How to Find a Leak in an Air Mattress (and Fix It)

Unless you want to sleep rolling around on the rock-hard forest floor, you’re probably going to be using an air mattress in the great outdoors.

There's endless choice to what kind of bed you want in your wilderness mansion. From a luxurious queen-sized blow up bed to a backpack-friendly one-person pad. Regardless of what you choose though, your peaceful dreams might be crushed by one small detail: a leak.

Even the tiniest tear can turn your comfy wilderness bed into a lifeless, uninviting lump. It's inevitable that you'll run into this situation at some point, but don't worry - most air mattress leaks can be fixed.

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Let's look at a few inexpensive methods to identify, locate, and patch air mattress leaks and set yourself up for a good night’s rest.

What Caused The Leak

I know you want to jump straight into repairing your mattress, but it’s important to do a quick investigation into the root cause of the issue.

Did you wake up with less pressure than you had before you went to sleep? That may not necessarily indicate a leak. Perhaps the warm air inside the mattress compressed after cooling down to the ambient air temperature. This often occurs when you blow up the mattress with your mouth rather than a pump. 

Science, right? I think I owe my high school chemistry teacher an apology. I told him I would never use this crap in real-life!

On the other hand, you may have woken on a completely limp rubber sheet.

Did one of the seams come undone, or could there be a pinhole leak somewhere? If you’re in the outdoors, it's easy for pine needles, sticks, or sharp rocks to poke through the tent floor, puncturing your mattress.

To avoid future issues, be sure to sweep your campsite before pitching the tent. Oh, and get a thicker footprint to save the floor of your shelter.

Either way, it’s time to investigate.

How Do You Find The Leak?

Unless you enjoy sifting through the entire mattress at the campsite like a wilderness Sherlock Holmes, it’s best to locate your leak when you get back home.

There are three effective ways to do this: the quiet method, the bathtub method, and the soap method.

The Quiet Method

Silence is golden for finding a leak in your mattress.

In a quiet area, blow up the bed to maximum capacity, put pressure on different parts of the mattress and listen very carefully for faint whistling noise. Also, try lightly running your fingers up and down the seams of the mattress, as touch can be more reliable than hearing.

marking leak in air mattress

If you are lucky enough to locate the leak, CIRCLE IT with a permanent marker or pen.

Seriously, I’m the type of person that looks for their phone while I’m using the flashlight... on my phone. How am I supposed to remember exactly where there’s a needle-sized hole in a giant mattress?

The Bathtub Method

Perhaps the most reliable method of leak detection is by submerging your mattress or sleeping pad underwater.

submerging air mattress to find leak

Fill up your bathtub halfway and dip in the mattress one section at a time, applying pressure with your body. Once the water has settled, you should be able to see a small stream of bubbles floating to the surface at the position of the leak.

Once you have found the defect in the mattress, mark it, but don’t stop submerging the mattress. A lot of the time, there is more than one issue with these air mattresses, so continue doing this technique until you have properly identified all the weak points.

The Soap Method

If you don’t have a bathtub to dunk your air mattress, the next best approach is the ‘soap method.’

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    Fill an old spray bottle with warm water, add 5-10 drops of liquid soap, and shake well.
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    Douse the entire mattress with your soapy mixture and wait a few minutes. If there is a leak, you should see either one large bubble forming, or a caterpillar-like series of smaller bubbles.
  • 3
    Again, mark the spot, clean with only water, and let dry.

For all of these methods, don’t neglect the intake valve. Defects tends to form around the pocket where the valve sets into the mattress.

Also, if the source of leakage is the valve itself, it’s best to go shopping for a new air mattress.

How Do You Repair The Leak?

Finally, you’ve found (and marked) the elusive leak in your air mattress. If you are up for a DIY task, you can professionally repair your inflatable bed at home.

Preferred Repair: Patch Kit

Every inflatable mattress or sleeping pad should come with a repair kit (or one the company offers separately).

Most of the time, this includes a small tube of adhesive and a square of bedding material (typically plastic), or just an adhesive sticker of plastic. Almost every company has their own repair method listed in their manual or online, but we’ll briefly detail the overall process.

  • 1
    Ensure the mattress is deflated and dry, or else the adhesive may not stick properly.
  • 2
    Clean the area around the leak with isopropyl alcohol if available). 
  • 3
    If your repair kit doesn’t come with pre-made patches, cut a piece of provided fabric 1.5-2X bigger than the leak.
  • 4
    For those beds with felt, or any kind of non-uniform fabric, use fine grit sandpaper (150-220) to smooth out the surface before cleaning and patching the hole.
  • 5
    For the sticky patches, simply stick it on the hole, add weight (such as books) and let sit for 2-3 hours. The same goes for the adhesive, but you will have apply the sticky substance to both the patch, and the mattress, to ensure a proper seal.
  • 6
    Finally, after a few hours have passed, inflate your mattress to maximum potential and plead to the mattress gods that it holds tight.

For leaks along the valve, it can be tricky to use fabric alone to fully cover the leak. In these cases, use Seam Grip or a similar adhesive product, and carefully spread around the area where the valve inserts into the mattress.

I suggest using a Q-tip as an applicator, rather than just squeezing the adhesive straight from the tube, since excessive and/or uneven application can put an unnecessary strain on the valve.

Camper's tip: Check your air mattress company’s warranty before attempting any repairs. Some allow for a full or partial refund for certain defects, yet the warranty may be voided if you don’t follow their specific patching instructions.

Emergency Field Repair

If you are in the middle of the woods for a multi-day adventure, you may not have the convenience of heading home to fix your leaky mattress.

First, do your best to identify all defects with the ‘quiet method’ and mark the leak with whatever is available. I always pack a pressurized Fisher Space Pen since it writes on almost any surface. Then, use an alcohol swab from your first aid kit to clean the area.

If you don’t have a patch kit available, your next best option is the always-reliable camping accessory: duct tape. If everything goes as planned, clear any debris from inside and underneath your tent, then reinflate the mattress.

Alternative Repair Methods

There are also several other non-traditional methods to repair your air mattress.

  • check
    If you have a bike tire patch kit, check to see if it comes with an adhesive patch. The thought process is that if it can withstand the roughness of the road, it can hold up to a simple air mattress leak.
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    Cut out your own patch material from shower or pool liner. Using rubber cement, super glue, hot glue, gorilla glue, or any strong-bonding adhesive, patch the leak.
  • check
    Since many leaks come from the seams, you can reinforce these weak points by running hot glue along them. Be careful that the hot glue gun doesn't come in contact with the plastic though, as it may melt, causing a whole new headache.
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    If nothing else is available, cut a patch out of a t-shirt and glue it over the leak. Clearly, this method is temporary, but it may give you enough cushion to sleep comfortably through the night. 

Summary

Don’t let a deflated air mattress deflate your thrill for adventure.

Figure out why your blow-up bed is leaking, identify the location of the leak, and then perform a simple DIY repair. It’s a relatively easy fix, and you’ll save loads of money as opposed to simply buying a new mattress.

Make sure to keep following In Case Of Camping for any and all answers to your outdoor questions. Camp on!

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