Can You Use a Mattress Topper on a Box Spring Instead of a Mattress?
With the plethora of bedding types and combinations available today, it may be tempting to try and use a mattress topper in ways that it wasn’t designed to be used, in an attempt to save a little money. Trying to balance price, quality, and sleep health can be tricky sometimes when planning a welcoming sleep environment, which is why some people might resort to interesting and unusual solutions. A contemporary formula for focusing on savings is to repair what doesn’t have to be replaced. In bedding, a mattress topper can play a role in achieving this balance of value, healthy sleep, and comfort when it is used correctly. This article will cover whether or not a mattress topper can be used on a box spring instead of using a mattress.
A mattress topper should not be placed directly on a box spring because a box spring is too hard to sleep on and is not a suitable alternative for a mattress. A box spring is a type of bed foundation designed for a mattress and a mattress topper is a layer of bedding that is placed on top of a mattress to improve its comfort and support.
With the great quality of mattress toppers available, one idea that might come up for saving money is to use a mattress topper—instead of a mattress—directly on a box spring. We recommend that you rather invest in the mattress first and then purchase a mattress topper to complement and enhance the qualities of a mattress. We recommend reading our mattress topper hack article to find out about the various mattress toppers and their benefits. Additionally, our mattress topper density guide will help you find the best mattress topper for your needs too.
What is a Mattress Topper? What are the Benefits of Using a Mattress Topper?
The modern recipe for a night of comfortable sleep is a bed made up of layers that improve comfort and encourage restful sleep. A mattress topper is one of those layers.
A mattress topper is a layer of bedding material that is laid on top of the mattress. Thicker than a mattress pad, a mattress topper is generally designed to change or enhance the feel of the underlying mattress. A mattress topper comes in different sizes, densities, and thicknesses, and can provide additional comfort and support when it is layered over an old mattress.
A mattress topper can offer an alternative to buying a much more expensive mattress. Or it can simply give your old mattress a new life. Mattress toppers are designed to make your old, worn bed more comfortable or your new bed even more comfortable and longer-lasting. We suggest looking at a mattress like this one from Amazon because it is hypoallergenic and comfortable and then adding a mattress topper like this bamboo topper from Amazon to add plushness to the bed.
A mattress topper can extend the mattress’ lifespan, and provide additional comfort and convenience. The mattress topper provides physical protection for the mattress from pressure, body heat, stains, as well as from mites and allergens. However, the benefits of a mattress topper go well beyond that.
Mattress toppers offer a way to customize your bed to your liking or as your preferences change. Instead of changing the entire bed, simply add the right mattress topper, and you can change the feel of an older or less expensive mattress or one that isn’t quite right for your current needs. They come in a variety of materials, dimensions, densities, and thicknesses to offer a range of benefits. To find out more about the different types of mattress toppers read our guide to mattress topper types.
The right mattress topper can make a bed softer or firmer. It can change the way the bed supports the body of the sleeper or provide cushioning for painful pressure points. Some mattress toppers can change the way the air circulates in the bed for cooling or warming. Read this article from Plos One to find out how high rebound mattress toppers enhance sleep by facilitating core body temperature drop. Other mattress toppers can wick moisture away from a sweaty sleeper. Some can help keep one person’s movements from disturbing their sleeping partner.
A mattress topper is one side of a sandwich, with a mattress under the topper and something under the mattress to support it—usually a box spring or foundation. Make sure to take a look at our article on how to fix a lumpy mattress topper too for additional tips and tricks.
What is a Box Spring or Foundation?
Most mattresses are not laid directly on the floor, so what are they put on? A lot of modern mattresses are put onto a flat platform or bed foundation. Others are supported on what is often called a box spring. Read our article about box spring heights to help determine what height would be ideal for your bed.
Traditionally, a box spring is composed of a wooden frame covered with fabric with actual metal coil springs arranged inside. However, modern box springs are bed foundations with spaced metal or wood slats that support the mattress on a box-like framework. They do not have any springs inside.
These days what is often called a box spring bed foundation has either metal or wood slats. The ones with the wooden slats will provide more bounce and give, which is what the springs in the traditional box springs were designed to do, but the quality of the wood will determine the life expectancy of the foundation and its resiliency. A well-made metal foundation is likely to last longer, but it won't provide any additional resilience for the mattress on top of it. For some, especially heavier people, this lack of pliancy and flex will make the bed less comfortable and less supportive.
Can You Use a Mattress Topper Directly on a Box Spring Instead of on a Mattress?
Given how well-made, comfortable, and thick many mattress toppers are, it may be tempting to leave out the mattress entirely, and simply use a mattress topper directly on the box spring. Read our article about bed foundations to find out more about the various options and how to choose the right foundation for your specific requirements.
Do not put a mattress topper on a box spring instead of using a mattress. Some mattress toppers are thick enough to seem like a mattress, however, their function is to increase the softness or firmness of a mattress and not to replace the mattress.
