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Home & garden.

19 October 2021

How to clean a mattress

Don’t let your bed become a haven for dust and bacteria. Find out how to keep your mattress looking and smelling clean with our expert guide.
Jade Harding
Scrubbing a mattress

Cleaning your mattress probably isn't that high up on your list of chores. But there are many reasons why you should spend a few minutes every couple of months keeping it as hygienic as possible – not least because we spend roughly a third of our lives in bed.

In our latest survey, 14% of the members we asked had never cleaned their mattress. And with around a third of you expecting your mattress to last between eight and 10 years, that's a lot of dust, sweat and grime building up. 

Whether there's a particular stain or smell you want to remove, or you just want to give your mattress a regular refresh, our expert tips below will help you to keep it in top condition. Remember to check the instructions or care label first.


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How to clean your mattress

Vacuuming a mattress

If your mattress is stain-free, it should be quick to clean. Simply follow the five steps below:

  1. Strip the bed and check for new stains on the mattress. If you find any, scroll down for tips on how to tackle them
  2. Gently vacuum the surface of the mattress. For this, you should use the upholstery attachment on your vacuum cleaner, making sure the attachment is clean before you begin. Once you've given the mattress the once over, go back and focus on any nooks and crannies in the surface to make sure you pick up every last bit of dust and dead skin. It's a good idea to vacuum under the bed to remove dust at the same time, especially if you suffer from allergies
  3. Rotate your mattress from head to toe if it's one-sided. If it's two-sided, flip it and make sure you vacuum both sides of the mattress
  4. Air your mattress for a few hours to let the fabric breathe. Unless you need to get rid of an unpleasant smell (see below), opening the bedroom window to let fresh air circulate around the room and pass through the fabric in your mattress should be sufficient
  5. Remake the bed. We recommend using a mattress protector beneath your sheet to protect your mattress from dust and sweat, as this means you won't have to clean the mattress so often.

If yours is already past its best, head to our Best Buy mattresses to find your next one.

Cleaning memory foam mattresses

Memory foam mattresses often come with a removable mattress cover that's machine washable. This can make cleaning a lot easier, but there are a couple of things to be aware of.

Always check the manufacturer’s instructions and the details of your mattress warranty before cleaning. Some mattresses have removable covers but the manufacturer actually advises against taking the cover off and washing it, while others allow this but say to avoid cleaning the foam after the cover has been removed.

If you're putting your cover in the washing machine, follow the washing instructions carefully to be sure you don’t inadvertently invalidate your warranty or shrink the cover so much it doesn’t fit back over the mattress.

If you’re tempted by memory foam, take a look at our top memory foam mattresses.

Video: how to remove mattress stains

Our handy video shows you at a glance how to tackle stains, or read on for more detailed information.

Scrubbing stains out of a mattress is no one's idea of fun, but it's essential if you want to keep your mattresses clean and odour-free for years to come. Before you get going, there are three golden rules to follow:

  1. Try to attack stains as soon as possible after they occur.
  2. Always check the mattress label before you apply any cleaning products.
  3. Test any cleaning solution on a small part of the stain first to ensure it won't damage the mattress.

Read on for advice on how to target specific stains, or scroll down to find out how to get rid of unpleasant mattress smells.

How to get blood stains out of a mattress

To get blood stains out of your mattress, first dab at the stain with a little cold water. Be careful not to soak the mattress and don't rub the stain as this could spread the blood further. 

You might find this technique surprisingly effective, especially if the stain is recent, but if not, try adding a little baking soda to the water. Apply to the stain, leave it for 30 minutes, and then dab with clean water and leave to dry.

If the stain is still there after the mattress has dried, try following the steps below for removing urine, as these will also work for blood.

How to get urine out of a mattress

To remove bodily fluids such as urine from your mattress, try diluting washing-up liquid in water and then gently dabbing at the stain with a cloth or sponge. Remember that mattresses aren't waterproof, so it's best to clean slowly and steadily. If the stain still isn't lifting, and your mattress care label says it's OK, use an upholstery cleaner, but always read the instructions. We recommend erring on the side of caution, so it's safest to dilute it and avoid spraying it directly onto the mattress.

Removing other mattress stains

For food and drink stains such as tea and coffee, your best bet is to try the baking soda and cold water mix mentioned above. For bodily fluids and sweat stains, try using diluted washing-up liquid. If in any doubt, though, contact the manufacturer to find out if it has any specific advice.

If the mattress is beyond repair, see our guide on how to buy the best mattress

How to stop your mattress from smelling

Regardless of how comfortable your mattress is, you're unlikely to get a good night's sleep if you're unable to escape an unpleasant smell when you put your head down.

There are two reasons your mattress might smell. The first is because it's new. It's not uncommon for mattresses made with synthetic materials such as memory foam to have a strong chemical smell when you first unpack them. But even if your mattress isn't synthetic, you might find it smells a bit when new as a result of the flame-retardant chemicals that manufacturers are required to apply by law.

