Why Waterbeds Are No Longer Popular

Ocean waves with moody sky

When I started in the waterbed business at the end of 1970, I thought we were going to change the world with our products.

The future looked bright and the popularity of waterbeds was on an upswing.

[long, pregnant pause]

How many people do YOU know who still sleep on a waterbed today?

Certainly, waterbeds have died out as a major mattress category, so it would be easy to say that they failed. Or maybe they were just a fad. As I look back from my 47 years hence vantage point, I’d argue that this isn’t true. In fact, I’d propose that waterbeds were phenomenally successful, winning the battle but unfortunately losing the war.

Think back to the 1970s (if your memory or your birthday goes that far back).

If you went to buy a mattress in the 70s, your choice of densities were firm or firmer. Mattresses were, of course, two sided, as they always had been since the earliest days of mattresses. They had a heavy duty coil spring system and minimal padding. Padding consisted of a compressed fiber pad, usually made of cotton (similar to a thick carpet pad), sheathed in a thin quilted cover. The whole mattress was 7 to 8″ thick.

Doctors of the 1970s (chiropractors had not hit the scene yet) recommended a firm mattress for back support. If you could sleep on the floor, that was the best thing for posture and support, they said.

Waterbeds broke all the rules. And people loved them.

Waterbeds were the diametrical opposite of the very firm mattresses doctors had been recommending for years for back relief.

Here’s how waterbeds work:

Water supports the body evenly due to the natural laws of hydraulics, pushing back with equal force to the force of the person’s body when lying down. Sleeping on a waterbed leaves you delightfully free of pressure points — you only experience conforming, enveloping support. So many benefits from a mattress that costs very little and lasts a very long time.

Bonus to the economy: in those days, a waterbed business was something that a young person with barely two nickels to rub together could start, feel good about, and feel they were saving consumers from some hard-as-a-rock torture rack known as the innerspring mattress. What better business to start could there be?

So if waterbeds were so wonderful, what happened to sales?

Truth be told, the waterbed people — many of them hippie, non-business types — were stupid. (Don’t get me wrong. We like hippies, but the waterbed industry hippies were apparently not in the right frame of mind to make good business decisions.) The public bought in to the idea of “flotation sleep” and often put up with inconvenience and sometimes poor quality, all to get that warm, wonderful sleep provided by natural water.

Over the industry’s 20-year heyday, consumers purchased between 25 and 30 million waterbeds. This surge in sales did not go unnoticed by the spring coil bed industry. While some of the “spring bed” manufacturers did add some waterbed-type beds to their lines, most did not. Instead, unlike the stupid waterbed people, the spring coil bed makers were smart.

Cheap waterbeds for everybody

Waterbed retailers tried to see how cheap they could sell their products. At the final showdown, waterbeds were available just about everywhere for $99 for any sized bed.

Now the spring bed folks, seeing the success of plush, conforming sleep surfaces, started making plush, even pillow top and Euro top mattresses, offering them to consumers for the unheard of prices of $1000 and more. All this at a time when those “firm,” thin mattresses (you know, the original types of mattresses) were selling from $200 to $400. I told you they were smart!

And thus the popularity of waterbeds waned, slumped, and slid out of the industry. But their influence can still be felt in the mattress industry today — literally.

Today, if you go shopping for a mattress, you can hardly find a truly firm model – everything is plush and thick. Even the “firm” mattresses are cushion firm or plush firm. We’re now in the era of the big, thick, fluffy mattress — at least if you’re shopping the mainstream lines.

So while it may be true that waterbeds are dead and gone, the legacy of the waterbed era is evident in the choices you find in mattress stores today. And for those customers who love their waterbed more than anything and refuse to give it up — good for you! You’ll find that we still stock waterbed mattresses and parts.

71 thoughts on “Why Waterbeds Are No Longer Popular

  1. Pat Morton says:

    My husband loves his waterbed but now has back problems and wonders if bed his right for him now. Any comments for or against waterbed and back conditions?

