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February 2022

Mattresses for slats & slatted bed bases

Slatted mattress bases can cause endless frustrations for new bed owners. What is the best mattress for slats? What mattress is suitable for what kind of slats? Which type of bed base is best? Did you know that there are different types of slats and each comes with its own set of benefits and problems? This article explains what to look out for, and offers tips for the perfect night's sleep when using a slatted base with a mattress.

Updated 2022: Firstly, nearly all mattresses are suitable for slatted bases. No matter what the retailer tells you, slatted bases can be used with all mattresses. However, you do need to take some precautions if you’re opting for a slatted mattress base to prevent a couple of classic issues from appearing, especially with cheaper slatted bases. This guide will help you avoid problems with slatted bases damaging your mattress and disturbing your sleep patterns.

A pocket sprung mattress on a full bed base (too heavy for a slatted base)
Handmade heavily upholstered mattresses really need more support than a slatted base can offer

Slatted Base Mattress guide:

It’s a known fact that slatted bases are at the cheaper end of the bed base market. This means they are more affordable to buy and more lightweight than bed frames or divans. However, they can also provide an uneven form of mattress support if you’re not careful in your selection of a slatted bed base. So, let’s take a look at the types of mattress slats and alternatives that are on offer.

Types of slatted mattress bases

Slatted bases are really popular and can be found in most retailers such as Dreams, Bensons and Furniture Village. Slatted bases are so popular as they are incredibly cheap to produce and easy to pack for logistics and delivery. This means there are no huge warehouse storage costs, like for high-end divans and bed frames. It also means they can be packed up and moved very quickly.

Most slatted bases require self-assembly, meaning they can be delivered in a box or packed into the boot of a car from somewhere like IKEA and then assembled at home. Inversely, a quality Divan base takes up a lot more storage in a warehouse and needs more care when lifting it given the upholstery and finer details (such as upholstery finishing like piping).

Natural fibre mattress with a wooden Headboard

In your search for a new mattress, you’re going to see a number of slatted mattress bases in shops.

There are 2 main types of slatted bed frames:

1. Sprung Slat Bases

Sprung slatted bases use wooden slats that clip into a bracket on each side and are curved. These curved sprung slats create an arch in the bed base. This allows them to flex when pressure is applied to them. If you press on them they will flex and move.

Sprung mattress slats give the illusion of springs but without the progressive compression or flexibility that you would expect from a spring. They usually are either on or off. Flat or curved. They don’t react like true spring but do give some flex. Think of flexing a ruler between straight and curved, and you’ll get the idea.

There are many anecdotes on this site and throughout the internet where the mattress develops a central dip known as ‘The Hump Back Bridge Effect’. This can easily be attributed to the use of a slatted bed frame where the pressure of the slats (the arches) are too firm to ‘give’ under the weight of the mattress and user and, therefore, the mattress is prone to settling on the central support bar.

bedstead slats
Sprung slats can create a humpback bridge effect or tear the mattress fabric as they move

There are other reasons why a mattress develop a ridge in the middle when used with a sprung slatted base. Usually, these ridges are found in cheaper mattresses. These mattresses have unsubstantial and lightweight upholstery that then means the arches on the slats push the internal cage or pocket spring unit out of shape. This, in turn, forces through the thin layers of upholstery. The underside wadding of the mattress (one sided no turn) has such an inadequate level of support upholstery that the springs are practically forming on to the slats.

So, with sprung slats, you really need a mid-level or higher-end mattress (i.e. one with higher levels of upholstery) to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

2. Solid Slatted Bases

Solid slats are single pieces of timber or plastic that are either screwed to the bed frame or sometimes attached to tape that you then lay out on the bed frame. This tape or ribbon enables them to be quickly packaged and laid out. They are solid and usually sit in a fixed position. Care must be taken with the taped versions as they can sometimes fall off if you move a lot at night, causing the mattress to fall into the base. This not only gives you the fright of your life but can permanently damage the mattress.

We always advise that, with slats on ribbons, you still screw or nail down the slats to prevent this.

On lower-priced bedframes, the slats tend to have far too wide a spacing between them. The example below is the most extreme version we have seen of this. This can lead to the mattress bulging and squeezing itself in between the slats, damaging the mattress irreparably and leading to an awful night’s sleep.

metal bed frame and slats
Metal slats shown here are much too wide to support a mattress properly

Solid slats are usually wooden but can sometimes be metal (like the example above). Notice just how thin the metal slats are on this bed. We would definitely recommend avoiding this, or using some boarding to prevent damage. This can cause issues with mattresses, as thin metal slats apply unnecessary pressure onto various points in the mattress, which can damage the mattress and cause you to have a rather restless night’s sleep.

