Air mattresses are a great camping accessory for those who want to experience camping fun but aren’t keen on sleeping on the hard ground.
Keep in mind that air mattresses really do lose some air by themselves over time. Sometimes cold air contracts inside the mattress and makes it softer. However, air mattresses shouldn’t lose nearly all of its air in a matter of hours. If that happens, then you definitely have a leak.
Below are my own 5 simple steps on how to find a hole in an air mattress. You don’t need to discard and replace a pricey air mattress over a small hole or two. By following these steps, you can find the hole in the air mattress and repair it, at a minimal cost.
What You’ll Need:
- Your air mattress
- An air pump
- A large open space
- A tub large enough to accommodate the width of your mattress
- A nearby source of water
- A spray bottle
- Dishwasher soap (bleach-free)
- Tissue paper
- Any marking material (e.g. brightly-colored masking tape, black marker)
- A dry piece of absorbent cloth
- An air mattress repair kit; alternatively, a bicycle tire repair kit for small holes
Step 1: Inflate Your Mattress To Get The Leak Going
Remove any covers or beddings on the mattress.
Using your air pump, inflate your mattress to its maximum capacity. This will help force air out of the leak, which we need for the methods below for checking the air leak.
Be sure not to over-inflate it. Over-inflation could make your leak worse, or at worst, cause a rip in your air mattress.
While you pump air into the air mattress, pay special attention to the air valve. Most leaks in air mattresses come from faulty or damaged air valves.
Once you’re done pumping air, close the valve and take a few seconds to check the valve out. Listen for any hissing sound and feel around for any air currents. Finding the leak at this point will save you a lot of time and effort.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Throughout Steps 1 to 4, you may find the leak, and it may be a problem with the air valve itself. Unfortunately, air valves cannot be repaired at home, and at that point, you should contact your distributor or the manufacturer of your air mattress for repair or possible replacement.
If you find the hole this early in the process, mark it using a marker or brightly-colored masking tape so you can find it later, and skip straight to Step 5.
If you hear hissing or feel an air current but still can’t pinpoint the exact location of the leak, use the methods below and narrow your search area to the valve portion.
Step 2: Checking For The Leak Part 1 – The Dry Tissue Method
Assuming you haven’t yet found the leak by now, stand your air mattress such that you can see and touch most of the surface. Place a piece of tissue in your hand, as if to wipe a tear away. Then run your hand over the surface of the air mattress in a systematic manner.
Start from the air valve and pay close attention to the seam areas, as these are the more common areas for leaks. Make sure to cover the entire surface of the air mattress
When you pass your hand over the leak, one of three things will happen. First, you might feel the leak with your hand. Second, the air pushing against the tissue will make a louder, hissing sound. Finally, if the air current is strong enough, the air will push the tissue away from the mattress. Keep a look-out for these telltale signs.
Once you find the leak, mark it with a marker or masking tape, then proceed to Step 5. Otherwise, continue to the next steps below.
Step 3: Checking For The Leak Part 2 – The Soapy Water Method
NOTE: Do NOT use this method if your air mattress has a plush or pillow top, as this may ruin that part of your air mattress!
If you haven’t yet found the leak, or you know its general location but can’t find the exact spot, use this method.
First, place water and dishwashing soap into a spray bottle.
Second, spray the mixture onto the air mattress, making sure to cover all surfaces.
Third, check for any large bubbles that may start to form. Bubbles will indicate where the leak is.
From my experience, you will find nearly all air mattress leaks from this step. Once you find the hole, wipe the soapy solution off and dry the spot with the piece of cloth, then mark it accordingly. You can now move on to Step 5.
However, if by some chance you cannot find it, or if you cannot use this method due to the type of air mattress you have, then proceed to the next step.
Step 4: Checking For The Leak Part 3 – The Underwater Method
This method serves two purposes. First, it gives you an opportunity to pinpoint the location of the leak if you haven’t already found it. Second, if you went through Step 3, this is a great way to wash the soapy solution off your mattress in preparation for Step 5.
First, fill your tub about halfway with water.
Second, slightly deflate your air mattress, such that you can reasonably submerge parts of it inside the tub. Alternatively, if your tub is large enough to submerge your entire mattress, then there’s no need to deflate it.
Third, place parts of your air mattress under the water. Any hole that is submerged will produce a stream of bubbles. If you needed to deflate your mattress for this step, you might need to apply a bit of pressure on the portion under water to force air out of the hole.
Once you find the stream of bubbles, take the mattress out of the water, making sure not to lose sight of where the hole is. Dry the area of the hole with the cloth, then mark the hole with your marker or masking tape.
Step 5: Patch Your Leak, Save Some Money
First, dry your air mattress thoroughly, especially if you performed Step 3 or 4. A wet surface can affect how well the adhesive of the repair patch binds to your mattress. A weak patch will result in another leak, wasting your time and effort. Dry your air mattress by hanging it out in the sun.
Second, once your air mattress is dry, deflate it completely. The air inside the mattress can seep into the adhesive as it cures. This will make the bond weak, making it likely that the patch will come off later on.
Third, use sandpaper to sand down the area where the hole is. This will help the adhesive form a strong bond with the surface of the air mattress. This is a must if the hole is in an area where there is felt material.
Fourth, prepare the repair patch. Some repair kits require you to cut a patch, so just make sure that you have at least a four-centimeter diameter to ensure the hole is adequately covered. For repair kits with pre-cut patches, find one with the appropriate size.
Fifth, follow the kit instructions for applying the adhesive and patch. Make sure to press down on the patch for several minutes to remove air bubbles. You can use a heavy book to weigh the patch down as the adhesive cures and bonds with the mattress material.
Congratulations! Your air mattress is now repaired!
Did you like my tips above? I use my air mattresses all the time for camping, and I’m always on the lookout for holes and leaks. I know those tips and steps saved me a lot of money in replacement air mattresses – and my air mattresses have the patches to prove it!
Do you have any of your own methods for repairing air mattresses? Post your DIY fixes in the comments below and share this article if you liked it!