    • Blake Garfield says:

      Everyone is different. Waterbeds are perfect for some, and less so for others. If he is having issues, I’d try something different for a while. If there’s another bed in the house, I’d give it a go. If he is having pain, it doesn’t mean the mattress is the problem; though it might be. If there is no other bed, if you leave town and spend the night on something different and he experiences improvement, it would suggest that the mattress is the issue.

      • Alesha says:

        My father in law has a bad back and can only sleep on a water bed regular mattresses the next morning he can’t sleep…. He says getting the temp of the water is key to what relaxes your muscles

    • sharon says:

      I have had a fusion on my lower back and I sleep on a full motion mattress. It actually is the only mattress that I can sleep on that makes my back feel better

    • Ray says:

      check the water level it may be low and you may need to add some Take a piece of string across the bed and you will see if the bed does not touch the string add water till it does

    • Rich says:

      I took a round in the spine in 1987 eliminating t-12 and L-1 At that time a waterbed was the only bed recommended to Me because of the pressure issues. I still have the same bed today.The combination of heat and pressure relief made it in those days the only option.Trouble I have now is 5 years ago I broke My neck and had 3 & 4 fused and just had 5 and 6 done this past march.The pain in My shoulders and neck in the morning is unbearable I have tried filling letting water out and so far no avail! I know I have not changed the matress in over probably 15 years! I have a new mattress in the box in the garage I purchased IDK 6 or so years ago! I am thinking, or wondering if the old one I am on has broken down? And if I should change to the new one or just say to heck with it and go get a sleep number or intella bed Ect….?????

      • Micah says:

        Waterbeds, that have not leaked are generally not broken down. However, if there is a foam top above the vinyl, then that can break down. If you’ve got foam on the top, then I would open up the one you have in the garage.
        The Sleep Number Bed is a recipe for disaster when you’ve had pressure and spine issues. Air beds are either a lack of support, because they are not filled enough, or a pressure point issue if they have been pumped up enough to keep you from sinking down in. Waterbeds work because your body is essentially the same density as the mattress. The Intellibed will give you the same problems as the Sleep Number.
        If you’re looking for a good long term solution that is not a waterbed (and your issue is not collapsed foam on top), then I would encourage you to consider a med/soft, two-sided latex mattress like our Woodlawn Plush or Firm.

    • Karen M says:

      I love my waterbed more than anything, and would never willingly give it up.

      Waterbeds get a bad rap, because lots of people unfairly blame them for back issues, when there are several adjustments you can make, to relieve those issues.

      Potential issues that might cause him discomfort are:

      * If your mattress water level is too low (or too full), that could be a factor.
      * If he’s sleeping face down, that could be an issue, too, especially if he uses a fluffy pillow.
      * The temp could be too low, causing him to not relax, as would be normal, if he was warm enough.

      I have a free flow, comfortably filled mattress, set to a nice warm temp, and I sleep like a baby every night, despite arthritis pain and a dislocated shoulder. It HELPS my pain – not causes it. The lack of pressure points from the full body support allow me to get comfy, and never move again, all night long.

      If he’s in pain, something is wrong. Try adjusting the fill level (too full = hard bed, and too low = bottoming out), and raise the temp a degree or two, to see if that helps. (Don’t do wild swings on the temp, just one degree, wait a day or 2, then another degree, etc, til you hit the sweet spot.)

      I’m not saying I’m an expert, but I’ve slept on waterbeds since 1979, and I’d never go back to a hard bed again. Adjusted properly, these things are the best sleep you’ll ever have, and the pain relief is a blessing to me, every single night.

    • CBKitten says:

      It’s probably not the waterbed causing the distress. I would recommend a “Teeter Hanger” to reverse gravity and allow the spine to align better. Just relax while you’re hanging there and don’t get off too quickly until you get used to it.

    • Bill says:

      We just replaced our King sized waterbed we bought in the erly 80s last year and I have back problems…. the solution is to let water out or put more in.

