What are the benefits of a softside versus a hardside waterbed? Much as some prefer eating ice cream in a cone as opposed to eating it out of a cup, softside and hardside waterbeds offer different advantages and options depending on what sort of sleeping experience you prefer.
• Hardside Waterbeds
Hardside waterbeds consist of a water-filled pouch or bladder that is contained within a specially designed wooden frame. The frame rests on a deck that evenly distributes the weight of the mattress. This prevents the bladder from getting compressed or otherwise improperly stressed, which could lead to leaks or tears. However, in the event of an emergency tear or leak, hardside waterbeds also have a safety liner that prevents water from escaping.
The bladder of the hardside waterbed can be customized according to a sleeper’s preference. Much as traditional mattresses have varying degrees of firmness, hardside waterbeds have different degrees of motion. There are the “waveless,” “semi-waveless,” and “full motion” varieties. Full motion bladders tend to be made from vinyl filled only with water, while a semi-waveless bladder incorporates loft fibers treated with special resins to help restrict and slow the motion of the water contained inside. Full motion waterbeds tend to “rock” freely horizontally but not vertically, while waveless waterbeds reduce this rocking motion by up to 90 percent. In the case of waveless or semi-waveless bladders, a tethering system is recommended beneath the bladder to keep fibers from bunching in one place. This will maintain the even lumbar support surface of the bladder.
Hardside waterbeds are also unlike traditional mattresses in that they are built in custom sizes. The King, Queen and Super Single hardside waterbed sizes are dimensionally different and require slightly differently sized sheets and bedding.
Hardside waterbeds can last up to 20 years, although the average life expectancy is between 12 to 15 years. They take on average 1 to 6 hours to drain.
• Softside Waterbeds
Unlike a hardside waterbed, a softside waterbed is designed in the same sizes as conventional spring and coil mattresses. The bladder of water is encased in a thick outside layer of material, which can consist of latex or memory foam, cotton, or other insulating materials. Generally, the benefits of sleeping on water will be negligible if this insulating later exceeds a thickness of 4 inches. The insulating layer is given form by a series of foam rails.
The bladders themselves can vary in their fill depth. A mid fill bladder is usually 5 to 6 inches, while a shallow fill bladder is only 3 to 4 inches. A liner accompanies all bladders to prevent any water from escaping and ruining the surrounding material and support structure.
Much like hardside waterbeds, softside bladders also have different ranges of motion. The number of resin-coated fibers restricts the movement of the bladder, as does the quality of vinyl used to encase the bladder. The vinyl should be at least 20 millimeters thick, although a 24-millimeter thick waterbed is considered to be quite luxurious. Unlike a hardside waterbed, however, there is rarely an advantage to selecting a bladder without some form of internal fiber support.
Generally, softside waterbeds last for an average of 15 years with very infrequent bladder maintenance. Depending on the size of the bladder, they take between 1 to 4 hours to drain.
• A Note on Heating
Both softside and hardside waterbeds have built-in heaters that keep the water in the bladder at a body-friendly temperature. However, the softside heaters are generally less expensive to run because the insulating material traps the heat more effectively. Because of this insulating factor, softside waterbeds should use low watt heaters so they do not catch on fire. High watt heaters should only be used for hardside waterbeds. Because of the difference in wattage, hardside waterbeds can be heated far more quickly than softside waterbeds, even though they possess more water.