Solid slats do have the advantage over sprung slats as a better surface for all pocket sprung mattresses. The thing to remember is that a pocket sprung mattress ideally requires a flat, even surface in order for the mechanics of the individual springs to work with the sleeper.

What’s the best slatted bed base?

So now you know the difference between the two main types of slats, let’s see what the best of the two looks like.

The best slatted mattress base will have the following specifications:

  • 2 inch thick solid wooden slats
  • No more than 7cm gaps between the slats
  • Slats that are fixed into position either by screws or clips
  • Solid slats rather than sprung slats

Dogs asleep on a bed

What is the best type of mattress base?

So, what if you’re not on a budget and want the very best mattress base possible? Then it’s time to look at the 4 types of mattress bases in order of quality. From the best to the weakest, we list them below.

  1. Sprung Edge Divans
  2. Electric / adjustable bed bases
  3. Ottoman platform top bases
  4. Slatted bases.

We believe that a well-upholstered sprung edge base is the best support for a mattress, but we are also realistic that not everyone likes the aesthetic of a sprung divan base or can afford one. Sprung bases offer you a second layer of support and progressive comfort in bed.

Think of a sprung edge base as a mattress for your mattress. These bases are supportive, yet gentle, with none of the drawbacks of the slatted bed base. However, given the additional pocket spring layer and manufacturing skill, they are more expensive.

Artisan bespoke 003 pocket sprung mattress and full bed

If you want to look in far more detail at the other types of mattress base then our article here will help you.

The problems with slatted bases

If we take a lead from all the high-end manufacturers of pocket sprung mattresses, we see that they are all partnered with a Sprung Edged Divan Base.  The likes of Vispring, Savoir, Hastens and Harrisons nearly always pair their high-end mattresses with a sprung divan base. As we said earlier, the suspension qualities of a sprung edged base are precisely what the sprung slats are trying to replicate, but not too efficiently. Sprung slats will never be able to replicate a spring in the way they support, comfort and react.

The main problems with slats are:

  • Damage to mattress upholstery (especially with rough splintered slats).
  • Comfort issues, as they have little flex.
  • Creaking or movement during the night.
  • No progressive comfort.

John Ryan Calico encased mattress springs

There is a considerable difference in user comfort levels between a mattress on a sprung edged divan base, and a mattress on a sprung (or solid) slatted base. Pocket springs work best when there is a system of gradual suspension. The weight of the mattress is taken by both the base springs and the mattress springs. This allows for a longer mattress life span and less stress on the bed overall.

There will be a comfort difference between a mattress used on a slatted base and the same mattress used on a sprung edged divan. A sprung edge divan is softer and more forgiving, whereas slats are firm without that extra give.

How to prevent slatted bases from damaging a mattress?

We hear from people every day who have placed expensive mattresses onto cheaper slatted bases, only to either find the mattress has sagged through the gaps or the slats have failed, meaning their mattress falls through the base. This leads to damage to the mattress. There are a few key tweaks you can make to ensure that this doesn’t happen to you.

We recommend a few key steps to ensure your slatted base is fit for your purpose:

  1. Board over slats that are over 7cm apart.
  2. Use a form of cushioning on top, such as a mattress pad or duvet, to stop slats snagging the upholstery.
  3. Check that your slatted base is suitable for the weight of your mattress.
Crumpled bedding over a slatted bed base
Folding a duvet over the top of slats before you put your mattress on will offer some protection against damage

For example, a mattress placed directly onto a slatted base with no cushioning whatsoever is subject to more wear and tear than one that is cushioned. This will also cause the mattress to gain unsightly and potentially damaging ridges into the underside of the mattress upholstery (noticeable when you turn your mattress). At the very least, you should be placing some sort of cushioning foundation directly onto your slats to prevent this happening (such as an old duvet etc). This also prevents any splinters from damaging the mattress and causing snags.

There are products sold as mattress pads for this very reason, but these are so minimal in construction that the duvet thesis is a far better and more affordable solution.

