Shopping for an Air Bed / Mattress

Getting Started

Air beds provide a quick and easy alternative to traditional mattresses. Lightweight, compactable, and easy to store, air beds offer instant remedies for people who need additional sleeping space or a consistently low-cost mattress option. The market currently features dozens of different types of air mattresses, each with varying characteristics, components, and prices. With so many choices available, shopping for the right air mattress takes time and careful consideration.

How to Buy an Air Mattress

When looking for the best air mattress, consumers should take a moment to think about the practical uses the air bed will serve once purchased. Air mattresses historically offer alternative sleeping spaces for guests indoors or cushioned areas to sleep on when camping outdoors. Determining whether the air bed will serve indoor or outdoor purposes should definitely influence overall decisions on which types, styles, and/or brands to buy. Shoppers should also consider the usage rate the mattress may experience. People looking to use the mattress frequently may want to buy a more stable and durable air mattress with a track record of standing up to continual use, whereas infrequent users often have the freedom to focus on comfort and perhaps design or style rather than durability.

The Basics
Typically, consumers find the widest selections of air mattresses online. Certain mail-order catalogs, specialty shops, department stores, and sporting goods retailers regularly carry air beds; however, brand selection and the types of air beds available drastically decreases outside of online sales. Buying an air mattress online may significantly reduce actual shopping time and eliminates the need to drive from store to store. Although mail-order catalogs offer similar advantages when looking for the best air bed, purchasing an air mattress through a mail-away catalog or online limits the ability of consumers to physically test the products, which brick-and-mortar stores usually allow on location.

Air mattresses traditionally come in two parts. The first part comprises the actual air mattress, while the second part encompasses the pump and any additional attachments used to inflate or deflate the portable sleeping surface. Most companies design air beds to comply with standard American electrical outlets and include the necessary cords and plugs. However, some models include special attachments for owners to plug air pump units into car AC adapters as well as traditional wall-mounted electrical outlets, which offers versatility and allows both indoor and outdoor use.

Sizes
Any consumer exploring how to buy the best air mattress needs to consider the dimensions of the potential purchase. In addition to making them compactable and easy to store, manufacturers produce air beds in the same dimensions as traditional mattress models. The section below lists the different air mattress sizes and dimensions in inches:

  • Twin, 39x75
  • Twin XL, 39x80
  • Full, 54x75
  • Queen, 60x80
  • King, 76x80
  • California King, 72x84

Keep in mind that California king air mattresses cost significantly more than twin models, as price generally corresponds with size. The best air bed in terms of dimensions depends on several factors, including usage rate, number of intended users, and storage space. Smaller air beds work perfectly for tents, side rooms, and short-term sleeping arrangements, while larger sizes support long-term use for multiple sleepers without restrictions on space.

Air vs. Innerspring

Traditional innerspring beds push and offer resistance against the body as users lie down. Innerspring technology bases comfort primarily on coil count, which represents the number of coils used in a single mattress. A standard queen mattress holds anywhere from 500 to 900 individual coils, with higher coil counts typically more common in high-end models from upscale brands. Putting more coils in a mattress ideally serves to distribute body weight more evenly.

Conversely, air mattresses offer no real resistance to the human body but rather support and conform to the weight and shape of individuals sleeping on the inflatable surface. The level of support provided by air beds largely depends on the materials used in the manufacturing process. Standard models feature a single air chamber, which sleepers may inflate according to personal preference. More air provides a firmer feel, while less air offers more cushioned and conforming support. Thus, while an innerspring mattress offers a single comfort level incapable of being adjusted, air mattresses provide continuously customizable firmness suited to the personal tastes of the user.

Dual Chamber Models
A recent innovation in the field of air beds offers consumers the ability to adjust the firmness of the sleeping surface. Through the use of battery-operated remote controls, dual-chamber air mattresses provide the ability to increase or decrease the amount of support on either side of the bed. The unique feature grants users the opportunity to tailor sleeping arrangements to personal preferences, even if those personal preferences differ from the support desired by bed partners.

Combination Models
Another unique air mattress type includes combination models featuring versatile all-in-one options. Becoming more and more commonplace in the industry, combination models feature multiple air beds stacked on top of one another and connected by tethers or the actual air chambers used to inflate the mattresses. Consumers may then fold or unfold the air beds to expand or contract the sleeping surface from a twin-sized mattress to sizes as large as queen or king and back again with little effort.

In some cases, the air mattresses disconnect and separate to create individual sleeping surfaces. Other combination models allow users to simply flip one mattress over and next to the other to create a side-by-side sleeping arrangement perfect for sharing bed space. Primarily designed for camping, the most highly versatile models provide both features in addition to the double-stacked option.

