Sunday, August 9, 2015

Batting Bed FAQ

How much will this bed cost to make?

The estimated price of this bed in 2015 is US $300-$600 per person. It is based on the per-person cost of the cotton batting - how many layers are needed to make a sleeping area to accommodate one person (estimated as 22" to 45" wide by a generous 90" long) with a comfortably firm sleeping surface.  If you are sleeping two people, of course you would double this estimated cost - for three people, you'd triple it, etc.

In our case, we spent about $500 five years ago on batting to accommodate two people, plus $50 for a rotary cutter and blades. If we bought the bed today, the same materials and supplies would cost us about $650 for two people.

I will try to help you estimate how much it would cost you here. It depends first on the number of layers needed.

Number of Layers You Need

Each sleeper requires a certain number of layers, and the exact number depends on his or her comfort. Don't underestimate the number of layers you will need; cotton batting, while fluffy, is thinner than mattress toppers and compacts over time. We currently use about 30 layers.  After five years, we are thinking of doubling that to 60 for extra comfort, but we are in no great hurry to do so.

If you are intimidated by these numbers, remember that one king-size layer can be folded into three or even four layers, depending on your chosen width. The minimum number of layers of batting you probably want to start with is 30.

This Means How Much Batting, Exactly?

To figure out how much batting you need, let's start with one bolt of the cotton batting we recommend, which can be gotten off of Amazon.  The bolt is 90" by 1440". If you cut it into 90" x 90" squares, you'll get about 16 pieces.

Now you need to figure out how you'll arrange those layers.  Each of those pieces could be:

  • triple-folded (in other words, folded into three layers, each about 30" wide) for an average-sized person, yielding a total of 48 layers
  • quadruple-folded (folded into four layers, each 22" wide) for an extra skinny bed, yielding 64 layers
  • folded in half for a 45" wide bifold bed, yielding 32 layers.  
As you can see, one bolt will give you more than enough layers to start, even if you make the bed extra wide, and may even give you the extra you need to make the bed extra comfy.

So...What Did YOU Do?

Is that what we did?  Not quite. We bought two bolts for two people, but started by sharing one bolt between two people. We each ended up with about 15 layers. Though at first it seemed fine, within a few weeks it quickly compacted and became too hard. We then added the second bolt and another 15 layers, making it one bolt per person, total. We've also stretched out those layers between us at various times to accommodate a small child, too.

And that's what we've used since then, and what I am now recommending you start with.

Can this bed be any size I want?

Yes. I'll need to answer any question about size in three dimensions:

There is no limit to the length you can make your bed, barring the length of the cotton batting fabric itself. Practically speaking, we've found that 90", the shorter dimension of the bolt, is a good length. It leaves a 6' person with plenty of leg room. For reference, king size beds are 80" long, and California kings are 84" long.

The bed can be any width you want. From experience, I advise you to start narrower than you think you need.  A floor bed is not like a typical box spring and mattress bed, or futon in a frame, in which your limbs hang out uncomfortably if they extend beyond the margins.  Having an arm or hand flung out onto the floor is not a big deal. The important thing is that your trunk is well-cushioned.

The bed can be as thick and padded as you wish. The thicker it is, the more comfortable it will be, but the longer it will take to wash on washing day.

What kind of batting is used in this bed?

The batting IS the bed, so this is a very good question. Before we tried layers of cotton batting, we experimented with other padding ideas including loose batting (in futons and shikibutons), and even socks, yarn balls, towels, t-shirts, jeans, and other assorted scraps.

We found that cotton quilt batting has three main benefits:

  • It spreads out its padding evenly and prevents clumping.
  • It is washable.
  • It is far cheaper than the quilts it goes into.

The batting we use is all cotton, 100% cotton. The 100% refers to the fluffy part inside.

There is also a very thin layer that wraps around the fluffy part and holds it in and keeps it from clumping. It has a small amount of polyester - I believe the ratio is 87% cotton to 13% polyester. I wrestled with this for a while when we first implemented our idea. I really wanted no synthetic fibers at all, not even a tiny bit, out of principle. But we decided to go with it because it was a necessary structural element.   Fluffy cotton fibers such as those in futons tend to migrate, to clump, to bunch up and fragment. This has happened hardly at all with our cotton batting, and I think that's because of the fine netting of cotton/poly film covering it.

For how to find the batting, see our Buy Supplies page.

How do you make the bed (put sheets and blankets and stuff on it)?

Very simply.

We no longer use fitted sheets, which makes me happy, since I have always loathed wrestling with fitted sheets. Why have I given up on fitted sheets? Well, because of the sizes of layers we used, fitted sheets result in bunching up of edges and overall looseness in the bottom sheet.

Over the top layer of batting, we spread out a large top sheet and tuck it in firmly all around the sides. This becomes our bottom sheet.

We then put down another top sheet.  This is the real top sheet.

