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Sooo...How Do I Clean a Mattress, Anyway?

Photo: Ebowalker (Pixabay)
SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

Years ago, I had the flu really badly and apparently sweat through my mattress pad. This wasn’t supposed to be possible, and the company sent me a replacement years later. The issue is that my $2000 mattress also developed spring issues and the company won’t honor the warranty because there are stains present. I explained about the mattress pad, but they won’t budge.

The problem is that the stains span about half the mattress and vary from light rings to dark splotches :( After listening to Ask a Clean Person, I have renewed hope that I might be able to remove the stains myself and get the new mattress I am owed. I’m in the trial phase: I have tried dabbing one spot with Shout (on a damp cloth), to no avail. I have now moved on to a baking soda paste, but the problem is that I can’t imagine spreading paste over half my mattress. Could I use 3% hydrogen peroxide spray to get a larger area?


There is hope, there is hope! Also thank you for listening to my weird little cleaning show!

It’s been a minute since I’ve covered mattress care and stain removal, so that’s what we’re going to do today. I’ve got help for our LW’s very specific situation, as well as tips for the rest of you who may be experiencing some adjacent and very common issues with your mattresses. Let’s do this thing.

All-Over Stain Removal

When it comes to doing a large-scale cleaning of a mattress, the best option is going to be to use a carpet and upholstery cleaning machine for the job. These machines work by forcing a cleaning solution into the fibers and then extracting it back out, which is crucial to not ending up with a sopping wet mattress that will likely then develop mold and mildew.

You can rent this type of machine for about $30 at grocery, hardware or home improvement stores, or you can buy one. They come in three primary styles: Upright, portable corded, and handheld. For the LW’s purpose, either renting or buying a handheld model should suffice and be the most cost-effective option; this is the one I have in my own life, and I love it.

Spot Treating

LW mentioned spot treating, which as she suspects, isn’t the best solution to her particular problem. But that is a very good technique to use to remove smaller stains from a mattress. The process she described — using a damp, light-colored cloth and a stain treatment product to tamp at the stains until they begin to lift — allows you to control the amount of liquid you’re introducing the to the mattress, and use the cloth to create some friction that will help to break up the staining.

The thing that LW got wrong, however, is her choice of stain removers: Shout is the stuff for food stains, but it’s not great on protein stains like sweat, blood or sexual fluids. For those, choose Zout or Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover. Hydrogen peroxide, also, is especially good on blood stains.

Odor and Allergen Management

Before we wrap this up, let’s detour a bit to talk about what to do when a mattress just…doesn’t smell that great. Vacuuming a mattress will, perhaps surprisingly, make a pretty significant difference when it comes to odor management. Your regular vacuum is just fine for this operation, just switch to the upholstery and crevice attachments that come standard with most models. If you want to level up, sprinkle the mattress with a liberal amount baking soda or a carpet odor-eliminating powder, which can also be used on mattresses or upholstered furniture. Let the powder sit for at least 30 minutes, then vacuum it up. If allergen management is a consideration for you, the Dyson Mattress Vacuum, which is much more powerful than standard vacuums and therefore can pull dander and dust from deep within a mattress’s fibers, is a purchase well worth considering.

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About the author

Jolie Kerr

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person