How to fix a leak in an air mattress

An air bed or self-inflating sleeping pad adds comfort when camping--until it doesn’t. With some basic preparation, keep your camping mattress comfortable and trouble-free. The procedure to test the mattress for leaks and repair it if there’s a hole is quick and inexpensive. Testing the mattress before leaving can save disappointment when you set up camp. Learn the precautions to take to prevent leaks and the gear to pack to make sure you can repair the air bed in case you do hear the snake-hiss of your mattress deflating during the night.

Locate the leak. Check with your hands, squeezing along the mattress to feel the leaking air on your skin. Put your head close to the mattress and listen as you squeeze. You may hear the escaping hair hissing out of the puncture. Sometimes, if the leak is pinhole in size, it’s difficult to locate.

Check the air valve--the opening where you inflate the air bed. Sometimes the valve itself is the source of the leak. Push down on the mattress and listen to the valve to hear whether it's releasing air.

Dunk the mattress in water to locate the leak, if needed. Squeeze the mattress under water and watch for air bubbles. Use a bathtub or other large container if available. Otherwise, dip a few inches of the mattress at a time into the largest pot or container you have. Mark the location of the leak so you can find it easily to patch it.

Dry the mattress. Towel-dry the air bed to make it dry faster, if desired. Don't put it near open fire or expose it to high heat.

Apply the patch according to the package directions. Usually this involves cutting a patch larger than the leak, putting a small amount of glue around the leak and pressing the patch firmly in place. Allow the patch to dry completely.

Patch a valve-leak using the same technique as in Step 5. Apply the rubber cement or other adhesive and cut a patch to fit around the valve stem or at its base, depending on the leak. If the leak is at the base of the valve stem, cut a doughnut-shaped patch to fit over the stem. Make it at least a half inch in diameter larger than needed to cover the hole.

Add air to the air bed. Avoid overinflating because that causes extra stress on the air bed.


Pack the air bed repair kit in an outer pocket of your pack where you can get to it easily. This saves you from digging to the bottom of your pack with a flashlight in the middle of the night. Clear rocks and debris from your campsite before setting up. Always use a ground cloth under the air bed to help prevent punctures. Keep the air bed away from sharp objects such as jewellery, knives, wire and cooking forks. Store your air bed in a dry location and protect it from temperature extremes. Heat and cold can cause the air bed to degrade.


Keep adhesive products out of reach of children and away from fire sources, including matches and lighters.

Things You'll Need

  • Air bed repair kit, also called a patch kit, from a camping supply store
  • Rubber cement and rubber patches
  • Scissors or utility knife
  • Large waterproof container (if needed)
  • Water (if needed)
  • Black felt-tip marking pen--or any kind of pen to mark the puncture (if needed)
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About the Author

Gryphon Adams began publishing in 1985. He contributed to the "San Francisco Chronicle" and "Dark Voices." Adams writes about a variety of topics, including teaching, floral design, landscaping and home furnishings. Adams is a certified health educator and a massage practitioner. He received his Master of Fine Arts at San Francisco State University.