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What to do if your waterbed mattress begins to smell

What causes a waterbed mattress to smell?

The following advice is based on approximately twenty five years of experience in the waterbed industry, in both the UK and California. Also input from other retailers, The British Waterbed Association and our customer feedback. We are not scientists, so if you are a water bed owner and have beneficial advice or something to add, rather than criticising this advice, please add your feedback.

Over the years a very small percentage of customers have reported a smell from the waterbed mattress. The smell can be described as stale straw. This does not sound too bad, but the smell fills the room and bed clothes. The smell is intolerable and the water bed is no longer usable.

This smell should not be confused with the smell of new vinyl which can be strong for the first few days, but gradually wears off. This is always the case.


A waterbed mattress is made from PVC (Vinyl). The filling to stabilize the movement is polyester fibers. Neither the  vinyl or water bed fiber can produce the smell described above.


The cause of the smell is bacteria in the water. When a waterbed is new, it is filled with water and eight ounces of specially formulated waterbed conditioner are added. This is twice the dose that is required every six months, but will give the water bed mattress a good clean start.

Two causes for the waterbed mattress to start smelling.

First, if the waterbed mattress is several years old and the owner has missed or been late adding the conditioner, then bacteria can start to grow in the water. A waterbed is temperature controlled making it an ideal breading ground for bacteria if conditioner is not added regularly. Also ensure that you take any air from the water bed mattress whenever you hear it as this is annoying and will also encourage bacteria to grow.

AirYou can visit our youtube video to see how to remove air from your waterbed mattress. (This is not a Hollywood production)

The second cause is if the bacteria content in the water supply when the waterbed is installed is sufficiently high that the usual eight ounces of conditioner are not enough to kill the bacteria.

How to deal with the smell.

Unfortunately, this problem is a water supply problem and will not be covered by a waterbed mattress warranty. There is a remote chance of a quick fix. We have one waterbed owner at present trying this; his feedback will be added to this blog. Simply add a concentrated dose of anti bacterial solution. We recommend copper sulphate crystals as this was recommended to us by Blue Magic. From our experience this has worked on a small number of occasions, a guess would be approximately 15% and failed on 85%. When it fails, the smell disappears briefly but then comes back with a vengeance. In order to maximise your chances of success involves using a water bed pump. This can be rented from your local retailer.

Step one. Empty the waterbed completely.

Step two. Pour a whole bottle of bleach into the valve of the mattress. Refill the waterbed just above the level of the fiber layers. Remove the air. Replace the filler cap and walk all over the mattress. Try to vigorously move the bleached water around the mattress and leave it for at least half an hour. This process could possibly have a harmful effect on the life expectancy of the waterbed mattress but considering the mattress is scrap, if you don’t try, what do you have to lose? I am giving this advice to help owners solve a rare problem. Following this advice is your choice. We are not in America, so if it does not work, don’t try suing us as we have no money!

Step three. Empty the concentrated bleached water, the pump should run until the fiber is completely vacuumed flat. Siphoning will not be sufficient.

Step four. Repeat steps two and three without adding the bleach. This will flush out the bleach and hopefully the bacteria from the waterbed mattress.

Step five. Refill the water bed mattress as usual. (A separate blog will be coming soon) Add a dose of copper sulphate crystals and waterbed conditioner.

Step six. This should fix the problem of the smell. The smell will still linger in the vinyl. So wash the vinyl down with bicarbonate of soda (baking powder) Mix the bicarb in warm water first. Thoroughly wash the mattress and liner, including down the sides. You will need so sponge the waterbed mattress down to remove the powder residue.

If this process does not work you will have to buy a new waterbed mattress but we have very good prices. This advice is for both hardside and softside waterbeds.

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One Response to “What to do if your waterbed mattress begins to smell”

  1. […] If this process does not work you will have to buy a new waterbed mattress but we have very good prices.  To know more about  waterbeds and how to deal with the smell visit […]

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