  2. Patricia Lufrano says:

    I have been sleeping on a waterbed since I was 19… I am 63 and still sleeping on one!! Bought the last one about 7 years ago. Getting a little distressed thinking I won’t be able to find another one! I will never give them up! So great for my back … The best 🙂

        • Matt says:

          Hi Jessica! We have them but not listed on our website since they are not on display or a popular type these days. I would suggest giving our store a call and speaking with Drew who is the sales manager @ (206) 633-4494. He can help you find either replacement parts or complete waterbed. Thanks for reaching out!

  3. Alyssa Manning says:

    I used to have a waterbed a long time ago and I thought it was really comfortable and awesome too.i still think the waterbeds are pretty nice too.

  4. Jacqueline A O'Shea says:

    My husband and I had a waterbed for 20 some years. Not sure why we got rid of it we loved it we really want to get another one. I hope to get one some day. My bank has never been the same.

  5. Elizabeth M Pugh says:

    My husband n I both had waterbeds when we were young We love them. We are married n now we want another one.. hoping our dreams come true!!!

  6. Karen Angela Stanley says:

    Can you still purchase a waterbed?? I had one for years and I couldn’t put it in my room at a place I had to rent for a while and now I Really, Really want another one. Full motion, California King, oh yeah!! Do you sell waterbeds????

    • Drew Garfield says:

      Hi Karen,

      We sell waterbed components almost every day. We sell the bladders, with or without baffles, liners, heaters and conditioner. The only component we don’t sell is the wooden framework itself. Let us know if you need any waterbed supplies!

      Thanks,

      Drew
      Bedrooms & More

  7. Lars says:

    I just set up a California King waterbed last night I got off Craigslist for $80. I had to drive 2 hours each way, but it was worth it! Last night was the best sleep I’ve had in years!

    • deb says:

      woo hoo!!!! lucky you!!!!
      I love mine, its 26 year old cannonball style cal king, Its a bit shakey but we are gonna tighten her up and get her a new strobel mattress
      We had to dismantle due to a fire but I cant wait to see her again

  8. Cindy says:

    I’ve had my waterbed for over 27 years with one mattress replacement. Just try to get that many years out of a regular mattress! Both of my kids had waterbeds and recently went to regular mattresses only because my daughter is renting and my son outgrew his super single. I bought the mattresses for them and paid big bucks! They didn’t last 2 years. Both are complete garbage! My son is sleeping on his sister’s old (15 years) waterbed and my daughter is sleeping on her couch. Waterbeds need another chance to come back to life!

  9. jay says:

    I have had 2 waterbeds in 35 years. both waveless soft side. regular sheets. never had a problem. only issue is that if my partner isn’t there the bed is a little soft. maybe I need a double sided if they still make? in our second home we have a traditional mattress, and when i sleep there more than 2 nights my back is killing me. the heat and the gentle massage (even from a waveless) isn’t comparable. I would like to be able to raise the head these days, thinking of trying an air bed, but I hesitate at the $5000 cost.

    • Matt says:

      You would have to have a soft-sided style waterbed because a hard-sided waterbed is a specific build for the bed frame that will hold the bladder inside. I would recommend the Boyd Essex for your needs. Give us a call for more information about your soft-sided waterbed options.

  10. karen faith says:

    I’m one of those hippies who bought a waterbed 24 years ago and I’m still sleeping on it. It was a fancy one at the time, California king with 2 bags in a cover that looks like a regular mattress and baffles inside the bags so it doesn’t have constant movement. Truly for many years, i loved this ved! But the past couple of years, it has been hurting me. It doesn’t feel that comfortable anymore. Is it the age of the bed? Or us it my aging body? I have been craving a regular mattress. Am i nuts?

