Life & Design

How to clean a mattress – 9 steps to a fresher bed

They tend to harbor dust, germs and mites, so follow these simple steps for a super-hygienic bed

How to clean a mattress
(Image credit: Interiors Fox)

A good mattress can be an expensive investment, so you want to make sure it lasts for many years – and that means mastering how to clean it. 

Even the best mattress needs cleaning at least every six months and, if you suffer from allergies or have pets, then it’s even more important. Martha Stewart explains: 'Even if you use a mattress protector – and virtually all mattress manufacturers and experts suggest you do – your bed can get dirty over time. Dust mites, dead skin and sweat can seep down into the mattress' fibers, causing stains and unpleasant odors. And since you can't simply toss your mattress into the washer when it needs a refresh, it's easy to assume that cleaning yours is a hassle.'

The good news is that cleaning a mattress is far easier than led to believe. Read on to discover the nine foolproof steps that will help you keep your mattress clean all year round. 

How to clean a mattress

We asked a host of experts, including Sabrina Fierman from New York’s Little Elves premiere cleaning service – the top choice of renowned interior designers and their clients – for their top tips on how to clean a mattress below.

1. Gather your mattress cleaning supplies

To deep clean a mattress, you'll first need to make sure you have the following cleaning supplies to hand:

  • Vacuum with an upholstery attachment 

  • Enzyme cleaner or dish soap 

  • Laundry detergent
  • Hydrogen peroxide – for protein-based stains
  • Baking soda

  • Cleaning cloths 

  • Access to cold water

2. Strip the bed and wash all bedding

Strip the bed of all bedding, including any mattress pads and the mattress protector. Wash all bedding according to the manufacturer's directions and do not forget the duvet cover if you have one. 

3. Vacuum the mattress

'Vacuum your mattress with the upholstery attachment,' says Sabrina Fierman. 'We always recommend canister type vacuums with attachments. Make sure to invest in the best vacuum for a stronger, deeper clean. Be sure to use the crevasse attachment for edges and folds.'

Ruth Welton, of Soak & Sleep, says: 'Use a vacuum to clean all sides to ensure the removal of all hair and dirt.'

4. Spot clean with a stain remover

'For a super-fresh mattress, use a specialist mattress cleaning solution for any stains, and finish by spraying lightly with a fabric freshener to bring a nice fresh scent,' says Ruth. 

'Using fabric sprays, deodorizers or sanitizers on your mattress is a good way to keep it fresh and clean, but always ensure not to use too much and always make sure it's bone dry before re-making your bed.'

Sabrina comments: 'You can also make your own with common household products. For protein based stains (blood, sweat, urine), use an enzyme cleaner.' See below for her do-it-your-self recipes: 

Sweat: lightly spray with hydrogen peroxide until slightly damp. Let dry and repeat as necessary. 

Blood: Make a paste with 2 oz hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and 1 tbsp each of liquid dish soap and salt (I prefer Liquid Ivory). Apply for 10 minutes, scrape away and clean residue with rag dampened with H2O2. Stain can be additionally treated with light spraying and drying of hydrogen peroxide. 

Urine: Make a paste with 3 oz baking soda, 8 oz of H2O2, a drop of dish soap. Don’t drench the stain but use a rag with this solution to dap and remove. Continually use the clean area of the rag. 

All other stains: Make paste with 2 tbsp white powdered laundry detergent (no blue, no bleach) and 1 tbsp H2O2

How to clean your mattress

(Image credit: Future / Jonathan Gooch)

5. Air dry your mattress

Always air dry completely, says Sabrina, as moisture in your mattress can grow mildew or mold.

So how do you air dry your mattress? Adam Black, Co-founder, Button & Sprung, advises: 'It’s a good idea to regularly air out your mattress by removing all of the sheets – including the mattress protector – and leaving the room with all of the windows open for a few hours; this can help the mattress to self-ventilate.'

And Ruth Welton says you can even do this for half and hour while you're getting ready for the day, adding: 'Keep things healthy by airing your bed each day. Half an hour or so while you're showering and getting dressed should do the trick. 

'This helps excess moisture to evaporate so your bed stays fresher and cleaner. Once a week you should air your bed for a few hours by turning back all bedding from the mattress to allow any moisture to evaporate.'

6. Sprinkle baking soda

Using a nice natural remedy like baking soda is a good way to get rid of dust mites.

Ruth Welton says: 'Giving a mattress a full clean by hoovering and applying a baking soda or specialist treatment is a great way to get rid of dust mites and other nasties that may be living in your mattress.

'Mix one cup of baking soda with a few drops of essential oils (such as lavender or lemon), and shake the mixture over the bed allowing it to dry, then hoover off for a naturally refreshing, clean scent.'

