Digital Air Bed Review- The Basics, The Bullet Points And How To Find The Best Deal...

in a survey of 64,000 individuals by consumer reports, adjustable digital air beds were rated as the best choice for comfort and support...

One of the hottest segments of the bedding marketplace today is digital air beds. The unique ability to adjust the amount of pressure inside of a supportive air chamber is pretty old technology, but today's top of the line air beds are vastly different from the blow up camping beds we grew up with. Today's beds offer a remote control to take your bed from soft to firm and everywhere in between, with a readout that provides a frame of reference for firmness of softness that you can employ in a memory setting on the remote. After all, our bodies need firm support one day, and a little more "cush" factor, the next.

A really nice digital air bed typically makes use of a few key ingredients, and is not as complex as you might think. The entire apparatus is contained within an exterior outer covering usually made with a zippered encasement, since in most cases, when you purchase an air bed, you will be buying it in modular kit form, following some simple instructions and assembling it piece by piece in your home.  You'll likely have a set of stiff foam side rails which form the perimeter of the interior, inside of which are placed the air chambers that are adjustable, with hoses that snake to the outside, and attach either to an exterior pump unit, or a pump unit that is concealed inside of the bed. The remote controls attach to the pump if they are hard wired, or can be wireless, in which case they communicate with the pump unit.

Above the air chambers and stiff side rails and head and foot rails, there may be one or more foam support layers, made of a variety of materials, or there may be no layers, depending upon the model and the cost. Higher end digital air bed systems will often include a layer of memory foam, pure latex rubber, or other proprietary high density foam layers given unique names by the manufacturer, usually to conceal the fact that it is a pretty common or readily available material, but they simply don't want other manufacturers to copy their product.

 Anatomy Of A Typical Air Bed System

Anatomy Of A Typical Air Bed System

Higher end air beds offer many other luxurious features, including advanced memory settings, massage options, snore reduction technology, even warming systems (Sleep Number has a model with a foot warming option that is awesome, we've tried it), and they can even be used on adjustable beds, now becoming extremely popular. You can program an air bed so that is communicates with an app on your phone, it can track your sleep performance and auto-adjust if you're a tosser and turner, and basically coach you into better sleep patterns. Pretty amazing.

The air chambers, pump, and the remote controls are common features found on all adjustable air bed systems. What distinguishes each model within a brand has only to do with the ingredients between you and the air chambers beneath. These layers are made from a variety of materials, generally referred to as "comfort layers", and offer a different sleep experience from model to model. These layers of foam materials also greatly affect the cost, and can easily confuse you when you are shopping.

Ten years ago, most air beds were simplistically designed, consisting of one layer of material, in addition to the outer fabric encasement. The only way to control the firmness or softness of the mattress was to either pump the bed all of the way up, or dump all of the air until you were practically swimming in the mattress.

But with the advances in comfort layer technology, even the leading brand offers a variety of options designed for a host of sleep issues. The foam layer options are almost unlimited,  with the advent of gel foam materials, graphite (charcoal) infused foam that disperse body heat, memory foam that disperses body weight uniformly, and latex, which offers a buoyant, lively feel. Advanced fiber materials that wick away moisture and heat from the outer covering have offered relief to hot sleepers. Green, eco-friendly materials like bamboo or organic cotton are readily available in the marketplace.

Just like buying a car, it's the extra added features that will get you, and some of them are just a waste of money. This is where air bed shopping can get very expensive-very fast. Our basic rule of thumb: don't get swept away with industry sparkle factor. Keep a basic approach in mind, and consider each ingredient in the air bed a mattress marketing tool designed to cost you money first, an asset to you second. 

We recommend being cautious about buying higher end models that offer pillow tops and foam layers with seemingly made up names like "DreamFoam", UltraFoam", employing cryptic and foggy descriptions that really don't tell you what the layers are made of.  In most cases, these foam layers are made using very inexpensive polyurethane foam, and often these materials are precisely the same kinds of foam used in packing materials and shipping containers. Trust me, we've created plenty of highly creative names for very inexpensive "filler" materials, having been on the design side of dozens of mattress models.

