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Key Takeaways
  • A traditional box spring consists of coils or a metal grid inside a fabric-covered frame
  • Slats are a series of wooden or metal planks spaced a few inches apart across a frame
  • Traditional innerspring mattresses typically pair well with a box spring
  • Slatted bases are versatile, but models with wider gaps may be incompatible with certain mattresses

When searching for a supportive bed base, many shoppers gravitate toward one of two popular options: box springs and slats. While bed slats have a simpler design consisting of horizontal planks, box springs typically contain a metal or wood frame, a coil system, and a fabric covering. 

We’ll explore each kind of base, including its construction, benefits, and the types of mattresses it works best with. We’ll also discuss the top factors to consider when deciding whether to buy a box spring or bed slats.

What Is a Box Spring?

A box spring sits directly under the mattress. The traditional box spring design features a wood or metal frame around a spring-like system, such as coils or a metal grid. Fabric wraps around the frame.

A box spring is designed to be the same size as your mattress. That means they come in most standard bed sizes, including twin, twin XL, queen, king, and California king. 

Box springs provide several benefits, including additional support and stability, shock absorption, increased height, and enhanced airflow. 

Types of Mattresses That Work Best With a Box Spring

Traditionally, box springs were designed to support innerspring mattresses. This old-school mattress type has just a thin layer of cushioning atop a system of interconnected coils, so the box spring serves to reinforce the innerspring support core. Some hybrid mattresses also work with box springs, but we recommend reading the mattress warranty to ensure compatibility.

Latex mattresses tend to be heavy and bulky and typically aren’t a good fit for a box spring. All-foam beds, particularly those made with memory foam, may be prone to sagging and uneven support if paired with a box spring. For these reasons, some latex and foam mattress warranties have provisions specifically prohibiting the use of box springs.

  • Offers additional support, especially for traditional innerspring mattresses
  • Promotes ample airflow for greater breathability
  • Absorbs impact from coil-based mattresses
  • Springs may be noisy
  • May be incompatible with memory foam or latex mattresses if the coils are spaced too far apart
  • Sagging may occur when the coils break down over time

What Are Slats?

Slats are a type of bed base that consists of a series of solid wood or metal planks or bars that run horizontally across the width of the bed frame. The planks typically sit only a few inches from one another. Although most slats use this general design, some are connected in a ladder-like pattern or are covered in fabric. 

Bed slats are usually a more affordable alternative to a box spring. Like box springs, slats enable plenty of cooling airflow, and well-constructed models can be quite durable.

Types of Mattresses That Work Best With Slats

When slats are built well, they can be used with most types of mattresses and may be especially well suited to memory foam, latex, and hybrid models. 

  • Memory Foam: Bed slats offer good support to memory foam mattresses as long as there is only a narrow space between each slat. Slats can enable airflow that prevents memory foam mattresses from overheating.
  • Latex: Latex mattresses work well when supported by bed slats with narrow spacing. Slats can provide a sturdy base for a latex mattress and enable it to retain its characteristic bounce and temperature neutrality. 
  • Hybrid: A hybrid mattress combines a coil support core with comfort layers made from foam, latex, or other cushioning materials. Bed slats can enhance a hybrid’s breathability while providing a sturdy foundation.
  • Cost-effective
  • Simple design with durable materials
  • Gaps between slats promote airflow and prevent moisture buildup
  • Prone to shifting if not adequately secured
  • Slats with wide spacing can cause mattress sagging
  • May not provide ideal support when used with an innerspring mattress

Do You Need a Box Spring or Slats?

Besides mattress type, you should also consider bed height when choosing between a box spring and slats. Box springs usually provide greater height than slats, so they may raise your sleep surface quite high off the floor if you have a thick mattress.

In terms of maintenance, box springs tend to gather more dust and moisture than slats. Your budget may also be a deciding factor since slats are typically less expensive than a box spring. You may also find that one type of base simply fits better with your bedroom’s design and aesthetic.

In some cases, a mattress warranty is only valid if you use a specific type of bed base, so consult with the manufacturer about your options. Some mattress warranties specify a maximum distance between slats that is acceptable without risking damage to the mattress and voiding the warranty.

Box SpringSlats
Go For It If…
  • You have a traditional innerspring mattress
  • You want a taller bed
  • You need a budget-friendly base
  • You prefer a lower-profile bed
It’s Not a Match If…
  • You want significant storage space under your bed
  • You have a limited budget
  • You want a bed with a higher profile
  • You’re seeking a foundation that adds extra bounce to your bed
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