    • Matt says:

      Hi Karen, We started with Waterbed Mattresses in 1972 and in the 80s we started carrying rubber tree latex. Many of our clients who loved their Waterbeds in the past have moved to tree rubber latex mattresses because of it’s similar ability to offer body contouring and has a reduced motion transfer. If needing a comfortable bed makes you nuts then so are we! 🙂

  11. David Black says:

    Wpyld love to get a catalog of waterbeds and aupplies for them. I want to getcback to a waterbed soon. Was always my best sleep

  12. Michael says:

    We have had waterbeds for almost 36 years. Started with a full motion and had moved to a wave-less. I have slept great but my wife thinks it’s either too firm or too soft for her. We added a 3″topper which helped. But, due to my negligence, a pin has made several small holes in the bladder. This has my wife wanting to look at either a SleepNumber or an Amerisleep mattress. We’ve shopped Sleepnumber and they have some great claims. I’m not sure I believe them all, though. I would return to a wave-less waterbed in a heart beat if I could convince my wife. The positives I see are support for my back and sides, nice warm bed in the winter, no chance of bed bugs, a (in my opinion) very little maintenance.

    Can a latex or hybrid bed ever be as body supporting as the waterbed? Beds today are so darn expensive for a premium model and latex beds are crazy prices. I can buy a Cal King water bed for around 500 or 600 and have a bed that lasts longer than any standard, foam, or latex bed. Bed warranties are poor. Amerisleep does have a 10 year full replacement, SleepNumber has a crappy 25 year warranty, but only the first two years is 100% after that it’s 20% plus 4% times the number of years you have had it and it doesn’t cover everything.

    Never had to worry about sagging or mechanical failures of my waterbed, just have to watch out for sharp objects. I think I just talked myself back into a waterbed.

  13. Ray says:

    My wife & I still have a water bed it’s been over 20+years. I’m 64 my is wife is 60 year old & we still love our water bed less back problems , nice and warm & a good night sleep. When we are on vacation & sleeping on those hard bed in the hotels I have ask for a water bed, sometimes we get one . But can’t wait to get back home & relax in our water bed. Right now we are in the market for a new water bed to upgrade. They hard to fine. We are sure someone out there still sales them . We seen them on the internet. But we like to see them for ourselves first. If any one still has one welcome to the club.

  14. Kathy Holder says:

    I have been sleeping on the sand waterbed for approximately 35 years now wouldn’t sleep on anything else but now in need of a heater do you have them

    • anthony says:

      Hello,

      We do have waterbed heaters but there are to different heaters. The one I suspect you will be needing is a Solid State heater which we sell for 89.95. If your waterbed is about 7″-9″ deep this would be the one you are looking for. If your waterbed is only about 4″ deep you would want to go with a low watt heater.

  15. Vicki Dougan says:

    Yes, I believe waterbeds were a fad, but I think it is time for the fad to return. Almost everything returns in about 30-40 years. I would buy a waterbed now if they were accessible. I had a waterbed in the 70’s and 80’s. I love them. They were the only beds that I have ever been comfortable on. People born between 1985 and now have no knowledge of the benefits of a waterbed or even know anything about one. I think they should be introduced to the young adults of today. I bet the “Fad” will return. I wish I had the money to start a store. I would do it. Also, I still use my waterbed furniture. There is nothing like them. They are more solid, good looking and bold. I actually am looking for an amoire like the one I still have to use in another bedroom.

    • Micah Robinson says:

      Our vendors are Pleasant Rest and Boyd Flotation. Unfortunately we do not have a catalog on hand, but you could call our store and a sales associate would be able to help you. That number is (206) 633-4494 and we are open 9am – 8pm PST Mon-Fri, 9am – 7pm PST Sat, and 10am – 6pm PST on Sunday.

  16. Lisa says:

    I threw my waterbed out over 20 years ago and have regretted it every day since I’ve gone through 7 or 8 of those ridiculous mattresses I don’t know why I ever let my waterbed go. I just got one on Kijiji I’m back in a waterbed!!! I will never give it up again!!! Mattress pad was difficult to find for someone living in Canad; but I had success today so I’m happier than a girl on a waterbed!!!
    I’m so happy to be back in a waterbed I almost feel like opening a waterbed store

  17. Chris says:

    Y’all are gonna think I’m nuts, but I’m building a retro van. Do you carry a waterbed that’d fit this application?

