How to clean a mattress – a 6-step guide to removing unsightly stains and odors

Discover how to clean a mattress properly to remove offending stains and smells quickly, naturally and cheaply, with baking soda and vinegar.

A large brown dog laying on bed with white cotton bedding and brown throw
(Image credit: Conner Baker (via Unsplash))

If you need to know how to clean a mattress properly then we have a straightforward six-step method for you to put into practice, quickly.

Mattresses are one of the most used items in our homes and we spend one-third of our lives horizontally on them, so they sure do deserve a clean every once in a while... Because even the best mattress out there will absorb sweat, blood, dead skin cells (dare we say tears) plus more glorious bodily things over time, but who wants to get cozy with that?

Fortunately, for our purse strings, a dirty mattress doesn't necessarily need replacing. We'll show you how to clean your mattress and sanitize it using household cupboard ingredients like baking soda and vinegar. So there's no need to buy expensive specialist products which can smell chemically, and aren't necessarily eco-friendly.

Tend to stains and smells early on to not only extend the life of your mattress but also improve your general well-being too.

How to clean a mattress – Step by step

A modern bedroom with framed wall decor, hanging indoor houseplant, mustard yellow throw and pink wall paint decor

(Image credit: Very)

'Mattresses are covered in mites,' says Lynsey Crombie, aka Lynsey Queen of Clean (opens in new tab).

'These mites feed on dead skin that we naturally shed in our sleep. This means that you are rolling around and inhaling all kinds of nasty particles which could include fungal spores, bacteria, plasticizers and flame retardants.'

You will need:

  • A trusty handheld vacuum cleaner (like Prosenic S1 Handheld vacuum (opens in new tab) from Amazon)
  • Baking soda or bicarbonate of soda
  • White vinegar
  • Lavender oil (this 30ml bottle (opens in new tab) has over 107,000 reviews on Amazon)
  • Powder detergent

1. Strip the bed

A grey bedroom with geometric patterned laundry basket, wood and metal side table and ornaments on raised shelf above headboard

(Image credit: Future)

To start, remove your bed sheets and the mattress cover, putting both of these in the washer.

'First and foremost, you’ll want to completely strip the bed and wash the sheets, pillowcases, and blankets,' says Lauren Fountain, certified sleep science coach, Sleep Foundation (opens in new tab).

'Check the label on your pillows to see if they are machine washable. Ideally, you’ll want to wash bedding in hot water in order to get rid of dust mites, but it’s important to follow the recommended care instructions to avoid potential shrinkage or fading. We recommend washing sheets weekly to help keep your mattress clean.'

Today's almost futuristic washing machines have a whole load of sophisticated and performance-based settings to ensure they clean your mattress and bedding with the utmost care.

Also, if you don't have one, then it's worth finding the best mattress protector for you. They say prevention is better than cure, so these will not only help extend the life of your mattress but they make cleaning easy as most can be thrown into the washing machine on a regular basis.

2. Vacuum vigorously

A mattress being cleaned with a Dyson handheld vacuum cleaner

(Image credit: Dyson)

You want to remove any food crumbs, dirt, dead skin cells, debris, dust, and pet hair (yes, we know you let them up there) that’s been building up so use a clean (note the word clean) upholstery attachment to really get into any grooves. Vacuum the sides of the mattress, too.

The best handheld vacuum cleaners can ensure that you can get into hard-to-reach areas, cleaning every nook and cranny.

While you're wondering how to clean a mattress, it's worth highlighting your headboard too. Because you don't want to do a half-done job.

'A weekly hoover and spritz of fabric spray will keep your headboard free from dirt and dust, as well as assist it in smelling nice and fresh.' says Jonathan Warren, director at bed specialist Time4Sleep (opens in new tab).

'For a deeper clean, start with a quick hoover,  apply a mix of warm water and detergent to a dry cloth and blot any visible stains, before leaving to dry and giving it another once over with the hoover. It’ll be good as new in no time.'

