Knowing how to clean a mattress can help you sleep better at night. This guide explains how to clean and freshen your mattress, including formulas to remove stains, odors, and allergens. It also covers how to protect your mattress, so you don’t have to repeat these deep-cleaning steps in the future.
Since a quality mattress costs quite a bit of money, proper care and attention will protect your investment. Although doing this task correctly can take an afternoon, much of that is waiting time, and the work itself is not difficult.
Why Mattresses Need Cleaning
Dead Skin Cells and Dust Mites
Of the estimated 1.6 trillion skin cells on our bodies, roughly 30,000 to 40,000 of them fall off every hour. (If you have eczema or psoriasis as I do, that number may be much higher.) Multiply those figures by the eight hours we’re supposed to get, and we’re shedding around a quarter-million dead skin cells in our sleep.
Sure, your sheets catch most of the skin cells. What they don’t protect your mattress from are the dust mites that feed on those dead skin cells. And, there are hundreds of thousands of those dust mites in your bed.
Or, Glen Needham, a retired professor of entomology at Ohio State University, says, “Every mattress is a crime scene in terms of how it gets inoculated with mites.”
Moisture, Mold, and Mildew
When we sleep, our bodies exude moisture. Some of that moisture is simply the result of us breathing. Some of it is also due to sweat.
If you’re a person who “sleeps hot” or who suffers from hot flashes or night sweats, you know how damp your bedding and mattress can get. Combine the two, and our bodies exude over a pound of moisture each night!
While much of that water vapor and sweat evaporate in the air, plenty still soaks into your mattress. There, the dense materials and warm, dark environment provide the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew spores.
Pets, Kids, and Other Messes
If you have young children, chances are at least one mattress in your home bears the results of a nighttime accident. Even house-trained pets can leave your mattress damp if they spend much time licking their paws or hop on your bed right after a bath. And, of course, full-grown adults can soil a mattress several ways, too.
So, you can put up with a stained mattress that stinks of sweat and body oils, or you can set aside an afternoon to deep clean your mattress and get it looking — and smelling — new again.
How to Clean Your Mattress
You need to strip the bed before you can begin cleaning your mattress, so this is a good time to launder your bed linens, too.
- Using the hottest setting allowed on the manufacturer’s label will kill dust mites on your sheets and blankets.
- Go ahead and wash your pillows and fabric mattress toppers.
- You can even wash an electric blanket if you use one.
While the washer and dryer are doing their thing, turn your attention to cleaning the mattress.
1. Vacuum the Top and Sides
Your vacuum cleaner’s upholstery attachment is the best tool for mattress cleaning. Start at the top and work your way down in overlapping, narrow paths.
Vacuum the sides the same way. Don’t worry about the other side of the mattress just yet — we’ll get there in step 5. For now, we’re clearing away dead skin cells, pet hair, and surface dirt to make the next step more effective.
2. Remove Odors with Baking Soda
What about adding essential oils?
Several readers have asked about mixing essential oils with the baking powder before sprinkling it on their mattresses. I don’t recommend it for a couple of reasons.
- Essential oils are still oils. Rubbing any oil into a fabric is never a good idea — it attracts dirt and can make the bond between the material and soil permanent. That’s pretty much the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve when we clean a mattress!
- It’s a waste of time. By the time you’re done cleaning the mattress, treating stains, and protecting it from future problems, you won’t be able to smell the essential oil, anyway. So why bother?
3. Vacuum Again
After giving the baking soda time to bond with surface moisture and odors, it’s time to get it out of the mattress.
Still using the upholstery attachment, vacuum the top and sides of the mattress with slow, overlapping strokes. Do not press too hard — it interferes with your vacuum’s suction and may snag your bed’s fabric.
4. How to Remove Mattress Stains
Mattresses typically acquire three types of stains: blood, urine, and what we’ll call “other bodily fluids.” While it’s best to treat stains immediately, sometimes sleep is more important. Fortunately, you can still clean stains on your mattress even after they’ve been there a while.
What About Using a Steam Cleaner?
If you’ve ever used one of these devices on your carpet, you know they don’t fully extract moisture.
Even the plushest carpet and pad is only about a half-inch thick, so any remaining dampness quickly wicks to the surface and dries. A mattress, on the other hand, is more like a sponge that’s a foot or thicker.
Pushing water into such a sponge-like structure without wholly extracting it could lead to an even worse mold and mildew problem. So, rather than getting your entire mattress wet and potentially causing more problems, treat mattress stains individually as needed using the methods below.
To remove dried blood stains on mattresses, you need the following:
- Hydrogen peroxide
- 1 tbsp. liquid dish soap
- 1 tbsp. table salt
- Combine 2 ounces of hydrogen peroxide with the dish soap and salt to form a paste.
- Lightly spread the paste on the mattress stain and allow it to dry.
- Scrape off the residue.
- Dab away any remaining stain and paste with a white rag* dampened with more hydrogen peroxide. Rotate the cloth as the stain lifts.
*Using a white rag for cleaning stops dye transferring from the fabric to the mattress.
Urine (Human and Pet)
Urine stains are tough but not impossible to get out once they’re dry. For minor accidents, the pre-treatment alone may be sufficient. If it’s not, the second method should get the rest out.
Urine Stain Pre-Treatment
- 3 tbsp. baking soda (bicarb for UK readers)
- 8 oz. hydrogen peroxide
- A tiny amount of liquid dish soap
- Combine the ingredients listed above and dab the mixture onto the stain using a white rag. (See explanation above.)
- Do NOT drench the mattress!
- Blot the area with a clean cloth and let it fully dry before deciding whether you need to continue treating the spot.
Urine Stain Remover
Often, the pre-treatment is enough to get rid of urine stains on mattresses. If the stain persists, use this second step.
NOTE: This method is not recommended for non-US readers since powdered laundry detergent has a different formulation in other countries that may lead to staining.
- 3 tbsp. powdered laundry detergent
- 1 tablespoon water
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Whisk the powdered detergent and water together to create a dry foam.
- Lightly spread this onto the stain and let it sit for 30 minutes.
- Scrape away the dried paste with a spoon.
- Use a white cloth dipped into hydrogen peroxide to remove any stubborn bits of paste.
- Let the area dry then vacuum it.
Vomit and Other Stubborn Mattress Stains
- Unscented, plain household ammonia
- Baking soda
- Open the windows for proper ventilation.
- Lightly dampen the corner of a white rag with ammonia. Use the damp corner to blot the stain. Do not drench the mattress.
- Immediately blot the area with a fresh cloth dampened with water to lift the stain. If the stain does not lift, wait 5 minutes, and try again.
- Once the mattress stain is gone, wipe the entire area with a clean cloth dampened with water.
- Sprinkle the still-damp area with baking soda to neutralize the ammonia and pull out any remaining moisture. Let this completely dry, then vacuum the spot using the upholstery attachment.
5. Flip and Repeat
Don’t flip your mattress until any areas you’ve treated for stains are thoroughly dry. After flipping, repeat the steps above to finish cleaning your mattress.
Keep Your Mattress Looking New
Cleaning a mattress can easily take an entire afternoon. I don’t know about you, but I can think of many other things I’d rather do with that time. Protect your mattress — and yourself — from needing to repeat this entire process by 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 keeps liquids and allergens from reaching your mattress. Here’s the one I use.
Place the mattress cover directly over your mattress but beneath a quilted mattress pad, if you use one. Launder immediately after any spills or illness. Otherwise, monthly laundering is usually sufficient — or weekly if you have severe allergies.