 Natural latex is fantastic for a support layer at the top of an air bed, offering buoyant and lively support and distributing weight laterally, and not downward, eliminating pressure.

Natural latex is fantastic for a support layer at the top of an air bed, offering buoyant and lively support and distributing weight laterally, and not downward, eliminating pressure.

When shopping, and you're speaking with a salesperson, or when engaging in a chat online, be very specific about finding out exactly what the comfort layers are made of, prior to offering up your credit card number. You not only come off sounding more astute about what you are buying, but you're likely going to get a salesperson to suddenly cough up additional discounts or incentives. A variety of comfort layer foam materials are available that you can specifically inquire about, including high density foams (similar to those used in home furnishings and in conventional mattresses as support layers), memory foam (used for pressure relief and weight distribution), and natural latex.

 Memory foam is an ideal ingredient for a support layer in a digital air bed as it cradles the body, relieves pressure points and distributes weight effectively.

Memory foam is an ideal ingredient for a support layer in a digital air bed as it cradles the body, relieves pressure points and distributes weight effectively.

The upside with air bed shopping is that there are far fewer options to choose from than if you were shopping for hybrid, coil, or other mattress choices that can make you dazed and confused. This makes it much easier to evaluate and shop for an air bed. And, only recently, the air mattress industry has caught on to the competitive nature of the bedding business as it has quickly become overcrowded with mattress options and even the larger brands now offer price point models that are reasonably priced- and well made- often under $1,000, putting them in the same accessible price ranges as the most hottest mattresses out there. 

An additional feature created by intense competition: most mattress companies, merely due to keen competition, are offering great trial periods that allow you to return the bed if you don't like it, no questions asked, and you get your money back. Right now is probably the best time in the last 50 years to shop for a mattress.

Also, the reason that there are only a handful of air bed manufacturers and retailers (there is only one brand that actually has a substantial retail store operation which sells their own product exclusively) is because they are fairly complex, and the technology surprisingly difficult to master, primarily due to the pneumatic pump and air chamber systems involved. We know this, because we designed and sold our own air bed product line for over 10 years.

The most confusing part about shopping for an air bed of this kind is trying to figure out what the fundamental difference is between each model, and understanding the support foam layers that are found inside of each option, as we discussed above, and trying to determine if you are getting a good deal or not. We've studied reviews of digital air beds on a lot of other third party review sites, and a lot of models in the marketplace had high marks, even more so than conventional mattresses, like innerspring mattresses, hybrid mattresses, and even memory foam beds. Air beds are hugely popular because often couples cannot agree on one continuous sleep surface to share, and a two chambered or two sided adjustable air bed fills that market in a unique way.

Because humans tend to be very fussy sleepers, with varying body types, a litany of possible medical issues, most notably gastro-esophageal disorders and sleep apnea, light sleepers, tossers and turners, or other quirky characteristics, an adjustable air bed often is the perfect solution to quell and calm all of these picadillos, but buying the right model with the right components is very important.

I also know that many people don’t know how to shop for an airbed because of their complexity, and are often overwhelmed when trying to decide which model to choose, or how to narrow down the vast number of internet dealers and retail bedding stores that sell them. This guide is designed to help you narrow down your options and make a comfortable decision so you don’t second guess yourself after the fact. Quick tip: If you are shopping online, fine, but hit a retail store or two to test drive a few models, and ask to see what's under the hood. You'll get resistance on this, but have someone unzip the bed and show you how they are made.

Of course, there are many brands to choose from. Many offer a wide variety of models., and some of these beds are very similar in design. You can do the research on your own, but it is often frustrating narrowing down the list when finding a digital air bed that works for you and your partner. Essentially, most air bed buyers are buying their air bed for two unique sleepers since you can control the range of softness vs. firmness, and alter the feel of the bed substantially.

