Waterbed mattresses are those filled with water, either in a single or multi chambered environment. The modern version of the waterbed mattress was invented in San Francisco, patented in 1971, and became a hugely popular item throughout the 1970’s. Sales of waterbeds peaked in the mid to late 80’s, comprising about 22% of the domestic mattress industry.
Waterbeds come in essentially two types; Hard sided and Soft sided.
Hard sided waterbeds are a water containing mattress inside of a generally rectangular wooden frame that rests on a plywood ‘deck’ atop a platform. Often this is what we think of as it was the most popular type back in the waterbed heyday.
A soft sided waterbed is a water filled mattress inside of a rectangular frame of sturdy foam, zippered inside a fabric casing, which sits atop a platform. Soft sided waterbeds look like conventional beds and are designed to fit existing bedroom furniture. The platform usually looks like a conventional bed frame or Box Spring and sits on a reinforced metal frame.
Many of the early waterbeds and inexpensive modern waterbeds are comprised of a single water chamber. These single chamber mattresses can have significant wave action and take awhile to settle down after a disturbance. Over time, the mattress manufacturers began using wave reducing methods like fiber batting (called ‘fiber filling’ or ‘baffling’) and interconnected water chambers. More expensive ‘waveless’ modern waterbeds have a mixture of air and water chambers, usually interconnected.
Waterbed mattresses are generally constructed from soft polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or similar material. They can be repaired with almost any vinyl repair kit. The waterbed mattresses are normally heated and the heat is controlled by a thermostat the sleeper uses, this is especially prevalent in the single chamber beds, as they generally have less foam padding and insulation surrounding them.
- The waterbed mattress shapes exactly to the sleepers body, minimizing pressure. Waterbeds remove pressure from the spine allowing the spinal muscles to more fully relax, which can aid in the treatment of back pain.
- Waterbed mattresses are impervious to dirt and dead skin particles penetrating the vinyl, which can be easily cleaned with a cloth and vinyl cleaner. The mattress covers can be washed, almost eliminating dust mites in the bed. Mites can trigger asthma, eczemas and allergies.
- It can be costly to heat a waterbed, though the energy used can be less if you have a soft sided mattress.
- Hard sided waterbeds come in non-conventional sizes, so bedding can be difficult to find.
- Moving a waterbed is more difficult than moving a normal bed. Water must be drained, the frame dis-assembled, moved, re-assembled, the water re-filled and reheated.
- Occasionally they will leak, and water damage can be expensive. Many waterbeds have built in safety features to prevent or minimize leak damage but, it does still occasionally happen.
- Waterbeds are heavy- they can place strain on floorboards, and can exceed weight bearing capacity guidelines of some homes. Condos and apartments may not allow them in units not on ground floors and may require the owner to get renters or condo insurance.