Air Mattresses are one of the great luxuries you can have when camping. Sometimes a basic roll mat doesn’t quite cut it and you can feel the undergrowth pushing through, giving you a rough night’s sleep. Sometimes it can be so bad that you have to take down and re-pitch your tent in a different location for your second night so you can save your back for all the hiking and other activities you want to do on your camping trip. An air mattress gives you a wide enough berth between yourself and the ground to avoid any sticks poking you in the night.
Sometimes, however, disaster can strike and you notice your air mattress slowly deflating, taking away the great comfort it provides and leaving you at the perils of lying on the hard ground. Do not despair, your mattress isn’t ready for an early grave just yet. Whether you are out in the backcountry or checking it at home, your air mattress can be repaired to ensure that you rest well when sleeping under the night sky.
Before you set out on any camping adventure you should check over every piece of kit that you have. You should pitch your tent, and check you have all the required items. Likewise, your sleeping bag should be aired out and equipment such as your headlamp should be tested and spare batteries packed. If you’re taking an air mattress then blow it up and leave it for a couple of hours to check that it stays firm. If you find that it deflates then read on in this step by step guide, to fix the problem and make sure your camping trip goes ahead as planned.
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Locating the leak
If you notice that you have a leaky air mattress then the first step to sorting this is to locate where the escaping air is. Before you start with this procedure you must bear in mind that air beds lose their air and become soft naturally over time. So if you have begun to notice the air bed softening over the space of a couple of days then do not worry. You only need to pump a little bit more air into it to keep it firm.
There are a couple of things that cause air mattresses to shrink a little bit faster. If you have purchased a new air mattress and it is shrinking quickly it is not necessarily to do with the quality of the bed. New air mattresses need to be expanded a few times before they begin to work as they should. So if this is a brand new air bed that is deflating sharply after putting it up for the first time then simply re-inflate it a few more times so that all of the seams have expanded properly.
The other possible cause of your air mattress shrinking quickly could be to do with the temperature. If you are camping in cooler weather then this will cause the air inside to thin and thus make it go down lightly. Warm air hold’s itself firm and will keep your mattress firm for a longer period of time. So before you begin to scour your bed for a hole, consider first whether it’s cold and whether or not the air bed is new or has only been put to use a couple of times. If you are sure that it is due to an air leak then its time to begin to find out where the air is leaking from.
Firstly you should make some tests to see if it is a genuine leak. Blow up your air bed fully and if it goes down after a few minutes then it is probably due to a leak. Sit upon the bed after you have inflated it and if it declines more than 2 inches then this is also an indicator of a leak. If you are yet to be fully convinced then leave some weight upon it overnight and if it has decreased significantly by the morning then there is a hole somewhere. When you are searching for the leak make sure that the mattress is fully inflated once again because when the air pressure is higher more air escapes which makes it easier to locate the hole.
The first place to check is the valve, which is normally placed next to the pump and is used to quickly deflate the bed. Place your hand over the valve to check to see if the air is flowing from it. If you discover that the air is escaping from here then this is a slightly bigger problem as this is the hardest part to repair. If it is coming from here then contact the supplier of the mattress to order a replacement valve.
If air is not coming from the valve then stand the mattress up against a wall. Most holes in an air bed shall be located on the underside of the bed due to sharp objects being laid underneath or rough ground when camping, causing it to be punctured. Pump it up fully and place it on the wall so that the underside is facing you. Put your ear close to the mattress to check for a hissing sound. Move your ear around the bed until you hear this sound. If it is not on the underside then check the topside and the sides to see if it is coming from there.
If this method does not work then pour some cold water over your hand and move it slowly around the bed, keeping it around two inches away. The leaking air will feel cold on your hand as it interacts with the water on it.
If you still cannot find the leak then it’s time to put a little bit more effort into discovering its location. The best method is to use soapy water to have a more detailed search for the hole. As a warning, we shall say that some producers claim that this can lead to mold appearing on your mattress. However, it is the best method and if you dry it out correctly afterward there will be no problem. This method will cause the soap to bubble up at the spot where the leak is, just like when you are blowing bubbles.
To do this get a bucket or basin and fill it with soapy water using dish soap. Then take a sponge or cloth and rub it across the surface area of the mattress. Take note that the seams of the air mattress are a place to pay particular attention to. Once you see air bubbles starting to form then you know where the leak is as the air causes the soap to expand. After you’ve located the leak wipe the soap away and mark where the hole is with a permanent marker pen as it will be very difficult to find the hole again once you have deflated the air bed.
Once you have located the hole and marked the spot it is time to deflate the air bed. If you used soapy water then first dry it with a towel, deflate it and then leave it out to dry completely. Let’s take a look at how to fix the puncture.
Fixing a hole with a patch kit
The best way to fix a puncture in an inflatable mattress is by using an air mattress repair kit. Every outdoor enthusiast should have a patch kit. These can be purchased at any shop specializing in outdoor activities and can be used for patching up tents and bike tires as well as air beds. These are inexpensive and the kit tends to contain sandpaper, superglue and patching tape that is suitable for fixing small holes in your equipment.
