The air chamber is what fills up with air to increase the firmness of the bed. Air chambers are usually made from Nylon, PVC, urethane, or vulcanized rubber. We recommend vulcanized rubber because it has the longest lifespan and is most resistant to cracking. You don’t need to worry about the chambers popping from being overfilled because airbed pumps are equipped with safeguards that will only allow a certain pressure level to be attained. Tri-Zone air chambers entered the market a few years ago, but from our experience they are unnecessary, and can potentially create alignment issues with the spine. The last thing to consider is whether you want one chamber or two chambers on your mattress. Many times you will only have this option with a queen size.
You must pay close attention to the internal construction of the air mattress, as this is where 90% of all airbed problems originate.
Pick a bed with sturdy, firm side rails that are held together with more than just plastic pieces in the corner. Ideally the side rails should be connected beneath the air chambers. This is often referred to as a Sling Rail Design, and it will prevent the bed from bowing out at the sides.
Avoid the Center Foam Barrier
On dual air chamber airbeds, many manufacturers (including the Sleep Number® Bed) have added a 3” to 5” thick piece of foam to separate the chambers. The problem is that a center foam beam creates a hump in the center of the mattress that is uncomfortable to lie on. If you need a dual chamber mattress, do not purchase one with a center foam beam in it; purchase an air bed with chambers that lie directly next to each other so you can lie in the middle of the mattress if you choose.
You will want to choose an air pump that is quiet and doesn’t take long to fill the chambers with air. In addition, you’ll want to make certain that the air pump is located outside of the mattress so that it has ample ventilation.
Today, airbeds are often produced with pillow top comfort layers to provide extra comfort. Extra comfort is great, but it is important to remember that adjustments to the firmness of an airbed may not be felt if the comfort layer is too thick (over 5 inches). The highest quality comfort layers will be made of latex foam or memory foam. Beware of cheap pillow tops filled with standard foam or stuffing; many manufacturers will use these to pump up the cost of the bed.
Probably the most popular type of comfort layer used in high-end airbeds is memory foam. Memory foam conforms to the body and relieves pressure better than most other materials used. Memory foam is going to give and conform to the shape of your body, whereas latex foam is more resilient (springy). If you decide to purchase an airbed with memory foam, make sure the density is at least 4lb/ft.
Latex foam is very popular because it lasts forever and it is manufactured through a more natural process than other types of foam. There are two types of latex foam: Talalay and Dunlop. We recommend Talalay Latex foam as it is generally considered more comfortable than Dunlop Latex. Latex Foam feels bouncy when you sit on it, and many people claim that they experience less aches and pains than other sleep surfaces.
Many air beds are produced today that have numerous options and features available on their remotes. Some are offered with wireless remotes, while others are only available in wired configurations. In addition, you’ll want to determine if the remote has a digital readout of the pressure, or "comfort setting." These are all small details, and in no case should the type of remote be scrutinized more closely than the internal construction and comfort layers of the bed. Perhaps most important is how many firmness settings the remote allows the user to choose. We recommend an airbed that has at least 25 personlized settings, though many manufacturers produce beds with up to 50.
Make sure that the company you are purchasing from is reputable and offers a warranty of at least 10 years. Most will offer a few years with a full warranty, and the remainder of the warranty will be limited. Make sure you get a good salesman that is knowledgeable about the product so that you can be matched up with the airbed that is right for you.
One great thing about the airbed market is that many retailers are offering a free trial period which allows the customer the opportunity to sleep on the air bed for many days without being stuck with it if they are unsatisfied. Though this option is usually unavailable in stores, it is offered on most websites, and 15 days with the bed in your house will let you know if it is right for you more than 15 minutes in a store. We recommend only going with airbeds that comes with an optional Trial Period that offers a refund policy if you are unsatisfied.