How to clean a mattress (and why you really should)

How to clean a mattress
(Image credit: Getty)

Learning how to clean a mattress properly is one of the best things you can do to keep your entire bed feeling and smelling fresh, ensuring it remains a haven for healthy sleep. Over time all sorts of nasties can build up on our beds - we’re talking anything from dust mite poop to dead skin and rivers of sweat - so it’s important to give everything a thorough, deep clean a few times a year. 

And don’t go thinking you’re off the hook if you recently shelled out on one of the best mattresses online either, as sooner or later that beauty will also need to be freshened up. Learning how to clean a mattress properly will help yours last longer too, saving you money in the long run. 

Removing stains is one of the main reasons people start searching for mattress cleaning tips, with coffee, tea and pee stains among the most common offenders. But, as we’ll cover in this feature, there are plenty of other reasons why you should opt for cleaning your mattress every few months too. To keep your bed fresher for longer (and to instantly boost its comfort and support) we’d also recommend investing in one of the best bed toppers, most of which are machine washable.

Why do you need to clean your mattress?

Besides stain removal, there are other good reasons why you should learn how to clean a mattress, including to keep bed bugs at bay and to prevent bacteria from building up. A study by mattress retailer Amerisleep found that up to 16 million Colony Forming Units (CFU) of bacteria accumulate in a mattress over seven years. 

What type of bacteria? Bacilli and gram-positive cocci, both of which can be a source of sickness and infection. That’s gross, and here are some other reasons to back-up why you should deep clean your mattress regularly...

  • Old sweat. We all sweat when we sleep, and all that lovely body moisture has to go somewhere. In this case, straight into your mattress. Over time, and if the sweating is profuse enough, it can lead to unsightly stains on your beautiful pillow-top bed. All the dampness from your sweat, plus dead skin cells (see below), create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Dead skin. When lying in bed, the dead skin from your body drifts down in microscopic flakes, creating a delectable feast for dust mites. Feed them often enough and they will colonize your entire mattress. As if they weren't bad enough on their own, dust mites (which measure less than a millimeter long) also leave behind poops that are twice their size!
  • Bed bugs. These are fairly easy to spot, and they generally love hanging out in older mattresses, so it's very important to clean yours regularly if it's a few years old. 
  • Allergies. House dust mites live mainly in mattresses as they provide all the food and moisture a happy mite could want, but these teeny critters are a common trigger for allergy issues including asthma, eczema and rhinitis. 

How to clean a mattress: The tools you need

When it comes to cleaning a mattress, and depending on if there are stains or smells involved, you’ll need the following tools:

  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Sponge scourer
  • Cleaning cloth
  • White vinegar
  • Baking powder
  • Steam cleaner
  • Dedicated upholstery cleaning spray (optional)

How to clean a mattress: a person uses a steam cleaning on a mattress

(Image credit: Getty)

So whether there's a nasty stain you want to remove, or you’re just looking to freshen up your mattress, our expert tips below on how to clean a mattress will help. Let’s get started…

How to clean a mattress: Six simple steps

Once you’ve decided how often you need to clean your mattress, be sure to make a thorough job of it by following our six-step guide. Let’s freshen up that mattress now… 

1. Strip the bed
Remove all bedding and mattress covers from the mattress and put them in the washing machine. Washing your bedding will be done more often than cleaning your mattress, but it’s still nice to fresh linens on a freshly cleaned mattress.

2. Vacuum the mattress
Gently vacuum the surface of your mattress. If your vacuum cleaner has an upholstery attachment then put it to use, although a lightweight stick vacuum with plenty of attachments, or one of the best handheld vacuums is perfect for this job.

3. Steam clean (optional)
For a really thorough clean, consider the purchase of a steam cleaner such as the PurSteam Handheld Pressurized Steam Cleaner. Steam cleaning a mattress helps kill any dust mites that might be lurking. Some of the best steam mops come with attachments to clean upholstery, making them a versatile addition to your cleaning arsenal.

4. Apply baking soda and vinegar
Baking soda or vinegar diluted in water can help freshen up your mattress as well as clean it. Baking powder is our go-to for spillages and bodily fluids. As you vacuum up the excess baking soda, check the mattress for any stains you may have missed.

5. Spot remove stains
Individual stains can be tackled with the spot-removal methods mentioned above, using either household solutions or a dedicated stain removal product.

6. Air the mattress
Drag the mattress off the bed and lean it against a wall so that fresh air is able to reach both sides. Leave it this way for at least a couple of hours to dry and air itself. A well-ventilated room is adequate for this but, if possible, haul it outside and leave it in the sun. Direct sunlight helps kill bacteria and dries out any moisture build-up in the mattress from sweat and more.

If you do decide that your mattress is beyond saving, take a look at our guides to the best Purple mattress deals, the latest Casper mattress deals, and the best Saatva mattress discounts

Mattress cleaning essentials

Woolite INSTAClean Stain Remover | $12.99 at Amazon (Twin Pack)

Woolite INSTAClean Stain Remover | $12.99 at Amazon (Twin Pack)
A versatile cleaning product to get rid of stubborn stains from various types of upholstery, but always check your mattress maker's guidelines to ensure its safe to use a stain remover.

Bissell Spot + Stain | $10.99 at Target

Bissell Spot + Stain | $10.99 at Target
This stain remover works on mattresses and other upholstery, and is effective at removing stains and odor from some types of thicker bedding too. Again, check all mattress and bedding labels before you apply stain remover. Do a patch test first if you're unsure.

