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Waterbeds were a popular bedroom fad during the latter half of the 20th century, but today they are not as common. However, many sleepers continue to enjoy the unique sensation of lying on water and many brands continue to manufacture these beds.
Waterbeds come in two common types. Hardside models have a wooden frame to contain the water chamber; they are often heavy and spacious, but also relatively inexpensive. Softside waterbeds contain the water chamber within a frame padded with foam and fiber padding; they typically look and feel like standard mattresses, and have higher price-points to reflect that.
Waterbed buyers can also choose between free-flow, semi-waveless, and waveless designs. Free-flow beds produce dramatic undulations at the surface, resulting in a wave-like sensation that many sleepers enjoy; others, on the other hand, dislike the sensation and many feel seasick as a result. Semi-waveless beds have more subtle undulations, resulting in a more balanced sensation, while most waveless waterbeds live up to their name and do not produce any undulations whatsoever.
Read on to learn more about waterbed types and features, buying tips, and warranty considerations. Below we’ve listed our top four picks for waterbeds sold today. Our choices are based on a combination of verified customer and owner reviews and intensive product research and analysis.
Our Editor’s Pick is the 98% Waveless Waterbed Mattress from Boyd’s. This semi-waveless mattress is intended for a hardside frame, which is sold separately. The bed is designed with a complex water reduction system consisting of five foam layers. A convoluted foam comfort layer adds extra padding between the sleeper and the water chamber, which also diminishes the wave effect. As a result, the 98% Waveless Waterbed Mattress offers better motion isolation that most competing semi-waveless models.
The bed also features three support layers designed to alleviate aches and pains in the lumbar region of the lower back. The waterbed is also very durable, thanks in part to corners reinforced with air cushions to prevent friction. The 98% Waveless Waterbed Mattress is backed by a 17-year warranty.
Waterbeds can be an expensive investment, but our Best Value pick – the Semi-Waveless Waterbed from Classic Mattress – is a notable exception; it is widely available for less than $120. However, the bed offers great durability thanks to its 24-millimeter vinyl cover, which is much thicker than the covers on competing hardside models and more resistant to scratches, punctures, and other types of damage that cause leaks. The Semi-Waveless also has reinforced corners, which prevent friction and wear and tear.
This bed is ideal for sleepers seeking a classic waterbed design; the model has been manufactured since the 1970s and has a distinct, retro look. It is about 70% waveless, resulting in some noticeable undulations, which makes it a good choice for sleepers who like moderate wave movement. Customers receive a fill kit and a bottle of water conditioner with each purchase. The bed is backed by a 12-year warranty.
The Pillow-top Softside Waterbed from Classic Mattress is our top pick for the softside category for several reasons. For one, it offers a soft cotton pillow-top cover and supportive, conforming foam comfort layers that make its surface very comparable to that of an all-foam mattress. This makes the mattress suitable for sleepers who have aches and pains in their shoulders, back, hips, and other sensitive areas. It is also available in 95% semi-waveless and 100% waveless settings to accommodate sleepers who like some or no wave movement.
Another benefit of the Pillow-top Softside Waterbed is its sophisticated, digital heating system. Owners can adjust the temperature in small increments to find a setting that works best for them, ranging from moderate to very warm. Every purchase includes an electric pump with hose attachments for easy draining, as well. The Pillow-top Softside Waterbed is backed by a 12-year warranty.
Hardside waterbeds offering a waveless surface are somewhat rare. The INNOMAX Genesis 800 eliminates waves with a complex, four-layer reduction system of foam bolsters and gravity suspension, resulting in a tranquil sleep surface with excellent motion isolation. The waterbed is also constructed with a foam pad that runs across the midsection, resulting in isolated support to the sleeper’s lumbar region.
The INNOMAX Genesis 800 also includes a contoured, 24-millimeter vinyl cover, which makes the bed resistant to scratches and tears in the surface. However, the surface offers close contact to the water, allowing sleepers to experience the therapeutic floating sensation of classic waterbeds. Reinforced corners and a flexible tether system ensure optimal longevity, as well. The INNOMAX Genesis 800 is backed by a 20-year warranty.
