How to Clean a Mattress

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on January 25, 2024
9 min read

On average, we spend roughly one-third of our lives either sleeping or trying to sleep. With that much time in bed, it's important to have a good and clean mattress. Learning how to clean a mattress is an important life skill. Keeping a clean mattress and knowing when a mattress has reached the end of its lifespan may even help you improve your sleep.

Along with washing your sheets, mattress pads, and other linens, you should regularly clean your mattress to make sure that it's free from germs, dust, and dead skin cells.

Humans shed millions of skin cells every hour. Since you spend a substantial amount of time in your bed daily, that amounts to a whole lot of skin cells.

On top of that, there are numerous microorganisms that inhabit our world and get onto and into our mattresses. These include bacteria, dust mites, and their waste. These microorganisms can pose considerable health challenges, especially if you have allergies, asthma, or other breathing difficulties.

Exposure to the droppings of dust mites can lead to conditions such as allergic asthma and eczema. Meanwhile, if left unattended, mold and fungal growth on your mattress can lead to lung infections.

An unclean mattress that impacts your sleep may affect other parts of your life as well. Disturbed sleeping patterns may lead to a reduced quality of life and adverse health effects. Bad sleep can increase stress and affect your focus and memory. In the long term, it can increase your risk of hypertension and certain cardiovascular disorders.

Cleaning a mattress isn't difficult. Just follow the below steps about once every 6 months:

  1. Uncover the mattress. First, remove all the layers from your mattress, including any sheets, covers, comforters, and mattress pads. Make sure to wash these layers as you're cleaning your mattress. Once you’ve got the bare mattress, you can start with a home vacuum cleaner.
  2. Clear the dust. Use the upholstery tool on your vacuum cleaner by pressing it firmly on the surface of your mattress to loosen the dust from its surface. For the edges, use the crevice tool and press firmly again. You can also use this tool to clean in between the layers of pillow-top mattresses.
  3. Consider steam-cleaning: Steaming the mattress can help get rid of more mites beneath the surface. But check the manufacturer's website or tag to make sure steam is safe for your mattress. If it is, you can use a clothes steamer. If you don't have one, you can use your iron to let out bursts of steam over the entire mattress surface. The heat from the steam gets through the mattress surface to clear the mites. Be careful not to drip water from the steamer on the mattress. Also, let the mattress dry completely before use. You can also hire professionals for this job.

Many people use a foam topper over their mattress for extra comfort. This needs regular cleaning, too, but it's too big and bulky for your washing machine. A good practice is to vacuum the topper to remove dust every time you change the sheets.

At least two or three times a year, you should refresh the topper with this process:

  1. Remove the topper from the bed and spread on the floor.
  2. Vacuum the surface with your vacuum cleaner's hand-held attachment.
  3. Sprinkle baking soda across the surface and let it sit for 8 hours.
  4. Vacuum again to remove the baking soda.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.

If the topper gets wet or heavily soiled, you can do a more intense cleaning. After removing the topper from the bed:

  1. Blot up any moisture.
  2. Fill a spray container with equal parts cool water and white vinegar and spray it on damp or soiled areas. Blot up any excess.
  3. Sprinkle baking soda across the surface and let it sit for 8 hours.
  4. Vacuum up the baking soda.
  5. Check for stains and odors.
  6. If you don't get good results, you can repeat the process or try it with a commercial enzyme cleaner, instead of water and vinegar.
  7. Let the topper fully dry before putting it back on the bed.

You can extend the life of your mattress with a cover that fits over your mattress, under your sheets, pads, or toppers. If you have allergies, it's a good idea to use dust mite-proof covers that fully encase the mattress. There also are waterproof covers available for users who might wet the bed. Many of these covers are machine washable. But check the label to see what the manufacturer recommends.

Your mattress can get stained from sweat, body oil, or food spills. Some households include people or pets who may wet the bed, which could leave stains on the mattress as well. You can effectively clean many stains with a cleaning solution that contains:

  • Baking soda
  • A gentle laundry detergent (one that does not contain any bleach, which may harm the mattress fibers)
  • Cold water

Once the cleaning solution is ready, follow the steps below to remove mattress stains:

  1. Spray the cleaning solution on a soft cloth instead of spraying it directly on the mattress.
  2. Dab the cloth on the surface of the mattress. Don't rub into the mattress, as doing so may spread the stain to other parts or even permanently set the stain.
  3. If the stains are tough to get out, repeat the above two steps a few more times or add hydrogen peroxide to the mixture to make it slightly more potent.
  4.  After you’ve cleaned the stains, let the mattress dry for at least 5 hours.
  5.  Vacuum your mattress using the upholstery attachment to remove any remnants.

How to clean a mattress that's been peed on

Follow the steps above as soon as possible after the accident. But consider using a commercial enzyme solution in place of soap, water, and baking soda.