3. Don't forget to flip your mattress

A white quilted mattress being flipped by female wearing denim jeans

(Image credit: Gardner Matress & More)

Not all mattresses need it, but many do even if just for the first year or so and we recommend you do so every season regardless. So if your mattress does ask for regular flipping and turning, do it to prevent warping and sagging. 

'The underside of your mattress likely won’t have any visible stains, but it can still harbor a lot of dust, moisture, and more.' says Fountain.

'If your mattress is not designed to be flippable, you can still clean the underside, but be cautious when flipping it over, and do not apply too much pressure to the mattress.'

While one expert tells of the health benefits associated with rotating your mattress:

'By keeping your mattress in good shape, your body will experience maximum sleep support. This means that your spine will be aligned, reducing the chance of waking up with neck and back pain.' says Ben McClure, co-owner, Gardner's Mattress & More (opens in new tab).

'You’ll also feel more comfortable during sleep, which makes conditions ripe for longer stretches of quality rest. Good sleep and proper sleeping positions have been linked to better health, so making conditions optimal for sleep is essential for your well-being.'

'When over 20 million people in America are allergic to mattress allergens like dust mites, it’s important to do everything you can do to reduce their numbers. Regularly flipping and vacuuming your mattress can decrease the number of pesky allergens by not having just one side exposed to our old skin cells and indoor dust.'

Note, the best mattress toppers can also help to cradle a sore body (as well as being a quick, rental-friendly upgrade to a cheap mattress), but if the aches and pains continue, then it's best to seek medical advice.

4. Freshen up your fort with a deodorizer and sanitizer

A quilted button-backed mattress drying in sunlight

(Image credit: Getty)

If your mattress smells, that is quite possibly dried sweat – delightful we know. Using a sieve (if you have one), sprinkle a light layer of baking soda or bicarbonate of soda over the entire surface and gently rub in with a scrubbing brush – leave for at least one hour, longer if you can.

And if you want an added scent for the days following your deep clean you can add a few drops of essential oil like lavender to the baking soda before you sieve it. This will absorb any excess liquid from the stain removal process, and leave your mattress smelling fresh and clean. Vacuum off the soda, making sure to get into all crevices.

The best thing to naturally eliminate bacteria from your mattress is fresh air, ideally in the sunshine. If you are unable to haul your mattress into the garden, a well-ventilated sunlit room will work as well. The sun is an amazing (and free!) natural disinfectant and deodorizer and will be as effective at freshening up your mattress as cleaning it with detergent.

For this to work best, you will need a full eight hours of sun, so pick a cloudless spring day for this task, as well as positioning your mattress in a way that will guarantee direct sunlight. We would recommend this as the last drying step of cleaning your mattress.

5. Spot clean your mattress and treat any stains

An assortment of white vinegar, essential oils and other holistic cleaning products on bed

(Image credit: Hayley Ryczek (Hayley in the Kitchen))

You're likely dealing with old protein stains i.e. urine, menstrual blood, sweat, and the likes. Either use an enzyme treatment with as little water as possible. Damp can damage a mattress' fibers and if you have a memory foam mattress, water could completely ruin it so be careful day to day with liquids and when cleaning too.

There are so many different approaches using chemical and eco-friendly approaches. What you use to clean a stain depends on the stain itself. The golden rules whatever you’re removing are to never scrub, but to dab, and not to get the mattress wetter than you need to.

For an all-over mattress spring clean, post-vacuuming you can spray the mattress with anti-bacterial white vinegar and then sprinkle it with baking soda (bicarbonate of soda is the same).

When cleaning with vinegar, let it bubble and place a towel over it for a couple of hours. Vacuum up any residual baking soda and allow to air dry. The smell of vinegar will disappear as the mattress dries. 

