Where Have All the Waterbeds Gone?

You don’t hear waterbeds discussed much anymore. It seems like they died out with all the old hippies.

But there are still a few around. The waterbeds are now called “flotation sleep systems.” The old hippies are called “me and my husband.” And we have a waterbed.

Actually, we’ve had one for years. Not the same one, you understand. Waterbeds have a shelf life, and this will become readily apparent at some point.

The operative word used to be “point.” Old-fashioned waterbeds were simply plastic bags of water that you covered with whatever cloth was available. Neither the plastic nor the cloth was all that thick, even if the owners were. Try as you might, you could never find a quilt that would cover the whole thing at once. (Duvets were still far in the future, or in Europe, or somewhere.)

Back to the point. Or points, rather – those appearing at the ends of the toes of cats. Cats do not make good waterbed accessories. The first article I ever sold was to I Love Cats magazine, about how to make waterbed and kitties get along. (It took layers and layers of sheets, blankets, pads, and comforters. And those were just the bottom layers. You still needed blankets and comforters to go on top of the sleepers.)

Nevertheless, at some point (yes, I said it) a waterbed will spring a leak. In the Olden Days, that required a patch kit, rather like those used for bicycle inner tubes, which also no longer exist. The waterbed patch kits didn’t really work. All you could do was drain the waterbed, haul it outside and get a new one.

I had not been sold on the idea of getting a waterbed at first. The early ones squished and swayed and set up riptides, and I have an inner ear problem. I pictured myself throwing up every morning and giving my husband a pregnancy scare.

Now waterbeds are “waveless,” which means they come with long vinyl sausages, each to be filled with water, inside what is essentially a cardboard box. The mattress also comes with a patch kit, which is also useless. But at least you can drain and haul only the one leaky sausage and replace that one.

If you can find one. There are stores that will sell you a single sausage, or at least order the right model. We had to sleep on recliner chairs for a week and drive thirty miles to get one. Then again with the draining and hauling and let me tell you, even the individual sausages are heavy. Do you have any idea how much water actually weighs? I do.

Waterbed heaters are now out of vogue, owing to the possibility of electrocution, but for a while they were the must-have accessory. The one we bought (which managed not to fry us) came with a programmable alarm system. Not, as you might think, an alarm to warn of impending uncontrolled voltage, but a regular alarm of the sort that wakes you in the morning.

The SalesDude told us that it would wake us gently with a “tune.” OK. Sounds nice. Until the first morning it went off. Nee na nee nee nee na nee, nee na nee nee nee na nee, nee na nee nee nee na nee, nee nah nee nee nee na neeee! By the second nee na nee nee nee na nee we were fully awake and aware that the “tune” it was playing was “It’s a Small World.” We fumbled around and got it turned off before we lost our sanity, but only just barely.

When we went back to the store to complain, it went like this:

Us: Did you know that the alarm feature plays “It’s a Small World”?

SalesDude: No. ::snerk:: I had no idea! Hey, Jeff, did you know that the alarm feature plays ::snerk:: “It’s a Small World”?

Jeff: No! I had no idea! ::snerk:: ::snerk::

Us: Well, do you have one that plays anything else? Even “Edelweiss” would be better. Or “God Bless America.”

SakesDude: ::snerk:: No, that’s the only model there is. Isn’t that right, Jeff?

Jeff: ::cough:: That’s right. ::cough::

So then we had to buy a regular alarm clock too. Somewhere else.

The waterbed we have now keeps its tunehole shut, waves as much as your average fishbowl, and grudgingly accepts regular deep-pocket sheets. It fits in the frame of an Amish sleigh/spindle bed and looks like something that belongs in a bedroom, not a head shop or a crash pad.

Well, except for the old hippies sleeping on it.

12 thoughts on “Where Have All the Waterbeds Gone?

  1. We have one of those old-fashioned waterbeds. It just got its first new mattress last summer (it’s been around since the ’80s). I managed to get an entire humor essay out of that bed. (Of course, I can’t get ME out of that bed, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!)

    I’m 5’1″ talle. Love sleeping in it. HATE getting out of it!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The “It’s a Small World” thing qualifies as cruel and inhuman punishment, doesn’t it? Egad, could there BE a worse choice for that? Hilarious!

        Here’s the essay (fairly short, easier to just put it here). You’ll totally get the humor, given our similar waterbed histories. 🙂


        By the time I was 38, I had still lived a relatively sheltered life. I’d never gone streaking, never given blood (on purpose), and never slept in a waterbed. Then I married a man who owns a king-sized waterbed—and since then it’s been sink or swim.

        Getting into the bed is easy. Let’s just say “stop, drop and roll” works for more than just fire safety. But climbing out is a different matter. No amount of unladylike gymnastics or contortions can get me out of that bed gracefully. And the padded side rails aren’t good for anything except moral support. Or a rather unseemly dismount. Mary Lou Retton, I’m not.

        My husband’s quite used to sailing the seven seas at bedtime and doesn’t need to take Dramamine before docking himself at night. Plus, he’s fourteen inches taller than I am and—unlike me—doesn’t need a pool ladder and a life guard to get in and out of the bed. Meanwhile, on my side of the bed, falling asleep with loud sloshing noises in my ears does nothing for my bladder. So I wake up in the middle of the night and sway back and forth, trying to hoist myself over the side and onto the floor. The mattress, which is filled with more water than the Hoover Dam sees in a year, lurches to and fro and wakes him up.

        “Do you need a little push or something?” he mumbles from the inlet on his side of the bed.


        “Life preserver?”

        “No. Now go back to sleep.”

        “Wet suit? Rubber ducky? A copy of Moby Dick?”

        I ignore him and create a small tsunami trying to get out of the bed.

        “What are you doing over there?” he mumbles.

        “The breast stroke.”

        “Need any help?”

        “Very funny. No!”

        I don’t know whether to kiss him or drown him.

        “How can you get comfortable in this contraption every night?” I ask.

        “Easy,” he says. “You’re good ballast.”

        Drown him. Definitely drown him. 


      2. I’m curious about the heating — we have an under-mattress heater in ours (haven’t been electrocuted yet). Once it went out when we had a power outage and the water cooled just a tad. I couldn’t sleep in it at all — felt like I had the chills.

        How can the heaters be out of vogue? What do people do to keep the water the right temperature?


      3. Maybe the technology has improved since last I checked. The pillowtop mattress cover of the hard-sider bed keeps you from ever getting near the cold water lurking beneath. To me it doesn’t feel like a waterbed at all, so I’m happy, and he knows it is one, so he’s happy.


      4. Omigosh, you just hit the nail on the head for us here! “To me it doesn’t feel like a waterbed at all, so I’m happy, and he knows it is one, so he’s happy.”

        YES. THIS.

        Now, if only there were a way to completely break a waterbed that wouldn’t create water damage… 🙂


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