Recycling a Mattress and Box Spring

In 2004, I was reading a book called Conscious Style Home by Danny Seo. He describes taking apart a mattress to its component parts for recycling. I found that idea so intriguing – especially the idea that you could fit that mattress into a single garbage bag, once you had recycled all the other components. I wanted to give it a try. My co-worker Erik was throwing out an old mattress and box spring, and he delivered it to my front porch.

(On a side note, now I see that Danny Seo sells a “mattress in a box” which is an intriguing idea as well.)

It was August in Virginia, definitely not the ideal season to be working hard outside. My daughter was about to turn one, and so she was a handful. But I proceeded to take apart that mattress and box spring on my front lawn (because we don’t have a flat backyard). I had no idea how to do it, but I figured I would experiment.

Step 1: Remove the cord from the edge of the mattress

I just pulled hard and it came off. It helps that it was an older mattress, so the fabric gave way easily.

Removing the cord from the edge of the mattress

Removing the cord from the edge of the mattress

Step 2: Remove the sides from the mattress

Remove the side fabric from the mattress

Remove the side fabric from the mattress

Step 3: Pull back the mattress fabric and gather up the fluffy stuff underneath

There are a few staples here and there that you will need to snip, and then you will see there is a layer of fluffy stuff just below the outer cover. At the time, I hoped it would compost, and I put some in my composter. But in fact, it did not compost (perhaps it would in an industrial compost instead of my home one) and in fact, a bunch of bees decided to build their home in that stuff, which resulted in lots of drama that I will not discuss here (but thank you to my patient husband for dealing with that). So I recommend not composting that stuff and I think it will go into a bag and be thrown out because it’s pretty nasty stuff.

Layers of fiber inside the mattress

Layers of fiber inside the mattress

Step 4: Remove the “coir” layer

Under that gross fluffy stuff is a layer of brown stuff that I believe is called “coir” and comes from coconuts. This does break down, and I used it as a weed deterrent in my garden. I layed it in my garden and sprinkled mulch over it. Over time, it disappeared, and I believe it also reduced weeds that summer because it’s like a blanket that allows water through.

Picking off the yucky fluffy stuff from the coir layer in the mattress

Picking off the yucky fluffy stuff from the coir layer in the mattress

 Step 5: Bring the metal spring insides to the metal recycling

Finally, I was left with the metal springs and the mattress cover. I still have the cover folded up in a box. I have not figured out the perfect project for it. I tried dying it, but it was all synthetic fibers, so it did not take the dye well. It is incredibly sturdy, so I imagine using it as a base for something that needs to be strong.

The metal springs would not fit into our car, so my husband and I took it apart by twisting certain connector wires with our pliers. Once it was in 3-4 pieces, we could fit it in the trunk of our car and we took it to metal recycling. I have a few springs I saved because I think they could be very cool candle holders, but the challenge is that the metal gives off some kind of grease when you touch it, so I would need to degrease those things first.

Mattress with the coir layer pulled back - metal springs visible

Mattress with the coir layer pulled back – metal springs visible

Step 6: Tackle the box spring by removing the staples and plastic corners

Remove plastic and staples from box spring

Remove plastic and staples from box spring

 

Step 7: Pull out as many staples as you can with pliers

This was tricep-building work, and the more thorough you are, the more likely you can re-use the wood components.

 

Remove staples from wood components of mattress

Remove staples from wood components of mattress

Step 8: Lift off the wood and metal components

Roll up that nasty fluffy stuff again (I think it’s going to the trash – sorry), and prep the metal for the metal recycling. The wood – we ended up using for various random projects around the garden.

Rolling up the padding in the box spring

Rolling up the padding in the box spring

 

Step 9: Take apart the metal components of the box spring

Like the metal in the mattress, we needed to break up the box spring metal into smaller chunks for transport to the metal recycling. There were these metal fasteners that we needed to jimmy open with a screwdriver.

 

Opening metal fasteners in the box spring

Opening metal fasteners in the box spring

 

Step 10: Get a shower!

I do not recommend August in Virginia as the best time or place for this project. But weirdly, I was very pleased to break down that mattress and box spring, so that only a single garbage bag would go to landfill.

Filthy hands after taking apart a mattress and box spring

Filthy hands after taking apart a mattress and box spring

 

What Crazy Recycling Project Did You Take On?

I really don’t know if this was a useful project for me to take on, but for some reason I was compelled to give it a try. I certainly have a clearer idea of what is inside a mattress.

Have you ever taken on a huge recycling project and then wondered why?

15 thoughts on “Recycling a Mattress and Box Spring

  1. We used some of the wood as supports for extra shelves in Nora’s closet. It was rough though and needed a bit of sanding. :o)

  2. GA Road Warrior on

    Thanks so much for this tutorial. We “inherited” an old box spring and didn’t want to just throw it in the land fill. I’m going to use the wood to build a scratching post for my kitten. Still trying to figure out a use for the metal components.

  3. Hi,
    Loved this post. Took apart my mattress today without fear after reading this. I needed to make a smaller mattress. My mattress in pretty good shape…one of those orthopedic with 20yr warranty. I cut the foam parts to its new size and will sew the covers tomorrow. Its really more like a topper. A couple of hours work but I am pleased. I havent broken the metal apart yet. No rush. Really enjoyed other postings on your blog.
    Cheers.

    • Carla Brown on

      That is wonderful if this blog gave you the confidence to take on a project! If you like Facebook, you could Like Trashmagination on there and get notified when we post new projects. All the best to you!

  4. Cindy on

    Has anyone enlarged a double box spring into a queen size?Wondering if is possible to add wood to make it fit into a metal frame?

  5. About 15 years ago we did this to get rid of a mattress. Thankfully, it was vintage, so it didn’t have the fluffy layer (just coir), and the cover was cotton. We pulled off the cover, which hubby used as a garage rag and then disposed of. We composted the coir (I guess we should’ve used it for mulch), recycled the metal, then used the wood to cook in our outdoor fireplace. I thought I was the only crazy one who did this sort of thing, but am glad to find out I’m not!

  6. About 15 years ago we did this to get rid of a mattress. Thankfully, it was vintage, so it didn’t have the fluffy layer (just coir), and the cover was cotton. We pulled off the cover, which hubby used as a garage rag and then disposed of. We composted the coir (I guess we should’ve used it for mulch), recycled the metal, then used the wood to cook in our outdoor fireplace. I thought I was the only crazy one who did this sort of thing, but am glad to find out I’m not!

  7. Thanks! It sure beats paying the extra charge to dispose of the items, better to recycle! Thank you!

  8. Debi Cruz on

    Thank you, searching best way to remove cover from box spring. I have a plan to use the framework and inner coils as a trellis for beans this years and a variety of things in years to come.

  9. Denise Grimes on

    Tackling a mattress tommorrow morning. This gives the confidence that it can be done with litte landfill. Thank you so much.

    • Carla Brown on

      Wow that sounds like an ambitious project! Do let us know if it works. It sounds challenging unless you have some experience with upholstery, but good luck!

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