You can also mix 2oz of powdered detergent with 300ml of warm water, mix well until soap suds form. Apply a thin layer onto the mattress and rub it in with a sponge. Keep rubbing until any visible stains start to fade; otherwise, just work up a good lather. Remove any remaining detergent with a clean sponge. Leave to dry completely or use a hairdryer, holding 50cm above the stain, to help speed up this process.

How to clean specific mattress stains

A white mattress with light brown stain

(Image credit: Mattress clarity)

'When it comes to using soaps and cleaning products on your mattress, it’s important to be careful,' warns Fountain.

'You don’t want to use anything too harsh that could damage the delicate fabric of your mattress. Also, keep in mind that it’s difficult to completely remove detergents from a mattress, so you may wish to choose products with a mild scent.'

  • Tea and coffee stains on a mattress: If we’re talking fresh tea or coffee spills, just dab at the stain with a baking soda solution (115g in 600ml of water). Leave it for half an hour. Rinse by dabbing with clean water.
  • Mattress blood stains: If you're wondering how to clean blood stains - most of the magic is in the temperature of your H2O. Dab with cold water (never hot water), and if that doesn’t do the job, try the aforementioned baking soda solution.
  • Mattress sweat stains: If it’s other bodily fluids that have caused the stain, use a washing-up liquid solution on a clean cloth.
  • Vomit stains: Once you've cleaned up, start blotting up any liquid. Then mix equal amounts of water and white vinegar in a spray bottle wet the stain then blot. Repeat until the stain disappears. 
  • Urine stains: Little kids and pets can often have accidents in the middle of the night, so here is one of the best ways to clean up urine. Strip the bed and soak up the urine by blotting with paper towels, applying pressure to reach the deeper layers. Spray the urine stain with a white vinegar solution (two parts warm water, one part white vinegar). Blot with a paper towel. Repeat two or three times to remove the stain and smell. Finally, allow to air dry. 

Cleaning with shaving cream is also a cheap, effective and quick-drying way to get the worst stains out of a mattress.

6. Air it out

A bedroom with white bed sheets and grey duvet being lifted in air, table lamp with grey lampshade and orange scatter cushion

(Image credit: Getty)

Your mattress shouldn't be overly damp no matter what treatment you have used, however, ensure it is completely dry before putting your clean mattress protector and bedding back on.

'Airing out your mattress is beneficial in many ways. Not only does it allow any remaining moisture to dry out, but it exposes your mattress to the sun and fresh air,' says  Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design, Home Depot (opens in new tab).

To air out your mattress, simply open a window so your mattress is hit with sunshine, or pick up your mattress and bring it outside. Doing this will eliminate bacteria and mold that may be present on your mattress. Plus, it will help alleviate or eliminate odor. 

A bedroom with windows open and curtains moving with the wind

(Image credit: Home Depot)

How to get rid of mattress dust mites

A cat lying on a bed with white duvet and small table lamp

(Image credit: Anete Lusina via Pexels)

Airing the bed every morning is one way to get rid of dust mites – or at least limit them. The best steam cleaners are also great for their bug-busting abilities too. Simply go over the mattress before you vacuum, to help kill and remove any pesky pests that might be lurking. 

Pets are also culprits when it comes to finding fleas in your bedroom. So, if you can't resist your furballs, look at our guides to cleaning up after dogs and tidying up after cats for some mess-reducing techniques.

Expert tips on cleaning and caring for your mattress

'When it comes to the heavy-duty jobs, like bed bug removal and steam cleaning, you definitely want to call in a pro. Bed bugs are a super time-sensitive issue, as they spread like nobody’s business, so I’ll add that you should call that professional pronto. Have them treat your mattress, bedroom, and any other areas affected in the house immediately.' says Melissa Maker (opens in new tab), Youtube star and author of Clean My Space.

She also advises regular flipping and a mattress protector, at all costs.

And, social media's most coveted cleanfluencer, Sophie Hinchliffe, (aka Mrs Hinch (opens in new tab)) has some magic mattress advice. She says: 'For those asking why I use bicarb and what does it do, it’s an odor eliminator so any odors that may be lingering in the mattress it just soaks them up and absorbs them. It works really, really well.'

