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A Step-By-Step Guide to Breaking Down a Mattress and Box Spring

Close Up of Broken Mattress and Springs
By: Sara Cifani | Last Updated:03/13/2024
Time to Read: 4 min
Project Overview
Time to Complete
Less than 1 day
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How to Break Down a Mattress

An estimated 20 million mattresses are tossed into landfills every year, and many dispose of them because they are simply difficult to get rid of.

However, a mattress is composed mainly of steel, wood and cotton – most of which can be recycled. For instance, wood can be shaved into wood chips or used for a variety of projects at home. Not only does this benefit the environment, but it also conserves valuable resources.

California, Connecticut and Rhode Island all require that mattresses be recycled and at least 20 other states have mattress recycling facilities. But, it’s possible that you’ll be charged a fee to break it down depending on where you take it. To save money, you can break it down yourself fairly easily and recycle the appropriate materials.

Read on to learn how to break down your mattress step by step.

Side View of Inside of Mattress

How to Break Down Your Mattress in 6 Steps

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Pro Tip
Before you begin tearing apart your mattress, we suggest gearing up with a pair of cut-resistant gloves and protective eyewear to keep loose particles from getting in your eyes. If you have the space available, take the mattress outside to avoid a mess in your home.

What Tools Do You Need to Break Down Your Mattress and Box Spring?

  • Utility knife, seam ripper and/or shop box cutter to cut fabric.
  • Heavy pair of pliers to remove staples.
  • Bolt cutter and/or wire clippers to cut springs.
  • Saw for cutting the box spring frame.
  • Boxes and/or bags to hold mattress parts.

Step 1: Cut and Pull the Cord From the Mattress Edges

Find where the piping ends and use a seam ripper or utility knife to break the thread. Remove the cord by pulling it away from the mattress fabric. Repeat the same process on the other side of the mattress. Set the fabric strands aside to reuse or donate.

Step 2: Remove the Mattress Sides

Once the binding cords are removed, you can pull the sides off of the mattress.

Two Men Carrying Wooden Bed Frame

Step 3: Pull the Top Layer of Fabric Off the Mattress

When you pull back the fabric, you’ll reveal a layer of fluffy padding or foam. As you pull, watch out for staples binding the outside fabric. Snip the staples away until the top layer is completely free.

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Pro Tip
To make breaking down the mattress easier with some mattresses, remove buttons or tabs on both sides of the quilting all at once with a seam ripper.

Step 4: Gather the Fabric and Interior Padding

This is where the gloves come in handy. Use your hands to sweep the fluffy insides into a trash bag or cardboard box. This stuffing is typically made up of cotton and foam, which can usually be recycled at a facility, reused or composted.

Step 5: Remove the Bottom Fiber Layer

Pull away the thin layer of fabric at the bottom. Your mattress might also have an added layer of foam cushioning for extra support. Once removed, you can break this layer down to recycle or compost.

Full Frame of Mattress Springs

Step 6: Cut and Recycle the Metal Springs

After you clear away the fluff and fabric, you’ll reveal the interior springs. You can cut this layer into smaller pieces with a bolt or wire cutter to take to your local metal recycling center or scrap yard. Or if you’re feeling crafty, you can upcycle the innersprings to make wine racks, pot holders and more.

No time to break down your mattress? Check out our Mattress Disposal Guide!

How to Take Apart a Box Spring in 4 Steps

Now that you’ve tackled the mattress, it’s time to start cutting the box spring. Grab a saw and get ready to break it down.

Step 1: Remove Reinforced Corners and the Dust Cover

Most box springs have plastic pieces stapled onto the corners for added protection. Use a screwdriver to remove these pieces and set aside for recycling. Also, if your mattress has a dust cover, cut and tear it away to reveal the wood frame underneath.

Step 2: Pull Staples Binding Fabric

Use pliers to remove the staples holding the wood frame to the fabric around the bottom edges. Pull the fabric away from the wood frame with your utility knife.

Step 3: Remove the Fluffy Lining and Fabric

Gather the cotton and foam lining and pile it into a box to be recycled or composted. Peel away the fabric lining the edges of the box spring until the wood frame is completely exposed.

Step 4: Disassemble the Wood Frame

Use a hand saw or handheld buzz saw to break down the wood frame into smaller pieces. Ensure you are using work gloves and glasses for this process, if you haven’t been. You can reuse these wood pieces for small garden projects or throw them in the compost pile, if you happen to have one.

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Pro Tip
Some box springs have metal parts in addition to the wood frame. Like the bedsprings, you’ll need to cut this chunk of metal into smaller pieces before you take it to a recycling center.

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