Best Waterbeds

Updated October 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

62 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
179 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best waterbeds

Last Updated October 2019

Few pieces of household furniture are as polarizing as the modern waterbed, but this survivor from the 1970s Me Generation still has a steady following. While only a handful of brick and mortar stores still offer waterbeds on the main sales floor, they can still be ordered through several web-based stores and third-party sellers. Many waterbed enthusiasts praise it for its minimal pressure points, relaxing wave action and soothing heat.

The modern waterbed was invented by a young college student named Charles Hall in 1968. After failing to create liquid-filled furniture such as chairs and tables, Hall decided to create a giant vinyl bladder and fill it with water instead of cornstarch gel or gelatin. The result was the first commercial waterbed, which Hall briefly marketed as the Pleasure Pit.

Waterbeds became increasingly popular during the 1970s, but soon became associated with a hedonistic, self-indulgent subculture. Promotion as a therapeutic alternative to traditional spring mattresses did help rehabilitate the waterbed’s image, and sales continued to be strong through the late 1980s. The introduction of other specialty beds such as adjustable “sleep number” mattresses and therapeutic memory foam dramatically affected waterbed sales. By the 1990s, waterbed sales only accounted for less than 5% of the bedding market.

However, a number of consumers still seek out the unique properties of a waterbed, either for therapeutic or nostalgic reasons the large vinyl bladders and heavy wooden bed frames have been replaced with more manageable tubes and self-contained softside mattress frames. If you’re in the market for a different kind of zero gravity sleeping experience, a waterbed may just be the ticket. For more information on waterbeds, we invite you to read our detailed shopping guide below.

 

Considered to be the first “specialty bed,” waterbeds peaked in popularity in the late 1980s.

Key considerations

Hardside or softside frame

Most waterbeds use one of two frame designs: hardside or softside. Older models sold on the market in used condition tend to be hardsided, while more recent models use a self-contained softside frame. Both frame designs have advantages and disadvantages, but softside waterbeds have grown in popularity among today’s consumers.

A hardside waterbed uses a heavy external frame, usually constructed from furniture-grade hardwoods such as oak or pine. The frame is essentially a large box in which a one-piece mattress or a collection of smaller tubes resides. The hardside frame may also include a headboard and footer, plus storage drawers. The main advantage of a hardside frame is that the mattress always stays in place. One disadvantage is that the hardside frame can be extremely heavy, making it challenging to install or move.

A softside waterbed replaces the heavy box frame with a lighter but sturdy external shell, similar to a traditional box spring. The mattress is held securely in the frame, but it can be placed on a traditional support system. A softside waterbed mattress also uses standard size bed linens, which is a distinct advantage over hardside models. Most softside mattresses are designed to be waveless or semi-waveless, however, so consumers looking for a full wave waterbed may be disappointed.

Wave action

Original waterbeds were essentially giant vinyl bags filled with water and stuffed into a hard frame. When a user changed positions or made any other motion, the resulting wave could last 30 seconds or longer.

This is a “full wave” design, meaning there is nothing in the mattress itself to prevent the natural wave action and reaction. Some users prefer a full wave mattress, because it mimics the sensation of floating weightless in a pool. The excess motion can trigger motion sickness or disturb a sleeping partner, however.

Several manufacturers developed a newer style of waterbed mattress that addressed customer concerns about full wave action. A semi-waveless mattress uses fiber inserts called baffles to neutralize the waves as they form. Water is redirected around these baffles to minimize motion, but the sensation of floating is still relatively intact.

The ultimate option for wave control is the waveless mattress. Additional baffles completely halt the creation of waves, and a reinforced section in the center creates enhanced lumbar support. One common issue with full wave and semi-wave mattresses is the lack of firmness many customers seek. A waveless mattress reduces the number of pressure points compared to a traditional spring mattress, but also provides strong support for the users’ backs during sleep.

Ease of use

One of the biggest concerns new waterbed owners have is ease of installation and removal. A King size full wave mattress with a wooden hardside frame can weigh up to 2000 pounds and require 250 gallons of water. Floor joists must be rated strong enough to support such a heavy piece of furniture. Access to a water supply and garden hose is also a consideration with older style waterbed mattresses.

Another consideration is the condition of the mattress. The water should be treated with special conditioners in order to keep it free from contaminants such as algae. The exterior of a vinyl mattress should also be treated with a cleaning solution, and small leaks should be easy to repair with a standard vinyl repair kit commonly used to seal leaks in air mattresses.

 

DID YOU KNOW?

Inventor Charles Hall briefly called his product the Pleasure Pit while selling waterbeds from his van in California.

Features

Frame sizes

Waterbeds are generally sold in the same standard sizes as traditional spring coil mattresses, but there are exceptions. Older hardside models tend to run in larger California sizes, which can affect the weight of the bed when filled. Softside waterbed mattresses can usually fit on standard bed frames but can be far too heavy for a box spring. We recommend buying the smallest mattress size that will meet the needs of the users.

Bed linens

Softside waterbed mattresses tend to conform with standard bed sizes, so traditional bed linens can be used. Hardside models, on the other hand, tend to use the larger California dimensions, so larger sheets, mattress covers, and blankets will be necessary. Finding an ideal fit is also a challenge. Traditional bed linens are designed to fit mattresses with a rigid structure, not a fluid-filled bladder. Many bed linen manufacturers offer specialized sheets designed specifically for waterbed use. These sheets contain pockets that fit a softside mattress corner more securely, and the top and bottom sheets are often sewn together in the center to reduce the chance of separation.

Heating controls

The temperature of an unheated waterbed mattress tends to run on the cool side, which some hot-natured users may prefer. Others will appreciate sleeping on a warm mattress during colder months. A waterbed heater does not use internal heating coils like a home water heater but is more like an oversized heating pad. The heating pad sits between the liner and the mattress itself, and uses a manual or digital thermostat to reach the desired temperature.

