How to Clean a Mattress

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Cleaning your mattress is an important but often overlooked task for keeping your sleeping area fresh and healthy. Regularly cleaning your mattress can remove allergens, dust, bacteria, and stop serious mattress problems including mold and odors. To keep your mattress safe, healthy, and clean, you’ll need to manage routine cleaning as well as address larger problems like spots, stains, odors, and even bed bugs and dust mites. Washing your sheets and pillows is a start, but that’s not all you need to do. Routine cleaning makes your bed a more comfortable place to sleep, and taking care of stains, odors, and infestations right away can protect your mattress from more serious problems. Keeping your mattress clean is important, but not difficult. Often, all you’ll need to do is wash your bedding regularly, vacuum every few months, and add a protective mattress cover. But even more intensive cleaning like spot removal or even removing odors is usually about as simple as spraying your mattress down and giving it a good scrub. In this guide, you’ll learn when you need to clean your mattress, how to manage regular cleanings, and even take care of problems like odors, bed bugs, and dust mites. You’ll also find out when it’s time to throw in the towel and give up on your old mattress that’s just not worth saving. Read on to learn everything you need to know about mattress cleaning.

Signs You Need to Clean Your Mattress

  • You haven’t cleaned it in a few months: Your mattress needs to be cleaned every few months to keep it fresh.
  • You’re allergic to sleeping: Dust buildup can aggravate allergies and cause you to suffer at night. If you feel allergy symptoms more often in bed or as you wake up, it’s probably time to clean up the dust.
  • You’ve noticed bugs or strange bites: Bed bug infestations may not always be obvious, especially in the early stages. But you can look for signs, including seeing the bugs, noticing microscopic blood stains or insect waste spots, or unusual bites on your body.
  • Your mattress has an odor: Mattresses can smell from dust and skin buildup, or have an odor from bodily fluids, even mold. Odors on your mattress can be gross and disruptive for sleeping and even point to a sign of a bigger problem you need to address.
  • You have obvious stains: How did that stain get there? Whether mattress stains are a mystery or you know their origin, it’s best to address stains as soon as you know about them.
 

Keeping Your Mattress Fresh

Even if you don’t have stains, odors, or other cleanliness concerns about your mattress, you should clean it every few months to keep it fresh and avoid buildup of dust, dirt, and bacteria. It’s also important to adequately protect your mattress from spills and stains.

  • Change your sheets: Bed sheets should be in hot water every one to two weeks. Change them more often if you’re sick, you notice a stain, or you’ve been particularly sweaty at night.
  • Vacuum your mattress: Pull out your vacuum and clean up dust and dirt every few months while you’ve got your sheets off for cleaning. Use your vacuum’s upholstery tool to cover the top and sides of the mattress as well as the bed spring. You’ll need to press firmly to get dirt below the surface. Clean out the quilting and other small details with the crevice tool.
  • Address spills, stains, and odors right away: Avoid letting stains or odors sink in on your mattress. Quickly spray down stains and disinfect odors as soon as you notice them.
  • Add baking soda: Baking soda can absorb odors and freshen your mattress. Sprinkle a light layer on top, let it sit for several minutes, then vacuum it up before making your bed.
  • Air out your mattress: Fresh air and sunshine is great for getting rid of odors and bleaching out stains. Wait for a clear day and find a clean spot where you can set your mattress to air out for a few hours. Even if you can’t get your mattress outside, simply standing it up near a sunny open window can help air it out a bit.
  • Don’t make your bed right away: You can air out your mattress every day by simply leaving your bed undone for thirty minutes or more in the mornings. While you’re getting ready for the day, pull the covers all the way back and let moisture and odors escape before making your bed.
  • Avoid excessive sweating in bed: Everyone sweats in their sleep, but if you’re waking up soaked most nights, it could be a problem for your mattress, encouraging mold and mildew growth. Try not to make sweating in bed a regular habit. Adjust your thermostat, wear different clothes to bed, get a lighter comforter and sheets, and consider a breathable mattress topper if your mattress sleeps hot.
  • Use a mattress cover: Mattress covers are always worth it. It’s much easier to throw a mattress cover in the washer than it is to try and coax a stain or smell out of your mattress. Look for a waterproof mattress cover that will offer protection from spills, odors, and bacteria.
 

