It’s good to know how to clean a mattress considering just how much stuff builds up in and on this soft surface where we spend so much time. You already know about dust mites and other critters in your mattress, but many mattresses also contain sweat, blood, urine and other bodily fluids… along with mold and mildew growing on those very things. Unless you shower before bed every night, your mattress might also contain dirt, oils and trace chemicals from various toiletries, and even pollen.
I know what you’re thinking: “Thanks, Katie, now I’ll never be able to sleep!” but you don’t have to take a siesta from your snoozing. Just follow this guide and you’ll know how to clean a mattress so the only thing that will keep you up at night are those forgotten to-do’s that pop into your head the instant you turn the light off. (Or is that just me?)
How to Clean a Mattress
Before you start cleaning your mattress, strip the bed and launder your linens. Wash and dry your mattress pad first, then the sheets, and finally your bedspread/comforter/duvet. Check the manufacturer’s labels first and use the hottest water and dryer heat setting allowed since heat will kill dust mites in your bedding. While the washer and dryer are doing their thing, turn your attention to the mattress.
1. Vacuum it: Your vacuum cleaner’s upholstery attachment is your Number One ally in mattress cleaning. Start at the top of the mattress and work your way down in overlapping, narrow paths and then vacuum the sides of your mattress the same way. (Don’t worry about the other side of the mattress just yet; we’ll get there.)
2. Deodorize it: Although we don’t usually notice our own bodily smells, over time sweat can build up and lead to an unmistakable funky aroma. To rid your mattress of rankness, sprinkle it well with baking soda and rub it in with a scrub brush so it gets into the mattress fabric where the stink lives. (If you’d like to scent your mattress, mix the baking soda with a few drops of essential oil first. Lavender is reputed to be a sleep aid, but sandalwood is nice, too.) Let the baking soda sit for 10 minutes, and then…
3. Vacuum again: By scrubbing the baking soda into your mattress you’ve helped it bond with moisture and body oils in the mattress material. Vacuuming it a second time pulls that moisture out, along with the cause of the odors.
4. Get the stains out: Mattresses typically acquire three types of stains: blood, urine, and what we’ll just call “other bodily fluids.” While it’s best to treat stains immediately with cold water and a little dish soap or hydrogen peroxide (hot water sets these type of stains), let’s face it, sometimes sleep is more important. Here’s how to clean stains on your mattress after they’ve set in:
- Dried blood stains can be treated by making a paste of 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide mixed with 1 tbsp. each liquid dish soap and table salt. Rub this into the stain and allow it to sit until dry before scraping the residue off. Dab at any remaining stain with a white rag dipped into hydrogen peroxide, rotating the rag as the stain lifts off. (Using a white rag prevents dye transfer from the cloth to the mattress.) No hydrogen peroxide? Make a paste of meat tenderizer and water instead. The tenderizer’s enzymes will dissolve the blood’s protein bonds.
- Urine stains are tough but not impossible to get out once they’re dry, but this two-step method helped dramatically when my kids were little. First, dissolve 3 tbsp. baking soda in 8 oz. of hydrogen peroxide then add a drop or two of liquid dish soap. Dab this solution onto the spot. (Do NOT drench your mattress!) If the stain persists, wait until the mattress is dry then whisk together 3 tablespoons dry laundry detergent powder (NOT Oxiclean or anything containing oxygenated bleach) and 1 tablespoon water to make a dry foam. Lightly spread this on the stain and let it sit for 30 minutes. Scrape away any residue and vacuum well.
- Other bodily fluids (vomit, etc.): Open the windows then, using a white rag, blot the stain with undiluted, unscented household ammonia. Do NOT drench your mattress! Wipe the area with a clean, damp cloth and sprinkle the spot with baking soda to neutralize the ammonia odor and pull out any lingering moisture. Let this dry then vacuum the area thoroughly.
(UPDATE: Some readers have encountered problems with the laundry detergent step. I’ve added in exact measurements and clarified that the laundry detergent you use should NOT have oxygenating bleach or other anti-stain additives.)
5. Flip it: Innerspring or coil mattresses should be flipped side-to-side and top-to-bottom weekly for the first three months of ownership, then quarterly after that. To help me remember which side and end goes where, I used a permanent marker and wrote in small letters: “Winter/Summer” on one end of the mattress, and “Spring/Fall” on one side. On June 21st, for instance, I rotated the foot of the mattress toward the headboard, then September 23 I’ll flip the mattress over, and so on. If yours is a pillow-top mattress you can’t flip it over but should still rotate it top to bottom seasonally.
6. Repeat: While you’ve got the materials handy, repeat the cleaning process above after flipping your mattress.
7. Wrap it up: Since cleaning mattresses is such a daunting task, I wholeheartedly recommend using a washable mattress cover. I’m not talking about the crinkly, plastic kind you might remember from childhood. These days, mattress covers are made from fabric bonded to a waterproof layer that prevents liquids and dead skin from touching your mattress. (Here’s the one I use.) Pop that cover into the wash if you have a spill, and make laundering it part of your weekly bedroom cleaning routine so you’ll never have to know how to clean a mattress again.