 

The Key Ingredients Of A Digital Air Bed- A Quick Overview

The best way to approach buying an air bed that is right for you is to understand the main ingredients and the architecture of a well made digital air bed. There’s a few key considerations regarding the structural elements of a an air bed that will last, in my opinion. From the ground up, a typical air bed might be constructed in a layer cake fashion. The outer encasement or covering is usually made like a gift box, with a bottom “container” type of construction, and a top piece that either zips on or attached somehow to the top of the bottom piece.

The fabric used in the outer cover should be a breathable material, such as cotton or bamboo, though it’s ok to have a little rayon in the weave, I think, since that usually provides some stretch and give to the covering. Passive ventilation is important in an air bed, since a lot of foam layers are used, which can sleep warmer if the proper outer cover is not breathable. Hot sleepers need to be looking at breathable materials that passively move heat away from the bed. Materials like Tensel, for example. A naturally based fiber that is proven to wick away moisture and heat, we are fond of referring to it in the business as "air conditioning by the yard".

Generally, a perimeter, or outer edge, of a firmer foam material is used to provide the “exoskeleton”, in which everything sits inside. This outer edge is also important, since you rely on it to provide support to get in and out of bed, put your shoes on, and for those with physical limitations, allows for easy transfer in and out of bed. A good digital air bed will often use at least a 2 lb. density foam rail system to provide the edge system.

Inside the edge system is where you fill typically find the air chambers, which when controlled by the pump, allow the bed to range in comfort levels from firm to soft, merely by adjusting the handheld controller. Your best with air chambers? Make sure you're buying fabric backed, vulcanized rubber air chambers. Don't buy an air bed with PVC, Nylon, or other plastic air chambers. These materials do not stretch well at higher settings, and at lower pressures, will swallow you into a pit of despair. Vulcanized rubber will stretch at higher settings, and still be supportive and supple while at softer settings. 

Generally, above the air chambers, you'll find the foam layer options we talked about, each providing a unique feel and personality for every model.

So, if you are seeking pressure point relief for example, say from hip or shoulder pain, you’d likely want to find an air bed using a memory foam layer, along with some supportive layers placed below or above this layer. The memory foam we recommend- all across the board- is a 4 lb. density foam. Ask about it, insist on it. The inferior, most commonly used 2-3 lb. density memory foam won't last more than five years. Also, because memory foam responds to body heat, it becomes more moldable and flexible after you've been lying on it a bit, and many people fall in love with that wrap around your body and cradling sensation.

Let's say you like a buoyant, livelier mattress, without that sinking sensation, but like the softer, giving feel of a bed. You'll definitely want some latex, preferably natural or at least a blend, and at least a layer that is 2" inches thick, situated directly beneath the outer quilted top or encasement material.

Ask about the support layers. Be specific about the density. If high density foam is used, (HD foam) we advise using 31 ILD foam.

ILD is an industry term that the public really has no knowledge of. Start throwing this term around, and you're going to challenge even seasoned sales people, and that means more control and more discounts, more incentives. It shows a sales person that you know what the hell you're talking about, and they're not going to mess with you. 

ILD is an acronym for Indentation Load Deflection, and refers to the amount of weight occupying one square foot that will compress a layer of foam (generally a 4" thick sample) 1 inch. It's a general guideline for density and degree of support and firmness.

20-24 ILD  Very Soft- Good for very top layers, the interior of a pillow, or inside of a quilted pillowtop.

25-30 ILD  Soft to Medium feel, ideal for the top of direct body contact layers, allows a comfortable amount of sink or immersion, and cushiness.

31-40 ILD Medium To Firm feel, ideal for lower layers, providing support. Don't go higher than 36 or so for pieces in an air bed for the simple reason that the more you stack firmer layers of foam on top of the air chambers, you can begin to diminish the ability to detect adjustments when you remove or add air to the chambers. 

