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Bedroom Design

Waterbeds: What You Need To Know (Cost, Safety + More)

    Last Updated
    January 13, 2023
    min read

    A Brief History of the Invention and Evolution of Waterbeds

    Waterbeds have a long and often entertaining history. They can be tracked back as far as 3600 BCE with Persian goat-skin mattresses filled with water. In the 19th century, waterbeds made of rubber were used for hospital patients.

    It wasn’t until 1968 that Charles Hall, after failed liquid furniture experiments with JELL-O and cornstarch gel, invented a waterbed with a vinyl mattress as a Master’s project.

    When Hall first sold his invention, he called it “The Pleasure Pit,” as the waterbed was well-known for making a couple of things better than other beds did, including sleep. Waterbeds became especially popular in the 1980s, with 1 in 5 Americans owning one.

    By the time the 1990s rolled around, waterbeds had fallen out of popularity because of the maintenance required. But, waterbeds can still be found today, mostly online, but also in some storefronts.

    What Exactly Is a Waterbed?

    A waterbed is a vinyl mattress that is filled with water. In the peak of their popularity in the 1980s, consumers had to fill the entire waterbed with a garden hose. Now, you only have to fill tubes, called “bladders.” This makes the process less of a hassle.

    Some modern-day waterbeds can support themselves, removing the need for a separate frame. Others have temperature-control devices to make the water warm.

    What Types of Waterbeds Are There?

    There are many brands and sizes of waterbeds, but there are two main types of waterbed mattresses available: softside and hardside.

    Softside Waterbeds: A Comfortable Outer Edge

    A softside waterbed holds its shape with foam bolsters, or, in other words, foam surrounding the bed on all sides. The foam is then covered with a fabric casing. There’s a padded top, as well. This all sits on an upholstered box, similar to a box spring.

    You can use regular sized sheets and linens for a softside waterbed, which makes shopping easy.

    Hardside Waterbeds: A Classier Look

    A hardside waterbed holds its shape with hardwoods or softwoods. In other words, it comes with a waterbed frame. These look more like traditional beds, with plain headboards or bookcase-type headboards.

    Hardside waterbeds require California sized sheets, which limits your shopping choices, whereas a softside waterbed uses traditional linens.

    Why Do People Buy Water Beds?

    The waterbed heater that comes with the mattress is ideal, because the warm water is therapeutic and can relieve pain in the back and legs. It’s also feels great to slip into a warm bed during the cold winter months.

    What Type of Maintenance is Required for a Waterbed?

    There were many reasons the waterbed went out of style in the 1990s, including the weight of the beds, the process of filling the beds up, and the extensive maintenance waterbeds require.

    Though these problems have become lesser issues these days, some maintenance is still required. To have and use one:

    • You have to fill your waterbed. Installing a waterbed mattress can be a chore. A king waterbed holds around 235 gallons of water. Snaking a garden hose into your bedroom isn’t always fun, so installation is a drawback for many people.
    • You must add waterbed conditioner annually. This keeps the vinyl supple and prevents it from becoming brittle. Doing this once a year helps the waterbed mattress last longer.
    • You may need to fix leaks from time to time, though these aren’t as much of a problem as they used to be. Leaks can be fixed with a vinyl repair kit, which usually includes liquid cement and a vinyl repair patch. These kits can also be used to fix holes in air mattresses.
    • You may have to drain your waterbed. Full waterbeds can be heavy (around 2,000 pounds for a king size), so while you don’t have to change the water in the mattress, if you’re ever moving a waterbed, you will have to drain it. You drain it with a garden hose, similar to how you fill the mattress.

    How Much Are Waterbeds?

    As with any mattress, the cost of a waterbed varies based on size (twin, full, queen, or king) and brand. Generally speaking, waterbeds cost anywhere from as little as $50 upward to $2,000.

    You can buy waterbeds in many stores, including Waterbed Outlet, Sam’s Club, and Walmart.

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    About the authors

    Cecilia Gillen

    Cecilia brings over five years of writing experience primarily centered around lifestyle and health topics. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Media and Journalism from the University of South Dakota. She’s both an advocate for sleep and a night owl at heart.