After researching dozens of guest-bed options (including camping pads and futons) and sleeping on four air mattresses, we think the SoundAsleep Dream Series air mattress is the bed you’ll want to make up for your overnight visitors.
There’s no such thing as a perfect, durable air mattress, but the SoundAsleep was more comfortable (it didn’t deflate in the night, giving better back support) and offered more control over inflation than any other one we tried. And because it’s taller than cheaper air mattresses, it was easier to climb onto. In case the mattress pump breaks or the mattress springs a leak, SoundAsleep also offers great customer service.
If you don’t mind sacrificing some height, the Insta-Bed Raised Air Mattress with Insta III Pump is four inches lower than the SoundAsleep but is otherwise nearly identical. We didn’t test this model but we feel comfortable recommending it based on its great user reviews, the fact that it seems to have the same pump as the SoundAsleep, and our positive experience testing another Insta-Bed. Because it’s lower to the ground, it’s less convenient to climb onto this bed. But what it lacks in height it makes up for in affordability and an equally good one-year warranty with responsive customer service.
If you need a mattress for guests or for yourself (say, if you just moved into a new place), an air mattress is likely the most comfortable option. You could get a futon, camping pad, or folding cot, but an air mattress has the advantage of offering the height and surface area of a real bed and working with your regular sheets, along with storing down into a relatively small package.
An air mattress, no matter how expensive or well made, is not meant to replace a real mattress. It won’t withstand nightly use over a long period of time (and many companies specify that if you use the mattress as your primary bed, you’ll void the warranty). An air mattress should be reserved for occasional use, or even up to a week or two, at a time.
We first tested air mattresses in 2014 for our guide to the best gear for small apartments, and we did another round of research and testing for this year’s update. After reading user reviews and assessing our own experiences sleeping on air mattresses, we settled on a few criteria that make an air mattress good for home use:
We looked at the best-rated mattresses on Sleep Like the Dead and Amazon. This gave us a list of 13 electric-pump air mattresses, which we then narrowed down by comparing price, user ratings, the accessibility of their customer service, and the duration of their warranties. This led us to four mattresses we decided to test: the SoundAsleep Dream Series, the Insta-Bed Raised Mattress with NeverFlat Pump, the Intex Dura-Beam Series, and the Intex Pillow Rest.
Our testing protocol was simple: We slept on each mattress for one or two nights. (In some cases, we tested the twin-size version of the mattress, with a single 150-pound sleeper; in others, we tried the queen size with two sleepers collectively weighing 280 pounds.) We evaluated how comfortable the mattress felt, whether it noticeably lost air and sank during the night, and how easy it was to inflate and then deflate for storage.
We compared the ratings of each mattress on Amazon and Sleep Like the Dead, noting the ratio of five-star to one-star reviews and common complaints. We also looked at the length of their warranties, and contacted each company’s customer service, either by phone or email, to judge how responsive it was and what its protocol is for replacing or repairing a defective mattress.
The SoundAsleep Dream Series is the best air mattress we’ve tried. It offers the strongest combination of performance, a long warranty, and highly responsive and motivated customer service. At its current price of $120, it’s not the cheapest air mattress, but we think it offers the best value without compromising on warranty or customer service, and it doesn’t have any unnecessary extra features.
The SoundAsleep inflates fully in under four minutes, which was not the fastest of the mattresses we tested, but not an inordinate wait by any means. We preferred its simple dial controls to those of mattresses with firmness settings (like the Insta-Bed Raised Mattress with NeverFlat Pump), because this gave us more control over filling and deflating the mattress to the desired firmness. The SoundAsleep’s pump also deflates the mattress quickly and the mattress comes with a woven nylon storage bag, packing down to about 14 by 14 by 13 inches.
The queen-size SoundAsleep inflates to 19 inches high (18 inches for the twin), which is comparable to a mattress resting on a box spring on the floor. This makes it much easier to get in and out of bed compared with lower air mattresses, some of which are only a foot high. We had no problems getting our queen-size fitted sheets to grip the mattress snugly, even though the queen-size SoundAsleep measures 58 by 78 inches (slightly smaller than a standard queen-size mattress). Like the other mattresses we tested, the SoundAsleep is made from PVC with a flocked, velvety fabric top, which keeps the sheets from slipping around and provides a homier feel than a plastic-topped air mattress would.
The SoundAsleep didn’t noticeably lose air or sink during the night (unlike at least one other mattress we tried). In fact, it even stayed comfortably firm over two consecutive nights, without needing to be topped up. The twin size was comfortable for a 150-pound single sleeper, and the queen was comfortable for a couple collectively weighing 280 pounds. As with all air mattresses, there was some creaking and jiggling, which is more noticeable with two sleepers on a larger mattress. And like all air mattresses, the SoundAsleep feels nothing like a real mattress, though the addition of a foam topper or mattress pad would add extra cushion and insulation. But everyone slept comfortably through the night, and no one reported soreness or back pain in the morning.
The SoundAsleep comes with a one-year warranty, which is the longest warranty of the mattresses we considered. If your mattress springs a leak, the inner inflation coils fail, or the pump breaks within the first year, SoundAsleep will either repair or replace your mattress. When we called SoundAsleep to ask about how its warranty works, it said that you may simply have to send a photo of your mattress, or mail the item back, depending on the nature of the defect, how long you’ve owned it, and how often you used the mattress. In most cases, SoundAsleep told us, the customer would not be responsible for shipping charges.