The ILD quantification is most commonly used for those foam layers or components that are given  hyped-up names like "Plushfoam". Regardless of the name, if you can get an ILD on the material, it will tell you the general characteristics of the foam. Rule of thumb: high density foam with an ILD range of 27-35 tend to last the longest, are more durable, and resist splitting, stretching, and cracking.

HD foam, or polyurethane foam, is one thing, but memory foam is quantified a bit differently. the rating of density and quality for memory foam (also called visco-elastic foam) being characterized in density, meaning one cubic foot of a given sample weighs x pounds. For memory foam layers, we recommend finding memory foam that is at least 4lb density rather than 3 lb, since the 4lb variety is a bit more durable and tends to resist cracking and splitting. It is not noticeably firmer, and will last longer in the 4lb range. Also, if you like a firmer feel up top and still like the memory foam sensation, ask for a 5 lb. density material.

If you are looking for an air bed that is uplifting and buoyantly supportive, a bit livelier and springier, definitely seek out a model with natural latex, or softer layers of HD foam, like a high density (HD) foam that is around 25 ILD , or an HR (high resiliency) foam layer, that has flex and a more elastic feel, roughly in the 22-25 ILD range. I personally like the feel of natural latex, since it is springier, and it’s also completely chemical free and does not off gas fumes or odors.

 

Pump And Remote Controls- What Options Are There?

Basically, you can buy an air bed that has either hardwired remotes, or wireless. The considerations there are really personal choices, though with a wireless unit, you need to occasionally change batteries, and if you operate other media equipment like a TV, there may be remote hunting at night, as I often have that problem with my wandering remote controls. Many brands provide a hardwired remote, which you can trace back with the cord, and most models out there offer a readable LED screen, so you can punch in your desired setting, find it, and lock it in with a memory button, so you can reset it as required.

Remember that it is normal for a digital air bed to lose a few points of pressure during the day and the purpose of the memory setting is so that you can tap it, and bring the bed right back to your comfort zone.

Shipping And Assembly Of Your Digital Air Bed System

Typically, most air beds are shipped to you either partially assembled, or fully assembled, generally depending upon the vendor. In fact, a digital air bed is highly modular, which is an asset, I think. Down the road, if you are out of warranty and need a replacement layer of foam, you only need to replace that one component, and you’re not stuck with replacing an entire mattress.

Also, assembling an air bed gets you highly familiar with the working components, which I like. Unlike conventional innerspring mattresses, a digital air bed system allows you to handle and understand the structure of the bed, making it easy for you to go back in when required, should you ever need to troubleshoot a problem.

Generally, however, digital air beds are fairly bulletproof, and most suppliers have worked out the kinks with components and can deliver a bed that offers comfort elements that are durable, long lasting and have been used in the bedding industry for many other kinds of mattresses.

Pricepoints- What Should You Pay For A Decent Air Bed System?

A decent air bed can vary widely in price, from under $1000 for a basic, entry level model, to over $6,000 for a more sophisticated model from the most popular brands, with top of the line components and a luxurious outer covering. The top of the line model might feature a layer of memory foam or as other layers as we mentioned at the top of this article, and some other support foam layers that are designed to add some cushion and aesthetic qualities to the bed.

Also, I think a decent air bed should offer a moderately quilted top, without too much filler, otherwise you’re again separating yourself too far from the functional abilities of the air chambers beneath you. Too much piling on of material above the air chambers, and you begin to lose the ability to detect subtle changes in softness and firmness.

Also, ideally, you want to purchase an air bed that allows you to swap positions of the various support layers, so that you can “customize” your sleep surface. Be wary of any air bed that is sewn shut so that you can’t get inside of it. A zippered, removable outer covering allows you to remove and replace internal parts, or the outer covering itself, should you ever need to do so. The more “modular” you can make your air bed, the better off you will be during the long haul.

