A lot of people are very familiar with air mattresses, but only in a very limited context. The majority of people relegate them to the status of a camping mattress or a temporary solution for houseguests when you have more people over than spare beds and sofas.
The truth is that air mattresses can be fantastic options for a multitude of reasons! They have gone from small, one person temporary solutions that are better than the floor, but not by much to full fledged, super comfortable sleeping solutions that many people vastly prefer to traditional spring mattresses!
This article is the ultimate guide to air mattresses. You’ll learn about how they evolved, the technology behind them, the different types and sizes, and accessories like air mattress pumps. You may even decide that the health benefits of an air mattress are worth trading away your traditional mattress permanently!
Origin Story: How Air Mattresses Got Started
Air mattresses have been around for much longer than you might think. IN fact, the original air mattress was invented around 1889! The Mattress and Cushion Company offered a pneumatic mattress that they marketed as, “Nothing so Rare as Resting on Air.”
This mattress had less in common with modern mattresses than with pool floats and lilos, though. The appeal was more to do with being the first type of bed that you could pack up and store on a shelf, so it was extremely popular in urban areas where tons of people were sharing very small studio apartments.
Steamships and hotels also switched to this form of mattress because it avoided the problem of having mattresses that were bulky, full of hair, and had a tendency to collect diseases and bed bugs.
Over time, air mattresses evolved. They became more substantial, more supportive, and more affordable. They remained popular as camping comfort and for use with guests in homes. Today, they are even part of high end and luxury interior design, especially the luxury air mattresses that get mounted on top of bed frames!
While the basic concept of the air mattress seems to be the same as it was when it first rolled out, it has actually changed significantly Modern mattresses have changed the way these beds are inflated, switched to better materials, and found interior designs that completely change the way they are used.
The design flaws like losing air, inflation taking forever, slippery bottoms, and more have all been removed and redesigned so that today’s high end air mattresses are actually able to be adjusted on one side or the other, similar to Select Comfort mattresses!
Air Mattresses and Heath
Air mattresses actually have some significant benefits. Camping mattresses and cheaper, low end mattresses are not going to have the same benefits, but high quality, stable air mattresses have some significant advantages for your health.
Air Mattresses Reduce Back Pain
You can adjust the firmness of nice air mattresses to perfectly suit your body. A secondary air mattress ump, known as a “never flat”, will keep the mattress at your desired firmness all night long. This lets you set a pattern that aligns your spine, rather than flexing so much that it puts pressure on your hip and shoulders, which creates massive back pain.
Luxury air mattresses even have the capacity for setting different firmness on the two sides of the mattress! This allows partners to set their own comfort level on the mattress, and many even allow for heated or cooled air on one or both sides, and for half of a mattress to be inclined.
Even if you use a regular air mattress over a luxury model, you can still get the benefits by choosing the right firmness. You simply need to make sure that your neck is aligned well and you’ve chosen a comfortable firmness for your sleeping.
Air Mattresses and Bed Sores
If you’re injured or infirmed, you may need to spend a prolonged period of time in bed. If this is the case, an air mattress may actually be better for you during this period of time.
A device known as a medical air mattress, or pressure relief air mattress, has been proven to reduce the likelihood of getting bed sores from prolonged bed rest. These beds use air pockets that constantly change the pressure points on your body, which moves you in subtle ways to prevent bed sores, which happen as a result of consistent pressure to certain points of your skin.
The materials in these mattresses are anti-microbial, machine washable, breathable materials. If you’re heading into surgery this is a great purchase that you can throw on top of your own mattress for your recovery period.
Weaknesses of Air Mattresses
Every type of mattress comes with its own set of benefits and problems, and the air mattress is no exception. It’s amazing, but not perfect. Here are some of the most common issues that occur with these air mattresses and how you can avoid them happening.
One of the big issues is that over time the air mattress will begin to slowly lose air. This is due to shifting temperatures in the atmosphere subtly allowing materials to expand and contract, losing air each time. The solution to this problem is to top off the air when you notice this happening, or to buy a model that utilizes a never flat air mattress pump.
If you are sleeping outside on a camping air mattress, or in a cold environment, then you’re likely inflating your mattress with cold air, which will circulate and make the surface colder. Using a foam mattress topper will insulate your body from feeling the effect of this cold air.
A similar problem for different environments is heat entrapment. Air mattress materials aren’t very breathable, which is one of the reasons they were not as quickly adopted as spring mattresses for permanent home use. The materials can trap heat between your body and your mattress. If you buy a mattress with a flocked top and add a foam topper, this can solve the issue for you.
