Waking up on a deflated air mattress?
You may have sprung a leak so learn how to find and fix a leak in your air mattress and sleep comfortably…
Even the tiniest tear can turn your comfy wilderness bed into a lifeless, uninviting lump.
You’ll inevitably run into this situation at some point, but don’t worry – most air mattress leaks can be fixed.
Let’s look at a few inexpensive methods to identify, locate, and patch air mattress leaks and set yourself up for a good night’s rest.
How Do You Find The Leak?
Unless you enjoy sifting through the entire mattress at the campsite like a wilderness Sherlock Holmes, it’s best to locate your leak when you get back home.
There are three effective ways to do this: the quiet method, the bathtub method, and the soap method.
The Quiet Method
Silence is golden for finding a leak in your mattress.
In a quiet area, blow up the bed to maximum capacity. Put pressure on different parts of the mattress and listen very carefully for a faint whistling noise.
Also, try lightly running your fingers up and down the seams of the mattress, as touch can be more reliable than hearing.
If you are lucky enough to locate the leak, CIRCLE IT with a permanent marker or pen.
Seriously, I’m the type of person that looks for their phone while I’m using the flashlight… on my phone. How am I supposed to remember exactly where there’s a needle-sized hole in a giant mattress?
The Bathtub Method
Perhaps the most reliable method of leak detection is by submerging your mattress or sleeping pad underwater.
Fill up your bathtub halfway and dip in the mattress one section at a time, applying pressure with your body.
As the water settles, you should be able to see a small stream of bubbles floating to the surface from the area of the leak.
Once you have found the defect in the mattress, mark it, but don’t stop submerging the mattress.
Often, there is more than one issue with these air mattresses, so continue doing this technique until you have identified all the weak points.
The Soap Method
If you don’t have a bathtub to dunk your air mattress, the’ soap method’ is the next best approach.
- Fill an old spray bottle with warm water, add 5-10 drops of liquid soap and shake well.
- Douse the entire mattress with your soapy mixture and wait a few minutes. If there is a leak, you should see either one large bubble forming or a caterpillar-like series of smaller bubbles.
- Again, mark the spot, clean with only water, and let dry.
For all of these methods, don’t neglect the intake valve. Defects tend to form around the pocket where the valve sets into the mattress.
Also, if the source of the leakage is the valve itself, it’s best to go shopping for a new air mattress.
How Do You Repair The Leak?
Finally, you’ve found and marked the elusive leak in your air mattress.
If you are up for a DIY task, you can repair your inflatable bed at home.
Preferred Repair: Patch Kit
Every inflatable mattress or camping sleeping pad should come with a repair kit – or one the company offers separately.
Most of the time, this includes a small tube of adhesive and a square of bedding material – typically plastic or just an adhesive sticker of plastic.
Almost every company has its repair method listed in its manual or online, but we’ll briefly detail the overall process.
- Ensure the air mattress is deflated and dry, or else the adhesive may not stick properly.
- Clean the area around the leak with isopropyl alcohol if available.
- If your repair kit doesn’t come with pre-made patches, cut a piece of provided fabric 1.5-2X bigger than the leak.
- For those beds with felt or any non-uniform fabric, use fine-grit sandpaper (150-220) to smooth out the surface before cleaning and patching the hole.
- For the sticky patches, stick it on the hole, add weight (such as books) and let sit for 2-3 hours. The same goes for the adhesive, but you will have to apply the sticky substance to the patch and the mattress to ensure a proper seal.
- Finally, after a few hours have passed, inflate your mattress to maximum potential and plead to the mattress gods that it holds tight.
It can be tricky to use fabric alone to cover the leak fully near the valve.
In these cases, use Seam Grip or a similar adhesive product and carefully spread around the area where the valve inserts into the mattress.
I suggest using an applicator – whether that’s a cotton swab or brush, rather than just squeezing the adhesive straight from the tube. Excessive or uneven application can put unnecessary strain on the valve.
Emergency Field Repair
If you are in the middle of the woods for a multi-day adventure, you may not have the convenience of heading home to fix your leaky air mattress.
First, do your best to identify all defects with the ‘quiet method’ and mark the leak with whatever is available.
I always pack a pressurized Fisher Space Pen since it writes on almost any surface.
Then, use an alcohol swab from your first aid kit to clean the area.
If you don’t have a patch kit available, your next best option is the always reliable camping accessory – duct tape!
If everything goes as planned, clear any debris from inside and underneath your tent, then reinflate the mattress.
Alternative Repair Methods
There are also several other non-traditional methods to repair your camping air mattress.
- If you have a bike tire patch kit, check if it comes with an adhesive patch. The thought process is that if it can withstand the roughness of the road, it can hold up to a simple air mattress leak.
- Cut out your own patch material from a shower or pool liner. Patch the leak using rubber cement, super glue, hot glue, gorilla glue, or any strong-bonding adhesive.
- Since many leaks come from the seams, you can reinforce these weak points by running hot glue along them. Be careful that the hot glue gun doesn’t come in contact with the plastic, as it may melt, causing a whole new headache.
- If nothing else is available, cut a patch out of a t-shirt and glue it over the leak. This method is temporary, but it may give you enough cushion to sleep comfortably through the night.
What Caused The Leak?
Once you repair the leak, it’s important to do a quick investigation into the root cause of the issue.
Did you wake up with less pressure than you had before you went to sleep? That may not necessarily indicate a leak.
Perhaps the warm air inside the mattress compressed after cooling down to the ambient air temperature.
This often occurs when you blow up the mattress with your mouth rather than a pump.
Science, right? I think I owe my high school chemistry teacher an apology. I told him I would never use this in real life!
On the other hand, you may have woken on a completely limp rubber sheet.
Did one of the seams come undone, or could there be a pinhole leak somewhere?
If you’re in the outdoors, it’s easy for pine needles, sticks, or sharp rocks to poke through the tent floor, puncturing your mattress.
To avoid future issues, be sure to sweep your campsite before pitching the tent. Oh, and get a thicker footprint to save the floor of your shelter.
Either way, it’s time to investigate.
Wrapping It Up…
Don’t let a deflated air mattress flatten your thrill for adventure.
Figure out why your blow-up bed is leaking, identify the leak’s location, and then perform a simple DIY repair.
It’s a relatively easy fix and you’ll save money instead of buying a new mattress.