In theory, using a mattress topper directly on a box spring could save money, creating a cheap version of a bed, but the results won’t be satisfying, and you are likely to be out looking to spend money on a mattress sooner than you would imagine because a box spring is too hard to sleep on and doesn’t have the essential cushioning of a mattress to aid in proper rest.
It is important to make the distinction between a firm sleep surface and a hard one. Sleeping on a firm mattress can be beneficial for many people as explained in this article from Applied Ergonomics titled, “Objective Firmness, Average Pressure and Subjective Perception in Mattresses for the Elderly.” On the other hand sleeping on a hard surface—like a stiff box spring—will probably only result in insomnia and an aching body.
A traditional box spring doesn't have the right characteristics and structure to support sleeping without a mattress in a way that would be comfortable on a long-term basis. The springs inside are not distributed compactly enough. It is just a box construction, usually covered with fabric, and doesn’t have the density, softness or texture to be a comfortable replacement for the mattress it was designed to support. A box spring will certainly allow the air to circulate, but even that can be impractical, as it won’t provide warmth and comfort.
A modern foundation—like a bed frame—wouldn’t be any better for supporting a mattress topper on its own either. It will allow air to circulate, but it won’t be any warmer than a traditional box spring. If the mattress topper is dense and thick enough and the slats on the foundation are spaced close enough together, you might be able to temporarily use a topper alone. But generally, the slats are not close enough together, and the mattress topper is likely to sink and sag between them. Read our mattress foundations vs. bed frames article to learn more about the difference between these two types of mattress supports.
It is possible to temporarily place a mattress topper directly on a box spring or foundation, without a mattress, but it is not a practical solution, and it might cause damage to the topper. Also, the combination is likely to counteract the benefits and positive characteristics of the mattress topper. You could also damage a perfectly serviceable box spring, as it has to maintain direct strain and wear from the pressures of a resting body in the absence of a mattress. The metal springs in a box spring or slats in a foundation can loosen under this type of direct load because the box spring or foundation is made to be a base for a mattress, which provides more thickness and support between the body and box spring and distributes the load of the sleeper across the surface.
Using a Memory Foam Mattress Topper on an Innerspring Mattress – A Good Idea?
Many mattress toppers are made of memory foam. They are often added to innerspring mattresses.
Using a memory foam mattress topper on top of an innerspring mattress has many advantages. The mattress provides support, firmness, and resilience, while the mattress topper provides cushioning and softness. The topper also increases air circulation and can provide additional warmth or cooling.
An innerspring mattress structure is slightly firmer than other mattresses, and the memory foam mattress topper will help to improve its comfort. A mattress needs to maintain its firmness to provide as much support as possible to your body, while a thick memory foam mattress topper can comfortably cradle and conform to your body. A memory foam mattress topper can also help to reduce movements an innerspring mattress from transmitting when your partner moves or turns which disturbs healthy sleep.
Memory foam mattress toppers are known for retaining heat and becoming uncomfortable to sleep on. For ways to fix a mattress topper that sleeps too hot read our article which covers handy tips and alternatives to cool down your bed. In contrast, an innerspring mattress is designed with a structure that allows air circulation which can reduce this problem. The combination can improve the overall balance of warmth and airflow.
Innerspring mattresses have the virtue of being designed to last in the long-term. The addition of a memory foam mattress topper will give it extra protection, and help it to stand the test of time. Read our article on how to install a mattress topper correctly and prolong its useful life.
Memory foam mattress toppers are more comfortable while an innerspring mattress is longer lasting and provides more support. Memory foam subtly warms and retains body heat, while an innerspring mattress allows air circulation—which makes the memory foam mattress topper and innerspring mattress a winning combination.
What About Using a Memory Foam Mattress Topper on a Box Spring?
If using a memory foam mattress topper on an innerspring mattress sounds like a good combination, it might seem like using a memory foam mattress topper on a box spring would also be a good idea. This is not the case.
Using a memory foam mattress on a box spring has become more common as memory foam mattresses have become increasingly popular. However, using a memory foam mattress topper directly on a box spring is not the same thing and will not be an acceptable substitute.
When we talk about innerspring mattresses and box springs, we are talking about different products and materials. These days, many innerspring mattresses already come with a built-in memory foam topping layer, so you might assume that putting a memory foam mattress topper directly on top of a traditional box spring would achieve a similar result. That wouldn’t be the case. The springs in a box spring are not close enough together, and a box spring doesn’t have the other components that go into a mattress, so it cannot provide the same support for a mattress topper that an actual innerspring mattress would.
A primary virtue of the construction of a box spring is that it allows air circulation and cooling, and that alleviates one of the disadvantages of a memory foam mattress topper, which is sweating during sleep and heat retention. However, using a box spring directly under a mattress topper can result in a bed that is actually too cold.
The box spring raises the bed off the floor and gives some firmness—while the memory foam mattress topper improves softness, comfort, and convenience. However, as explained before, the support the box spring is designed to provide is for a mattress—which distributes the stresses—and not for directly handling all the stresses of a bed. The mattress topper wouldn’t be supported between the springs or slats of the box spring. Overall, this is not the ideal way to create a sleeping environment.
