Perhaps the most common problem encountered by the do-it-yourselfer that I have been most often been called to fix, is the bunching up of the fiber matrix inside a waveless watermattress due to improper handling after being drained, aka fibershift. While some manufacturers internally tether the fiber to the mattress to prevent this from happening, most do not because it requires extra seams to do so, adding expense and vulnurability. After all, the seams and valve are what is covered under warranty, so the less seams, the better. Most hardside and softside waterbed mattresses have a free floating fiber pad inside, requiring a minimum of seams. What is key to preventing this from happening is achieving a vacuum inside the mattress, which will occur naturally when draining, either with a fill and drain kit, siphoning, or a pump. Before you start draining, be sure to remove all air bubbles through the open valve with a broomstick, after unplugging the waterbed heater. This will insure that a vacuum will occur as it drains. When the flow of water slows to a light trickle, remove the hose from the mattress and immediately repace it with the plug and cap. Do not remove the plug and cap untill you are ready to fill it back up. The ensuing vacuum, when maintained, will make your waveless mattress easier to handle, and less "blobby". If it gets puffy, it means either the cap is loose, or it has a leak. If you do get fibershift, the best way to flatten it out is to use a wet-vac. The mattress must be as drained as is possible. First, blow air into the mattress through the valve. When the air starts to compress, turn the vac off and look inside the valve to see how the fiber is shifted. It is helpful to have the room sunlit, or as bright as possible, as the vinyl is opaque. Try to find a corner or two of the fiber and work it into a corner of the mattress. this will probably take some time, and you may need to blow it back up again as necessary with air to see inside the open valve. When you get a corner of fiber into a corner of the mattress, grasp them together and elevate as high as you can. Kind of like when you make your bed up. This will allow the fiber to flatten, just like a comforter. Repeat as necessary until fiber is visually flat. Next reverse the air flow of the wet vac, and suck as much air out of the mattress as is possible, and immediately plug the valve. Do not remove the plug until you are ready with your hose to refill it. Any ridges or buckles in the fiber will usually work themselves out as you refill your waterbed.
There are generally three safe and acceptable ways to drain a watermattress, all of which require a simple garden hose. The length of hose should be no longer than necessary to get the water away from the building by about 10 feet or so. Too long a hose will create excess drag, and can slow the draining process, in addition to causing extra work.
The first order of business when you begin to drain your waterbed is to always unplug your waterbed heater. This is critical because when the heater no longer has a sufficient depth of water, it will overheat and eventually burn itself up, along with your liner and watermattress. This can be dangerous and costly.
Next you will need to remove all the air bubbles that have accumulated inside the mattress, also known as "burping" your waterbed. This is easily done by gently sliding a broom stick (or any similarly shaped device) with gentle, downward pressure, across the top surface of the vinyl, toward the uncapped valve, allowing any trapped gasses to vent out of the watermattress. This is also a critical step to removing as much water as possible. Remember, that last ten gallons is the most difficult to remove because a vacuum is created as the bed empties out, and any air present inside will negate the vacuum, and make the mattress very heavy. So be sure to remove all the air bubbles before proceeding.
The first method of draining is to use a venturi pump. This is the T-shaped plastic fitting found in a waterbed fill and drain kit. Most reputable waterbed dealers will provide this with the sale of a waterbed, and they should have come with instructions. While these do work on free flow and semi-waveless water mattresses, they are not recommended to drain an ultra-waveless mattress. This is because they do not provide a strong vacuum that is needed in order to drain them enough to be picked up. These pumps rely on water pressure and gravity. They are only effective with the water flowing downhill, and with strong water pressure. The tap water must be kept running until the mattress is empty. This is the most inefficent and time consuming method. If you live in a basement, it may be your only choice, unless you can get your hands on an electric pump.
An electric pump is usually the fastest method. How fast is determined by how powerful your pump is, and whether the water is flowing up or downhill. Most will take 60-90 minuites. This is the best way to drain an ultra waveless watermattress. If you live in an apartment building, place the hose deep into your toilet bowl, and close the lid before starting. Most pumps will need to be primed (filled with water) in order to get started. This method, of course, will require electricity.
The siphon method will require only a hose. A male hose adapter, which also comes with a fill and drain kit, is helpful, but not necessary. Following the above instructions, next, place the male end of the hose into the valve of the waterbed. The other end of the hose needs to be placed as low as possible, in relation to the mattress. The more vertical drop, the faster the bed will drain. Next step is to suck on the lower end of the hose to start the water flowing. Once it begins to flow downhill, it will continue to do so until there is no more water left. For the squeamish, a wet-vac can be used to start the siphon.
Whichever draining method you choose, it is also important that you replace the plug and cap quickly after removing the hose from the watermattress, preserving the vacuum. Do not allow it to back fill with air. This will ensure that the fiberfill inside a waveless mattress will not shift, and bunch up into a big lump. This will be the subject of my next blog; Fibershift.