Holes and Punctures
No matter how perfect or high end an air mattress model is, it is impossible to create a completely puncture free mattress. It is possible to make a mattress that is far les prone to getting punctured, though. Make sure that you place your air mattress on a smooth surface and use the thickest PVC material possible for durability. As a general rule, don’t buy an air mattress if it isn’t at least 0.4 mm and made from reinforced material or textile.
Slips and Tips
High quality air mattresses completely eliminate the problem of a mattress that will slide around or tip on you. Check for sure grip bottoms that will keep your bed from moving around, and look for sturdy edge air beans that prevent it from tipping, even with people sitting on the side of the mattress.
Air Mattress Sizes
Air mattresses come in standard sizing these days. This is nice because you can simply choose the size that you already enjoy and your sheet sets will fit perfectly. The one thing that may be difficult is finding one that is in stock, because unlike traditional made-on-demand mattresses, air mattresses sit on shelves.
The fact that they’re less popular for home use means finding the right size in stock will depend upon market demand. You can usually find Twin and Queen in stock pretty much everywhere. It will be more difficult to find Twin XL, Full, King, and California King sizes.
Twin Air Mattress
The twin air mattress is one of the most standard sizes for camping air mattresses. You will find a huge range of quality, from very thin ground covers to high end luxury models. These are roughly 39 x 75 inches.
Twin XL mattresses are 39 x 80 inches, adding some extra room for tall people so that their legs don’t hang off the bottom of the bed at night.
Full Size Air Mattress
These mattresses are a bit harder to find, and generally won’t come in the lower end models that are primarily used for camping and guests. They are 54 x 75 in dimension, adding some extra room on the sides for sleepers who like to stretch out a bit.
This size also comes in an XL, measuring 54 x 80 inches. This allows tall people to stretch out comfortably on their mattress without limbs hanging off the sides or bottom of the mattress.
Queen Air Mattress
The queen air mattress is 60 x 80 inches, which makes room for 2 people to sleep on the mattress rather than just 1 person. This mattress will come in a range of qualities and be stocked nearly everywhere, whether you’re at Walmart looking for camping and houseguest gear or shopping high end models for your bedroom.
King Size Air Mattress
A king sized mattress will be 76 x 80 inches, which allows 2 grown people to stretch out a bit and be comfortable in the evening. The California King is shaped a bit differently, at 72 x 84 inches. This removes some of the room for stretching out, but again, it adds several inches to the bottom of the bed so that a tall adult can sleep without their limbs falling off the bottom.
Big and Tall Air Mattresses
Sizing can be difficult if you’re extra tall because very few models of air mattress offer XL sizes and they’re unlikely to be regularly stocked on store shelves. You will want to special order them to make sure they’re stocked when you go to buy one. Check for a store that offers online order with free shipping or in store pickup.
Heavier people need to look at the weight capacity a mattress can handle. These will be listed in specs, and may also be in user reviews and questions. The most durable air mattresses will have hick vinyl – look for 0.6 mm instead of the 0.4 mm recommended. Fox airbeds use much thicker material, so they are ideal for heavier weight capacity.
Air Mattress Types
There are a few different design elements when it comes to air mattresses. Each design has strengths and weaknesses, and most of them serve very different purposes.
Low Rise Air Mattresses
These are probably what most people will envision when they hear the term air mattress. These options take much less storage space than others. They come in the same height and width as other mattresses, but the are only 8 to 10 inches high. Most of these are your average, old school blow up mattresses.
They’re not the right mattresses to use as permanent beds because they don’t have enough height to be sturdy or supportive every evening. They are also hard to get in and out of, so older house guests won’t find these comfortable.
That being said, these are fantastic options for camping and young children during slumber parties. They’re easy to store and provide insulation and protection against hard floors and camp ground surfaces.
Platform and High Rise Air Mattresses
These mattresses work well in guest bedrooms, and if they’re well made then they can even be full and permanent mattresses. They are usually between 18 to 22 inches high, and are built just as sturdy and comfortable as high end latex and spring mattresses. They offer plenty of support and comfort. These are usually self inflating air mattresses.
A lot of campers who have short hikes and don’t need to maximize backpack space may use these in their campsites, but they aren’t ideal for camping. For one thing, most of them require that you spend a lot of time and effort pumping them up if you don’t have a power source to let their automated air mattress pump do it for you. Secondly, they take up a ton of space.