How often should you clean a mattress? 

This depends on a matter of things like whether you sleep solo or have pets on the bed (or kids). You'll want to treat urine and bloodstains, plus spills and the likes immediately (that's a given) but you should aim to deep clean your mattress in the following way a couple of times a year, ensuring once is in the summer months so that you can sanitize it in the sun also (more on this later).

'To keep your mattress clean and refreshed, we recommend removing your sheets and protective mattress cover and gently vacuuming the mattress at least once or twice per year.' says Jill Johnson, vice president of marketing, Tempur-Pedic (opens in new tab).

If you're buying a mattress online, for example, from an online forum with classified ads such as Facebook Marketplace (opens in new tab), Gumtree (opens in new tab) or Craig's List (opens in new tab) - you'll want to clean the mattress before you it makes its debut in your bedroom. After all, you don't know what the owner's cleaning habits are, so better safe than sorry right?

And, keep in mind how you style your mattress. For example, if you choose not to elevate your bed on a bed frame, it's more likely to get dirty more quickly. This applies to you if, for instance you sleep on a mattress on the floor. Because who wants to lift up a mattress, only to uncover a 'rug' of lint and dust bunnies? Not us!

Sitting smugly knowing you've got a raised bed with a headboard? Not so fast! Because you've got a bit of homework too. According to one expert, bedheads can also harbor all sorts of germy particles (which can then fall onto your mattress) so it's important to give it a good clean too!

Paul Morris, antimicrobial expert at Addmaster (opens in new tab) did some research on people's bed cleaning habits and uncovered some surprising (read: gross) findings. 

He says: 'The fabric on upholstered headboards offers the ideal conditions for several types of skin bacteria that break down sweat on the body,'

'We’re more aware of bacteria found on bed linen but as data shows that 1 in 3 of people (30%) have never cleaned their headboard, it could be a much larger source of bacteria than we think.'

When should I clean my mattress?

'It’s best to clean your mattress first thing in the morning,' advises Fountain.

'That way, you can let the baking soda do its job for 8 hours or more, and have things cleaned up by the evening. Alternatively, the day before an overnight trip is also another good option, as you can let the baking soda sit on your mattress overnight.'

Of course, there are some circumstances where you'll want to clean a mattress straight away. For example, if you've had a nosebleed, or Aunt Flo's monthly present has arrived, you'll want to eliminate the nasal or menstrual blood immediately. 

Strong-smelling pet urine or poop can also be a little stinky (the former can whiff of ammonia) so whether they've done their business in the best dog bed, or had an accident while snuggled up next to you - you'll want to clear it up quickly. Our fluffy friends tend to be a little experimental with their diet when they're left to their own devices, so it's good to get rid of any fecal matter fast to make sure bacteria doesn't harbor in your bed, and spread to other areas of the home.

How can I protect my mattress?

A bedroom with shelf above bed and croissants in woven tray

(Image credit: Vlarda Karpovich (Pexels))

Yeah, we know. You can't beat breakfast in bed, the cat does what it likes and the dog's just too cute to resist, right? All these, though, make for increased levels of bacteria (and therefore smells), dust mites love pet dander as much as human skin flakes, and muddy paw prints on a duvet are not a good look. If we haven't made you second guess that smoked salmon bagel or crispy croissant, the experts agree... We're not exaggerating.

'While the occasional breakfast-in-bed can be fun, treating your bed as your permanent dining room is a harmful habit to pick up long term.' says Hannah Miller, senior brand manager, Mattress Firm (opens in new tab).

'For the chronic bed-eater, keeping a clean mattress is no easy task. If you're eating meals on your mattress, consider every part of your bed set as a potential breeding ground for germs and bacteria.'