Sabrina adds: 'Have fun and use a strainer or sifter if you have one. Young children will enjoy helping you with this step. Leave for a couple of hours if possible as the longer you leave it the better it will work. This is also a great time to leave the mattress in the sun. The UV light helps kill mold and bacteria.'

7. Vacuum again

After leaving your mattress to air dry, vacuum one last time to get rid of the baking soda and pick up any additional bacteria or dust, suggests Ruth.

8. Flip the mattress

'Some mattresses can be flipped and thus steps above should be repeated on the flip side,' says Sabrina. 'For pillow top mattresses, turn the bed 180 degrees. This step can be done more frequently throughout the year to increase longevity of the mattress.'

So why is it a good idea to flip your mattress? Soak & Sleep's Rut Welton explains: 'Your mattress will adapt to the weight and contours of your body; therefore rotating your mattress from foot to end will keep the filling even and extend the life of your mattress. 

'Flip or turn your mattress every few weeks to maintain its shape and firmness - this easy task is a good way to make sure you’re extending the life of your bed.'

And Button & Sprung's Adam Black says: 'Double-sided mattresses are designed to be flipped over. You should ideally flip a double-sided mattress twice a year as well as rotating it when seasons and temperatures change. 

'Pocket sprung mattresses need to be rotated ideally four times a year, this ensures that the mattress is broken in evenly across the surface.'

9. Use a mattress protector

'Put a mattress protector on your newly cleaned and dried mattress,' says Sabrina. 'I recommend using a high quality bed bug cover that will seal the mattress and protect it from future dust mites, dreaded bed bugs, and future staining. 

'You may want to consider a professional upholstery cleaner for your mattress. They have very strong vacuums that will clean deeply. They can deodorize and treat stains, and will handle any heavy lifting.'

Ruth says: 'A great way to ensure that dust mites don't spread is by using an impenetrable barrier protection such as an anti-bug mattress protector. It also helps keep your mattress fresh and clean and extends the life of your mattress.'

And Adam Black confirms the importance of a mattress protector, adding: 'We strongly recommend the use of a mattress protector, as this acts as an added layer of protection against marking or other accidents. We recommend natural mattress protectors, as a protector containing synthetic materials will negate the breathability benefit of a mattress with natural fillings.  

How to clean a mattress

(Image credit: Future / Nato Welton)

A top tip on how to clean your mattress

Adam Black's insider tips could come in handy when tackling the mattress clean.

He says: 'When cleaning your mattress, a soft brush is great for removing dust and fluff the hoover might have missed. 

'Stains and spillages should be absorbed using a dry cloth or paper towels; baby wipes also work effectively. If you need to sponge the mattress, we think a damp cloth and a mild solution of soap and water works well.' 

  • See: Bedroom ideas – designs and inspiration to decorate and furnish your space stylishly

Mattress aftercare

Once you’ve cleaned your mattress it pays to keep up with ‘mattress housekeeping’. We’ve compiled the following list to help keep your mattress in the best shape possible.

1. Don't make it straight away

One mistake we often make is to make our beds once we’ve got up, but actually it’s better if you pull back the duvet and bed covers for at least 30 minutes to cool down before making it, the reason being is that dust mites love the warmth of your bed. This applies even if you use a mattress topper as they don’t prevent dust mites and other allergens.  

2. Clean your sheets

Try to get into a weekly routine with changing your bedsheets. After all, there is nothing nicer than sinking into freshly laundered sheets.

3. Get flipping

We touched on the importance of flipping or rotating your mattress earlier, and it's a great way to prevent sagging.

Flip your mattress every few months, and make sure you have a helper as it can be hard on your own.  

4. Don't eat in bed

For some, this is perhaps the hardest rule to follow. If you are an avid midnight snacker, it might be time to stop now.

5. Don't allow pets on the bed

Muddy paws, pet dander and dirt can contribute to increased bacteria levels, so think twice before you let Mr. Tiddles cuddle up to you in bed. 

And if you absolutely can't resist, be prepared to wash bedding far more frequently and invest in the best vacuum for pet hair.

6. Use natural cleaners if possible

We’ve already mentioned the versatile bicarbonate of soda above but have you thought of using vodka? Use neat or mix with water in a spray bottle, then spritz your mattress and it will remove odours, just remember to let your mattress dry completely before making it again.  

7. Replace your mattress

While cleaning a mattress will no doubt extend its lifespan, all good things must come to an end. 

After 8–10 years, consider investing in a brand-new mattress. Body impressions, sagging and lose of firmness indicate that it’s no longer providing the adequate support you need on a daily basis. It is also wise to listen to your body. No one wants to wake up in pain after a poor sleep experience.