I’d say, after reviewing many different air bed companies, that a reasonably priced air bed system will run anywhere from $1400-$3000, depending upon the ingredients. If you want two premium layers such as memory foam and natural latex, expect to pay around $2800-$3000. If you’re paying $4,000-$5,000, understand what it is you are paying for by researching the individual support layers and the outer covering. Obviously, if you want a cashmere fabric on top, it’s going to cost you more.

 

trial periods, warranties and return policies

Make sure you get a decent trial period, at least 90 nights, with a no questions asked return policy. Air beds, though often made with foam layers that can be moved around allowing you to change the feel of the beds, involve some assembly, and if you are moving to an air bed from another kind of mattress, there may be a slight adjustment period. You need to give some time, say two weeks, to allow your body to adapt to the unique floating and buoyant sensation that only an air bed can deliver.

This means that you should be able to get a full refund, with a minimal return ship charge of around $100 to get the mattress back to the manufacturer. Look for sales, as digital air beds tend to be on sale more frequently that other categories of mattresses. And, as we outlined above, study the material we've presented and be prepared to throw around some industry terminology to get your self further discounts and incentives. Trust us, it works.

A decent warranty should cover any defective parts with free replacement for at least a couple of years, and have a good lifespan on the pro-rated side, lets say another 15-18 years. We think a 20 year factory warranty on all parts and pieces should be available, with additional premium options available as an upgrade to your warranty. Best example of a clearly outlined warranty? The leading brand in the USA, Sleep Number offers a very concise and well outlined warranty page for their products. Check it out, here

 

More Details About Buying A Digital Air Bed System

Hardwired or Wireless Remote Controls?  If you're shopping around online or in retail stores for a digital air bed, you'll find that most options include a wireless remote control system. However, we have some pretty good reasons to at least consider a hardwired remote control. We have found that owners of air beds using wireless remotes experience the constant need to change batteries, are constantly losing their remotes under mounds of comforters, pillows, and sheets, and with a wireless remote, you avoid these issues.

 A typical LED readout remote control and hardwired system connected to a piston valve type air controller or pump.

A typical LED readout remote control and hardwired system connected to a piston valve type air controller or pump.

 

An Air Controller System That Gives You Everything You Need

A decent pump, often referred to as the air controller system is a sealed piston pump that never needs maintenance. This usually means that the pump is a piston style unit rather than a "flap valve" system, essentially a glorified aquarium pump. Typically, the pump will have ethernet ports to plug in your remotes, and is generally whisper quiet. In fact, when you place the unit under your bed, especially on a carpeted surface or pad, it's virtually undetectable...never place directly on a hardwood floor, as this will amplify the sound and vibrations of the air bed pump.

Most air bed systems are shipped wither common carrier freight in one box, or in multiple boxes if it is shipped ground. Popular brands are always shipped disassembled, in modular kit form, and are easily assembled. You can follow along using the enclosed instructions, watch an assembly video, usually provided on YouTube.com, or on the vendors site.  Average setup time is 30 minutes, and you’ll get to know the components and where and how each bed is designed and maintenance of your mattress will be easy, in the unlikely event that you need to unzip the outer covering and replace any components down the road. One real plus with a modular air bed system is that you can easily access the components if they fail over time, and replace them as required.

Most  components built into air beds these days are pretty reliable, and will not collapse, rut, or break down even after years of use.  You'll enjoy a broad range of comfort levels for zeroing in on the perfect setting, even when two people are sharing the same mattress but need two totally different kinds of sleep surfaces. Standard sizes, such as Queen, King or CalKing can be adjusted independently, so that one side can be soft and offer greater immersion, for those who like a plusher mattress, while your partners side can be resilient and firm.

Most digital air beds are designed in such a way that the air chambers are aligned right against one another in seamless fashion, so that the air chambers are constantly being tucked and held together. No worries about gaps or spaces in between the air chambers. This offers offers a seamless, undetectable feel between both sides of a dual chambered air bed.

 The side rails, and head and foot rail system used in a typical digital air bed system.

The side rails, and head and foot rail system used in a typical digital air bed system.

 

Air chambers and baffling...what to look for...and,

Don’t Get Baffled By “Baffles”!        