Cleaning Stains, Odors, and Infestations

Everyday mattress freshness is important, but you may need to take things a step further if you have spots, stains, odors, or even bugs. You should always clean up these messes quickly and effectively to avoid damaging your mattress. Stay on top of big mattress messes with thorough cleaning to keep your mattress clean and healthy.

Removing Bed Bugs

No one wants to think about bugs in their bed, but the reality is that bed bugs can happen even if you practice good mattress hygiene. All it takes is one trip for a few bed bugs to hitch a ride on your luggage and come home. But the good news is that most infestations can be treated.

  1. Throw everything in the laundry: Bed bugs don’t just attack your bed. They get into bedding, blankets, stuffed animals, pillows, curtains, even your clothes. Put everything that’s washable into your washing machine and run it on hot to zap all of the bugs.
  2. Bag everything else: Bug bugs stick to hard surfaces, too. They can hide in your phone, laptop, clock radio, books, and other personal items. Bag these items and place Nuvan strips inside to kill the bugs.
  3. Search and destroy bugs on your mattress: Find as many bed bugs as you can on your mattress and vacuum them up. You can see what bed bugs and their eggs look like here. Use a flashlight, look in every nook and cranny, and go over every spot at least twice. Never use vacuum attachments with brushes or bristles. Bed bugs may cling to them.
  4. Find beg bugs in furniture: Bed bugs may have spread to other furniture, including your bed frame and dresser. Vacuum them up as you find them, and be thorough. Look for eggs and search inside and under all furniture and drawers with a flashlight.
  5. Clean every surface: Scrub infested surfaces. Be sure to wipe down every surface, even if it was not affected. Look in baseboards, cracks, and holes in walls. Scrape the surface of carpets or rugs with a vacuum attachment, then vacuum thoroughly to pull bed bugs out.
  6. Cover your mattress with an encasement: A mattress encasement places a protective barrier on your mattress. Bed bugs won’t be able to get in or out of your mattress through the encasement. It may be unnerving to think that you could have bed bugs still living and trapped in your mattress, but they will starve and die eventually. The mattress encasement ensures they’ll have nothing new to eat and you won’t have a new infestation in your mattress. Consider vacuuming your mattress one more time before adding the encasement.
  7. Vacuum dead bugs after a year: Bed bugs will be dead after a year. You can remove your mattress encasement to vacuum up the last of the bed bugs.
  8. Call for help: Some bed bug infestations are beyond the skills of a DIY bed bug exterminator. Call a professional if you’re having trouble getting bed bugs under control or they keep coming back after you’ve treated them. You don’t want bed bugs to continue to grow their infestation of your mattress and home.

Treating Dust Mites

Dust mites are definitely the lesser evil when it comes to creepy crawlies in your bed, but that’s not to say you want them sticking around. Dust mites make themselves at home in mattresses, feeding on human skin in warm, humid spots. They often aggravate allergies, making your mattress an uncomfortable place to sleep. But you can banish them from your bed with cleaning and preventive maintenance.

  1. Wash your sheets weekly: Dust mites live on dead human skin and they find it in your sheets. Wash your sheets and pillows every week in hot water so you’re not giving dust mites anything to live on.
  2. Dry your sheets outside: Direct sunlight kills dust mites, so if you hang sheets and pillows outside to dry, you can kill off any dust mites you may have missed in the washer.
  3. Get a new pillow: Change to a new pillow every six months to get rid of any dust mites living inside.
  4. Take a steamer to your mattress: Steam vapors will kill dust mites (and bacteria) on contact, so run a steam cleaner over all mattress surfaces every few months. Be sure to cover everything, as you won’t be able to see dust mites.
  5. Vacuum your mattress: Remove dead and live dust mites from your mattress by vacuuming them up with your upholstery attachment. Use a crevice tool to get into quilting and other tight spots.
  6. Use a mattress cover: A mattress cover won’t keep dust mites out of your bedding, but it can keep them from burrowing into your mattress where they’re tougher to get rid of. Using a mattress cover, you’ll just need to stay on top of regularly washing your sheets and pillows.

