Waterbeds - What You Need To Know

Waterbeds have been around for some time, but it wasn’t until the 80s that they really took off. Here’s everything you need to know about waterbeds. 

The History of the Waterbed

Legend has it that the Persians were responsible for inventing the very first variation of the waterbed some 3600 years ago – filling goatskins with warm water to create the mattress. It isn’t quite clear why the Persians invented water beds, with some speculating that they were reserved for royalty, while others believe that they were used to comfort the sick and elderly. In 1833, the Western World got its first taste of waterbed technology when the Scottish physical Dr. Neil Arnott, created his Hydrostatic Bed, which was designed to prevent bedsores in the disabled. This hydrostatic bed was quite the far cry away from the waterbeds we know today, consisting of a rubber-impregnated canvas that had no temperature regulation, and therefore, despite many medical professionals supporting the design, it soon became a market failure.

For almost 100 years, the waterbed remained dormant and largely unchanged, that was until the invention of vinyl in the 1960s, which facilitated a more durable design and water heating capabilities. By the 1980s, the waterbed had indeed taken off, appearing not only in medical settings but also in bedrooms of both the rich and famous and suburban houses. At their peak, waterbeds accounted for one in every five mattresses purchased in the U.S – so where did things go wrong?

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What happened to waterbeds?

Waterbeds seemed to disappear from the limelight as quickly as they flourished, and by the ’90s, they were well and truly out of fashion. The demise of the waterbed could be attributed to several key factors,  most notably the fact that waterbeds were labor-intensive and unreliable, and secondly that competitors like Tempur-Pedic and Select Comfort were releasing their own soft mattress variations that didn’t require a garden hose or a water pump if you wanted to move house. People who purchased water beds during the ’80s also found out the hard way that they could spring leaks, and before long apartment blocks were banning waterbeds because of the destruction that they could cause and their immense weight. Before long, waterbeds were no longer seen as a luxury innovation and, instead, were viewed as impractical commodities. 

How were waterbeds constructed?

There are two main types of waterbed. Waterbeds were typically either hard-sided or soft-sided, which refers to whether they had a hard external frame or not. 

Hardside

Hard-side waterbeds have, you guessed it, hard sides, which were typically made of wood and were designed to stop the waterbed mattress from bulging outwards. These wooden surrounds were bulky and costly as they needed to accommodate a heating element underneath the fluid chamber in order to keep the water at a safe temperature. 

Softside

Soft-side mattresses were waterbeds in disguise, appearing like a conventional mattress when in fact, they were a water bladder zipped inside of a mattress cover. The mattress cover had foam bolsters at the edges to stop the water bladder from escaping, creating the overall illusion of a standard mattress. 

Waterbed mattress styles

In addition to getting choosing whether you wanted a hard or a soft-sided waterbed, there were also many different types of waterbeds to choose from.

Free flow mattress

A free flow mattress, also known as a full-wave mattress, had no baffles or inserts inside of it and was 100% filled with water. 

Semi-waveless mattress

A semi-waveless mattress was somewhere in the middle, containing just a few fibre inserts or baffles to help control the water motion and to the support of the mattress.  

Waveless mattress

And lastly, a waveless mattress contained many layers of inserts and baffles and was designed to control the motion of the water and to increase the mattress’s support. People could choose to add additional layers of inserts and baffles into their mattress at specific points, such as the lumbar, to provide body support in certain sleeping positions.

The advantages and disadvantages of waterbeds

Although waterbeds are nowhere near as popular as they were in the 80s, technology has moved on, and they are still available. If you are considering purchasing a waterbed, then it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons of this type of mattress to avoid an expensive mistake. 

Advantages:

They're comfortable

One of the primary reasons why people get waterbed is that they are extremely comfortable. Filled with water, waterbeds can provide a complete conforming experience, distributing weight across the entire body and not putting excessive pressure on your joints while you sleep. 

They're warm

During winter, a heated waterbed is like having your own personal hot water bottle mattress. Say goodby to getting into cold bedsheets and set the temperature at whatever level feels comfortable.

They're hypoallergenic

Because waterbeds are primarily made from vinyl, they don’t contain any of the fibers that can trap pollen or dust mites, which makes them great for allergy sufferers. 

Disadvantages:

They can leak

Although the material used to make waterbeds is much more durable nowadays, it’s still possible for your bed to spring a leak if it gets punctured. Waterbeds hold large volumes of water, and so a leak can quickly cause a lot of water damage to the floor, ceilings, and walls of your bedroom and any rooms below.

They can smell

The water inside some waterbeds can develop a nasty odor over time, and the vinyl used to create the waterbed can also have a strange smell. Generally, the plastic smell of the vinyl will dissipate in a few days, and the issue of stagnant water can be resolved by changing the water and by keeping the bed clean.

It can be difficult to find sheets that fit

Waterbeds come in many shapes and sizes, but most aren’t the exact same size as a conventional mattress, which makes it more difficult to find bed sheets that fit. 

The advantages and disadvantages of waterbeds

Today, waterbeds can cost anywhere from $50 all the way up to $2000 or more depending on their size and quality. If you’re looking to buy a waterbed, then you can usually find them online or at stores in Sam’s Club, Wayfair, Walmart, Waterbed Doctor and WaterbedOutlet