Black & Decker Dustbuster | $49.99 at Target

Black & Decker Dustbuster | $49.99 at Target
You may have attachments with your existing vacuum cleaner that enable you to clean your mattress. If not, or your current cleaner is too big and bulky for mattress duty, consider this handheld cleaner, which has enough power to make light work of your mattress.

PurSteam Handheld Pressurized Steam Cleaner | $49.99 at Walmart

PurSteam Handheld Pressurized Steam Cleaner | $49.99 at Walmart
This lightweight and easy-to-use handheld steam cleaner gets the job down by using hot, pressurized steam to naturally remove stains and eliminate bed bugs. It's a good choice if you want to reduce your chemical load when cleaning your mattress.

How to clean a mattress: a person scrubs at a red wine stain on a mattress

(Image credit: Getty)

How to remove mattress stains: Read this first

We know there are other ways you’d rather spend your time, but cleaning stains out of a mattress is important for helping it stay clean and odor-free. Our biggest tip here is to tackle the stain as soon as it happens. In other words, don’t let it seep in for too long or it will damage your mattress. 

Remember these golden rules for how to remove stains from a mattress:

  • Dab the stain initially with paper towel to soak up any liquid
  • Check the mattress label to see if it’s safe to use cleaning products on it
  • For drinks spillages, use a baking soda mixture (see below)
  • Mattresses aren’t waterproof, so don’t get it too wet

How to clean a mattress with baking soda

Spilt your morning coffee or tea on your mattress? Don’t panic. First, move your comforter out of the way. Dab the excess liquid away with water, then head to the kitchen and mix 4oz of baking soda with one pint of water. Dab at the stain again, this time with baking powder solution. 

Leave it for half an hour before rinsing the stain through with a clean, wet cloth. If a stain is proving particularly persistent, it might be necessary to call in the big guns and order a dedicated stain remover such as the ones featured below. 

Be sure to test any new product on a small area of the mattress before using it liberally, and always check the manufacturer's guidelines before using chemically based stain removers.

How to clean a mattress: a person cleans blood stains from a mattress

(Image credit: Getty)

How to clean blood stains on a mattress

Blood stains should be dabbed with cold water (never hot) first. If that doesn’t shift it, try the baking soda method or, once again, use washing-up liquid diluted in water. 

Other bodily fluids like sweat can also be tackled with a dishwashing liquid solution on a clean cloth, although for something like a vomit stain, we’d recommend using white vinegar mixed with water to tackle the smell and the stain.

How to clean a mattress of urine stains

At some point or other, we’ve all been faced with cleaning urine stains from a mattress. Whether it’s courtesy of your pet, your child or you, mattresses are prime turf for pee stains to occur. 

To clean a mattress of urine stains, try diluted washing-up liquid in water. Again, gently dab the stain with a cloth or sponge. If the stain is proving to be particularly stubborn, you may have to break out an upholstery cleaner. 

Read the label on your mattress first to ensure it’s safe for use with chemical cleaners. If you’re unsure, dilute the cleaner with water and dab it onto the mattress a little at a time - don’t spray or pour it on all at once, just in case it ruins your mattress.

How to clean a mattress: a photo of a mattress dressed in white bed linens

(Image credit: Getty)

How often should you clean a mattress?

There are no hard and fast rules about how often you should clean your mattress, as it often depends on the type of mattress and the sleeper. If you have a breathable mattress or a cooling mattress, it’s less likely to hold sweat and will stay fresher and cleaner for longer. 

If you're an allergy sufferer, symptoms like a runny nose or itchy eyes may mean that you’ll need to reach for the vacuum and baking soda more frequently. 

You may also have heard advice about cleaning your mattress when the seasons change, but whether you choose twice a year or quarterly is entirely your decision. We certainly wouldn’t recommend cleaning it less than twice a year though.

How to stop your mattress from smelling

Sometimes when you buy a new mattress it can smell a little funny, just like the best pillows for sleeping do when they’re fresh out of their packaging. Don’t worry, this will fade over time. 

Older mattresses can pick up smells through spillages, accidents or just general use, but you can keep it smelling fresh and clean by using some simple household ingredients.

How to clean your mattress: a man lies on top of his bed smiling

(Image credit: Getty)

Firstly, pour some white vinegar into a plant spray bottle (or similar) and spray it over your mattress. Next, sprinkle baking soda or bicarbonate of soda (it’s the same thing) over your mattress. Let it bubble, then cover it with a towel for two hours. 

Once the two hours have passed, vacuum up any residual baking soda and let the mattress air dry. Don’t worry about the vinegar smell as this will fade as it dries, leaving your mattress free of odors. It should look cleaner too, but if there are still visible stains after trying this method, then move on to the next step… 

Do you need to buy a new mattress?

Both The Better Sleep Council and The National Sleep Foundation recommend that any mattress over seven years old is ready for landfill or recycling. So if yours is reaching that age, consider replacing it. These are the 5 signs you need to replace your mattress.

One of the first tell tale signs that your bed has reached the end of its life will be visible signs of wear like dips or trenches in the surface of the mattress. 

Other indicators include waking up sore, stiff and still tired or just realizing that you sleep better elsewhere. If you're not sure which mattress would suit you, take a look at our guide on how to choose a mattress, including the best cooling mattress.

To take home a new mattress for less, we'd also recommend taking a look at our round-up of the best Casper mattress deals, and the best Saatva mattress discounts for luxury sleep at more affordable prices.

Dave is an Editor at Future PLC, and currently runs the site PetsRadar. He is keen on pet and personal health, and has a long history working across a wide range of print magazines. Dave has covered a number of subject areas for Top Ten Reviews including sleep, mattresses, and other aspects of personal wellbeing.