Waterbed Basics

Posted on Tuesday Sep 25, 2012

As the Mattress Review Guru, I sometimes receive questions about waterbeds. Today I will talk about waterbeds and hopefully get some of your questions about them answered!

Waterbeds have been a fairly popular option since the 1970′s when they were all the rage. Though they are not as popular today as they were 40 years ago, there are still fans out there who will sleep on nothing else. If you would like to know more about the history of waterbeds, check out waterbeds on wikipedia.

There are two basic “types” of waterbeds. The first is the hard-sided waterbed. Like the name implies, they have a hard sided frame (usually made of wood) surrounding the water mattress. The other type is the soft-sided waterbed. These feature a soft-sided support for the water bag, usually made of sturdy foam ¬†encased in a waterproof layer. The soft-sided option looks very close to a regular mattress, and has a normal looking box-spring underneath. Most people won’t even realize that it’s a waterbed unless they sit or lay down on it. On the other hand, the hard-sided waterbeds have a distinct look and are usually recognized as such before you ever feel the bed itself.

Hard-Side Waterbed

Soft-Side Waterbed

Now on to the pros and cons surrounding waterbeds, just in case anyone out there is considering purchasing one.


Waterbeds, when filled to the correct level, can have very good back support and will minimize joint pressure. Much like the gel and memory foam mattresses who try to mimic the waterbed in this regard, the waterbed can provide a very comfortable night’s sleep. They also are heated, and the heat can relieve pain in sore backs.

They are a relatively cheap option, when compared to the pricing of some beds on the market today. Because they aren’t popular anymore, you may have to buy a used waterbed.

Perhaps the best thing about waterbeds is that they are so easy to keep clean. When you change the sheets, simply wipe down the water mattress, and you are good to go. No worrying about dust mites or anything of the sort. Each time you fill the water bed, you should add tablets or drops that will keep the water fresh, and you are good to go.


Though waterbeds are generally supportive of your back, there is a slight problem with the flexibility of an all water mattress. As I have mentioned here, the lower torso tends to be slightly heavier than the upper torso in most people. This causes your hips to sink down further into the bed and can put a strain on your lower back. For this reason, waterbeds aren’t a good option for everyone. Extended use can definitely make this problem worse. This is the main reason that the popularity of waterbeds has dropped in recent years.

Hard-sided waterbeds are sometimes found in weird sizes. This can make finding bedding for them difficult. The hard sided waterbed that I “inherited” from my in-laws has this problem. It’s the width of a full size bed, but the length of a king size bed, so finding sheets and blankets to fit it is very difficult.

You electricity bill can definitely increase if you have to keep the heat turned up year round. Perpetually heating so many gallons of water is a job that requires more energy than you might think. Luckily the soft-sided waterbeds are able to retain heat much better, and thus don’t need to be a heated as much as the hard-sided beds. Or you could do what I do and just pile tons of quilts and blankets on the bed, creating a barrier between you and the water bag, thus eliminating the need for heating. But if you try to sleep directly on the water mattress when it hasn’t been heated, you will definitely be freezing, even if it’s an extremely hot summer night.

Waterbeds are heavy. Keep this in mind if you decide to set up a waterbed on the top level of your home. Over time, they can compromise the flooring/ceiling and I guarantee that it won’t be a fun thing if one day the bed falls through to the lower level.

In Conclusion

I have owned and slept on both types of waterbeds over the years and I have to admit that the soft-sided waterbed fits my needs much better than a hard-sided waterbed. So if you are seriously considering a waterbed purchase, I would recommend getting one of the soft-sided variety. I also recommend that you look for a “mattress” made up of several tubes, rather than one huge plastic bladder. There are several reasons for this. First, the tubes will reduce the “wave effect” and keep the bed feeling more stable if there is any movement on it. Second, if one of the tubes ruptures, it is an easier fix and will cause less damage than if a regular mattress ruptures. Third, talk to your doctor before getting a waterbed to make sure that your body type will be a good fit for this unique kind of bed.

If you have any other specific questions about waterbeds (or any other specific type of bed), I would love to answer them for you. Just contact me and I will write a post to answer your questions!

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