The smell should disperse gradually, but you can speed up the process by leaving it near an open window to air. Find out more about how to improve your indoor air quality at home

Or, if the smell is especially strong, you can try airing the mattress outside if you have a patio and the weather is good.

The second reason a mattress might smell is if something has soaked into the material. Bodily fluids are obvious examples, but drinks such as tea and coffee can easily be spilt if you're enjoying breakfast in bed. Even spilt water can give the mattress a musty smell if the fabric hasn't been properly dried out.

After you've removed any stains (see above), air the mattress for as long as possible to allow the smell to fade. If the smell is especially strong or unpleasant, though, you'll need to resort to stronger measures. Sprinkle baking soda over the entire mattress surface and leave it for as long as possible, ideally overnight. Next, vacuum up the baking soda and leave the mattress to air by an open window – you should find the smell has gone.

If the smell still hasn't gone and you've had your mattress for a while, it might be time to replace it. See our round-up of the best mattress deals

Why you need to clean a mattress

No matter how often you change your bed linen, you still need to go the extra mile every so often and give your mattress a thorough clean.

While you might think your mattress isn't dirty, especially if you normally shower before going to bed and if the mattress is stain-free, that's unlikely to be the case. 

According to The Sleep Council:

  • The average adult loses 285ml of fluid each night
  • An average bed contains 10,000 dust mites that produce more than two million droppings, which can aggravate allergies
  • We shed around 454g of dead skin over the course of a year, much of which ends up nestled in your bed
  • A person spends roughly a third of their life in bed.

It's no wonder The Sleep Council says that a dirty mattress can contain worrying levels of staphylococcus, enterococcus, norovirus and even MRSA.

17% of members clean their mattress once every six months.

How often should you clean a mattress?

There's no hard and fast rule for how often a mattress needs to be cleaned. It all depends on the mattress and the person sleeping on it, but every six months is advisable.

If you're in the habit of flipping or rotating your mattress every three to six months (as you should be), it's worth taking a little extra time to clean your mattress while you do it.

14% of members we surveyed in March 2021 had never cleaned their mattress.

If you suffer from allergies, you should clean your mattress whenever the tell-tale symptoms of a runny nose, itchy throat and dry eyes start to worsen.

It also depends on how breathable the mattress is. 

Every mattress we review is tested for how well moisture passes through it – the more breathable a mattress is, the less likely it is to stockpile sweat. 

Head to our mattress reviews to find a breathable mattress.

Top tips: how to take care of your mattress

Make your mattress last longer with these expert tips from The Sleep Council.

  • Unwrap your mattress immediately. Don’t leave any plastic wrappings on, and don’t leave it in your garage for a week, as the damp could lead to rot. 
  • Give the mattress some air. As well as airing your mattress when it's new, you should get into the habit of airing it daily too. Throw back your duvet and pillows in the morning (you can leave the mattress cover on) and leave the bed to air for 20 minutes. This will allow body moisture to evaporate out.
  • Turn your mattress regularly. But only if the manufacturer advises it. You should turn your mattress over and rotate end-to-end every week for the first three months, then every three or four months after that. This will help the upholstery fillings to settle down more evenly. Some mattresses, particularly memory foam or mattresses with in-built toppers, shouldn’t be be turned over but you should still rotate them regularly.
  • Ban bouncing on the mattress (fun though it is) and try not to sit on the edge of the bed too much. Both can put undue strain on the mattress and cause it to lose support sooner.
  • Protect the mattress with a mattress protector. A washable cover will protect your mattress from stains, and you can also buy covers made from purpose-made ‘barrier’ fabric if you have a dust allergy.
  • Use your mattress guarantee. Think your mattress has sagged sooner than should be expected? Consider contacting the retailer or manufacturer. Often mattresses will come with a warranty to cover faulty materials or shoddy workmanship. Unfortunately, most mattress guarantees will not cover the gradual wear and tear that happens to all mattresses, and which leads to a loss of support.
  • Consider using a mattress topper. You can pick one up for as little as £10 – although some can cost more than £100 – and add an extra layer of memory foam or padding to the top of your mattress. The quality can vary significantly, though, so it's worth checking our full review of the best mattress topper brands before you buy.

Is it time you bought a new mattress?

Three in 10 members expect a mattress to last between eight and 10 years, according to our latest survey. And a quarter of you expect it to last longer. 

There are a few things you can do to maximise the lifespan of your mattress (see above) but it won't last for ever. When you're sleeping on it every night, it's all too easy to convince yourself your mattress is as good as it was when new. But just because a mattress is comfortable, it doesn't guarantee that it's providing good support for your back.

We've tested mattresses that will remain supportive without sagging or softening for up to 10 years. But if you've had you mattress longer than that, you might want to consider buying a new one.

Take a look at our Best Buy mattresses if you're due an upgrade.

Which? survey of 1,098 mattress owners in March 2021.

Last checked: April 2021.