The waterbed was a bedroom staple during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. In recent years, many sleepers have switched to more traditional mattresses. Beds made with springs, foam, and latex tend to provide better overall support and pressure relief. They also isolate motion transfer to a more noticeable extent and are much easier to maintain. However, many sleepers enjoy the undulating sensation of sleeping on a waterbed. Waterbeds also carry certain advantages over other mattress types, such as low prices and shorter break-in periods.
Read on to learn about common waterbed types and their components. This guide also includes important considerations for shoppers, maintenance tips, cost analyses, and some additional Tuck.com resources.
Most waterbeds sold today fall into one of two categories based on how the water is contained:
Beyond the frame material, waterbeds also differ in terms of the surface feel and wave level. For this criteria, waterbeds usually fall into one of three categories:
The table below illustrates some key differences between hardside and softside waterbeds.
|Criteria||Hardside Waterbed||Softside Waterbed|
|Frame materials||Hardside frames are almost made of softwood or hardwood; they resemble standard bed frames. Smaller foam cushions (or bolsters) may pad the sides to reduce waves. Some hardside waterbeds may come without a frame.||Softside frames are made of foam bolsters and fabric upholstery; they resemble conventional mattresses.|
|Cover materials||Most hardside waterbeds have thin covers made of vinyl. Fabrics are rarely used.||Softside waterbed covers are made from cotton, polyester, and other fabrics commonly used in other mattress covers.|
|Water heating implement||Most hardside waterbeds feature a high-watt temperature control heater, resulting in more energy use.||Most softside waterbeds have low-watt temperature control heaters, which consume less energy.|
|Surface feel||Because the cover in thinner, hardside waterbed sleepers have closer contact with the water. This results in a floating sensation for some.||Because they have thicker covers, the sleeper does not come into close contact with the water.|
|Waves||Hardside waterbeds may be free-flow, resulting in dramatic undulations, or semi-waveless or waveless.||Most softside waterbeds are semi-waveless or waveless; the cover materials diminish undulations to a noticeable extent.|
|Damage Potential||High - Due to their thinner covers, hardside waterbeds are more susceptible to leaks from punctures and tears.||Low - Assuming the frame is structurally sound, softside waterbeds offer good protection to the water chamber.|
|Weight||Hardside waterbeds are very heavy; most weigh at least several hundred pounds with or without water.||Softside waterbeds can be very heavy with water; when the water is drained, they typically weigh 100 to 120 pounds, which is on par with heavier standard mattresses.|
|Sizes||Hardside waterbeds usually come in the following sizes: Super Single (48W” x 84L”) Queen (60W” x 84L”) California King (72W” x 84L”)||Softsides generally come in these sizes: Twin (38W” x 75L”) Full (54W” x 75L”) Queen (60W” x 80L”) King (76W” x 80L) California King (72W” x 84L”)|
|Average Price Range||$50 to $150 - This makes them considerably cheaper than standard mattresses||$900 to $1,500 - This makes them comparably priced with average to high-end mattresses.|
As we mentioned above, waterbeds may be free-flow, semi-waveless, or waveless.
Free-flow waterbeds are ideal for people who essentially want to sleep on water. Some find the waves therapeutic and helpful for sleep onset. Because free-flow waterbeds are typically hardside models with thin covers, sleepers also feel the water very closely. However, free-flow waterbeds offer very poor motion isolation compared to other waterbed types, and all mattresses overall. Whenever someone gets into/out of bed or switches positions, their sleep partner will likely notice due to the waves generated by motion transfer. Generally speaking, free-flow waterbeds are not ideal for sleepers seeking a conventional mattress feel.
Semi-waveless waterbeds offer a good balance of the characteristic wave sensation of waterbeds and a standard mattress surface. Sleepers are somewhat close to the water, which can benefit those who enjoy that sensation. Semi-waveless waterbeds also isolate more motion than free-flow models, though sleepers may notice some slight undulations when their partner moves.
For all intents and purposes, waveless waterbeds feel like standard mattresses. Sleepers may sink deeply or slightly, depending on the comfort padding materials, but they will not experience any undulations; if they do, there may be a defect with the bed. That being said, waveless mattresses still use a fair amount of energy and are time-consuming to maintain. Sleepers who do not want to experience any waves may find that a conventional innerspring, memory foam, latex, hybrid, or airbed mattress is a more practical, low-maintenance option.
