Ultimate Air Mattress Buying Guide

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Air Mattress Buying Guide: 5 Critical Considerations

air mattress buying guide

There’s a lot to think about when you buy an air mattress. Like anything else these days, you will be faced with a multitude of options and finding the best one for your needs can seem daunting. In this Air Mattress Buying Guide I take away the guess work and run you through every detail you need to consider to find the perfect air mattress for your needs.

  1. Where Will You Use The Air Mattress?
  2. Who Is Going To Use The Air Mattress?
  3. What An Air Mattress Is Made Of (and how to spot quality)
  4. What Else You Need To Think About
  5. Bonus Tips

1. Where Will You Use The Air Mattress?

There are many situations for which you might want to purchase an air mattress. These include but are not limited to:

  • Guests staying at your house
  • Children’s sleepovers
  • Camping
  • Taking a trip where you need to take your own bedding e.g. visiting family for the holidays
  • A temporary bed

Where and how you plan to use your air mattress will have an enormous impact on which one you choose. For example, if you’re looking for one for camping, you might go for a low profile one that can easily be inflated by hand.

If you’re looking to buy an airbed for guests in your home or to take away on a non camping holiday, you will prefer to choose an air mattress that is more plush and can be inflated by plugging it into a power outlet.

couple on an air mattress

If you plan on using the air mattress a lot, the quality might matter more than the price.

2. Who Is Going To Use The Air Mattress?

Who is going to use the air mattress is just as important to think about as where you are using it.

  • If the mattress is mostly going to be used by children then a lower priced and lower profile mattress might serve your purpose well.
  • If the mattress is going to be used by adults then one that offers greater comfort and durability will work better.
  • If the mattress is going to be used by people who have trouble getting up off the floor or down into a bed, then a higher profile air mattress will be your best option.
  • Check the weight capacity of the air mattress you’re considering.

3. What An Air Mattress Is Made Of (And How To Spot Good Quality)

I’ve broken this section into two parts:

1. The Mattress
2. The Pump

The Mattress:

Air mattresses are most commonly made from PVC (vinyl). They usually have a tougher bottom layer that faces the floor. They might have an upper layer that is flocked (like velvet) fabric. The flocking gives a softer surface to lie on than straight vinyl and won’t make horrible squeaking noises when you move on it. Flocking also grips sheets well.

How do companies make their vinyl stronger to make sure your air mattress is durable? There are a few different things they can do. Some simply use thicker vinyl, others use nylon wrapping to reinforce the inside of the vinyl, or multiple layers of materials.

Obviously, the “support” part of the air mattress is air, rather than springs or foam. The firmness of an airbed depends on how much air you fill
them with so you will have more room to adjust the firmness of a higher profile air bed than a lower profile one.

The air can be distributed around the mattress in different ways to maximize comfort. They may contain coils, which are kind of like funnels within the mattress but full of air. These are great because they help distribute body weight for a more comfortable sleep. A good air mattress may have two inner layers: one bottom layer that is like a big open chamber, and a second layer on top of that containing the air coils.

Some of the higher end air mattresses have zoning built into them. This means you can fill it with different amounts of air in the different zones to customize the feel of
the air bed and best support key pressure zones on your body.

air mattress internal pump

The Pump:

We can all remember the days of nearly fainting trying to blow up a large air mattress using just your own lung power. It could take hours! Luckily those days are gone, and blowing up a mattress using your own lung power is now the preserve of very thin camping mattresses. There are a few considerations for your modern, higher tech air mattress though. These are:

  • Internal pump: will take 3-5 minutes to inflate, and no extra equipment is needed. You just need to plug your mattress into a power outlet and turn the pump on. This makes an internal pump ideal for use inside a house, not so good for camping where you may not have access to a power outlet. Many models with an internal pump will have an external pump attachment you can use for your outdoor activities.
  • External pump: you’ll need one of these if your mattress doesn’t have an internal pump, or you’re planning on using it away from a power source. External pumps vary in complexity. They range right from a basic model you can pump by hand to mechanical pumps that do the work for you. The mechanical pumps can be either battery or electricity powered.
  • Smart pump: some air mattresses come with a smart pump. With a smart pump, you can set the air pressure you want the mattress to maintain. The pump will then add more air if it detects a loss of pressure, and you’ll never have to worry about the mattress sagging overnight.

Spot A Good Quality Air Mattress:

  • Very tough (and maybe grippy) bottom layer and flocked fabric top
  • Extra reinforcing of the vinyl throughout the body of the mattress
  • Chamber and coil construction
  • Inflates easily and quickly

4. What Else Do I Need To Think About?

Price Range

How much do you want to spend on your air mattress? They have vast price range of under $20 for the very cheapest models to closer to $300 for the higher tech and higher quality models.

There is less of a demand for King and California King sized air mattresses so you might find some brands only offer twin and Queen sizes.

All air mattresses should fold away easily into a bag for storage, an external pump will add extra bulk here.

Air mattresses come in a variety of heights. A thin camping mattress will be one inch or less. A low profile air mattress would be about 8 -10 inches and a high profile one will sit at around 18 – 22 inches high.

Air mattresses have a variety of accessories and features you may or may not want. These include:

  • Built in lighting (can be handy for camping)
  • Chair slings (to tether the mattress to a chair)
  • Repair kits
  • Frames (some air mattresses, such as the EZ Bed, come with a frame built into the mattress to raise it off the floor)

Warranty Period

Warranties for air mattresses are usually 1 – 3 years. If you’re buying an air mattress at the higher end of the price bracket, make sure it’s got a warranty at the longer end of this scale. You’ll notice that the warranty period for air beds is significantly shorter than for regular mattresses, where I would consider 10 years to be the standard.

air mattress takes regular sheets5. Bonus Tips

  • For camping, choose an air mattress that has a base that is not only durable and tough, but also grippy. This will stop your air mattress from sliding around on the fabric floor of your tent.
  • Clean your air mattress by vacuuming it, and rubbing at any marks with rubbing alcohol. Don’t let the mattress get wet, and if it does, fully inflate it and allow it to dry out completely before packing it up for storage.
  • You can used a flocked surface air mattress without any sheets (though I think it’s nicer and cleaner to use sheets)
  • You won’t need to buy special sheets for your air mattress, your standard sheets should do the trick. HOWEVER, if you’re looking at buying a very high profile mattress and want a fitted sheet that cover the whole thing, then these sheets would do the job very well.

Feeling ready to take a look at some of the best air mattress buys around? Read my air mattress reviews here.


Emily Johnstone

Emily is the creator and owner of bestmattressforyou.com. Emily's scientific background gives her an analytical, critical, and discerning eye to bring unbiased, thorough, and helpful content to the site. Your good sleep is her top priority. Find out more about Emily and bestmattressforyou.com here.