These are the ones that come as high end air mattresses for permanent use. If you are looking to replace the old box spring mattress model in favor of a better option for health, then these are great alternatives. In fact, after Memory Foam mattresses, these are the best options available when you buy the luxury models.
If you want to go high tech with your air mattress, then consider the EZ airbed. It’s a great option for house guests. This is an airbed mounted on a metal bed frame. These are absolutely incredible inventions. Plug it in and the tightly packed frame will begin to unfold. Within a couple minutes, you will have a full metal bedframe with a comfortable air mattress.
These mattresses aren’t quite as supportive or comfortable as the high rise options that are capable of being permanent fixtures, but they’re more comfortable and easier to get into than low rise camping air mattresses when you have company. They’re easy to set up because they’re self inflating, and despite having a frame, they store quite easily.
While these aren’t ideal for camping, if you’re doing glamping where you’re driving to your campsite and you don’t want to sleep on the ground because you like being elevated, you can use these.
Durable Air Mattresses
You want to make sure your air mattress is durable. If you’re using it camping, it will need to hold up against the sticks and problems in the campsite ground. If you’re at home, you want to make sure it will last a long time, so that you don’t end up unpleasantly surprised with a malfunctioning air mattress when guests arrive and no time to grab another one.
When it comes to high performance air mattresses, the PVC thickness matters. If you want it to be less likely to develop punctures or issues, then you need a minimum of 0.4 mm thickness. Heavier people will want to gravitate to no less than 0.6 mm instead.
Just remember that this is only one factor when it comes to durability. If a mattress is not made to high quality standards, it can still lead air or have issues with the internal structure.
Air Mattresses that Don’t Lose Air
Air leaking is not just an issue that occurs in a punctured mattress. This can occur naturally due to materials stretching due to changing temperatures or weight pressure points.
Inferior air beds will have small, unnoticeable leaks at their connections, near their pumps, or through the valves. Make sure you are using a reputable brand and consider using a never flat pump with your mattress. Intex, SoundAsleep Dream Series, Aerobeds, and Coleman mattresses are all very reputable brands.
The mattress pressure is going to vary naturally thanks to temperature and humidity changes. These issues are fixed quickly with a 30 second top off a few nights a week.
Regardless of specs, one of the best ways to find out what a mattress is really like is by reading customer reviews. Make sure the bed you buy has at least 50 reviews and isn’t a brand new product. This avoids the likelihood that the company has purchased positive review or built a great looking product that quickly wears out.
Sort the reviews by the most recent ones. The quality of the products can change over time. Companies have been known to use cheaper materials on the same product without telling anyone the build has changed, so the most recent reviews will tell you about the current product.
Comfortable Air Mattresses
The air mattress itself isn’t the only factor when it comes to comfortable sleeps. You need to make sure that you place it somewhere comfortable. It’s best to place the air mattresses in a corner instead of the center of a room, so pillows don’t fly off and across the room.
There are two types of internal structures – chambers and end to end beams. If you want a comfortable air mattress, then buy chambers. They are far superior to end to end beams. These allow your weight to be distributed more evenly across the mattress, ensure sturdy edges so your mattress won’t tip, and also maintain a consistent structure between the middle and sides of the bed.
In a chamber style air mattress, the structure is similar to a traditional mattress. Each chamber acts as a coil, so you don’t sink in the middle of the bed. This is the structure used in the high end air mattresses because it allows for opening and closing of different mattress areas, which allow for different levels of firmness and airflow throughout the different areas.
There are a few different ways to inflate air mattresses, and you want to make sure that you get the right option. While you may be able to inflate camping mattresses with your own breath, this is a terrible option. It takes a ton of effort and also involves sticking your mouth on a possibly dirty tube. Pumps are great options to avoid this issue. You can use these instead of your own lungs to pump a mattress much quicker.
Many air mattresses will be self inflating. These will come with an automatic pump that works once you plug in the mattress and turn the pump on. This will inflate your bed very quickly and allow you to control the firmness.
A smart pump, or never flat pump, takes the technology to another level. These pumps monitor your bed’s pressure while you’re asleep using special sensors. They will automatically add air when it is needed to maintain that firmness.
These pumps are usually only found on the high end range of the air mattress market, but you can find them for reasonably affordable prices if you look carefully. The Serta Never Flat is a great mid-range option because it costs the same as regular air mattresses but comes with this second pump.
As you can see, the air mattress has evolved quite a bit from the original days of pool floatation devices or thin, end to end blow up models that could easily tear and puncture. Make sure you check out all your options, and go ahead and spend a little bit more money up front to prevent having to rebuy substandard mattresses several times over the course of your life.