This sheet can be tucked around the bed, too. But we generally do not tuck in this top sheet, because the only place to tuck it in is between the bed and the floor, and we do not want our top sheet to collect dirt from the floor that might end up back in the bed. We just leave it loosely spread out.

Then we put down pillows, blankets, quilts, comforters, etc. kind of haphazardly.

Because the top sheet ends up being so much larger than the bed, itself, we sort of tuck ourselves in like we're cocoons.

It's cozy.

This is one of our batting beds. It looks messy because we neglected to tuck in the bottom sheet around the sides this time. Also, this was right before washing day. We wash and re-assemble the bed once every several months. It's all lumpy-looking because we've stuffed in some extra padding to hold us until washing day, when it will get re-fluffed.

Wait a Minute - You Mean This Bed Won't Work With My Fitted Sheets?

It can work - if you're determined.  A fitted sheet can even keep the bed together in a unit, which might be an advantage if you want to slide it around a lot.

But if you want to use your standard fitted sheets with this kind of bed, you will need to cut the pieces of quilt batting to the correct dimensions to accommodate the standard sizes of fitted sheets.

Then just tuck the fitted sheet around the corners and edges. It'll be wrinkly and loose, because a bare quilt bed is flatter than a mattress, but it should technically work.

Unfortunately, I can't help you with the dimensions you'll need, because we decided NOT to do this. You'll have to experiment, yourself. For us, fitted sheets became a liability, not a resource, so we stopped using them.

Why Does This Bed Need So Much Care?

This bed needs a certain amount of regular care.  So does any 100% cotton shikibuton or futon or even a regular mattress. But a batting bed requires more care than those beds, not because it is more finicky and sensitive, but because you can keep it in better condition, so why not?

For example, a mattress or futon can acquire mold, bed bugs, dust mites, and dirt as easily as this bed. Alas, you can only spot clean it. So you tend to live with all that stuff, maybe get a washable allergen cover to protect you from the allergens.

Our batting bed, we can wash. Washing and drying can kill bed bugs and dust mites. We bleach it, either in the sun or with chlorine bleach. (The instructions probably said not to use chlorine bleach, but we've ignored that blatantly.)

Here are two ways that machine washing and drying keeps the bed clean and comfortable:

  1. The dryer heat, soap, and optional bleach sanitizes the bed.
  2. Comfort is improved first, because the dryer fluffs up the batting, and second, by arranging the bed again. When you put down the batting layers after washing and drying, you turn them randomly each time so the area of compression gets averaged out over time.

How do I take care of the bed?

Roll or Fold

One way to keep the bed as fluffy as possible for the longest time between washings is to roll it up or fold it up over itself after each use. (Because of my bad back, I don't do this anymore.) This does rejuvinate the padding and is worth the trouble if you're athletic. It works better for beds sized for individuals rather than couples.


When your bed gets soiled or simply starts feeling too hard and flat, it is time to wash either the affected top layers or, ideally, the whole bed.

First, disassemble the bed by taking apart each of the layers. This can require some pulling. Don't leave layers stuck together when you put them in the washing machine.

Pull apart the layers of batting, which will be stuck together with friction.

Being able to wash the bed means that you don't have to throw it away. Many times in my life, I've had to discard expensive mattresses that had gotten contaminated with something or other.

Pile of about thirty 90" x 90" sheets of cotton quilt batting, ready to be washed. This is enough cotton batting to make beds for 2 to 3 individuals.

We wash ours with bleach when we think it needs bleach. We use the hot water temperature and either a regular or permanent-press setting. I advise perma-press if your washing machine is very vigorous.

Three pieces 90" x 90" fit into one load of our top-loading machine. Fewer may fit into yours. Check your machine's capacity - don't overstuff.

We don't use bleach every time because we know that washing items reduces their lifespan, and bleach accelerates that erosion. We want our bed to last as long as possible. I do bleach at least once a year. So far, none of the layers has developed holes.

Reasons to Wash the Bed:

  • Spills and messes
  • Mildew smell
  • Mold concerns
  • Dust mites
  • Bed bugs
  • Fluffs it up

To minimize wear on the batting layers, you could also consider just drying the layers that don't seem soiled. As I understand it, that should be enough to kill the dust mites and fluff up the layer.

What different arrangements are possible with the bed?

Possible arrangements include:

  • single beds of varying sizes
  • shared (double/queen/king)
  • shared (nonstandard dimensions)

This illustration shows some possible arrangements of the batting beds.
Even if you're sleeping more than one person, single beds have a number of advantages.

  • They can accommodate each person's preference for thickness and size.
  • Because they are sized more like cots, they can squeeze into smaller spaces, turning areas not typically used as sleeping areas into "camp" beds.
  • They can be pushed together to make larger beds.
  • They are more easily moved.
  • They are more easily rolled up.
  • They can be washed and the beds made separately, rather than having to be done in one huge batch.

So the bed is just a pile of unsewn quilts?

