How to clean a mattress – sanitize yours with baking soda and more to stop stains and smells

This is how to clean a mattress properly to remove stains and smells quickly. Sanitize yours using baking soda and more clever tricks

modern bohemia bedding
(Image credit: Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash)

If you need to know how to clean a mattress properly then we have a straightforward 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 get cozy with that?

Fortunately, a dirty mattress doesn't necessarily need replacing and you can sanitize yours using household ingredients like baking soda and vinegar too. Get into the cleaning groove, then tend to urine or blood stains and ungodly mattress smells early on to not only extend the life of your mattress, but to improve your general wellbeing too.

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.

If that hasn't persuaded you, apparently the average person sweats out half a pint of perspiration every night...

Martha Stewart notes that '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 and sweat can seep down into the mattress' fibers, causing stains and unpleasant odors.'

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 blood stains, 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).

Martha Stewart along with Vice President of Marketing with Tempur-Pedic Jill Johnson recommend that '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,'

How to deep clean a mattress in 5 steps

  1. Strip the bed: Remove your bed sheets and the mattress cover, putting this in the washer.
  2. Vacuum vigorously: 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.
  3. Deodorize: Sprinkle/sieve baking soda all over your mattress to neutralize odors and leave it for at least 30 minutes before vacuuming this up. We like to add about five drops of an essential oil too (pre-sieving) for a gentle fragrance.
  4. Spot cleaning and treatment of stains: You're likely dealing with old protein stains i.e. urine, period blood, sweat and the likes. Either use an enzyme treatment with as little water as possible, or scroll for an in-depth guide on remove each of these different stain types below.
  5. Air it out: 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.

mattress protector - coffee set up on bed

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How to clean a mattress with baking soda and vinegar

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). 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. 

How to clean mattress stains

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 more wet than you need to.

  • 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: Dab with cold water (never hot water), and if that doesn’t do the job, try a baking soda solution, as above.
  • 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. 

how to clean mattress stains

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How to clean urine from a mattress

  1. Strip the bed and soak up the urine by blotting with paper towels, applying pressure to reach the deeper layers.
  2. Spray the urine stain with a white vinegar solution (two parts warm water, one part white vinegar). 
  3. Blot with a paper towel. Repeat two or three times to remove the stain and smell.
  4. Allow to air dry. 
  • For more detailed advice on how to clean urine from carpets and upholstery too check out our guide. 

How to get smells out of a mattress

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.

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 in with a sponge. Keep rubbing until any visible stains starts to fade; otherwise, just work up a good lather. Remove any remaining detergent with a clean sponge. Leave to dry completely or use a hair dryer, holding 50cm above the stain, to help speed up this process.

clean bedding

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How to sanitize a mattress

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.

How to get rid of mattress dust mites

Airing the bed every morning is one way to get rid of dust mites – or at least limit them; you can find more ways to be rid of them in our guide. If you have a steam cleaner, use it to clean your mattress: go over the mattress before you vacuum, to help kill and remove dust mites that might be lurking. 

mattress care: cat on white bedding

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Mattress care tips

  • Invest in a mattress protector: If you don't have one, but you've read this far down to clean your mattress then it's worth finding the best mattress protector for you. They not only help extent the life of your mattress but they make cleaning easy as most can be thrown into the washing machine on a regular basis.
  • Get into a regular mattress refresher routine: Just changing the bed sheets and a washable mattress protector once a week will keep your bed smelling sweeter and freer of dust mites.
  • Flip your mattress: 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. 
  • Ban food, drink or pets in bed: Yeah, we know. You can't beat brekkie 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. 
  • Don't get it wet: Damp can damage a mattress' fibres 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.

Expert tips on cleaning and caring for your mattress

Melissa Maker advises regular flipping and a mattress protector, at all costs. When you have to treat your mattress from infestations however '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.'

Mrs Hinch uses bicarbonate of soda to clean her mattress: 'For those asking why I use bicarb and what does it do, it’s an odour eliminator so any odours that may be lingering in the mattress it just soaks them up and absorbs them. It works really, really well.'

Enjoy those Zzzs.