How does a blow up mattress work?

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How does a blow up mattress work?
Blow-up beds are a popular choice for camping (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

A blow-up mattress is also known as an inflatable mattress or a blow-up bed. When deflated blow-up mattresses can be rolled or folded, which means that they can be easily moved and stored. Blow-up mattresses are normally available to buy in single, double, or king-size. Mattresses that are shaped to fit unusual spaces, such as the rear seating area of a car, are also available. Traditional blow-up beds are usually made of either latex or nylon, and have a valve that allows the bed to be either manually or mechanically inflated. More expensive models may come with a plug that allows electric inflation and deflation.

Inflating a blow-up mattress

Blow-up mattresses work in a similar way to a balloon or a bicycle tyre. They have a valve that enables the air to enter the bed, and when when have been filled with air the bed is firm enough to sleep on. In theory, an inflatable bed can be filled by blowing into the valve manually. However, this can be a lengthy job, so hand pumps or foot pumps are usually preferred. Pumps have a nozzle that attaches to the air-bed valve, and can fill several cubic meters per minute. When the mattress has reached the desired firmness, a plastic cap is pushed over the valve to prevent the air from escaping.

The principle of an electric inflatable bed is the same as a traditional model. The difference is that electric beds include a motor that enables swift inflation and deflation. When these beds are plugged into the wall they can be switched to "inflate" or "deflate," with a double bed typically taking around three minutes to become firm enough to sleep on.

Deflating a blow-up mattress

To deflate a traditional blow-up mattress simply remove the plastic valve cover and the air will gradually escape. Some valves have an internal cap that prevents accidental leakage of air, and these need to be squeezed to allow the air to leave. Pressing down firmly on an inflatable bed makes the air escape more quickly.

To deflate an electric mattress, turn the switch to "deflate" and turn the power button to the on position. The internal motor will suck the air from the bed in around five minutes.

Storing and caring for a blow-up mattress

Unlike air-sprung or foam mattresses, blow-up beds are vulnerable to punctures. Floors that are uneven or floorboards that have visible nails increase this risk. In the event of an accident, a traditional bicycle puncture repair kit can be used to safely cover the hole.

Air beds are designed with outdoor activities such as camping in mind. Therefore, most are made of materials that can be easily cleaned with warm soapy water. After washing a blow-up bed it is important to dry it thoroughly before storing it to prevent mildew from growing.

When deflated, blow-up beds can be rolled or folded into a convenient size for storage. It is important to store inflatable mattresses in a cool, dry place away from sharp objects.


Blow-up mattresses do not work well with non-fitted sheets, as these tend to slide off the mattress during the night. Sheets with elastic edges are preferable. In addition, if the mattress is being used outdoors its light weight means that it may blow away if the weather is windy. For this reason, small children should not use an inflatable mattress outdoors without adult supervision.

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