How to clean cat pee from a mattress

The same cleaners that work for human urine should work for pet accidents.

How to remove blood stains from a mattress

Blood stains are removed the same way, but often require a commercial enzyme cleaner for best results.

Some spills could lead to unpleasant odors over time. Using baking soda is a good way to take care of odors because it doesn’t just mask the smell, it absorbs it. Baking soda has a basic pH, which helps counter the foul smell of acidic spills such as urine. It also removes any moisture that settles on the surface of your mattress.

How to clean a mattress with baking soda

To remove bad smells, leave some baking soda on your mattress for a few hours. Apply a thicker layer of baking soda to any areas that have stronger odors and leave it on for at least 5 hours, then vacuum it. Repeat these steps if necessary. Baking soda also can be mixed with water and mild soap to clean stains.

You can sanitize and disinfect your mattress using natural household cleaners or a commercial spray meant to disinfect sweat stains and kill germs. It’s best to avoid sprays and solutions that contain bleach as this can damage the mattress fibers.

You can also spray an enzyme cleaner on the mattress. These solutions contain enzymes that remove stains quickly without affecting the fabrics typically used in mattresses. Make sure that you don't soak the surface with the cleaner. After you let it sit for 3-5 hours, you can use a vacuum cleaner to dry the mattress.

Steaming can also help kill germs, but it's important to fully dry the mattress afterward, to avoid mold growth.

How you maintain your mattress determines its lifespan. You can get more out of your mattress with some of these best practices:

  • Clean your mattress every 3-6 months.
  • If you’re not able to clean your mattress regularly, you can at least vacuum it to clear dust and dust mites from the surface.
  • Wash your sheets at least once a week to prevent the collection of dead skin cells and dust mites.
  • Buy a quality mattress cover to stop moisture from getting into your mattress. Dust mites and mold are more likely to grow in moist surroundings.
  • If you stain your mattress, clean it right away to prevent the stain from setting.
  • If your mattress can be used on both sides, flip it every 3 months. This serves two purposes: it keeps the comfort fillings evenly distributed and helps air out the other side of the mattress.
  • If your mattress can't be flipped, you can rotate it 180 degrees from the head of the bed to the foot.
  • Consider the trade-offs if you let your pets or children play or sleep on your bed, since the mattress is likely to wear out sooner.

‌‌It may be time to change your mattress if it shows certain signs or affects your health. ‌There are several clues that indicate it’s time for a change:

  • Wear and tear. A lumpy or sagging mattress likely has inner materials that are breaking down from regular use or damage. Tears and stains you can't remove are bad signs, too.
  • Squeaky springs. The springs inside a mattress are part of a coil support system. These springs can break down and stop supporting your body.
  • Waking up to pain and stiffness. Feeling muscle pain and joint stiffness each morning may mean that your mattress doesn’t fit your body.
  • Worsening allergies. If you have allergies or feel them getting worse, dust mites and other allergens trapped in your mattress may be to blame.
  • Feeling bed movements. If you sleep with a partner, you shouldn’t feel the bed move every time they shift during sleep.
  • Having trouble getting to sleep. Most people take 20-30 minutes to fall asleep. If it's taking you longer, a worn-out mattress is one of many possible causes.

Do I have to throw out a mattress with bed bugs?

Bed bugs are unhealthy pests that can live in your mattress and come out to bite you while you sleep. There are ways to kill the bugs without throwing out the mattress (consult with a pest control professional for solutions), but if you do discard it, make sure you don't leave it where others may pick it up and use it.

If cleaning your mattress isn't enough anymore and you've decided to buy a new one, there's a lot to consider.

Here's what you need to know about the most common mattress types:

  • Innerspring. These are the most basic type. They have a metal frame with connected coil wires and a top layer of foam or padded fabric.‌ They tend to last only 4-6 years.
  • Pocket spring. These have steel coils like the innerspring, but each spring has a fabric cover that separates it from others. This lets the springs conform to your body better and helps keep the mattress breathable, reducing allergens. These mattresses last up to 8 years. 
  • Memory foam. These are made from polyurethane, a type of plastic that’s spun into a more springy form called viscoelastic, or memory foam. These are good for allergy control, but can trap heat and may have strong smells when new. They last 10-12 years.
  • Latex. These are made from natural latex from rubber trees, from synthetic latex, or a blend of the two. They are good for allergy control and back support but can be heavy and expensive. Natural latex can last 15 or more years, while synthetic or blended can last around 10 years.

Other things to consider:

  • Sleep position: Stomach sleepers usually need firm mattresses; back sleepers need medium-firm mattresses; and side sleepers do better with softer models.
  • Neck or back pain: If you already have neck or back pain, test mattresses to make sure you don't get one that's too soft or too firm.