Washing Spots and Stains

Spots and stains are common on mattresses. Sweat, accidents, even food can end up on your mattress and leave a spot or stick around as a stain. You should take care of these as soon as you can to avoid letting the stains set, or have spots become odors or even mold.

  1. Blot thoroughly: Be sure to blot up any liquids. Use a towel or other clean cloth to remove as much liquid as you can. You don’t want liquid to soak into your mattress and leave a stain or encourage mold growth or odor.
  2. Spray areas with a dish detergent mix: Clean spots and stains with a 50/50 mix of water and dish detergent. Let it sit, then scrub thoroughly. Repeat spraying, sitting, and scrubbing a few times for stains that won’t come up easily. Be sure not to let your mattress get too wet by blotting up any excess moisture from the spray mix.
  3. Sprinkle baking soda: For added freshness, odor fighting, and cleaning power, sprinkle baking soda on your mattress. Let it sit and then vacuum it up.
  4. Remove bodily fluids with laundry detergent: Laundry detergent is formulated to break up urine, blood, and other bodily fluids, so try some detergent and water to clean these off of your mattress. Hydrogen peroxide will work as well. Do not use hot water, as it will set stains.

Removing Odors

Sleeping on a smelly mattress is simply unpleasant. Left unchecked, mattress odors can interfere with your sleep and comfort and lead to bigger problems like bacteria and mold growth. Keep your mattress smelling fresh and healthy with odor removal.

  1. Vacuum your mattress: Vacuuming won’t remove every odor from your mattress, but it’s a good start for getting things clean and ready to scrub down.
  2. Use baking soda: Baking soda is a great odor eliminator. Sprinkle it directly onto your mattress, let it sit, then vacuum it up to pick up odors.
  3. Spray your mattress: Spray the affected area with vinegar or an odor eliminating agent like Febreeze, then blot and scrub the area. Use vinegar sparingly, as the odor from vinegar may also be unpleasant to sleep with.
  4. Air out your mattress: Air dry your mattress, ideally outside. Often, direct sunlight will zap out odors.

When to Replace Your Mattress Instead of Cleaning

For stains, spot cleaning, odors, and even bed bugs and dust mites, it’s usually best to simply clean your mattress rather than replace it. After all, mattresses can be expensive to replace, and there are so many ways to clean them effectively. But there are situations when it’s just not worth it to save a mattress that’s beyond help — or even a health hazard.

  • Mold: Mold on your mattress is a sign that you’ve left a spot dirty or wet (usually both) for far too long. Once mold starts, it’s really tough to get rid of. Even if you clean your mattress thoroughly, you may never know if you’ve actually eliminated the mold. Sleeping on a mattress with mold every night can be a serious health hazard, so it’s really best to just start fresh unless you catch and treat mold quickly.
  • Extensive bed bugs: Bed bugs are the plague of mattresses, dreaded by every mattress owner. If you catch and eliminate them before they get out of control, it’s fine to keep your treated mattress. However, a serious bed bug infestation will leave your mattress covered with tiny specks of blood, insect waste, and more creepy crawlies than you may be comfortable sleeping on ever again. If your bed bugs are out of control, consider getting rid of your mattress. But remember that even if your mattress is gone, bed bugs will still remain in your home, so you’ll need to treat clothing, other soft items, furniture, and more to eliminate bed bugs before you bring in a new mattress.
  • Old mattresses: It’s almost always worth it to save a still usable mattress with a small stain or odor. But is it really worth the trouble if your mattress is past its comfortable lifespan anyway? Most mattresses are only usable for 7-10 years before they become too worn and uncomfortable. If you’re facing an arduous cleaning task on an old mattress, consider just upgrading instead.
 
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