Before you start cleaning your mattress, strip the bed and launder your linens. Check the manufacturer’s labels and use the hottest settings allowed since heat will kill dust mites. 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 the best tool for mattress cleaning. Start at the top of the mattress 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.)
2. Deodorize with baking soda.
Although we don’t notice our personal bodily smells, over time sweat can build up and lead to an unmistakable aroma. Sprinkle your mattress well with baking soda and gently rub it in with a scrub brush, so it gets into the fabric where the stink lives. Let the baking soda sit for 10 minutes before proceeding to the next step.
3. Repeat vacuuming.
By scrubbing the baking soda into your mattress, you’ve helped it bond with moisture and body oils in the top layers of material. Vacuuming it a second time pulls that moisture out, along with the cause of the odors.
4. Treat 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.
Dried blood stains
These need a paste of 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide (3%) mixed with 1 tbsp. each liquid dish soap and table salt. Lightly spread the paste onto the stain and allow it to dry before scraping the residue off. Dab at any remaining stain with a white rag* dipped into hydrogen peroxide, rotating the cloth as the stain lifts off.
*Using a white rag prevents dye transfer from the fabric to the mattress.
Pets and kids can leave a mattress awfully messy. Fortunately, urine stains are tough but not impossible to get out once they’re dry. This two-step method helped dramatically when my kids were little.
- Dissolve 3 tbsp. baking soda in 8 oz. of hydrogen peroxide. 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 area is dry then whisk together 3 tablespoons dry laundry detergent powder and 1 tablespoon water to make a dry foam. (Do NOT use anything containing oxygenated bleach.) Lightly spread the paste onto the stain and let it sit for 30 minutes.
- Scrape the dried paste away with a spoon. Use a white cloth dipped into hydrogen peroxide to remove any stubborn bits.
- Vacuum the area.
Other bodily fluids (vomit, etc.)
Open the windows before you start. 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 to lift the stain. 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.
5. Flip it and repeat steps 1-4.
Innerspring or coil mattresses should be flipped side-to-side and top-to-bottom weekly for the first three months of ownership. After the initial three months, flip your mattress quarterly. This will help it wear evenly and last longer. While you’ve got the materials handy, repeat the cleaning process on the other side of your mattress.
If yours is a pillow-top mattress, you can’t flip it over but should still rotate it top to bottom seasonally.
6. Protect it.
Since cleaning a mattress is such a daunting task, I 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.
Launder your mattress immediately after any spill or illness. Otherwise, wash it at least once a month to keep your bed fresh.