In addition to the overall feel of the waterbed, shoppers should take the following factors into account:
|Draining a Waterbed||Draining a waterbed requires reverse suction through a hose attachment. First, turn off the heater and pad the the mattress valve with thick towels to sop up any water that leaks. Next, secure one end of the hose attachment to the water valve. Secure the attachment’s other end to a faucet valve – ideally outside of the house. Then, turn on the water for about 10 seconds; the air from the hose will enter the mattress. Turn the water off and disengage the hose attachment from the faucet. The key here is to position the disengaged end of the attachment at a lower level than the bed. This allows gravity to carry the water out of the bed, through the disconnected end; if the other end is at the same level or higher, then the water will not flow as much, if at all. Those who own an electric waterbed pump will find this process much easier. Simply link the attachment from the valve to the pump’s suction hose, then secure a garden hose to the pump’s outlet valve. Run the other end of the garden hose outside, or wherever the water should drain. Turn on the pump. A word of advice: avoid depositing water next to your house. Saturation can damage foundations over time and lead to expensive structural issues.|
|Storing a Waterbed||Before storing a waterbed, make sure to drain as much of the water as possible; add some water conditioner to keep the remaining water sterile. Once it has been sufficiently drained, fold up the mattress with gentle corners to prevent cracks or tears from forming. Store the waterbed at room temperature in a dry place that is not susceptible to excessive heat or humidity. Also, make sure there are no sharp objects nearby.|
|Patching Leaks||First, find the source of the leak. Tears or rips at the seams of the waterbed are considered defects and usually covered under warranty (see next section). If the leak is found elsewhere, then it will be the owner’s responsibility to mend it. Small to moderate leaks on the topside of the mattress are relatively easy to fix with a patch kit. Measure the hole and determine the patch size, then apply some rubbing alcohol around the hole for extra traction and use adhesive to attach the patch. However, larger holes, or holes located at the sides, corners, or underside are very difficult to fix. They should be professionally mended. If the hole is large enough, the waterbed may be totaled.|
If properly maintained, waterbeds can perform for seven years or longer. This gives them comparable lifespans to more durable mattress types, such as latex, hybrid, and airbed models. However, waterbeds are uniquely vulnerable to certain issues – such as water leaks and heater malfunctions – that can shorten their lifespan by a considerable margin.
Hardside waterbeds are considered the least durable because there is less padding and material to protect the water chamber. Any sharp object can cause a puncture; pet claws are especially problematic, meaning cats and dogs should never be allowed onto a hardside waterbed. Softside models are more durable overall. However, leaks can be harder to address if they develop due to their thick frames.
Because they are heavy and difficult to ship and assemble, most waterbed manufacturers do not offer a sleep trial of any kind. Instead, most brands offer longer-than-average warranties – typically 15 to 20 years minimum. Common defects covered under a waterbed warranty include splits or tears at the seams that cause leaks, and issues with waterbed zippers. Softside waterbeds with foam comfort layers may also warrant against excessive sagging or indentations, much like the warranties for standard mattresses.
Because waterbed warranties are longer, shoppers should pay close attention to the nonprorated vs. prorated schedule. During the nonprorated period, waterbed owners pay nothing for repairs or replacements if a defect develops except for shipping and handling charges. However, once the prorated phase kicks in owners must pay a certain percentage of the original product price. This percentage often increases with each year of ownership.
For instance, let’s say a $1,000 waterbed is covered under a 20-year warranty with 10 years of nonprorated coverage. In year 11, when prorated coverage kicks in, the owner must pay 5% of the original price for each year of ownership to replace the mattress; because it’s year 11, this percentage is 55%, or $550. In year 12, it will increase to 60%, or $600. As a result, prorated warranties can lead to extra owner costs down the road.
Another factor to consider is separate warranties for specific components. Commonly, the waterbed cover will be covered separately – for only one to two years, in some cases. Heaters may also be covered under separate warranties. If a defect does not develop with these components during their individual warranty period, then the overall waterbed warranty will not cover the issues.