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Ultimate Water Bed Buyer Guide: Features, Styles & Where to Buy

Waterbed mattresses once dominated the market, but they quickly disappeared when the technology couldn’t keep up with the demand, and users complained about issues with leaks and maintenance.

Modern waterbeds have improved dramatically. Many people find them to be affordable, comfortable alternatives to traditional mattresses. If you’re curious about waterbed mattress options, here’s everything you need to know.

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What Are Waterbeds?

First, waterbed mattresses are a type of mattress that has a rubber compartment filled with water. Instead of a solid surface like springs or memory foam, you lay on the fluid container.

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Waterbed mattresses can also be called flotation mattresses, and they have a rich history in medical therapy dating back to 1833.

The modern waterbed design was the invention of Charles Hall, who patented it in 1971 after making it for his San Francisco State University design class.

After hitting the market, waterbeds were extremely popular in the 70s and 80s. Today, they’ve become hard to find.


Where to Buy a Water Bed Online

There are only a few places to buy a water bed online. Here are our favorites…

  • Best for budget friendly water beds & easy shipping and returns – Amazon
  • Best for a wide variety of traditional hard & soft side waterbeds & accessories – waterbedbargains.com

Different Styles of Waterbeds

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Now that you know the basics of waterbeds, here are the nuanced differences that categorize waterbed mattresses.

Waterbed mattresses can be hardside or softside, and they have various ways for the internal water to flow.

Hardside Waterbeds

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Hardside waterbed mattresses are the traditional design, and they’re what people typically think of when they imagine waterbeds.

These options are large vinyl or rubber containers filled with water inside a wooden box. The outside wooden frame can occasionally include a headboard or footboard. Usually, a layer of fabric is on top of the vinyl for padding and comfort.

Some people find that hardside waterbeds can be hard to manage. The awkward shape can make it challenging to buy sheets and accessories. Additionally, they may be more difficult to move and heat than other options.

Still, hardside waterbed mattresses offer many physical benefits of waterbeds and utilize the original design.

Softside Waterbeds

If you’re searching for a more modern option, softside waterbed mattresses feature a new design to address some of the concerns of traditional hardside options.

A softside waterbed mattress has a thick outer layer of foam and upholstery, similar to a traditional bed. Under the top layer is a compartment that contains a thin sack or bladder filled with water.

Softside waterbeds are easier to get in and out of with their regular, stable shape. They usually come in standard mattress sizes that can fit old furniture.

Additionally, softside waterbed mattresses are a thinner water component that can last longer than hardside options. It isn’t as susceptible to damage from movement or punctures.

However, if any leaks occur, it may be a more demanding mess to manage when it soaks into the foam instead of being contained in wood.

Waterbed Motion Options

After you decide between hardside or softside for a waterbed mattress, you can choose how the water moves inside the bed.

Some people enjoy the feeling of the water under them, but one of the reasons why waterbeds initially fell out of popularity was complaints that the sensation became overwhelming.

Modern designers have created options so you can choose your preferred amount of motion. Typically, a hardside waterbed mattress will have the most movement compared to a softside.

First, free-flow mattresses have nothing to buffer the water’s actions. The fluid inside will react and ripple to your movements, and you’ll feel the classic floating of waterbed mattresses.

Semi-waveless mattresses may have internal resin or foam inserts that break up the water’s motion. You’ll still feel some rippling and a light sensation, but it won’t overtake the entire bed.

Finally, waveless waterbed mattresses include thick layers of foam, resin, or fiber to prevent waves. The waterbed will still offer fluid support, but your movement will be closer to traditional mattresses.

If you have concerns about waterbeds bursting leaks, it may be better to opt for a semi-waveless or entirely waveless option. The water will create less friction inside the vessel.

Waterbed Benefits

Waterbed mattresses can seem complicated, but are they worth the trouble? Some people can find the benefits of waterbeds compelling, like improvements in sleep quality.

Here are all the reasons why waterbeds are beneficial to own to help decide.

Eases Physical Pains

One of the main attractions of waterbed mattresses is that they can help relieve physical pain. Waterbeds help evenly distribute pressure, so you never have to worry about bumps or uneven beds again.

The even pressure helps take some of your weight’s load off your body, allowing the muscles to float and relax. People who suffer from back pain or arthritis typically find waterbeds comforting. Your spine and joints can release and let the bed support you, and you usually have to move less to get comfortable.

