without support)? 2. Will the hydraulic lift of the platform work under the weight of the mattress (i.e. I have no idea of the weights of my current mattress vs this mattress).
Ry on May 18, 2017:
A foam mattress on the floor will mold
David on March 06, 2017:
Hi And thank You for these Infos! Impossible to find it in french on the web. If I put my big talalay latex mattress on a full plywood base, zero ventilation under the mattress shouldnt be an issue? Ty
Leila on February 16, 2017:
I have a memory foam mattress on a wood slat foundation with slats 3” apart. I also bought a pocket string mattress for a better back support. Is it okey to put the new pocket string mattress on top of 13 year old memory foam mattress?
vanessa on January 08, 2017:
can I put a memory foam mattress on top of my regular mattress without a box spring? I have a metal bed frame.
Brian Anderson (author) from United States on January 07, 2017:
For a memory foam mattress, yes. Any solid, uniform bottom will work with that type of foam core.. Hope this helps..
Susan on December 04, 2016:
We have a beautiful wooden frame which has a box spring and A memory foam mattress. The bed as is is too high for my husband to get in and out of. Can I simply put down a sheet of plywood in place of the box spring?
Brian Anderson (author) from United States on September 23, 2015:
Reginald Thomas from Connecticut on September 23, 2015:
Great article! I enjoyed reading it as you gave lots of important info.
Brian Anderson (author) from United States on October 04, 2014:
Hi Norm - If the third store allows you to buy a mattress with the plywood sheet without voiding the warranty, I'd definitely go that route. As I say in this particular article, the 1/2" plywood or pressboard over an existing foundation works great with memory foam or latex mattresses. All these types of mattresses need is a firm, uniform bottom for proper support of the mattress. Hope this helps, Brian
Norm on October 02, 2014:
I just went shopping for 3 major brands of foam mattresses. I just wanted to buy the mattress, but two places told me if I didn't buy an "approved" foundation, the mattress warranty was void. Period. The third store told me I could just put a 1/2" plywood sheet on my old box springs frame and that would be o.k. He suggested I screw it onto the frame of the old box springs. What do you think about this?
gurpreet on April 01, 2013:
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This has been very helpful.
Brian Anderson (author) from United States on March 10, 2013:
Thanks, Superfly47! Appreciate the vote!
David McKenzie from Canada on March 05, 2013:
Voted useful because it is.
Elizabeth Sain on September 27, 2012:
I completely agree with this above comment, the internet is with a doubt growing into your most essential medium of communication across the globe and also its due to sites just like this that ideas are spreading so quickly.
Brian Anderson (author) from United States on September 11, 2012:
You only want to put your new mattress on the foundation.. Having the other mattress underneath will cause support issues by not supporting the base portion of the mattress.. This will create performance issues for your new mattress.. It needs a solid uniform bottom to work properly.. Hope this helps!
r on September 01, 2012:
my box spring is over 10 years old, but my mattress is newer and not too bad. I already have a new memory foam mattress and wonder if I can put it on top of both mattress and boxspring? Is there an easier way to find out the support of boxspring?
Brian Anderson (author) from United States on June 05, 2012:
Hi KT - First, sounds like you need more slats going across the top of your foundation, unless the slats are really wide.. You really need a more uniform support base for your foam mattress.. I have recommended to other people in your situation to build a foundation size box to put under the current foundation to raise the mattress up.. A minimum of quarter inch to half inch plywood or pressboard top.. This has helped many in your situation.. Hope this helps.. Brian
KT on May 30, 2012:
Can you use two foundations (to raise the bed higher) for one bed? I have a mattress that is a combination of memory foam and then latex at the bottom. My bed is a slay bed with wood rows across the width of it (about 4 or 6 of them).
Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on September 09, 2011:
I have a Tempur Pedic mattress and I hate sleeping anywhere else.
Brian Anderson (author) from United States on June 24, 2010:
Thanks for the nice comment, Stephanie!
Stephanie on June 24, 2010:
I just commented on another blog on this site, but I just wanted to quickly say on this one that my memory foam mattress I bought from www.novosbed.com is perfect on the floor - I think the floor is probably the most supportive surface for a mattress.
My boyfriend has a bedframe with wooden slats which we'll probably use when we move in together next month, but until then, the floor works perfectly.