Another consideration when shopping for air beds that can be confusing is the concept of “multiple air chambers” and “baffling”, or compartmentalized areas within the air chambers, which assist in evenly distributing the air flow. Some manufacturers often try to convince you that the more complex the air chamber design is, the more comfortable they must be.

We test drove numerous air chambers with both simplistic designs, and more complex, so-called “zoned” air chambers. When filled to proper pressure offering a good, supportive level of comfort, it was really hard to tell the difference. Quickly we learned that, to buy a really good air bed, you did not have to spend as much time laboring over multi-chambered bladders and baffles vs. single chambered, less complex bladders.

Also, it’s important to remember that the fewer baffles there are in an air bed bladder, the less adhesive materials will be used at the seams and along surface edges, which means less likelihood of leaks down the road.

 When considering a digital air bed option, always choose fabric backed vulcanized rubber air chambers. 

When considering a digital air bed option, always choose fabric backed vulcanized rubber air chambers. 

Side Rails And Perimeter Support Foam - The Hidden Secret To A Great Air Bed    

One of the inherent design flaws of many Air Beds, is the tendency for the sides of the bed to “bow out”, or flex outward when weight is applied to the bed, especially near the center where the two air chambers meet. This results in a “caving in” or sinking sensation between the two air bladders as they separate, and is a common complaint with customers.

The foam rails are precisely designed to allow for supportive and comfortable edge sitting, while at the same time, offering proper support for the comfort  layers above the air chambers, at all points around the edge of the bed.

In addition, to prevent separation of the bladders and the resulting “caved in” sensation in the middle of  an air bed, the best design for side support rails include connecting each opposing siderail with a specialized “tensioning” fabric, which prevents the rails from bowing outward, eliminating that sinking and “caving-in” feeling.The tension created between opposite side rails by the connecting fabric layer eliminates the bowing out problem, preventing separation between air bladders… so that you won’t disappear between them.

Admittedly though, we found that some baffling to facilitate air movement is a good thing, since it genuinely helps distribute air more evenly, resulting in more uniform support. For example, whether you sat on the edge of the bed, or laid on your side in the middle, we observed that air is more effectively distributed to enable the air chambers to maintain their shape and elasticity, when a moderate amount of baffling is present.

The baffling in a typical air chamber is created by building in very simple gussets, or walls, that run from head to foot in the air bladders, keeping the bladders from expanding vertically when filled, to maintain the shape of the air bladder, so that you don’t end up rolling to the center or outside of the mattress. Simply put, we use a continuous design that evenly distributes weight and pressure points to provide the best comfort and support you can find.

And again, don't buy an air bed system that has air chambers made of PVC, nylon, or urethane. They simply don't have the flexibility or "give" that natural rubber has. We've observed that poor quality air chambers result in a rock hard feel at higher settings, a a mushy, "swimming" feel at softer settings, whereas natural rubber flexes and provides a resilient yet giving sensation at higher settings, while at lower settings, you get the yielding and softness you want, but without the feeling that you are going to collapse into the bottom of the mattress.

Five Insider Tips When Buying A Digital Air Bed

It can often cost $2000 or more, and even up to $4,000+, to buy a top of the line leading brand Digital Air Bed. Why? When you purchase anything from a brick and mortar store, a lot of the cost is for overhead, things like rent, employees, air conditioning, etc. And while buying an Air Bed online often offers lower prices, buying an Air Bed online can be just as tricky, since you can’t really look at what you’re buying ahead of time, and might not be able to get a good description of ingredients that are in the bed.

Are you really getting what you are paying for, and what are the basic things that every Air Bed should have? That’s why we’ve put together this guide, with Our 5 Tips for Buying An Air Bed, to help you cut to the chase and buy an air bed that’ll hold up over time. Our focus has always been that the key is insuring that the air bed you buy a bed has quality ingredients from the ground up.

