That Old Air Mattress: Recycle or Reuse?

girl running towards lake with air mattress
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Whether you use them for camping, spending the night with family or as part of a huge slumber party, air mattresses can be handy to have around. But what happens when an air mattress springs one too many leaks and is no longer usable? Read on to learn how to properly dispose of an old air mattress.

Can I Recycle My Air Mattress?

The vast majority of air mattresses are made from PVC, #3 plastic also known as polyvinyl chloride. PVC is known to release phthalates, which can be absorbed by the body. So if you’re shopping for a new air mattress, look for one that’s PVC-free. 

Unfortunately, PVC is not the easiest material to recycle, and up until the last several years, very few facilities accepted it. While more facilities accept PVC now, you’ll probably still have a hard time finding one that accepts PVC air mattresses. While the Earth911.com recycling directory lists locations that accept #3 plastics, you still need to call and confirm that they accept air mattresses, since these are a specialized product. 

Several companies now make PVC-free air mattresses. Most of these are made from TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), which is a mixture of a hard plastic and a soft silicone, a form of rubber. While TPU is not any easier to recycle then PVC, it is more environmentally friendly. 

No matter which kind of air mattress you have, if you cannot confirm that your local recycling program accepts them, do not place your unwanted mattress in the recycling bin. Air mattresses can get tangled up in the recycling machinery and cause serious damage that can cost thousands of dollars to repair and the temporary shutdown of already overwhelmed recycling plants.

Instead of throwing those old mattresses in the trash, let’s look into a few other options.

Fix Your Air Mattress

Before you start looking for a place to dispose of your air mattress, consider fixing it. If your air mattress has sprung some small leaks, these can be patched. Not sure where the leaks are? Here’s what to do.

  • Fill up a spray bottle with soapy water.
  • Inflate your mattress all the way.
  • Slowly spray the mixture over the air mattress and look for bubbles — they identify the location of your leak.
  • Mark where each leak is located and let the mattress dry.
  • Using an air mattress repair kit, patch the leaks.

This can be a tedious process but it’s better than tossing your air mattress into the trash and purchasing a new one.

Upcycle Your Air Mattress

If there are too many leaks, consider upcycling the mattress into something useful. One popular option: make the mattress into a cover for your outdoor furniture or equipment. You’ll need to do some cutting, and possibly basic sewing, but this can be a great way to give it a new life. A few other ideas for reusing your old air mattress include:

  • Use it as a ground sheet protector under your tent when you go camping.
  • Use pieces of it to patch leaks on other air mattresses.
  • Cut it open and use as a painting tarp.
  • One person took the motor out of their air mattress and made their own shop vac.

If you can’t find a recycling option in your area and aren’t interested in an upcycling project, unfortunately, the only real option is to send it to a landfill. Most charities refuse donated mattress for health reasons. If your air mattress has a built-in motor, consider cutting that portion out and taking it to a local electronics recycler to see if they will accept it.

Do you have any other suggestions on how to reuse an old air mattress? Be sure to share them in the comments below.

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Brian Brassaw

Brian Brassaw

Brian formerly managed the Earth911 Recycling Search and shared green living tips and tricks on Earth911’s Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter accounts. Brian also shares DIY projects on Little Pilots Lounge.
Brian Brassaw