    • Micah says:

      We can! You’d want it to be thin (so it doesn’t end up too heavy for the suspension). Dimensions of the space you build would be necessary. You might consider setting it up as a tube-style waterbed, for easy set up and draining. In addition, with the tube-style you would able to avoid the expense of a custom size.

  18. Ginny Giberson says:

    I had a waterbed for years, I loved it. Unfortunately my husband strongly disagreed. I had to make a choice, 25 years later after divorce I know I made the wrong choice. Arthritis has set in comfortable in me and after a night of moving a heating pad all over my body. I want my long lost love……My Waterbed back. Honestly I don’t even know if this is even a possibility. I came across this, so I’d like to put my question to you. Can I have my waterbed again?
    Hopefully,
    Ginny Giberson

    ginny.giberson@yahoo.com

  19. Galen Young says:

    We bought a $99 Cal-King waterbed in 1985, and we are still sleeping on it. We brought it with us through seven homes. 33 years later it is still the best bed I have slept on.

  20. Laurie says:

    I think the REAL reason waterbeds went out was because they were netorious for leaks, to hard to fill and drain, and lanlords would not allow them in apartments because of the possibility of water damage! Plain and simple!

  21. danny says:

    Best sleep I ever got. I would still have mine if I didn’t get married because mine was motionless and I loved it. My wife wouldn’t sleep on it so I decided to give it to my sister. I wish I had another like it.

  22. DARREN says:

    I still love my waterbed, and they are not gone!! They are easily purchased on-line, and we also have a local supplier where I live.

  23. Gail says:

    I still sleep on my waterbed – have since 1974! Current matress is over 14 yes old and, my Siamese cat decided to use a corner as a chew toy. Had that fixed with lots of duct tape; reinforced several times. Today while changing linen, discovered the tape is starting to feel damp. I cannot reinforced it any longer… I NEED A NEW MATRESS and quickly!

  24. SUSAN J BREUNIG-WALKER says:

    don’t buy an air bed we bought a very expense one and it sucks I now sleep on recliner and wish I had my water bed again

  25. CBKitten says:

    I still have a waterbed (or 2), I even had a tubed one on my semi when I drove truck ‘cross country. It weighed about the size of a co-driver.
    Not all hippies are dead and gone. Also, I have not had to waste any money for my entire life by not spending any money on underwear. It was only a few years ago that I found out this was called “commando” or something of the like. I’ve been doing this all my life!

  26. Cexiivirgo says:

    Love my waterbed. It’s a unique shape. 10 sided custom built.. Had a waterbed for over 15 years. However, just recently upgraded to the new one.

  27. Cilly Honey says:

    I slept on a waterbed from ’88 to ’94 and it was the best sleep of my life. I only stopped sleeping on one because I moved to an apartment and waterbeds weren’t allowed because of their weight. Well I don’t live in an apartment anymore and I am now shopping for a waterbed. My only regret is there are no showrooms near me for me to go try them out before buying. There are now soft sided and air sided waterbeds and I have no idea what they are like. I wish waterbeds would make a comeback.

  28. D L Morga says:

    I absolutely loved/love the waterbed. We recently put ours back up. No pressure points, sleep without tossing and turning, warm in the colder months and cool in the warmer months!
    Purchased a top of the line pillow top mattress set and can not stand it, I’m constantly turning and shifting.
    Went 11 years sleeping on a conventional mattress – no more – bought a new bladder, heater and set it back up and do not see taking it down ever again!

  29. Curly says:

    I had a small waterbed back in my younger days. I got a bigger, new one when I got married. Since then, I’ve been with the same wife and waterbed for over 40 years. I love them both.

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