When shopping for a waterbed, look for a heating control that is easy to read, easy to adjust and easy to shut off. Softside models with a pillow top may or may not include a water heater as a standard accessory, because the pillow top itself provides insulation from the cold mattress itself. It may be necessary to purchase an approved waterbed heater unit separately.

EXPERT TIP

A California King size waterbed can weigh as much as 2000 pounds (one ton) and contain over 250 gallons of water.


Staff  | BestReviews

Price

The average lifespan of a vinyl waterbed mattress is approximately 10-15 years, because the vinyl eventually dries out and becomes brittle or else develops too many leaks to make repairs feasible. Vintage hardside waterbed mattresses and frames are sometimes available at thrift stores or private owner sales, but age should always be a consideration. For consumers who are shopping for newer softside waterbeds on the Internet or specialty bedding stores, here is a general price guide:

Inexpensive (Under $150) At this entry level price range, most waterbed mattresses will be free-flow or full wave. Essentially, they are large vinyl bladders that will require some sort of hard frame to hold them. There may be a few models with baffles or lumbar support at this price point, but not many. A water heater, liner or pump will most likely need to be purchased separately.

MId-range ($150 to $300) Waterbed mattresses in the mid-price range may include baffles for semi-waveless or even waveless motion. Self-supporting softside models become more prominent, reducing the need for special bed frames. Some mattress sets are constructed from smaller, more manageable tubes, which can be filled in a bathtub and transported to the bedroom. Hardside wooden frames and full wave mattresses can also be found in this price range, along with basic heaters and pillow tops.

Expensive (over $300) The top end of the waterbed spectrum is generally reserved for entire waterbed systems, not just the mattress and basic frame. These complete kits will most likely include a digital water heater, a vinyl bed liner, water conditioners, electric pump, pillow top and a vinyl repair kit. Larger California King and Queen sizes can easily cost $500 or more.

 

The first modern water-filled mattress was developed by a Scottish physician in 1833, and was sold to hospitals, sanitariums and infirmaries as Dr. Arnott’s Hydrostatic Bed for Invalids.

Tips

  • To increase the firmness level of a waterbed, it may be necessary to remove water, not add it. An overfilled mattress can become too soft and force user to roll to the side.
  • The water inside the mattress does not need to be changed regularly, but it does need to be conditioned. Special conditioning solutions are usually included in the original packaging.
  • The average lifespan of a vinyl waterbed mattress is 10-15 years, but vinyl will harden and crack over time. It is important to treat the outside of the mattress with an approved vinyl cleaner and conditioner.
  • The same vinyl repair kit used to repair air mattresses can also be used to repair leaking waterbed mattresses. Watch our video on how to repair a leak here.
  • Never install a waterbed above the ground floor level of a home or apartment. A full waterbed mattress and frame can weigh over 1000 pounds, and many ceiling joists are not rated to handle that much stress.

Other products we considered

While compiling our list of the top waterbed contenders, there were two models that almost made the final cut. Both use softside mattresses, which means standard size bed linens will fit comfortably. Both also feature pillow tops, which improve the overall comfort level and help retain heat.  The King Size 76x 80 Cotton Pillowtop Softside Waterbed by Classic and the Queen Size 60 x 80 4000LS Softside Pillow Top Complete Waterbed by Softside Waterbed are both solid, high-end choices, complete with all accessories. The King Size mattress even offers a choice of free flow, 95% or 100% waveless bladders. Digital water heaters are also included in the original package.

Architectural student Charles Hall invented the modern waterbed in 1968, after experimenting with other fillers such as cornstarch gel and Jello.

FAQ

Q. I’ve always had a problem finding a landlord who will allow me to install a waterbed in my apartment. Why do so many landlords object to tenants owning waterbeds?
A. 
There are several reasons why some landlords will not permit the installation of waterbeds. First, there is a weight issue to consider. A king-size California waterbed can weight up to 2000 pounds, which can put a significant strain on floor joists. There is also the possibility of a catastrophic mattress failure, which would cause the same kind of water damage as a burst pipe or a leaking water heater. The logistics of filling and/or emptying a waterbed may also be an issue for some landlords.


Q. How does a waterbed heater heat the water? Is there a heating element submerged in the mattress itself?
A. 
No, there are no electric heating elements in direct contact with the water inside the mattress. Instead, most heated waterbeds use an electric heating pad with a matrix of heating wires to warm the water. This would be like an electric blanket, including a thermostat to adjust the temperature. Most waterbed heaters start at 85 degrees F and can be adjusted in small increments. Some softside mattresses with pillow tops do not have heaters at all.


Q. Can I use standard bed linens on my new waterbed?
A. 
It depends. Many hardside waterbeds use the larger “California” size bed linens, while softside waterbeds tend to use conventional size linens. Some waterbed owners invest in special sheets designed specifically for waterbeds. These sheets are often stitched together at the center foot, because tucking in a standard top sheet around a heavy waterbed mattress is not easy. Waterbed sheets also include triangular corners or pockets to hold them against the mattress more securely.


Q. Can I get motion sickness from sleeping on a full wave waterbed?
A. 
There can be a period of adjustment when sleeping on a full wave or semi-waveless waterbed for the first time. However, the incidents of actual seasickness or motion sickness are low. The main issue is a noticeable transfer of motion if one partner enters or leaves a full wave mattress. Most traditional mattresses minimize this motion transfer, but full wave waterbeds can amplify it for a few seconds.

The team that worked on this review
  • Angela
    Angela
    Editor
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Production Assistant
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Michael
    Michael
    Writer

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