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 45 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.

[cta-title]Let’s talk. We’re listening.[/cta-title][cta-desc]Have you ever had a waterbed? Do you still? Check out our waterbed parts.[/cta-desc]

22 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

  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 🙂

  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.

    • nick says:

      Hello Jay,

      We still carry waterbeds, if you are looking for anything related to them. Also, all our mattresses are two-sided mattresses. A firming pad may help you with the problem of one side being less firm when your partner is absent.

    • 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.

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