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What is a bed frame?

A Queen size bed frame in a bedroom

You may have never thought about what goes under your mattress to hold up your bed while you sleep. The bed frame is one of the most overlooked parts of a new bed purchase. Most people don’t know what they are or how important they can be to a good night’s sleep.

Bed frame - defined

A bed frame holds up your box spring and mattress so you’re not putting them on the floor. It’s usually a rectangular frame made of metal, with legs and feet that give it some height. The frame’s rails hold up the box spring, then the mattress goes on top. This is the most common type of mattress support in the US.

Some people refer to their “frame” as the headboard, footboard, and side rails, but those can be separate pieces and might not support the box spring/mattress at all. A bed frame is also different from a platform bed – the platform bed eliminates the need for a box spring to support the mattress directly.

The right frame provides enough support for you to sleep comfortably, no matter what mattress you choose to put on top. If your bed is sagging, squeaking, or unstable, the problem could be your frame. All those issues can impact your sleep quality and cause aches and pains, so a good night’s sleep starts with a solid foundation.

Different bed frames

After eliminating headboard/footboard systems and platform beds, there are still a variety of options to choose from when selecting a bed frame. First, it’s important to know what size you need. Larger sized beds (Queen, King, and California King) are often better supported if they have an additional rail running through the center to prevent your mattress from sagging and wearing out.

You should also know how much support you want to have. The thicker the mattress and more people on the bed, the more support you’ll want. Steel frames are traditional and will offer the best strength for the long run. Thicker steel means more heavy-duty support. Although metal is the most popular material used, you can find frames in wood, resin, and other materials.

Consider any special attributes you'd like to have with your bed setup. If you have a waterbed, that needs a special frame. There are frames that have a lower profile, for an easier time getting in and out of bed, or a higher profile, for more storage underneath. Some frames come already attached to a headboard and footboard, making it a one-piece solution to building your bed.

Headboard/footboard brackets

Attaching a headboard and/or footboard to your bed is another important consideration. It might seem like all bed frames would come with brackets to attach a footboard, but it’s much more common to have a frame with a headboard bracket only. If you have a footboard that needs to be attached, make sure to get a frame with brackets on both ends.

There are also different types of headboard attachments. Most common is a bolt-on, where you put bolts through slots in the frame’s brackets and into the headboard. There are also hook-on headboards and footboards that need brackets with hooks. Check your headboard to see what type you have before getting a new frame. If you later get a hook-on headboard, you can get an adapter that will allow it to attach. This means you can get what you need now and still change your mind later.

A bolt on and a hook on headboard bracket

Pictured: A bolt-on headboard bracket (left), and a hook-on headboard bracket (right)

Foot options

Bed frames also come with different foot options to consider. Wheels (or casters) and glides are the most common choices. Glides are flat feet, usually made of nylon or plastic. This is becoming the more common choice. Glides aren’t as mobile as wheels, but that means they are more stable, and their flat bottom won’t scratch floors. Wheels can be made from metal or plastic, and let you move your bed around more easily. Some wheels don’t have a locking mechanism, which can cause the bed to shift around when you lie down. When purchasing a frame with wheels, make sure to look for wheels that include a locking mechanism to keep your bed more secure.

Check your frame to see if it’s squeaking, bending, broken, or just not what you need to support you for a better night’s sleep. It might be time to get a replacement. Building a bed that’s comfortable and stable starts from the ground up.