Air Bed Amenities

Pillow-top
Consumers willing to spend a little more when shopping for air beds may take interest in pillow-top models. Designed with traditional mattresses in mind, the inflatable pillow-top styles offer plush sleeping surfaces lined with memory foam padding or other soft materials. The added comfort often benefits buyers in the market for long-term alternatives to traditional innerspring beds, as air mattresses in most sizes regularly offer pillow-top options, depending on the brand.

Repair Kits
Because air mattresses present the same chances of popping, ripping open, or even bursting as balloons, many manufacturers include special repair kits designed for the quick fixing of leaks, holes, and other damage that air beds may sustain. Air mattresses that come with repair kits may or may not cost more, depending on the brand. The overall cost of the air bed plus the repair kit may influence the purchase decisions of accident-prone people or families with young children looking for the best air mattress options.

Sleeping Preferences

Like all bed types, air mattresses cater to certain kinds of sleepers. The comfort of an air bed largely depends on the position the user likes to sleep in. On average, people prefer one of three distinct sleep positions: side, stomach, or back. The lack of actual resistance provided by air beds limits options for specific types of sleepers and should factor into final decisions regarding which type of air mattress to purchase.

Back Sleepers
People who sleep face-up need added support for total comfort. Back sleepers regularly experience issues with lower back pain and often require pillow-top beds or mattresses with additional resistance to provide the amount of firmness needed for a solid night of rest. Air beds offering the ability to control firmness at the touch of a button may provide enough comfort for back sleepers; however, the models with dual air chambers, which offer the most control over firmness, often cost more than standard air mattresses. Inflatable beds often deflate over time, sometimes overnight depending on the quality, which may work against the comfort of back sleepers.

Side Sleepers
The most common sleep position, side sleeping requires a supportive yet contouring mattress for optimal comfort. The ability to customize the firmness of air beds often works to the advantage of side sleepers, who regularly enjoy softer surfaces due to the neutral position the spine takes when lying on one side. During the process of figuring out how to buy an appropriate air mattress, side sleepers typically respond well to most brands and styles.

Stomach Sleepers
The firmness preferences of stomach sleepers generally conform to the surfaces provided by most air mattresses. Stomach sleepers typically prefer a medium level of firmness due to the tendency of the back to arch forward too far on plusher surfaces. The overextension of the spine often leads to pain in the extremities or areas throughout the back. Both single- and dual-chamber air beds provide adjustable firmness, which allows stomach sleepers to find the right balance of support to maximize comfort without sacrificing too much resistance.

Common Issues with Air Beds

While air mattresses present some advantages over traditional beds, inflatable sleeping surfaces come with drawbacks rarely encountered with conventional bed types. Below sit some of the most common drawbacks consumers should take into consideration when contemplating how to buy the best air mattress.

Durability
Air beds carry the possibility of popping, ripping, or tearing open and leaking. Repair kits may temporarily fix the problems; however, the patches used to mend breaches in the inflatable materials may only work for short periods of time and require continual maintenance. Due to the portable nature of the beds, air mattresses often break down much quicker than traditional types and require replacement much more frequently. According to experts, a quality air bed will last up to four years without regular use and less than a year with continuous or repetitious use.

Practicality
Unlike beds with box springs, air mattresses generally sit on the floor, which creates low entry points. Being lower to the floor often means more difficulty for occupants to get into or out of the air bed. Furthermore, despite being collapsible, the mattresses still require ample space for storage. Air beds not purchased for continuous use may add to clutter in attics, crawlspaces, or closets.

Warranties
Air beds historically provide shorter warranties than traditional bed types and often provide only a couple months of coverage. Average warranty options for air mattresses span roughly a month or two.

Noise
Consumers shopping for air mattresses need to consider the noise pollution that the potential purchase may produce. While some brands and models feature foot-pump inflation methods, many come with mini air compressors, which emit large amounts of noise pollution while in use. Though not a terrible hindrance, the foot-pump method may prove tedious and tiring, while some consumers may find the amount of noise created by the automated pumps intolerable.

Final Thoughts on Air Mattresses

Considering how to buy an air mattress best suited to personal needs often takes a great deal of time and thought. Consumers should weigh the pros and cons of owning air beds and factor in personal lifestyles and preferences in order to purchase the most suitable type of sleeping surface. Price, materials, intended uses, sleeping positions, and storage space should remain focal points of the decision-making process, as the best kind of air mattress largely depends on more than one factor.