Your Mattress Is Filthy—Here’s How To Clean and Deodorize It

Photo: Stocksy / Alexey Kuzma
There’s nothing quite like slipping under the sheets after an exhaustingly long day. But did you know that there’s a very good chance that you’re cuddling up with a ton of microscopic filth? Unsettling but true—your mattress likely needs a serious refresh.

Don’t panic though! Just because your mattress needs a deep clean doesn’t mean that you need to toss it and find a replacement. Instead, it all comes down to knowing how to clean a mattress.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of it, you might first be wondering if your mattress is actually dirty? Even if you shower daily, the answer is probably yes. That’s because regardless of whether or not your sheets are clean, body odor (which can pop up overnight if you sweat even the slightest bit) can easily transfer to your bedding (mattress included)—and if it does, it’s bound to linger if not addressed. Unfortunately, unlike bed sheets and pillows, you can’t simply toss a mattress into the washing machine.

What's the best way to clean a mattress?

You'll find more than a few answers when trying to decide how to clean your mattress. That said, according to Amerisleep sleep and mattress expert April Mayer, overall, it’s best to clean a mattress without relying on water or liquid cleaners.

“Mattresses, particularly modern foam mattresses, are not made to get wet,” says Mayer. “When moisture lingers inside the mattress, it can degrade the materials and promote mold growth.” Mayer admits that you may need to use a tiny amount of vinegar or an enzyme cleaner to remove stains, but for general maintenance, a vacuum cleaner should suffice.

Of course, abolishing odors requires a different method. “When deodorizing a mattress, the simplest way to do so is with a handful of baking soda,” Mayer shares. “First, sprinkle the baking soda across the surface, then leave it alone for at least 30 minutes.” If your mattress is particularly smelly, though, she says that you may want to give the baking soda a few hours to really absorb the odor-causing bacteria. “Once you’re ready to remove the baking soda, simply use a vacuum cleaner to remove the particles,” she says.

As far as how often you ought to perform this routine, there’s no hard and fast rule. Simply, if you start to notice a funky scent, you know what to do.

How to remove stains from a mattress

As briefly mentioned above, the one exception to the no-liquid rule is if stains are at play. For fresh liquid stains, Mayer says to immediately absorb as much of the liquid as possible with paper towels or a cloth towel, making sure to dab not rub, as rubbing can set a stain further (unless done methodically—more on that later).

Once the towels can’t absorb any more liquid, she says to use a spray bottle filled with vinegar to gently mist the affected area. “Next, use more towels to absorb the vinegar, then dust the area with baking soda and let it sit for a few hours,” she instructs, noting to let it sit for up to eight hours for dark stains.

If you’re working with an old stain, however, Mayer recommends adding detergent to the mix. “Combine one part gentle detergent with two parts water in a spray bottle,” she says. “Shake the contents until thoroughly mixed, then lightly spray the affected area. Next, take a clean cloth and move it in gentle circles over the stain to scrub at it.”

Once you’re satisfied that the stain is removed, Mayer says to dampen another clean towel and move it circularly (and gently) on the stain to sop up the cleaning solution and any remnants of the stain. “Then, press a dry cloth to the area to absorb as much excess moisture as possible and leave it to air dry,” she instructs.

The proper cleaning technique for your mattress

Whether you’re hoping to simply remove crumbs that made their way onto your mattress, stains, or odors that have sunk deep within it, Mayer says that it’s important to remove all the bedding, including the protector (if you have one). Once completely bare, she says to run your vacuum not only on the top surface of the mattress but along all edges and seams, too. The same is said for baking soda application. If after sprinkling solely the surface of your mattress the smells don’t subside, she recommends targeting the edges and sides, too.

What to avoid when cleaning your mattress

While some cleaning hacks suggest adding essential oils to the odor-absorbing, mattress-cleaning process—or even to simply create a more soothing sleep space—Mayer warns against it. “Essential oils can ruin the foam,” she says. “Instead, we recommend spraying your bedroom with a room spray or relying on a diffuser if you want a particular smell lingering as you fall asleep.

The best way to avoid having to tend to mattress odors and stains in the first place is to add a waterproof mattress protector to your bed. While protectors often get a bad rap for being crinkly and obnoxious to sleep on (as they’re often associated with the heavy plastic covers of yesteryear designed to protect against bed-wetting accidents), they’ve come a long way.

“Plus, protectors are inexpensive and can help extend your mattress’s overall lifespan,” Mayer says.

Hospitology Products Mattress Encasement — $38.00

Speaking of mattress protectors coming a long way, this one from Hospitology Products features high thread-count polyester knit fabric materials that is super gentle on the skin. In fact, it’s so soft to the touch that you wouldn’t even know it’s on a mattress. At the same time, it’s completely waterproof so you don’t have to worry about moisture and excess sweat seeping through if you’re a hot sleeper.

Amerisleep Bamboo Mattress Protector — $90.00

Among the many things that stand out about this mattress protector, is its breathability. The top is made with bamboo-spandex jersey top to keep your body cool. (FYI, bamboo is a moisture-wicking fabric that helps regulate your body’s temperature and fight bacteria.) It also has a strong elastic construction to help keep the protector in place as well as extra spill protection.

Casper Waterproof Mattress Protector - Queen — $99.00

Unlike some mattress protectors that are noisy and easily noticeable, this one from Casper is the total opposite. The top is made of soft polyester while the skirting contains a blend of spandex and polyester. Additionally, it has a waterproof layer and stretches up to 16 inches deep to fit those with high top mattresses.

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