An Air Bed has a fair number of components that can be skimped on, and unless you know what questions to ask, and have at least a vague idea of what you’re buying, you might just become putty in a savvy salesperson’s hands. When in a retail store, insist on seeing what’s inside, and use our tips below to assist with asking intelligent questions…you just might get a better deal if a sales person thinks you’ve done your homework, or at least negotiate a better deal.

Here's the list:

1. Buy A Pump With A Piston Type Mechanism Rather Than A Flap Valve Bladder Mechanism
2. Ask For Specific Foam Densities For Any Support Or Foam Layers Used Inside The Air Bed
3. Buy An Air Bed That Has Fabric Backed, Vulcanized Rubber Air Chambers
4. Buy An Air Bed With A Lightly Quilted Top Using A Breathable Material To Reduce Moisture Retention And Possible Mold Issues
5. Buy An Air Bed Without A Center Line Support Foam Rail

                                                -Read on for more detailed info-

1. Buy A Pump With A Piston Type Mechanism Rather Than A Flap Valve Bladder Mechanism

First, right off the bat, you’ll sound educated if you pose this question. And rightly so, since a flap valve mechanism in any Air Bed pump generally has a shorter lifespan than a sealed piston pump.

Incredibly, I’ve actually seen a “leading brand” pump stripped down, and it was built exactly like an aquarium pump for a ten gallon fish tank…complete with whiny, vibrating sound and all. Since it relies on a rubber flap valve as its actual mechanism to move air, it is not as reliable as a piston pump, which operates more like a bicycle pump using a closed, lubricated piston style mechanism to move air into the air chambers-bottom line, it’ll last MUCH longer.

A few companies offer pumps are made in the USA, rather than imported pump systems, which makes it easier to get parts or replacements way down the road. Piston pumps are permanently sealed pumps and have no vibrating parts (like inferior flap valve pumps) they have a much longer useful life. Some remotes even offer a “bed fill” button which allows you to quickly inflate your air chambers with one touch-very quickly, which is nice when you are setting up our system, or if you simply want to go to maximum fill without having to hold down a “firmer” button as on many models with other manufacturers.

Also, most pumps these days feature a quick connect system with air hoses, in the event you move, need to relocate your bed, or clean underneath your bed. And, typically, the pump is typically encased in a sound minimizing outer shell, which keeps the noise limited to a comfortable, pleasing “hum” sound rather than a raspier sound produced by flap valve pumps or pumps with no sound muffling features. Typically, most retailers these days offer a decent warranty, often 10 years or more, and they include a 3 year full replacement (shipping is free, too) component.

2. Ask For Specific Foam Densities For Any Support Or Foam Layers Used Inside The Air Bed

Most Air Beds will have a perimeter foam “rail” that wraps around the entire edge of the bed. This is usually a high density foam, and it should be rated at least a 1.5 lb. density foam, so that it is first soft enough to sit on the edge of the bed, but firm enough not to bend or collapse when force is exerted on it from the inside edges. Memory foam should be at least 2″ thick if used, and 3.0-4.0 density is best, not too firm, not too soft. Latex foam, is available, should be 26-30 ILD and at least 2″ thick. There should ALWAYS be at least a 3/4″ support layer of foam underneath the air chambers, to both protect them, and to facilitate motion dampening on the air chambers.

Look for Air Beds  designed to last the full warranty lifespan..and beyond. We like to see the edge foam, or side rail foam,be at least  2.2 lb high density foam, and measuring at least 5.5″ tall x 4″width, where some manufacturers use side rail foam that is as little as 3″ wide, offering little lateral support on the sides. 

An air bed that offers a layer of memory foam combined with Natural Latex is also a great combination for comfort and support, and works well with adjustable systems. The best latex to fuse in our opinion is Dunlop latex, which has been field tested in the bedding industry for over 50 years for durability and comfort. A good density to work with is 28 ILD, meaning medium supportive, and adds a layer of cushiness and uplifting buoyancy to an air bed. A decent air bed might also offer just one layer of support foam, but generally, opt for a 4" piece rather than just one 2" is piece, which is more prone to bottoming out. A 4″ layer of specialized high resiliency foam, is more supportive and a bit more dense than similar foams. It is also designed to last the full lifespan of the bed, without compressing or packing down.