On just about every waterbed mattress sold today is a tag with several warnings and recommendations. One of these is that a mattress pad should be used under the waterbed sheets to protect the vinyl from bodily oils. That’s corporatespeak for sweat. This is good advice. You see, vinyl is a petroleum product. This means that oil will literally make it or break it, and now we know sweat is oil. Some people even like to rub oil products on their bodies like baby oil also. These oils permeate the vinyl and causes it to harden. This is not good. You want your vinyl to stay soft and supple. Hardened vinyl is noisy, uncomfortable, and brittle. Brittle vinyl can, and usually does crack, which translates to a leak. Again, not good. This can be avoided by using a good, hypo allergenic waterbed mattress pad. Made of cotton or polyester, It will “take a bullet” for your mattress. If you feel patches of hardened vinyl in the area of the mattress that you sleep on every night, your bed has this condition, and you should start to think about replacing your water mattress while time is still on your side. And don’t forget a mattress pad too. Whether you use an economical flat anchor band mattress pad, or a fitted luxurious, billowy, quilted mattress pad, your waterbed mattress will be sufficiently protected. Equally as important is the fact that your waterbed will be better insulated from heat loss as a result, As your waterbed heater will use less energy. Perhaps what you will notice most of all is that it will be even more comfortable with an added layer of breathable material between you and the vinyl. A good mattress pad will usually last 2-3 years, depending how often it is laundered.
An important, though often overlooked, step in setting up your waterbed is the adding of the waterbed conditioner to the water. While the results of not doing so will not be catastrophic, they can be inconvenient. Having repaired many waterbeds over the years, i can tell you that i immediately can tell if the customer added conditioner upon entering the house. But maybe they like the smell of low tide. Simply put, untreated water, left stagnant for years, will begin to turn brown and stink. This is accelerated when the water is heated. This is the first of four reasons you should spring for the few extra bucks every year to keep your waterbed in good health. Another advantage to regularly treating your watermattress is that it keeps the vinyl soft on the inside both by keeping algae growth in check, and by the presence of vinyl softeners and preservatives in the conditioner. This is important because as vinyl gets attacked by fungal growth and excretion, it hardens. This is not good, as it can lead to tiny cracks. For those with waveless mattresses, it is especially important to add the stuff because the wave inhibitors inside the mattresses, usually made of foam and/or fiber, break down and deteriorate when left untreated. After a few years they will begin to fall apart. This will become a problem when you need to pump out the mattress, as the loose chunks will clog the outlet or get lodged inside the pump and hose. I hate when that happens. When selecting conditioner for a waveless mattress, be sure it is a multi-purpose conditioner. When purchasing waterbed conditioner, be sure to get factory sealed bottles or tablets for tube beds. I have known some unscrupulous dealers who have bottled clorox bleach, (bad for vinyl), and sold it to unsuspecting customers as waterbed conditioner. I heartily endorse Blue Magic products which can be found here. Did i also mention that it also helps reduce noisy bubbles? This is by virtue of eliminating carbon dioxide producing algae. These microbes are present in tapwater, and your body is used to dealing with them. But left unchecked, they become organic. Now, after you pour in the solution, replace the plug and cap, plug in your heater, and get ready for bed. Just make sure you put a mattress pad down first. This will be the topic of the next blog.
How deep should a watermattress be filled? In my quarter century of experience as a waterbed expert, this has been the most insideous problem facing the industry. First of all, water cannot be compressed. It is physically impossible. That said, overfilling a watermattress can only be problematic. It won't get firmer, it will get rounder. It is cut to be filled to a certain depth (usually 7-9"). Exceeding the recommended depth will:
- Stretch the vinyl and weaken the seams
- Increase electrical consumption (more water to heat)
- Stress and warp the sides
- loosen screws and break brackets
- Cause undue stress to supporting structures
- Make it difficult to tuck in sheets and bedding
- Make it LESS comfortable
An air mattress will get firmer as you add more air, because air beds are filled with a gas, not a liquid. Gasses will compress. liquids cannot.
Underfilling is the lesser of two evils. It causes bottoming out on the deck, but that can lead to overheating the heater and damaging the vinyl.
I have seen properly filled waterbeds last 20+ years. The best advice i give to my customers on filling a waterbed is to lay a broomstick, or similar device across a wide corner of your hardside or softside waterbed at it's lowest point. When the water level begins to lift the broomstick off of the wood or foam frame, shut off the water. Adding more water is of no benefit to you.
Now, disconnect your hose from the sink, and as you coil it, hold it higher than the bed to let it drain into the bed. after that, couple both ends of the hose together to prevent spillage.
Next is the burping process. this is easy if you didn't overfill your watermattress. Gently use the broomstick to influence any trapped air bubbles to move toward the open valve. You can usually see them in sufficient light. Lay the stick flat on top of the mattress like you are floating cement, gently pushing the air towards the valve. Repeat this a few times. The air will easily vent out until there is no more splashing noise inside. This should be done again as necessary. The best time to do it is when you change the sheets.
Before replacing the cap, you now should add the waterbed conditioner. This will be the subject of the next blog.