Pretty much, yes. You may have the ideal bed already in your attic.  If you have 15+ large old quilts lying around, go for it.  Or see what's available in secondhand or thrift stores. Use the advice on this blog for suggested sizes and widths, or experiment with ways to fold them so they provide a comfortable padding. Wash all of them whenever you feel like it in the washing machine. You will be amazed!

Should the layers of the bed be sewn together or wrapped up in some way to make them more mattress-like?

The batting bed can be used bare or with a cover, like an allergy-friendly mattress cover.

I am not much of a sewer and honestly cannot answer the question about sewing. I do not know of a way to stitch the layers together effectively. Furthermore, with a permanently sewn shikibuton-like bed, washing and re-fluffing becomes a problem.  You might as well buy a shikibuton.

But here are some questions you can ask yourself about the matter of encasement:

Are the aesthetics of the bed of utmost importance to you?

If they are and you really want the bed to look neat and tidy, you might want to consider stuffing them into an encasement.

Do you prefer to make one size of bed and stick with it, or might you want to change the size over time?

If being modular is an important benefit of this bed to you, don't use a casing.  If you use a casing, you are limiting your sizing options. Your layers need to be cut or folded to match the size of the casing. You'll also need to take shrinkage into account when matching cut sizes to casings, so this will require some experimentation on your part.

Do you like carrying really heavy mattresses around?

While an encased mattress is neater, it is unwieldy. As a person with a bad back, I appreciate being able to wash and re-arrange this bed piece by piece. We're not so crazy about lugging around bulky mattresses. But if this appeals to you, then yes. Wrap away.

Do you like stuffing quilts or comforters into duvet covers?

We find the act of trying to stuff a bunch of layers into an encasement without adding uncomfortable wrinkles to said layers to be frustrating. If stuffing big, flat puffy things into cases doesn't intimidate you, then by all means do it.

As I said before, our batting bed is essentially a bare pile of unsewn quilts. Instead of fastening the layers together, here is what we do:

We throw the layers of batting bed down on top of each other. The friction between them keeps them sticking to each other so they don't slide around. It's best for two people to layer them on; it will be more laborious with one person alone, but it can be done; I usually end up doing it all myself, actually.

Getting perfectly square edges is not really possible. Like wood and other natural fibers, cotton shrinks more along one direction than another, and it's not always easy to spot the orientation of shrinkage when you're throwing down layers. The end product looks a little messy until the bottom bedsheet is tucked in around it. We frankly don't care. We're past the point of prioritizing aesthetics.

Without a cover, doesn't the cotton fluff in the batting quickly get washed away?

Actually and surprisingly, no, at least for the product we used. Although some cotton ends up in the lint screen, it's not an excessive amount and the longevity of these unquilted layers of batting is impressive. As I mentioned above, that is probably because of the fine netting of poly-cotton that surrounds each layer.

I was actually quite worried about this when we first implemented this bedding solution. I've noticed that over time, washing-machine erosion does have a somewhat noticeable effect, but it's gradual.  One way to solve this if it becomes a problem is to add a couple of layers to the bed every year.

Quilting all this batting with a sewing machine would almost certainly solve the problem of fluff loss and also probably help the layers remain fluffy longer, allowing more time between washings.

What's bad about this bed?

So far, we're the only people we know who have made this kind of bed. I've tried to think of all the potential problems and discuss them on these pages, but I have no idea if I've failed to take into account something important. There's still the possibility that this is solution is an awesome one only to us.

As stated above, one flaw we do know about with this bed is that over time, some of the fluff is lost in the washing machine. Not a lot. But enough. We want to improve this.

The solution of quilting all the layers is expensive and time-consuming, and we haven't done it yet. In the meantime, the batting bed as described is working well for us. In just a few years, it's been a very economical and comfortable solution for us.

Are you selling this bed?

No. It is essentially just a pile of cotton batting. We think it's easy enough to make that you can do it yourself. Besides, it wouldn't be as modular if it were cut to standard heights and widths, because its the adjustable nature of this bed that's one of the major benefits.

Then how do you plan to make money from this blog?

I earn my living from writing, researching, and designing.  I earn a commission if you buy the batting from a link in this article; however, you do not need to use that link to make this bed.  Just find the batting you want at any store and go for it!

If I make this bed, are you interested in knowing how it turns out?

You bet your life! Since I've never shared this idea with anyone else before, I would love to know if you tried this bed and if it worked for you or not. You might have wonderful new ideas for improving it that we'd love to hear.

Beyond that, I like the idea of a "folk bed" solution that people can make and repurpose for themselves easily and inexpensively without reliance on big corporations and manufacturers. Beds really don't need to be so expensive, so hard to move, or so unhealthy.

Now that you've been through the FAQ, why not check out how we actually make the bed?


  1. You actually saved my life. I was going to plunk down $$$$ for a simple Japanese futon. I prefer going the DIY route.

    Thank you.

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