Camping & Hiking Tips

The Best Ways To Find An Air Mattress Puncture In The Woods

By Julie McClain​

Air mattresses are perfect for camping trips when you don’t have to worry about weight and you want a comfortable night’s sleep in your tent; they are also ideal to have at home for visitors who end up staying over. However, at some point in their lives, they almost inevitably end up leaking.

Do you know how to find a hole in an air mattress? Let me help you! Here, I am concentrating on the methods most suited for camp use where you need to find the puncture outside – however, these methods can also be used just as easily in the comfort of your own home.

Method 1: Physical Check

If you suspect your mattress has a puncture, the quickest and easiest thing to do is to give it a physical check. This is the best place to start if you are already out on your camping trip because you don’t need to prepare anything special and you won’t need to get your mattress wet. This is a very simple method so there’s not much you need.

You will need the following:

  • A quiet place where you can move your mattress around
  • Your mattress
  • Water (if you don’t want to lick your hand!)
  • Length of tube (if available)
  • Permanent marker pen or duct tape

How to do it:

1. Prepare the mattress

Place your mattress somewhere quiet and where you can manipulate it then inflate your mattress. If you are in the woods, you might prefer to do this in your tent as it cuts the noise from outside – but it won’t be as easy to move the mattress about.

2. Listen for air

If the hole is a relatively big one, you may be able to hear the air escaping, so the first thing to do is listen. Start by placing your ear near the valve and apply some pressure to the mattress. The valve is the most common place for a leak to occur. If you hear no leak, next apply pressure and run your ear along all the seams to listen for the leak. The seams are the second most likely place for a puncture. After this, systematically cover the rest of the mattress in the same way, on the top, on the sides and underneath, to try find the escaping air.

Here’s a neat little trick – if you can’t hear the air and you have a piece of tubing available, try putting one end of the tube to your ear and passing the other end all over the air mattress.  This way, you might be able to find it even if you couldn’t hear it before!

3. Feel for air with you hand

If you can’t hear the air, perhaps the hole is too small. The next step is to repeat the procedure but this time trying to feel the air with your hand. Starting with the valve, then the seams and finally the rest of the mattress as before, pass your hand slowly and systematically all over the mattress. If your hand is slightly wet, it will be more sensitive to the air so you can either lick it or use some water.

4. Mark the puncture

Once you find the hole, you can use the marker pen or duct tape to mark the location so that it is easy to find later when you want to repair the hole.

Method 2: The Tissue Paper Method

If you can’t find the hole by using a simple physical check, next you can try using a piece of tissue paper. Essentially, the idea is that the escaping air will blow on a light piece of paper and move it thus helping you locate a tiny puncture.

You will need the following:

  • Somewhere sheltered from the wind where you can move your mattress around
  • Your mattress
  • A piece of light tissue paper
  • Permanent marker pen or duct tape

How to do it:

1. Prepare the mattress

Place your mattress somewhere out of the wind. This is the most important consideration as if there is wind blowing the piece of paper around, this method won’t work. This might mean that you want to perform this method in your tent, as with the physical check, but it may also compromise the maneuverability.

2. Place the paper over the valve

Inflate your mattress, place your small piece of tissue paper on the valve and apply some pressure to the mattress. If the air is escaping from the valve, the tissue will be moved by the air blowing out of the hole.

3. Check the seams

If you find no problem with the valve, next move to the seams. Systematically, move all along the seams placing the piece of tissue paper on the mattress and applying pressure to see if the piece of paper is moved by the escaping air.

4. Check the rest of the mattress

If you still find no hole, next move to the rest of the mattress. First on the top, then the sides, then underneath, systematically move all around the whole mattress placing the piece of paper and applying pressure to find the place where the escaping air blows out of the puncture and moves the piece of paper.

5. Mark the puncture

Once you find the hole, mark it with the marker pen or the duct tape so you can easily find it when you want to repair it.

Method 3: The Soapy Water Method

This is probably the surest way to find the puncture but I prefer to try the other two first as this way involves getting your mattress wet with soapy water. If you use this method, you will need to wash your mattress afterwards and then you will need to let it dry off completely for at least a couple of hours to avoid it going moldy. You can jump straight to this method and skip the first two depending on the situation.

You will need the following:

  • Somewhere you can manipulate your mattress
  • Your mattress
  • Dish washing liquid (or other similar washing product like shampoo)
  • Water
  • Spray bottle (a sponge or a wet rag can also be used if a spray bottle is not available)
  • Permanent marker or duct tape

How to do it:

1. Prepare the mattress

Lay your mattress out somewhere with enough space and inflate it. This time you won’t really need to be protected from wind or noise so you might not need to do it in your tent but if you are in the woods, you will want to try to avoid getting dirt or leaves etc. stuck to it.

2. Mix the soapy water solution

In the spray bottle, mix a little dish soap with the water. If you don’t have a spray bottle and are using a sponge or rag, mix the soapy mixture in whatever is at hand. Make sure you prepare enough to cover the whole mattress if necessary.

3. Check the valve

Starting at the valve, using the spray bottle, sponge or rag, apply a little soapy water and put some pressure on the inflated mattress. If there is a hole around the valve, the escaping air will make bubbles in the soapy mixture you applied and you will be able to see where the puncture is located.

4. Check the seams

If there is no problem around the valve, next repeat the procedure all along the seams. Apply the soapy mixture, put pressure on the mattress and check to see if the mattress blows bubbles in the liquid.

5. Check the rest of the mattress

If you find no bubbles along the seam, next proceed to the rest of the mattress. As with the first two methods, systematically cover the top, sides and underneath to check for the bubbles that will reveal the location of the puncture.

6. Mark the puncture

Once you find the source of the leak, mark it with the pen or the duct tape so that it is easy to find again later when you want to repair the mattress.

7. Wash and dry the mattress

Wash the soapy water from the mattress with clean water and leave it to dry. It will take at least two hours to dry in a sunny or windy location but you may want to leave it a bit longer to make sure it is completely dry. Don’t fold up and store a mattress that hasn’t dried out fully. If it isn’t fully dried out, it can develop mold which will ruin your mattress.


As I mentioned before, this is how to find a hole in an air mattress if you are camping. Some people prefer to submerge an air mattress to look for bubbles but I tend to avoid this method as it risks getting the inside of the mattress wet and then it is almost impossible to dry again.

I usually try these methods in the order I have explained them as the first is the simplest and if I can find the puncture just by listening, I don’t need to spend time doing anything more elaborate. The third method is the most effective but also means you need to rinse and dry your mattress.

If you are at home, you might consider just jumping straight to the third method as this will allow you to find the hole quickly and effectively and then it is easy to leave your mattress to dry after. I hope all this was useful – there’s nothing more infuriating than an air mattress that keeps going flat!

Did you like my article? Do you have any more unusual methods for finding holes in air mattresses? Click here to see some other ideas on how to do it. Which one do you prefer? I’d love to hear from you so please leave me a comment! If you enjoyed my article, why not share it with your friends!


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