Finding a leak in an air mattress bed can be a walk in the park. It can also be a nightmare. Which side of the fence your particular leak lands on is a matter of both size (of the bed) and location of the leak.
This guide will help you find leaks in air mattress beds but you’ll need to determine for yourself if the hunt is worth the effort or if you are better off simply replacing the mattress.
Our next section covering how to repair an air mattress bed will further help you make that decision but let’s get finding a leak in an air bed out of the way first. We’ll start with the simple stuff and work our way up from there.
1. Listen for the Leak
Large leaks in any size air mattress can sometimes be found simply by listening for the leak. To make it easier, turn off any noise-producing items in the room before beginning. For this method (and all methods mentioned in this guide) you should try to fill the bed completely but NEVER try to overfill it with an air compressor or pump lest you inadvertently burst the seams or expand the hole already in the bed.
After you’ve filled the air bed mattress with air, remove all bedding and blankets and then lie still on the bed and listen. If you vaguely identify the location, move your head closer to that area and lie still again, repeating the process until you are close enough to pin-point (pardon the pun) the leak.
If you know you are close but can’t seem to lock in on the precise location of the leak, run the back of your hand or your inner forearm above the area you think it might be. These parts of your body are particularly sensitive and you may be able to feel what you can’t quite see. Once found, you should mark the leak with a Sharpie (not sharp) or other brand permanent marker for later patching.
2. The Bathtub Method
If the listen method doesn’t work you’ll have to get more involved in your puncture-location efforts. For smaller air beds such as camping air mattresses, twin-size guest air mattress beds and reasonably small self-inflating air beds such as the 40010 AeroBed for Kids, your bath tub is your best friend.
First fill the tub with water. As before, fill the air bed completely with air without over filling. Next, begin submerging one section of the bed at a time in water. As you do, look for air bubbles. As soon as you see them, you’ve found your leak.
Remove the air mattress from the bathtub (making sure not to lose sight of the leak) dry off the area with the leak and mark the puncture with a permanent marker so you can find it later for repair.
Despite the annoyance of having to fill a tub and dry your air mattress, this is probably the most precise methods for finding a leak even if the leak is in the seams of the bed.
3. Liquid Soap Spray Way
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a swimming pool, the submergence method mentioned previously isn’t really an option for finding leaks in large adjustable air mattresses. The end result is the same, and that’s the production of bubbles at the site of the leak.
First, fill a spray bottle with water and liquid soap or mild detergent. You want a very soapy mixture for this method. Also have a towel handy. As before, remove any bedding and fill the air mattress with air. Starting at one corner of the bed, spray the soapy water mixture in a moderate area. You don’t want to go too small or you’ll be at it all day and you don’t want to cover too much of an area or you might wind up getting soap water all over.
Observe the area you’ve sprayed with the soapy water mixture. If there’s a leak in the area, bubbles will form.
Sitting on the bed may also help force air from a leak and make it more readily apparent. If you don’t see any bubbles, wipe the area dry and move on to another section of the bed. It’s best to work in a grid pattern, spraying a one or two foot square section at a time, observing, drying and moving on.
Once you’ve done the entire surface of the mattress and assuming you’ve found no leaks, flip the air bed over and start again on the other side. If no luck there, flip the mattress on its side and repeat over each side of the air bed until you see bubbles. Once found, dry the area and mark it with a permanent marker so you can find the spot later for repair.
The drawback to the last method mentioned is that leaks in seams or in the bed valve can be difficult to detect by this method. Listening for them or submerging the mattress in water will work best for seam and valve leak detection.
The three methods mentioned above are your bread and butter air mattress leak detection methods, but there are other suggestions out there as well. Some of them are bad ideas, some aren’t. I’ll mention them here and give you my thoughts.
4. Soapy Sponge Wipe
A variation on the soap-spray method above is to use a soapy sponge to wipe sections of the bed and look for bubbles. While this method can work just fine, you’ll probably want to keep a bucket of soapy water handy as you’ll need to refill the sponge frequently.
Either the spray bottle or sponge method work equally well.
The Spray bottle is just “greener” in that you use less water (by not having to fill a bucket). Of course, it does mean another plastic bottle in our landfills someday but, heck, you have a vinyl air mattress bed. You’re already in the hole where Mother Nature is concerned.
5. The hose knows!
A variation on the submerging method is to lay your air mattress on the ground (preferably on a tarp to protect it from anything sharp) and to run water over it from a hose.
As with the submerging method, you are looking for bubbles in the water at the point of the leak. This can be a very effective alternative to submerging the mattress in a tub (if it’s too large). Keep in mind that the bubbles won’t be as easy to see as the layer of water covering the leak with be fairly thin and it will also be in motion.
Use a gentle stream so you aren’t washing away the bubbles the instant they appear and, therefore, missing them entirely. Also move slowly as it may take time for the bubble to generate. You’re trying to “flood” the mattress surface rather than “wash” the mattress surface.
6. Smoke it Out
I’ve seen the suggestion to use incense or cigarette smoke to find leaks in air mattress beds.
Though the concept does make the sound assumption that escaping air will cause the smoke to move, you can wind up chasing ghosts for much of your search with this method. Houses have drafts. Heck, you’re one of them as you exhale in frustration over your inability to find the annoying leak. But, with patience, this method can work.
For best results, set the bed on edge and hold the cigarette or incense down at the bottom so the smoke rises along the flat surface of the bed. The biggest concern I have with using smoke from cigarettes or incense to find leaks is that a hot ash or ember from the source of the smoke could fall on the bed and create a whole new leak to deal with.
Use this method as a last resort and use it with caution.
7. Wet Spot
Some suggest filling the air mattress with a cup or two of water, then air, then rotating the mattress around and looking for the wet spot. The suggestion is as simple as that but the addition of a sheet on the bed will help to very rapidly pinpoint the leak as water seeps out onto the fabric.
While technically sound, I do not recommend this leak detection method. Many air beds are manufactured with anti-fungal impregnated materials. This stuff works reasonably well for the slight moisture introduced by your lungs or the humid air that may be introduced by your pump. Full flooding with water is another matter entirely and you’ll find it virtually impossible to empty all the water from the bed after you’ve tried this method.
There’s a very legitimate health concern here.
Assume you do fill your bed with water, find the leak, empty the bed and patch the leak. You then inflate the mattress and go about your life. Months down the road you find yourself having to deflate the mattress again for a move or something. Unbeknownst to you, the residual water left behind after your leak hunt has pooled and served as a watering hole for a host of bacteria and mold, all thriving in that warm, dark, humid paradise you provided them. You pop the valve on your bed to deflate it and, in a rush of air, out come a veritable army of microscopic things that can really make you sick (or at least nauseous from the smell). Now you can see why I’m not a fan of the water filling method.
In the end, finding leaks in air mattress beds, everyday use, guest or an air bed for camping, can go from simple to tedious fairly quickly. That’s particularly the case with larger air mattresses. The worst part is that some leaks are simply impractical or impossible to fix. Leaks in the seams of your air bed are the most challenging to fix and may never fully patch. A leak in the valve, which is almost impossible to find without submerging it in water, is almost always impossible to fix.
Going through the effort of finding a leak in an air bed just to discover there’s nothing you can do to fix it can be supremely frustrating.
Oh, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Keep kitty off your air mattress or place a very thick mattress pad on top. CERTAINLY don’t let your hedgehog run wild on your air bed!