How to Make a Comfortable Bed With a Low-Cost Mattress Topper Hack
To save money making your existing bed more comfortable, try a low-cost mattress topper hack by following these steps:
Step 1. Restore Your Old Mattress to Its Original Shape
Lay your old mattress out on the floor for a few days to restore it to its original shape and refresh its construction.
Step 2. Add a Mattress Topper to Your Mattress
Add a thick mattress topper onto the mattress for comfort, support, or cushioning, and add an extra cover to protect everything from stains, dirt, and allergens.
Step 3. Place a Piece of Plywood Or a Board Under the Mattress
Before resorting to replacing the old mattress, try placing a piece of plywood between the mattress and the mattress topper (or under the mattress, if it is not already on a flat platform) to provide additional support and backing, as well as to balance the distribution of pressure on the mattress. A bunkie board is also a good surface to place under a mattress. Read our article about whether bunkie boards can replace box springs to learn more about their pros and cons.
Step 4. Turn Your Mattress Regularly
Turn the mattress regularly (at least every six months) to distribute the wear and reduce sagging and indents, and clean the mattress to make your bed lasts as long as possible. Read our article about how to make your bed smell good where we cover cleaning tips.
Comparing Costs of a Mattress Topper on a Mattress Vs. an Expensive Mattress Vs. a Mattress Topper on a Less Comfortable Medium Mattress
|Strategy||Mattress Topper Cost||Mattress Cost||Total Cost|
|Use a Cotton House Mattress Topper with an Olee Sleep Aquarius Memory Foam Mattress||~$150||~$190||~$340|
|Buy only a Full-Size Mattress, Avenco Memory Foam Mattress||~$560||~$560|
|Worst case – buying BedStory Memory Foam Mattress Topper with Zinus 10 Inch Support Plus Pocket Spring Hybrid Mattress||~$145||~$445||~$590|
Other Ideas for Making a Low-Cost Bed
Using a mattress topper directly on a box spring is not the best way to save money on setting up a bed, but there are many other money-saving alternatives.
Some ideas for making a low-cost bed instead of using a foundation are to make a pallet bed support, hanging a platform for a suspended bed, or building a DIY bed platform from scrap wood.
If you are interested in creating a low-cost bed without buying a ready-made box spring or foundation, you can try these ideas.
Strategy 1. Make a Pallet Bed Support
One popular way to construct an inexpensive bed is to make a pallet bed. You can arrange the pallets in many ways, add a mattress and mattress topper, and you will have a perfect low-cost bed. Read this article from EcoHome to learn how to choose wood pallets that are safe for use in beds. The total price of the bed would come in way under $300, if you use wood pallets, and a memory foam mattress like this one from Amazon in combination with a mattress topper like this one, also from Amazon.
Strategy 2. Hang a Platform for a Suspended Bed
If your ceiling can support the weight of a bed plus a sleeping person, you can use this classic method to hang it. Just drill a hole in each corner of a wooden platform. Run four ropes securely from the ceiling and pass them through each hole, knotting them underneath. The total price of a twin bed would be less than $250, if you use a wooden platform, and a mattress like this one with a bamboo mattress topper like this one, both from Amazon.
Strategy 3. Build a Bed Platform From Scrap Wood
Use salvaged scrap wood to construct a bed platform. For example, beds can be made from the slats taken from the children's former bunk beds, to create a unique bed frame. The total price of a full bed would be around $300 if you use slats from former bunk beds, with this memory foam mattress and this gel swirl mattress topper from Amazon.
Can You Use a Mattress Topper Directly On the Floor?
Using a mattress topper directly on the floor may be one of the cheapest options. But is it a smart option in the long run?
Using a mattress topper directly on the floor is a good short-term solution and saves money. However, it won’t provide all the benefits that a mattress topper and mattress will provide such as comfort, ventilation, and cooling properties.
A mattress topper is designed as an extension of a mattress, not for use on a hard flat surface like a floor or even a flat platform bed. A mattress topper is designed to work best on a surface that is flexible and pliant, like a mattress.
Most floors are hard and cold (unless they are heated), and sometimes moist because they attract condensation. Also, allergens and dust fall to the floor and thus collect on the mattress topper and under it. A mattress topper of any size and material does not have enough space to separate the sleeper from the floor to provide the desired comfort. Even in a pinch, a better solution would be to use an air mattress and then place a mattress topper on top of it. Read our article about using a mattress topper on an air mattress to learn how to improve comfort for surprise guests.
In a Nutshell
While mattress toppers can provide exceptional comfort and improve almost any bed, they are not designed to be used without a mattress. To get the best out of a mattress topper it is important to use it correctly on top of a mattress and to have that mattress adequately supported by a suitable bed foundation like a box spring or bed frame. To find out more about the weight of the different mattress toppers and how to choose the best one, read our other article.