Fixing the puncture in your deflating mattress

Modern day inflatable and self inflating mattresses are awesome!  Until they go flat.  Then they’re just a groundsheet.  Luckily fixing a puncture in your mattress is no more difficult than fixing the punctured tyre on your bike like you did when you were a kid.

Mattress puncture repairs can be done in the field if required, or at home if possible.  You will need some water, soapy water if possible; any detergent such as dishwashing liquid or wilderness wash will do.  Put say a teaspoon of detergent in a cup of water.  You might end up needing two cups of water if the search is going to be extensive.  Also, you might need a day for the repair compound to dry.

Once you’ve got your, hopefully soapy, water organized Inflate your mat, as tight as you can. Now where to begin the search?

People often blame the valve for the leak because they are certain they were careful to avoid spiky things – the valve is rarely the culprit but its easy to check so check that first.  Get some of the soapy water in and around the valve, a leak will reveal itself pretty readily here if there is one.  Once the valve is eliminated as the issue it’s time to get down to the business of finding the real culprit.

Remember how we pointed out in a separate post how spinifex can penetrate your pack and puncture your mattress even when it is packed away?  If that was the case with this puncture then the most likely place would be in the third of the mattress closest to the valve and on the bottom;  that’s the section that ends up exposed on the outside when the mattress is rolled.  This is where to start your search.

Flip your tightly inflated mattress bottom side up and start to roll it from the feet toward the valve, this creates a lot of internal pressure.  Now keeping the pressure on the mattress, gently tip a little of the soapy water onto the mattress and spread it over the surface of the mattress with your hand, do a section of the mat at a time.  Cover an area right to each side because the hole could be right on the edge near the seam.  Keep the pressure on and carefully scan the wet area for tiny bubbles.  Be patient, let the soapy water settle, scan carefully.  Within a minute or so, if there’s a hole it will reveal itself with some soapy water foaming up at the hole.

If you find a hole, dry that area and use something to mark it; use a piece of tape or circle it with a pen.

If it’s a decent hole you may have to repair that hole before continuing the search for more.  If it’s a microscopic spinifex hole you can continue the search for more holes.  Never assume that because you found a hole that that hole, and that hole alone, is the culprit for your deflating mattress.

Repeat the process of searching for soapy bubbles down to the halfway point along the mat, then roll it from the valve end toward the feet end to create pressure as you search the other half of the mat.

If you’ve found a hole or two, or three on the bottom of the mat repair them before moving on to checking the top of the mat.  It’s rare to find a hole on the top but never assume anything when it comes to a leaky mattress.

Executing the repair.

Most mattresses these days either come with a repair kit or they are available separately. These generally work well – just follow the directions but be cautious where the repair is just a stick on adhesive patch, these rarely stay air tight for long. They are for temporary repair only and might buy time until you can effect a proper repair.

In the absence of a repair kit and for a really solid repair use Gear Aid Seam Grip, or Shoe Repair.  It’s a great idea to carry one of these options when hiking as a matter of routine because they can be used in all sorts of weird and wonderful applications to repair all sorts of equipment.

To fix your mattress, deflate and place a dob of the compound in a circle about the size of a five cent piece over the hole.  Make sure the mattress is kept flat for the next few hours so that the compound doesn’t flow away and rather sits in a small pool over the hole.

Now here’s the hard part – wait at least 12 hours before inflating the mattress.  At home I’d give it 24hours.

Job done!  Unless there’s a hole or two you missed on the first search!  Which can happen because secondary smaller holes often only become evident once larger more leaky holes are repaired.

As always, prevention is better than cure – way better in this case, so watch out for the spinifex, all day long.

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