Additionally, waterbed mattresses often have a heating component. The warmness can help relax your muscles depending on the temperature you set. Warm compresses are often remedies for aching muscles, so your entire bed cradling you overnight can provide plenty of relief.

Many people find that waterbeds offer superior comfort because the fluid beds will match your body. It’s also easy to adjust the firmness when you need to by adjusting the amount of water.

May Improve Sleep Quality

Comfortable waterbed mattresses can lead to improvements in your sleep. Relieving physical pain is one part of this equation because the lack of joint pain can help you fall asleep faster.

But even people who aren’t in pain may experience better sleep on a waterbed mattress. Insomniacs may be able to get comfortable easier and float off to sleep when their muscles relax on the fluid bed.

Additionally, people may experience better sleep when they have a temperature-controlled mattress. Waterbeds usually provide a warm and cozy place to sleep without needing to adjust blankets throughout the night.

Finally, some people may find the water sensations relaxing. Some waterbed mattresses provide feelings of floating and slight water noises with movement. While some people might avoid these characteristics, others might enjoy the soothing natural elements of water.

Last Longer Than Traditional Mattresses

Waterbed mattresses can last significantly longer than traditional mattresses. Natural materials found in cloth beds slowly break down over time, but the vinyl of a waterbed mattress will outlive the fiber by decades with proper care.

Traditional beds are susceptible to issues like becoming lumpy or misshapen over time. Regularly flipping a mattress can prevent these problems for a few years, but they eventually form.

The fluid bladder of a waterbed will never form these problems. If you prevent cracks or other issues, your waterbed can easily last you for over a decade.

You can also patch some minor issues in waterbeds, extending the life of the mattress further. Investing in one at the right point may save you the cost of multiple beds.

Prevents Allergies and Sores

Lastly, waterbed mattresses are ideal for avoiding allergens and bedsores.

Traditional mattresses have layers of fibrous materials, which trap tiny dust, dirt, and dead skin particles. Over time, the debris can build up and lead to dust mites in the mattress. Some people with sensitive allergies can have their issues triggered by this accumulation.

Asthma and eczema may also flare up due to prolonged exposure to dust. The vinyl material of waterbed mattresses can’t collect the particles, and you can easily clean them by wiping off the surface with a cloth.

In addition to helping with allergies, waterbeds are also a common remedy for bedsores. They’re often in hospitals for people who have to spend extended time in bed.

Bedsores happen when repeated pressure pinches an area of the skin and restricts blood flow. The even pressure of a waterbed mattress prevents this and can even help blood circulation. They’re the ideal option for people who are bed bound.

Waterbed Cons

Waterbed mattresses have a lot of benefits, but it’s important to realistically balance the investment before committing to a floating bed. Here are a few common issues and complaints about owning a waterbed.

Difficulty Moving

One of the primary issues with waterbed mattresses is that they can be hard to move. This warning goes double for hardside options that have a separate wooden structure to move.

The wooden frame for hardside waterbeds is usually a solid box. You won’t be able to move it and the bed at once, and you’ll have to take it apart for any redecorating.

A waterbed mattress is incredibly hefty, often containing hundreds of gallons of water. If you want to move the bed, you’ll have to drain it and disassemble it first. After moving, it has to be set up and refilled.

Softside waterbeds are relatively easier to work around, and you can move them around like traditional beds. But the water inside can still make it heavier.

Requires Maintenance 

Waterbed mattresses often require a fair amount of maintenance and upkeep. While you don’t have to worry about flipping it like traditional mattresses, you’ll still have to keep it in good shape with other tasks.

The vinyl bladder of the bed should receive semi-regular checks and conditioning to keep it in good shape and prevent cracks. Occasionally, you may have to patch the bed and empty, clean, and refill the mattress.

Depending on your climate, you may also have to help regulate the water inside the bed. This maintenance could mean heating it to prevent your mattress from being frigid, or it may mean installing a humidifier to stop your bed’s moisture from evaporating.

How To Choose a Waterbed

Now that you know about waterbeds, you should consider a few personal factors that can impact which specific waterbed mattress suits your needs.

Plan Your Space

Now that you know about waterbeds, you should consider a few personal factors that can impact which specific waterbed mattress suits your needs.

First, you should plan out your space before you commit to a waterbed mattress. The beds are difficult to move, so they should be the last component of any remodeling.

You’ll also have to account for the awkward sizes of some waterbeds, particularly hardside options. They don’t always come in standard bed sizes and often need specialized accessories and sheets. The additional needs may drive up the cost of buying a new waterbed.