How to board over a slatted bed base

Boarding over mattress slats can be a quick and cost-effective way of preventing mattress damage with slats. To address the issue of the desirable flat surface for your mattress when used on a sprung slatted base, you can board over the slats to help provide this. So if you’ve inherited a slatted base, or chosen a gorgeous antique bed frame, please don’t panic. Some simple boarding can help avoid the issues above.

Mattress Slats that have been boarded over
Boarding over slats is the best fix for problems with slatted bases

The best method we have found is to place thin sheets (about 3-6mm) of MDF onto your slats to create the flat, even surface required.

This image shows three lengths of MDF sheets bridging the arched slats and central bar to prevent the central dipping problems. They are also not so big as to prevent any problems with aeration to the mattress.

What depth of plywood or MDF should I use to board over my slatted base?

When boarding over a slatted base we recommend using between 3mm and 6mm of either plywood, pegboard or MDF. It doesn’t need to be in one piece, it can be cut into 4 pieces and then laid on top. It’s just to bridge the gaps between the slats. We also recommend adding a duvet as well on top of the wood just to stop it from nipping or nicking the mattress.

What’s the best mattress for a slatted bed base?

All mattresses, with the exception of very cheap thin models, are suitable for slats. All of our John Ryan By Design mattresses are suitable for slats.

We always advise with our hand-made mattress range that, if you’re going to use a slatted base, you consider the support from the base. If the slats are too far apart, consider boarding them over to help support the mattress. Also adding a duvet will help prevent slats from snagging on your mattress.

Origins latex pocket sprung mattress on a full bed base
All our mattresses are suitable for slats. Visit our mattress range here

We have also found that slats can nip and bite the mattress fabric over time (causing tears and snags). By boarding over and using, say, a cheap duvet to cover the base, you can avoid having your slats damage the mattress.

What is a Bedframe or Bedstead?

This a term thrown about that, in reality, is quite meaningless and, in my opinion, it can be quite a cause for unnecessary concern. If we look at Vi-Spring as an example, they offer two types of mattresses in their range under the heading ‘Bed Collection’ and ‘Bedstead Mattresses’.

Their top of range mattresses such as the Magnificence and the Signatory fall into their ‘Bed Collection’ headings. They are often accompanied with a bedstead. Does this mean you have to use a bedstead with the mattress? Will you have to opt for a lesser model? No, of course not. You could use any mattress with a divan or sprung edge divan base instead.

artisan bespoke mattress on a non-slatted bed base
Don’t let bedsteads confuse you

If we look at the construction between these two ranges of bedsteads, we see that the only difference is the inclusion of a wool spring protector pad on the mattresses deemed fit for use on a bedstead. This is the component directly on the top and bottom of the actual spring unit, and the following layers of upholstery can be deemed similar to the models within their Bed Collection.

The wool spring protector pad will be within a 500 GSM tolerance and, although compressed and slightly firmer than the usual 1000 GSM bonded wool and cotton insulator used for the bulk of their models, I cannot see any reason to differentiate between these two ranges.

You can use any quality mattress with either a bedstead, bedframe or divan base

If the returning argument is that there has to be a more substantial spring insulator for mattresses used on a bedstead, then surely this negates the benefit of having a completely pliable calico spring unit in the first place. I really can’t understand it, particularly from a manufacturer of this calibre.

Slats can nip your mattress and damage it if not covered properly
Slats can nip your mattress and damage it if not covered properly
Boarding over slats can help correctly support your mattress
Boarding over slats can help correctly support your mattress

What’s the ideal base for a foam mattress?

The best answer is to go for a platform or sprung edge divan (ideally). This ensures a consistent surface and removes the issue of slats causing dipping or damage to your mattress. Whilst a nice looking bed frame is a consideration when buying a new bed, you also have to weigh this up against the impact of certain slatted bed frames, particularly against your mattress’s longevity, comfort and consistency.

Pocket sprung mattress on a divan bed base
Divan bases are the most consistent base for any mattress type
Summary

Slats are fine as an entry-level mattress base, provided they are not spaced too far apart and you board over them. If not, you can end up with sagging mattresses or even rips and tears in the mattress fabric. The best way to avoid the hassle of slatted bases is to choose an upholstered divan. This saves the need for any boarding over or tweaking.

We have developed a Luxury mattress base pad for our Legacy mattress, but have yet to create one suitable to remove the issues for normal slatted bases. This is because they make the mattress too high. At present, we offer a range of divans which can be used with your existing mattress or one of our models.  If you need more help please call our friendly team on 0161 437 4419.

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