Air Mattress Buying Guide

Whether it’s your In-laws arriving unannounced for an overnight visit or you’re hosting your child’s friends for a slumber party, you’ll need a good air mattress (or two or three) to give guests a good night’s rest. Your reputation as a host is on the line!

Air mattresses are typically made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and can be blown up in a few minutes, either manually or by using a motorized air pump. In addition to serving as guest beds, they’re also great for camping. They can cost anywhere from $10 to several hundred dollars. Over the years, they’ve gotten a little more fancy than just a single slab of air-filled plastic. Some have features such as built-in pillow tops and ribbed sides that make it easier to pull a fitted sheet over the side and have it stay in place.

Air Mattress Testing in CR's Labs

When we test air mattresses, the first thing we look for is deflection, or how much it sags over time. (CR tests queen-size air mattresses.) A saggy mattress may mean the air could seep out as you’re sleeping—possibly giving you a sore back in the morning. If the mattress doesn’t deflect all that much, it means the weight is evenly distributed over the surface of the mattress and the mattress is able to maintain an even firmness. That’s key for providing support, plus it allows you to get into and out of the mattress easier. In our tests, we place weights totaling more than 250 pounds on a mattress and measure how much the surface depresses by taking several readings over the course of an hour. 

We also score air mattresses based on convenience. Does it take forever to blow up a mattress? (Shocker: It took a whopping 6 minutes to blow up one model in our tests.) Is the mattress bulky and a pain to store? Our technicians note whether a model comes with a storage bag or box, and its overall size and weight when it’s rolled up, to see whether it’s convenient for storage.

How to Choose an Air Mattress

Whether you’re looking for an air mattress for overnight guests or for camping, here’s what to consider to find the right model. One of your first decisions? A single-height vs. double-height air mattress. 

A single height air mattress.

Single-Height

Many single-height air mattresses don’t come with pumps, just tubes you can blow into. They’re great for camping trips because they’re lightweight, portable, and easy to roll up. The drawback is that they’re not as supportive and may deflate quicker. If you’re buying one for houseguests, you might want a model with a built-in or accessory pump. 

A double height air mattress.

Double-Height

Double-height air mattresses mimic an actual mattress and feel much more substantial than a single-height air mattress. They are good as a guest bed, and they often come with an electric air pump that makes getting them inflated less of a chore. Many have a fuzzy vinyl surface that helps sheets stay in place.

Sheets or No Sheets?

In addition to a fuzzy surface that helps sheets stay put, some double-height models have a lip, or rib, on the side of the air mattress that helps a fitted sheet “hook” onto the mattress. For single-height air mattresses, you don’t need a lip because the height of the mattress is short enough for the ends of the fitted sheet to tuck under the corners.

Claimed Support Capacity

You’ll find how much weight an air mattress can hold listed on the packaging. Simmons, for example, claims the Beautyrest Hi Loft Raised queen-size air mattress can hold up to 700 pounds. Keep in mind that a higher claimed capacity doesn’t necessarily mean a mattress is higher in quality or more durable. Some of the better double-height mattresses in our tests had a similar claimed capacity to ones that scored much worse in our tests.

Storage

An annoying thing about air mattresses after you deflate them: They can become unwieldy, heavy tarps that are hard to fold and carry. But if you ball them up and shove them into a closet, you might damage them. When buying an air mattress, check and see whether it comes with a storage bag and whether the company gives instructions on how to fold it back up properly before storing. In our convenience test, we look to see if a storage bag is included. We also measure each folded air mattress to gauge how much closet space a model might need when not in use.

Do I Need An Air Pump?

Higher-priced air mattresses typically come with an electric pump. An electric pump is useful for speeding up inflation time, and it saves you the trouble of trying to find a pump or pump part to fit with your air mattress. (Not every air pump fits every mattress.) On the downside, pumps can make packing and storage more challenging. If you’re planning to go camping with an air mattress, you’re better off with a model that you can inflate by blowing through a tube.

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