'Experts say the average sleeper should be changing their sheets every 1-2 weeks — an activity that will no doubt need to be increased if bed-eating is your thing. Bottom line? Snacking in bed means a major increase in mattress maintenance and possibly quicker mattress replacement.'

'Still unconvinced? Move over and make room in your bed for guests of a different variety. From ants to roaches, eating in bed leaves your sacred sleep zone open to hungry pests (and their friends!). The smallest of spills may leave your bedroom open for business for bugs. Even for the most careful eater, it's tough to eat in bed without leaving something behind, only for unwanted guests to enjoy it later!'

Finally, for a miracle in a can, why not try using Scotchguard (opens in new tab), available on Amazon.

'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, or so they say, and the same holds true for mattress stains.' says McClure.

'Protect your mattress by spraying Scotchguard on it, or, if you prefer to go chemical-free, simply use a thin mattress protector. Many people are wary that a “plastic sheet” will feel awkward when sleeping, but many of today’s protective covers are barely noticeable and are surprisingly comfortable. It is much easier to take off a protective sheet and wash it, or even purchase a new one, than it is to clean a mattress.'

Why should you clean a mattress?

Sleeping on your mattress every night, in all seasons, obviously causes a little wear and tear. Over time, all that sweat, dirt and dead skin cells accumulates and if you don't tend to it enough, you could end up with a smelly mattress, a bad night's sleep and if you're terribly unlucky, an infestation of some kind.

'The place where we spend a third of our lives sleeping and relaxing is actually a hotbed for germs!' says Nic Shacklock, head of marketing and brand development, (opens in new tab)

'Yeast, mold and bacteria could all be bunking in your bed, especially if your mattress is more than eight years old. As well as microbes, skin cells and food particles that are transferred to our mattresses from our bodies, a factor in making mattresses such a germy spot is gravity.'

'Airborne particles of dust and debris float around the bedroom before settling on the bed. Daily exposure to this array of nasty microorganisms is not healthy for anyone, which is why it is recommended to switch up your mattress every seven to eight years.'

'Remove all of the sheets and start by vacuuming the mattress, making sure the head of the vacuum is clean. Then go ahead and spray some disinfectant spray all over and leave the mattress to air out for a couple of hours.'

If that hasn't persuaded you, apparently the average person sweats out half a pint of perspiration every night. And it's not just part of adulting. Yes, as fully-grown human beings, we tend to exert more energy than little ones, but even the best crib mattresses can quickly become soiled by a wet diaper than has leaked, or an explosive baby bowel moment  - aka the 'poonami'.

The same goes for the best toddler mattresses when it's time for toilet training. Because knowing how to clean a mattress after a few night time accidents will ensure you can be patient with the process.

What to do if you can't clean your mattress

While we're pretty confident that the aforementioned methods will work to clean your mattress... we're not wizards. Sometimes stains that are old, highly pigmented or are deeply penetrated into the material might be too tall an order to tackle.

So, you can go down a number of routes here including mattress disposal or knowing how to recycle a mattress. Most mattress retailers will help you dispose of your mattress sustainably as part of their after-sale agreement. Ideally, try and contact your manufacturer as the first port of call.

If you are getting rid of yours, and buying another, you might be wondering 'how much does a mattress cost?' If you haven't bought one in a while (you should change yours every 7-10 years FYI), manage your expectations with our guide.

Christina Chrysostomou
Ecommerce Editor

Bonjour, Yasou, Hello — I'm Christina, ecommerce editor at Real Homes. Along with my super creative colleagues, I create content to help you create a chic home on a budget. I live in a two-bed maisonette with a garage and garden in Essex. Geographically, it's perfect; I've got the forest on my doorstep, and London is just 15 minutes by tube or car. I specialize in small kitchen appliances so that you can prepare food with ease at home. Prior to working for the Future plc family, I've worked on a number of consumer events including the Ideal Home Show, Grand Designs Live, and Good Homes Magazine. With a plethora of experience in digital marketing, editorial, and social media, I have an eye for what should be in your shopping basket.