It may be best to avoid waterbeds if you plan on moving soon. They can be challenging to take out of a room once there.

Additionally, some apartments, insurance, or landlords may ban waterbeds. Waterbed mattresses can stress the floor or lead to water damage if they leak, so you have to ensure they can be in your room.

Finally, parents should know that waterbed mattresses aren’t ideal for young children. They’re typically adult-sized, and it can be challenging for adults to get out of the fluid structure. Children less than two years old may risk suffocation from waterbeds.

Account for Energy Costs

Waterbed mattresses can be cheaper than traditional beds but may cost more over time. Before investing in a waterbed, it’s good to consider the energy costs.

A waterbed often needs heating, which can cost electrical energy. Some people may use up to 250 kWh per month for heating their beds. Of course, there are a few considerations to the energy cost.

First, some people find that the even temperature of their bed allows them to spend less on heating or cooling the house. Instead of managing the house temperature, adjusting the mattress may be easier and more cost-effective.

You can also reduce how much heat your waterbed mattress needs by insulating the water inside. You can achieve this by making the bed with extra blankets, choosing a small bedroom, or enclosing the mattress in a frame.

Still, it’s worth remembering that heating your bed could add to your overall energy consumption.

Consider Weight Limits

As mentioned, waterbed mattresses tend to be incredibly weighty. You should expect a typical waterbed to weigh roughly as much as a fridge.

Before buying a waterbed, check that your bedroom can handle the weight. Some houses have floors that can’t support the pressure of a waterbed. Upstairs rooms are particularly at risk.

Don’t forget to consider your added weight on the mattress when figuring out how much your floor can take. If you’re close to the limit, it may be best to avoid a waterbed. Regular movement on the bed will add stress to the situation.

Know About Extra Features 

Finally, there are a few extra features you might see on waterbed mattresses that you should know. It can also help to customize your waterbed to suit your needs by searching for options that have what you want.

First, a waterbed mattress may have extra lumbar support. Some might find that the water isn’t enough to help relieve back pain, so additional supports are available.

Extra lumbar support comes from fiber layers inside that provide firmness. Different manufacturers and options will have varying levels of thickness and support.

Some terms you may see on waterbeds refer to floatation and tethering. Flotation supports help keep the interior in the correct position. Tethering options are usually bands you can find on the mattress to help keep sheets on instead of sliding off the vinyl.

Waterbed mattresses may have protective coverings, usually thick plastic layers, that help prevent punctures. Pet owners may benefit from these coverings if their animals get on the bed.

Lastly, some waterbed mattresses can have reinforced corners. The corners are some of the weakest parts of the bed. They often get tugged at by the sheets. Strengthening the area prevents potential cracks and leaks.

FAQ

Still unsure about waterbed mattresses? Here are a few answers to frequently asked questions so you can feel confident about the subject.

Can you still buy a waterbed?

Yes, you can still buy a waterbed mattress. Despite falling out of popularity in the 90s, manufacturers still make waterbeds.

They may be harder to find than traditional mattresses. However, they’re still a typical medical tool. Likely, waterbeds will never entirely be gone because of their benefits for bedsores and other conditions.

How long do waterbeds last?

Waterbeds can last an extremely long time, much longer than traditional beds. Instead of fiber or foam that degrades over time, waterbeds will only deteriorate if they puncture or crack.

Some people enjoy waterbeds for up to 15 years or longer with proper maintenance. Waterbed conditioners can also help the longevity of a waterbed mattress.

Can a waterbed help back issues?

Yes, waterbeds may help back issues. The fluid material of a waterbed mattress conforms to the body while relieving pressure. It can help cradle the joints and relax your muscles and spine.

Additionally, heated waterbeds can help relax tension over time. It will promote blood circulation to assist with arthritis or other back issues.

Final Thoughts

The waterbed mattress may have a complicated history, but its designs constantly improve. Modern softside waterbeds are easier to handle than traditional options, and they still offer plenty of physical benefits.

Water beds are generally only available in standard mattress sizes and do not generally come in any of the newly popular custom sizes like olympic queen, alaskan king or full xl. So if you are looking for customization then water beds are not the best way to go.

While waterbeds have a few drawbacks, like extreme weights and increased energy costs, they’re still valuable tools.

If you’re looking for a comfortable bed that can last a long time, it may be worth trying out a waterbed mattress.

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