For the purpose of clarity, in this article air beds in general are called airbeds. For the most part these are used as regular bedroom or health care mattresses. Recreational and temporary use airbeds are called "air mattresses." However, an internet search for "airbeds" or "air beds" will produce the same results as for "air mattresses."
What are the key advantages of an airbed?
Two key advantages of airbeds are (1) they are adjustable, and (2) they are lightweight. Support for an airbed is the pressurized air in the air chambers. Unlike waterbeds, the level of support can be adjusted easily, even while the bed is being used. An air pump and a release valve can be controlled by a wired or wireless handset.
Even when inflated, airbeds and air mattresses are lightweight and easily moved around. Just try that with a waterbed! Uninflated, they can be taken through narrow doorways, around tight corners and up/down stairs, even king size.
How is an airbed constructed?
An airbed or air mattress is an inflatable, air-tight bag, somewhat like a balloon, but sturdier, shaped like a mattress and big enough to lie on. The first air mattresses were one continuous air chamber. Then dividers partitioned the chamber into parallel sections using the same air supply. This kept the surface essentially level—several longitudinal rows of the same height.
What are airbeds used for?
An early use for airbeds was camping. An uninflated air mattress was easily rolled up, took less space than a cotton batting mattress, and was more supportive. In fact, it could be inflated to just the right level for the user.
Another early airbed use was for healthcare. The pressure in an air bed could be adjusted until it conformed to the body contours of the patient. Today, manufacturers such as Invacare and Bio-Med make hospital air beds for preventing and relieving pressure sores.
Firmness - The firmness of an airbed is adjusted by controlling the air pressure in the chambers. The test here is how well the airbed holds its pressure. Some models of household airbeds have sensors and controls which automatically keep the pressure at the selected level. Most air mattresses do not; however, some higher end models do, especially those intended for hospitality.
Air Chamber Construction - Air chamber construction concerns design and materials. Whereas a simple air mattress for camping inflates and deflates all the air chambers simultaneously, airbeds for the bedroom are now usually zoned. This means that there are separate sets of chambers (usually 3) for body zones, as well as for the two sides of a queen or king size bed. Thus each user can adjust support for the upper, middle and lower parts of the body.
Not all air chambers are made of the same materials. For instance, Select Comfort (Sleep Number) makes their air chambers of 25-gauge vulcanized rubber bonded to cotton, while some Comfortaire models, such as the Elite 4, use "medical grade polyurethane." As materials technology progresses, so will materials for airbeds. Three of the requirements for air chamber materials are strength, elasticity and durability. The air chamber has to be able to hold the pressurized air, even with heavy people on the bed. The air chamber has to have the right amount of elasticity and flexibility. The more durable the air chamber, the longer the airbed will last.
Controls - Most airbeds are adjusted with a hand-held remote control. This can be wired or wireless. Zoned airbeds have controls for each of the zones and a control for each side of the bed. Controls for air mattresses are usually attached to the pump, which may or may not be attached to the mattress. However, some higher end hospitality models have internal air pumps and remote controls.
Comfort Layers - The old fashioned camping air mattress had a rubber, polypropylene or vinyl surface, and many users covered it with a blanket or quilt under the sheet. Then manufacturers began flocking the surface. Now most home-use airbeds have comfort layers and covers, while recreational air mattresses are plainer. The layers are usually foam—memory foam, polyurethane or latex—but some may have cotton or wool batting. This is where you, the user, can refine your comfort choices. With some models having pillow tops or euro-tops, the air system is the support core of a "regular" mattress. When you shop for an airbed, consider the materials in the comfort layers and the cover. Are you allergic to any of the ingredients, such as wool or latex? Are you concerned about the environmental impact? Also, which combination of materials fit into your budget? But most importantly, what is comfortable for you?
Warranty - As with all beds and mattresses, when shopping for an airbed, look closely at the warranty. Is it a manufacturer's warranty? Or is it warranted by the retailer? How long is it? What does it cover? What does it not cover? What conditions void the warranty? Keep in mind that the basic coverage for warranties is against defects in materials or the manufacturing process, and the conditions are meant to narrow the coverage down to that.
As of now, we have 14 customer reviews of airbeds on Beds.org. Most manufacturers have customer reviews on their websites. If you have an airbed mattress, no matter how long you have had it, you are welcome to review it here. If we do not have a review page for your airbed, contact us.
The Beds.org customer reviews for airbeds are:
Select Comfort - 12 Reviews [4 Stars]
Invacare Mattresses for Pressure Sores - 1 Review [5 Stars]
Comfortaire - 1 Review [4 Stars]
Airbed Mattresses on Beds.org without customer reviews:
~ Boyd Air Beds
~ Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Choice Collection
~ Relief Mart (Selectabed) "Air-Pedic"
From these results, we can see that all the models reviewed by customers received very good reviews. However, 4 models (3 were by Select Comfort/Sleep Number) models received 5 stars with 1 review each, and 1 received 4, hardly representative samples. The Sleep Number Classic Series had 9 reviews. One reviewer each rated it 5, 3, and 2 stars. Each of the rest gave a 4-star rating for a 3.8-star average. Judging by this, it seems that the other ratings are likely reliable, and these three brands are good choices. We do not have customer reviews for the rest of the airbeds, but if they were the same as what we do have now, we could safely buy an airbed from any of them. But judging by the current results, Select Comfort or Invacare appears to have The Best Airbed.
The reliability of mattress ratings (including those of airbed models) based on polls and tallying of reviews depends on the number of respondents and how long they have used the mattresses they are reviewing. The larger the sample, the more faithfully representative the results are. And the longer customers have used mattresses, the better they know them, and the more reliable their evaluations. This is more true for mattresses than for several other kinds of products, mostly because of how they wear. Cushioning layers tend to “settle in” over time, and the feel can change over several months. This is why on Beds.org customer reviews, the user has to say when the mattress was purchased.