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How To Clean A Mattress: Tips From A Mattress Industry CEO

Cleaning a mattress is often that gets put on the back burner unless there is a major disaster such as a liquid spill, which usually requires that the mattress be discarded. Often our readers will contact us to see what advice we can offer when a mattress has been damaged, or when it’s time to do spring cleaning, or a deep cleaning, often when allergies are involved.

Before we even get started with this guide to cleaning your mattress, let’s address one preventative measure that will eliminate any scramble to have to clean or repair a mattress in the event of an accident.

Using a mattress protector will prevent any liquid damage from causing unsalvageable damaged to be used to a mattress. Typically, most mattress protectors are like a fitted sheet, and are installed directly over the top of the mattress itself before fitted sheets and the rest of your bed linens.

The protector will typically have a waterproof layer on the underside that is a specialized film which allows air to move back and forth, but prevents liquids from penetrating. The film is osmotically designed, so that gases can pass through it, but larger articles like liquid molecules cannot.

The film is applied to the underside of the protector, and the top is usually cotton or some other fiber or textile. They are usually machine washable, and can be tossed in a dryer as well. Often these protectors last for years, but we recommend replacing them every two years, since washing does slowly erode the waterproof qualities of the barrier layers. Most mattress companies sell protectors, and if you are buying a new bed, will often include one as a freebie, as part of the sale.

Before cleaning your mattress, you will need to strip it and remove all sheets and bedding, after cleaning the floor and surrounding surfaces around the bed. 

Begin by using a vacuum cleaner with an attachment and thoroughly making multiple passes on all sides of the mattress including and especially the underside. Vacuum the foundation tops and sides as well.

Thorough application of a vacuum cleaner will remove dust mite egg casings, debris, hair, and other particulate mattress that serves as food for dust mites. A good vacuuming job on a typical will mattress take a solid 20 minutes or longer.

A mattress is the one piece of furniture that we sit on, sleep on, breathe against, and occasionally eat and drink on, make love on, and spend fully one third of our lives using. It’s our sanctuary, and it should be maintained in pristine condition.

Birds and other nesting animals are highly fastidious about their nests, much more so than humans. Think about it: as humans, we deposit biological material all over our clothes, our bedsheets, and our mattresses. Much of the matter deposited on our mattresses simply falls or filters through our bedsheets, especially when you do not use a protective barrier.

Sweat, drool, skin flakes, hair and skin oils, body fluids, allergens pet dander, and a host of other substances get left behind in our beds. It doesn’t take very long for our mattresses to become..well, very ripe.

Once you have thoroughly vacuumed your mattress, the next step will involve attempting to remove spots or stains. In the even of a urine stain, which typically goes beyond the top layer of the outermost covering, a deeper cleaning technique will be needed. 

If you are certain that the urine stain has not penetrated the top 1/16” inch or so of the outer fabric, you can attempt to clean it using spot cleaning.

We advise creating a cleaning solution by combining 2 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide with 1 tablespoon of Dawn dishwashing soap in a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide straight out of a 3% solution standard pharmacy bottle. Stir the mixture together and develop a lather on top. 

Use a toothbrush to focus on small pinpoint stains like blood or scuff marks, or a damp wiping cloth for slightly larger areas. Immediately wipe away any excess solution, and use a blow dryer as you go to assist in immediate drying.

This solution is ideal for food and drink stains (wine for example) and for stubborn stains, use an eyedropper to carefully place a bleach solution (one capful per cup of water), wiping or scrubbing as you add the mixture. Again, have a blowdryer ready to go as you apply the solution.

I advise not using commercial cleaning sprays or solutions-stick with our homemade recipe and you won’t be dealing with lingering fragrances and stickiness because of the solvents used in spray containers.

After you have completed the spot clean and stain removal both top and bottom, and all four sides of the mattress, you can flip your mattress for even wear to the other side, if it is designed to be flippable. If it is a one side up model, leave it that way.  

Next, open a box of baking soda and sprinkle it uniformly across the full mattress surface. You don’t need to use the baking soda on the sides or the underside. Use it for the body contact side only. Leave the baking soda on the mattress while you wash and dry your bed linens. After letting the baking soda sit for 2-3 hours, vacuum the contents off of the surface. 

For stubborn stains, mix a paste of baking soda, salt, and water, creating a consistency similar to toothpaste, and rub the stain using fingertip or a soft toothbrush. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then wipe it off using a damp cloth.

Bedwetting, Vomit, Pet Stains, And Making The Call To Salvage Or Discard

Occasionally, you might have to go nuclear on your mattress, especially in the case of bedwetting, vomit, or pet stains. First rule of thumb- any kind of feces, human or animal is an automatic discard. 

Cleaning up after this kind of accident never fully removes the material and this is one biological hazard that is beyond the scope of even an experienced technician, even a crime scene tech. Your best bet is to get a mattress bag and have the mattress removed.

For vomit, pet stains, and moderate bedwetting stains, first physically remove any mass that can be picked up. Do not wipe or smear, and carefully GATHER any debris and dispose of it. 

After removing all visible debris, attempt to blot up any material that may have penetrated the top layer by blotting with the following solution.

For these stains, create a solution that is 50/50 vinegar and water. Apply with a damp wiping cloth, and blot only. Again, don’t wipe. Allow the application to dry, then blow dry. Repeat this process at least three times and allow the area to dry. 

If you can still see the stain and are unable to completely remove them, you may have to make the call to discard the mattress. 

Honestly, any bodily fluid or animal using spills are hard calls to make and using a soiled mattress is probably not the best choice you can make, as liquid penetration that cannot be removed typically results in mildew or mold issues that simply make matters much worse.

Another alternative to remove pet odors and urine odors is by using a commercially available enzyme cleaner, which uses natural enzymes to break down the proteins in urine to eliminate smell. 

These products work well, but if you have used them and weeks later still can detect odors. chances are the urine has penetrated so deeply that it simply cannot be reached by cleaning. In this case, you may have to consider disposing of the mattress.

Ozone: Nature’s Super Cleanser

Perhaps the most powerful deep cleaning tool you could ever use is natural sunlight. Actually, it’s the ozone produced by sunlight reacting with oxygen in the atmosphere. Ozone is a molecule that is very effective at reacting with and eliminating strong odors and airborne chemicals. 

Ozone naturally has a very fresh scent to it, similar to that of “crisp” smelling air freshener, or the smell of sheets that have been left out to dry on a color sunlit day. The combination of a fresh smell and the ability to remove unpleasant odors makes ozone a powerful natural cleanser. 

For mattresses, although it’s tough to get them outside, if you can muster up some help, leaving a freshly cleaned mattress outside on a cool sunny day will disinfect it, remove odors, and give you a deep cleaning treatment that will essentially regenerate and renew your mattress. 

Especially after a deep cleaning or stain removal, atmospheric ozone will not only help dry the mattress, but it will sanitize and disinfect it as well.

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