How to Clean a Mattress

The combination of dust, mold, mildew, body sweat, and more makes mattresses the ideal breeding ground for bacteria and dust mites. And you're sleeping on this thing? Learn how to clean a mattress for a better—and cleaner—night's sleep.

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You already know to clean your sheets, but what about your mattress? That's a different story. If you haven't cleaned the one thing you sleep on every night, it's time for a wakeup call. Check out our need-to-know tips for cleaning and maintaining your mattress. You'll sleep better knowing you can trust the cleanliness of your own bed!

Vacuum It

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Vacuum your mattress every month or so, or every time you change the sheets if you or family members have severe allergies. Turn off the beater bars, and run the vacuum very slowly over the mattress so it has time to inhale the dust and dust mites. Break out the crevice tool for the edges.

TIP: "If the kids want to play Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, let them do that right before you vacuum the mattress," says Mary Findley of goclean.com, a former pro cleaner and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Cleaning. "It brings dust and dust mites to the surface, where they are easier for the vacuum to inhale."

Beat It Annually

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"Once a year in the spring, I haul my mattress to the patio, brace it against the back of my home, and do like Grandma used to do—beat it with a broom on both sides," Findley says. "The dust that flies is amazing." Alternatively, just vacuum both sides well, as described above.

While you have the mattress removed, vacuum the box spring, too. Lightly spritz the mattress with straight distilled white vinegar to help kill bacteria and mold and discourage dust mites.

Slay Stains

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Treat any stain immediately. The longer liquids sit in a mattress, the likelier they are to foster mold and mildew growth.

Findley recommends using foaming shaving cream for mattress cleaning, in part because of its thickness. "Liquids soak right through a mattress, not allowing sufficient time to dissolve the stain," she says. "Foaming shaving cream contains denatured alcohol, which is a stain remover, and it's thick, so it sits on the surface to work on the stain." Wait 10-15 minutes, wipe with a damp cloth, and rinse with a 50-50 vinegar-water solution. Repeat if necessary.

Other helpful solutions for common mattress stains:

  • Blood: A 50-50 hydrogen peroxide-water solution.
  • Urine, fecal matter, or vomit: An enzyme cleaner, such as Bac-Out by BioClean, or Nature's Miracle, available at pet stores. (Use before trying other methods, as residue from other cleaners will kill the enzymes before they can work.)

Good to Know

Freshen Fast Use a mixture of cornstarch and baking soda to remove smells, says Leslie Reichert, aka The Cleaning Coach. Just shake it onto the mattress, let sit for a few hours or longer, then vacuum. "The cornstarch will absorb body oils, while the baking soda tackles odors," she says.

Sheet Strategy When laundering sheets, strip the bed in the morning, and don't put new sheets on until evening. "Allowing the mattress to air all day discourages dust mites and bacterial growth," Findley says.

Pad It Remember, mattress pads aren't just for comfort. They keep your mattress cleaner, too, says Donna Smallin Kuper of unclutter.com and author of Cleaning Plain and Simple. Wash monthly in hot water, and machine-dry thoroughly unless the tag instructs otherwise.

Go Pro For serious stains, consider calling a mattress-cleaning professional. Look for someone who will clean with steam rather than using chemicals, Findley says, to avoid causing more problems than you solve. She also suggests pretreating stains yourself with natural products, such as vinegar or peroxide, so your pro won't resort to commercial stain removers.

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