It’s good to know how to clean a mattress considering just how much stuff builds up in and on this soft surface where we spend so much time. You already know about dust mites and the dead skin cells they feast on, but many mattresses also contain sweat, blood, urine and other bodily fluids… along with mold and mildew growing on those very things. Unless you shower before bed every night, your mattress might also contain dirt, oils and trace chemicals from various toiletries, and even pollen.

Before you start cleaning your mattress, strip the bed and launder your linens. Wash and dry your mattress pad first, then the sheets, and finally your bedspread/comforter/duvet. Check the manufacturer’s labels first and use the hottest water and dryer heat setting allowed since heat will kill dust mites in your bedding. While the washer and dryer are doing their thing, turn your attention to the mattress.

Vacuum it – Your vacuum cleaner’s upholstery attachment is your Number One ally in mattress cleaning. Start at the top of the mattress and work your way down in overlapping, narrow paths and then vacuum the sides of your mattress the same way. (Don’t worry about the other side of the mattress just yet; we’ll get there.)

Deodorize it – Sweat smells, although most of us don’t notice our own scent on our mattresses. Over time, though, our body odors can build up and lead to a funky aroma. To rid your mattress of rankness, sprinkle it well with baking soda and rub that in with a stiff-bristled brush. (If you’d like to scent your mattress, mix the baking soda with a few drops of essential oil first. Lavender is reputed to be a sleep aid, but sandalwood is nice, too.) Let the baking soda sit for 10 minutes, and then…

Vacuum again – By scrubbing the baking soda into your mattress you’ve helped it bond with surface moisture. Vacuuming it now will help pull out trace dampness and ensures you won’t wake up coated with powdery residue in the morning.

Get the stains out – Mattresses typically acquire three types of stains: blood, urine, and what we’ll just call “other bodily fluids”. While it’s best to treat stains immediately with cold water and a little dish soap or hydrogen peroxide (hot water sets these type of stains), let’s face it, sometimes sleep is more important. Here’s how to clean stains on your mattress after they’ve set in:


  • Dried blood stains can be treated by making a paste of 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide mixed with 1 tbsp. each liquid dish soap and table salt. Rub this into the stain and allow it to sit until dry before scraping the residue off. Dab at any remaining stain with a white rag dipped into hydrogen peroxide, rotating the rag as the stain lifts off. (Using a white rag prevents dye transfer from the cloth to the mattress.)
  • Urine stains are very difficult but not impossible to get out once they’re dry, but this two-step method helped dramatically when my kids were little. First, dissolve 3 tbsp. baking soda in 8 oz. of hydrogen peroxide then add a drop or two of liquid dish soap, and dab that solution on to the spot. (Do NOT drench your mattress!) While that’s working its magic, whisk together 3 parts dry laundry detergent powder or and 1 part water to make a dry foam. Rub that into the stain (which should still be damp from the first step) and let it sit for 30 minutes. Scrape away any residue and vacuum.
  • Other bodily fluids: Open the windows then, 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 and sprinkle the spot with baking soda. Let this dry then vacuum the area thoroughly.

Flip it – Innerspring or coil mattresses should be flipped side-to-side and top-to-bottom weekly for the first three months of ownership, then quarterly after that. To help me remember which side and end goes where, I simply used a permanent marker and wrote in small letters: “Winter/Summer” on one end of the mattress, and “Spring/Fall” on one side. On June 21st, for instance, I rotated the foot of the mattress toward the headboard, then September 23 I’ll flip the mattress over, and so on. (But note: this doesn’t work with pillow-top mattresses, which is one reason I despise them.)

Repeat – While you’ve got the materials handy, repeat the cleaning process above after flipping your mattress.

Wrap it up – Since cleaning mattresses is such a daunting task, I wholeheartedly 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. Pop that cover into the wash if you have a spill, and make laundering it part of your weekly bedroom cleaning routine, and you’ll never have to know how to clean a mattress again.