Check once again that your mattress is fully deflated because if air passes through then it can get under the patch that you have put on, undoing your work. Firstly take the sandpaper and gently remove the soft felt around the hole. This will allow the patch to stick as the soft layer on top of the mattress tends to not be suitable for holding onto sticky material. Once you’ve done this, take a cloth and clean the area with soapy water, drying it afterward. Any dust or specks of dirt can impede the effectiveness of the adhesive working.
The next step is to cut out a piece of patch roughly one and a half times bigger than the surface area of the hole. Around half of an inch wider than the puncture in all directions should suffice. The patch tape shall either have a sticky adhesive and if not a strong adhesive such as super glue should be applied gently to the back end of the patch. Put it once over the puncture gently and don’t remove or adjust it once it has been stuck down as this shall only take away from the stickiness.
Once you have stuck it down press down upon it firmly for around 30 seconds with the lower part of the palm of your hand. This is ample time for the adhesive to confirm its position upon the material of the air mattress. Now take a step back and allow the glue to set for two or three hours. Do not inflate during this period as the tape may come loose, reopening the air mattress leak. After this time has passed, inflate your mattress, listening closely for any further air escaping. There you have it, your air mattress is ready for its next trip!
How to DIY
Maybe you don’t own a repair kit and need to fix your air mattress quickly before you set off on your next adventure. Keep in mind that a DIY repair may void your warranty so check this before you start. Many of them will instruct you to use a patch kit or to return the air mattress to them. Be sure that a DIY fix is something you want to undertake if it does void your air mattress’s warranty.
First of all, you must sand away at the area around the hole just like when you are repairing with the patch kit. The velvety like material will stop the adhesive from binding so it must be softened first before the seam is pulled back together. So scrub the felt away until it is just plastic surrounding the hole.
The next step is to cut out a thin and flexible piece of plastic. This can come from various types of items that you can find around the house. Items such as tarpaulin or a shower curtain are both appropriate for this kind of DIY job. Cut out a square from the sheet of plastic and make sure that it is around a centimeter wider than the gap of the hole on each side.
From this point place a strong super glue onto one side of the material. Don’t be frugal with the glue and place a large amount atop of it. Then like before place the bottom of the palm of your hand down upon it and maintain pressure on it for at least 30 seconds so that the glue sets. Then smooth it out and because you used large amounts of glue, clear away the excess that oozed its way out from the underside of your DIY patch.
After this place a heavy object that weighs at least five kilograms on top of the patch. Heavy books or a dumbbell will do. Leave it for at least six hours and then re-inflate your airbed and listen for air hissing out to make sure it worked. The DIY method can be used when you’re out in the backcountry as you can easily snip a piece of tarpaulin from the underlayer sheet for your tent.
You can also make a temporary fix if you do not have these items on hand at the time. Duct tape shall work for a while. However, the glue on duct tape is not built to last a long time on plastic surfaces so it shall eventually dry up and peel itself off your air mattress. Another tip is to never use hot glue when binding the hole in your air mattress. The heat from the glue will melt the thin plastic and increase the size of the gap in the air bed, meaning your mission to repair the hole gets a little bit harder.
It is also best to try and take good care of your air mattress to prevent having to carry out a repair. The material is fairly soft and can be pierced easily if it is inflated. When camping with it make sure that you choose an evenly grounded spot. Then clear any debris such as sticks and stones before you begin to pitch your tent. This shall minimize the risk of anything poking through and damaging the mattress.
Be sure not to store anything underneath the mattress. Make sure that the air mattress is the first thing you set up inside your tent once you have pitched it. If any small items get underneath it, it will cause the mattress strain during the night when your body weight is putting pressure down upon it. It’s always best to keep your tent in order to avoid unnecessary damage and to avoid losing things or mixing them with other people’s stuff.
Some of us crave some extra comfort when we’re out enjoying our camping trips. Maybe you turn your nose up at the thought of sleeping on a roll mat and you’ll instead opt to sleep on a camp bed, air mattress or another alternative. Although sturdily built, these objects are prone to damage, especially when they are being packed up and used outside. All of your camping equipment is more susceptible to damage than your household items. It gets packed in tightly into a car, hiked on your back for many miles, laid upon rough ground, and can be exposed to water damage, which can reduce its lifespan.
By properly maintaining your air mattress which is one piece of your kit that is particularly likely to be broken, you can avoid having to do these types of repairs. As you will have read, the repair is very straightforward and it does not take a jack of all trades to be able to repair one. The only items required are the sandpaper, glue, and patch contained in your repair kit. Add in a little bit of patience and you can fix your air bed without having to get onto the phone to the manufacturer.
Bonus tip: Here’s a video demonstration for you if you need some visual guidance on fixing your air mattress!