Urethane Blog

History of the Water Bed

June 4, 2020

Taylor Galla
a bird sitting on top of a body of water: Waterbed-Featured-Image
© Shutterstock Waterbed-Featured-Image


Hey world, we’ve got a question.

Do they still make waterbeds?

What happened to this seemingly ingenious sleep aid, the mattress designed to help sleepers drift away to the rhythmic movements of water every night? Did they just disappear?

Waterbeds have always been fascinating, especially for those of us who came after their prime and have always wondered why their immense popularity didn’t seem to last. Were the potential negative consequences of a leak just too dire to bear anymore? Was the sleep not as restful as advertised? And how exactly are they made?

As you can tell, we have a lot of questions about these plastic mattresses filled with water, so we decided to get some answers. Let’s explore this neglected corner of sleep society.

What Happened to Waterbeds? The History of the Water Mattress

In order to understand the story of waterbeds and their history, we decided to consult a true expert. Bill Fish is the CEO of the Sleep Foundation, an organization dedicated to all things sleep and helping people find more of it. He’s also a certified sleep coach and helps nearly two million people per month to improve their sleep routines through his website.

Those are impressive credentials, but he also graduated from high school whilst sleeping on a queen-sized waterbed and was eager to discuss this sleep phenomenon with us.

According to Bill, waterbeds were “all the rage in the late 1970s, peaking in the mid-1980s, where at one point 22% of all bedding purchases were waterbeds.”

The waterbed was invented in the late 1960s as a master’s thesis project at San Francisco State University. The creator, Charles Hall, still sleeps on one every night despite his creation’s decline in popularity, and he believes they’re still the most comfortable bed.

Here’s a look at a vintage waterbed commercial in all its 1970s glory:

Water mattresses rose to immense popularity, becoming a $2-billion-a-year industry in 1989, but demand declined throughout the 1990s. By 2013, waterbeds laid claim to less than 5 percent of the mattress industry. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

And they are mighty alright — a full-size waterbed at full liquid capacity weighs 1,600 pounds. This makes them very difficult to move, a major factor in their ultimate decline in popularity.

Now, waterbeds are rare, and most young people don’t know anyone who’s purchased one. According to Bill, the reasons behind waterbeds’ withdrawal from popular society is a bit more complicated than you would think.

“In the 1990s, the technology in mattresses began to improve. With companies such as Tempurpedic changing the game a bit utilizing memory foam, as well as other components to get away from the firm innerspring beds of the prior 40 years.”

“At the same time, people were finally coming to the realization that waterbeds were quite a bit of work. A waterbed is extremely heavy, and moving it even a bit would require the entire bed to be drained. The bed frames are also extremely heavy due to the support needed for the actual bed.”

“Draining the bed would require a hose, as well as a pump, one misstep and you are looking at a mini flood. Waterbeds also had a tendency to leak all too frequently. It got to the point where many landlords wouldn’t even allow a waterbed inside of their buildings.”

All of this became too difficult to deal with for consumers, and the allure of drifting off to the soothing ripples of aquatic bliss was outweighed by the hassle of moving them, filling them, draining them and praying for no leaks. In fact, your own apartment lease might forbid waterbeds. My own lease agreement stipulates that no “water-filled furniture” is allowed on the premises.

And with low-cost memory foam and bed-in-a-box mattresses

Do They Still Make Waterbeds?

Yes, it turns out there are still some sleep manufacturers producing and selling waterbeds. They’re not nearly as popular or common as they were in their hay day, but they’ve still got a presence. The best waterbeds will cost you about $1,500, which is one more reason they struggle to survive in the era of cheap Casper mattresses.

Keep reading to find out where you can still buy waterbeds.