 

3. Buy An Air Bed That Has Fabric Backed, Vulcanized Rubber Air Chambers

The most flexible, longest lasting, and comfortable air chambers are going to be vulcanized rubber with fabric backing. They are widely used in the industry, but many suppliers will use less expensive PVC (poly vinyl chloride) or even nylon air chambers, which are not flexible, and are extremely firm at higher settings, and often have a waterbed or “swim” type effect at lower settings. Only vulcanized rubber will have some flexibility at higher settings, while still offering good support at lower settings.

When we first started developing our line of Air Beds, which we sold for 15 years,  we tried just about every available air chamber, and always came to the same conclusion…at firmer settings, and at softer settings, fabric backed vulcanized rubber outperformed anything else. The flexibility at firmer settings allows for a firmer, but still yielding feeling, and at softer settings, you don’t experience a wave motion, or swimming sensation, and the elasticity of the rubber accommodates a lower setting. Also, because these days, most air chambers are baffled evenly throughout, without zoned areas, air is evenly distributed and the pressure will be uniform throughout the bed.

4. Buy An Air Bed With A Lightly Quilted Top Using A Breathable Material To Reduce Moisture Retention And Possible Mold Issues

Probably the most important feature other than the pump in an Air Bed, is the outer cover and lightly quilted top. The single most important reason for this is to provide passive ventilation around the bed, since Air Beds can accumulate mold or mildew due to condensation around the air chambers.

Fabrics like bamboo, cotton, wool (in moderation) and technical fibers like Holo-Fil, are good materials to use for the exterior encasement on an Air Bed. Use of a mattress protector on an Air Bed is also critical after purchase, to keep moisture from penetrating the mattress itself. Avoid fabrics like microfibers, leatherette, or other non-porous and non-breathable fabrics.

We experimented through the years with several outer covers on our air beds, first using a synthetic material called “Cool-Max”, but the quilted top material packed down in a several cases with customers, so we changed both the top fabric and the fill material to more breathable and durable components.

For years we used  Bamboo quilted top filled with spun “Holo-Fill” fiber, a synthetic material that wicks away moisture effectively, sleeps cooler, and with the Bamboo outer fabric, allows for much better passive ventilation than a lot of denser woven fabrics. Passive ventilation, again, is important with air beds, so that mold and other organisms which prefer moist environments cannot establish themselves. Customers loved it.

5. Buy An Air Bed Without A Center Line Support Foam Rail

Many manufacturers will build in a center support rail going right down the middle of the mattress which they claim provides additional support for the bed, but often is really provided to fill in gaps that appear when air chambers separate on a poorly designed air bed system.

A quality Air Bed will have a tensioning system which prevents the air chambers from separating especially when used by heavier individuals. This is usually a piece of material that connects the side rails and keeps them from moving apart.

The problem: at lower settings, you’ll feel that piece of foam rail on your back, and it may end up feeling like a ridge in the center of the mattress. Also, manufacturers may use excessively firm side rail foam to avoid adding a fabric tension material to reduce costs, but again, the edge of the mattress can be excessively hard and can be a noticeable comfort issue.

We created a feature in our  Air Bed Systems which was unique to the industry. By attaching a sheet of specialized “tensioning” fabric from side rail to side rail on our beds, when you fold out and assemble our beds, the outer foam rails cannot bend outward when people are using the mattress, thus preventing the air chambers from separating in the middle.

The result is a uniform, continuous surface that feels like one mattress, without creating a crevasse or gulley between the two air chambers, pushed apart by weight. Again, installing a foam rail in the middle of an air bed, is a common solution to the problem in the air bed industry, but we regard it as a design flaw, that masks the real problem of chamber separation.