We have evidence that SoundAsleep may go above and beyond the terms of its warranty to keep its customers happy. Sweethome editor Harry Sawyers’s SoundAsleep mattress developed a leak around the pump after 15 months of use, and SoundAsleep agreed to repair the mattress free of charge, even though it was out of warranty.
We aren’t the only ones who like it: the SoundAsleep is the best rated air mattress on Sleep Like the Dead and has an impressive 4.5 star (out of five) average on Amazon, across more than 10,000 reviews, a greater average over more reviews than any other mattress we considered. It also has a higher percentage of five-star reviews, and a lower percentage of one-star reviews, than any other mattress we looked at.
If you want to save about $50, and you don’t mind a shorter air mattress, consider the Insta-Bed Raised Air Mattress with Insta III Pump. We didn’t test this mattress, but it gets great user reviews and it looks very similar to the SoundAsleep. It has the same pump (as far as we can tell) as our main pick, and is made from similarly flocked PVC. It’s also the only air mattress under $100 (for a queen) that we’ve found that comes with a one-year warranty. The main downside to the Insta-Bed is its lower profile: It’s only 15 inches high, so it doesn’t quite have the height of a real bed and box spring, and some people may find getting in and out of it more difficult.
The Insta-Bed also has far fewer Amazon user reviews than the SoundAsleep: only 98 reviews total for Insta-Bed, compared with over 10,000 reviews for the SoundAsleep. The Insta-Bed has a positive 4.2 star (out of five) average, though a higher percentage of one-star reviews compared with the SoundAsleep (10 percent vs. 4 percent).
As with our main pick, you can control the inflation of the Insta-Bed with simple inflate and deflate settings to calibrate the perfect firmness level. And it also rolls into an easily stowable package (about 17 by 14 by 7 inches) .
Although we didn’t test this particular Insta-Bed, we did like the other air mattress we tried from the company, the Raised Mattress with NeverFlat Pump. That bed was comfortable and didn’t noticeably lose air during the night. Besides a difference in the way the pump operates, the internal construction of the Insta-Bed Raised Air Mattress with Insta III Pump is otherwise the same. But at its current price of around $70, the Insta-Bed with Insta III Pump is about $30 less than the one we tried.
We were also impressed with Insta-Bed’s customer service, which was immediately responsive to our emails inquiring about returning a faulty mattress. We liked the company’s streamlined returns process: It told us that a customer simply needs to send photo evidence that they’ve destroyed the defective mattress (by cutting out a piece with scissors, for example) and it’ll send a replacement, with no shipping charges.
The Insta-Bed Raised Air Mattress with Insta III Pump has a strong 4.2 star (out of five) rating, although it has far fewer reviews compared with the SoundAsleep.
According to SoundAsleep, you can clean your air mattress with water and a mild soap solution and let it air dry.
SoundAsleep says the PVC material of the mattress may stretch slightly after the first time you inflate it, and you may need to top it up with air about an hour after you first fill it up.
The various manufacturers of mattresses we tested say not to store the air mattress in areas with high temperature fluctuations or humidity, as this can stress the materials. That may mean that you won’t want to store your air mattress in an unfinished basement or garage.
The air mattresses we tested all come with patching kits to repair small holes that may develop. Here are instructions for locating and patching leaks.
We tested the Insta-Bed Raised Mattress with NeverFlat Pump, which is virtually identical to the SoundAsleep but with a different pump system. Instead of a simple inflate-deflate pump, the Insta-Bed with NeverFlat Pump automatically inflates to preset fill levels: plush, medium and firm. We think the presets may be nice for some people, but others will want the ability to customize the exact firmness level they desire. The Insta-Bed also has a secondary NeverFlat pump that will kick on if the mattress loses air during the night to refill to your desired firmness setting. The pump makes a subtle buzzing noise in standby mode, which our tester found annoying (although you can unplug the pump). The extra pump also means extra seams, creating another potential area for leakage.
We wanted to love the Intex Dura-Beam Series, which inflates to a lofty 22 inches and currently costs about half as much as the SoundAsleep. The Intex’s pump was powerful, filling the mattress to full firmness in less than four minutes. But when we tested the queen size with two sleepers, it was noticeably less firm in the morning, enough that one tester said his back felt a bit sore in the morning due to the lack of support. We tested it for a second night with a single sleeper, and once again it significantly leaked during the night, feeling wobbly and unstable by morning. Also troubling is Intex’s short warranty, which guarantees the product for only 90 days. We don’t think this is long enough for most people to detect failures with the mattress, because an air mattress is used only occasionally.
We also tried the Intex Pillow Rest, which has a raised area at the head of the mattress meant to support a pillow. We tested it in the twin size, but it is only 16.5 inches tall. Our tester didn’t like the elevated pillow area, and having a designated top of the bed could make it awkward to position it relative to your nearest outlet. Like the other Intex mattress, it comes with only a 90-day warranty.
We didn’t test the AeroBed Premier, because it costs significantly more than the SoundAsleep but didn’t appear to offer anything extra that would justify the higher price.
We eliminated another expensive model from AeroBed that has a built-in foam topper. Because air mattresses last only a few years at best, you should invest in a separate foam topper or mattress pad that you can use with multiple mattresses.
We eliminated another half dozen mattresses because they were too expensive, had unnecessary extra features like metal frames, bedskirts, or remote controls; high numbers of suspicious reviews, or no warranty or customer service number.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: October 18, 2016