The sad truth is that all pressurized containers made out of polymers – including car tires, balloons, and air mattresses – will lose air over time. Even if these are apparently airtight, gas molecules can still creep out through the wall material itself. With the average queen-sized mattress having an outer surface area of about 90 square feet (8-½ square meters), even such a tiny amount of leakage matters.
This happens extremely slowly, but there’s not really any way to stop it. In addition, changes in temperature have a major effect on air pressure and density, meaning that your mattress will be noticeably less firm at nighttime (see below).
Finally, while using it for the first week or so, the walls will still be stretching slightly, increasing the internal volume and causing your sleeping surface to sag even if no air is actually escaping.
When to Worry
How much of a hassle is mattress deflation over time, though, in practical terms? For the most part, it’s really not likely to ruin your life unless you already suffer from back pain. Most air mattresses on the market today are equipped with either internal or external pumps, so re-inflating them takes only a minute, especially if you’ve positioned your bed near a wall socket. If you bought a model with a never-flat feature, meaning a small automatic pump for top-ups, you’ll probably never have to worry about a flabby mattress at all.
In a few cases, though, an air mattress that keeps losing air can be a major irritation, especially if this means you’re comfortable at bedtime but not by sunrise. There are certainly some things you can do to prevent or at least mitigate this.
The Most Important Point: Avoiding Physical Damage
It goes without saying that manufacturers of air mattresses prefer that you not play with scissors while in bed. Apart from the normal laws of physics, it’s actually careless use that causes most complaints about air mattresses going limp. Of course, some are certainly more robust than others, for example outdoor air mattresses that can be placed directly on rocky ground or sharp gravel without worries. Some cheaper models, on the other hand, really aren’t intended for daily, long term use, and can be expected to spring leaks within a few months.
This can be avoided or at least postponed through gentle handling. Avoid having sharp objects, including pets and table corners, near your bed. Don’t try to force the air out when collapsing it, and also don’t over-inflate. The latter usually isn’t a problem when it comes to air mattresses with internal pumps, as most of these have pressure regulators. If using an external pump, however, you should also beware of straining valves and nozzles.
Can You Really Repair a Leaky Air Mattress?
If your mattress just won’t stop losing air, chances are that it has sprung a leak. In most situations, it’s just simpler and easier to buy a replacement – finding and fixing a leak can be difficult and time-consuming, and will rarely be permanent.
One of the difficulties in this process is simply finding the leak. Unless the valve is clearly damaged, a hole that’s large enough to make the mattress sag over eight hours isn’t necessarily easy to find by eye or ear. If you can’t actually hear hissing coming from somewhere, the most common procedure is to mix a teaspoon of dish soap with a spray bottle of water – apply this to the mattress and watch for bubbles.
If the leak lies on a seam, you are probably out of luck. The curvature of the surface and the way the mattress moves when you’re rolling over makes applying a patch a waste of time, although you could try rubbing a silicon sealant over the affected area. If it is a pinhole leak or a small tear, your odds are better, but you should still see any fix as a band-aid that won’t last forever (and probably not even for long).
You can use something you already have and spend next to nothing, but the best option is to buy a dedicated mattress repair kit or patch. Duct tape is amazingly airtight and is actually used to seal the joins of hazmat suits, but its adhesive properties really don’t go the distance.
What You Can Do to Prevent an Air Mattress from Losing Air
Air mattresses are not always as durable as their spring-design companions. Of course, they’re also much cheaper, more portable, more hygienic, and offer adjustable rigidity, so they’re still worth considering. Once you’ve bought one, following a few simple rules will make them last much longer.
- Buy the mattress you really need. There are major differences between orthopedic air mattresses, those intended for camping, and others made for everyday use. Looking over a few reviews takes only a couple of minutes and can help avoid a costly mistake. Checking for an appropriate maximum weight rating is also a good idea.
- Blow it up, but don’t use it for the first 48 hours. Especially with cheaper air mattresses, their seams, cells, and other parts will need some time to stretch into a natural position. Inflating a new mattress without putting any weight on it may prevent problems from arising during this stage.
- Don’t over-inflate it. Manufacturers and retailers could really do a better job of informing their customers about this risk. Even if you don’t actually rupture a seam, you’ll end up straining the material and making future damage more likely.
- Keep it inflated when in use, and deflate it for storage. Re-inflating your mattress every night places it under unnecessary strain, as does leaving it pressurized when not in use. If you follow these recommendations, your mattress will stay airtight for much longer.
- Avoid sitting on your mattress. How much of an effect this has depends on the internal structure of your specific model, but applying a high pressure on a small area can speed up deflation. Also, jumping on the bed is never recommended.
- Remember how large a role the ambient temperature plays. Something as minor as turning on a space heater (though not too close to the bed) may be enough to prevent your mattress from running flat.