Mattress care guide
When should you change your mattress?
It would be easy to dismiss this as merely a marketing ploy – but it’s advice that’s often backed up by health experts. An old, worn-out mattress isn’t going to be very supportive, after all, and this could contribute to things like back and neck pain and trapped nerves.
There’s also the issue of comfort, which should never be underestimated. According to The Sleep Foundation, 92% of us say a comfy mattress is important for getting a good night’s sleep. And as we’re increasingly aware, bad sleep can be damaging to both our short and long-term physical and mental health.
Mattresses don’t just become ache-inducing, flattened versions of their former super-sprung selves as time goes by – they can also become ‘hot beds of bacteria’.
Microtech Services Ltd recently carried out tests on samples of mattresses that had been used for eight years, looking at the bacteria, yeasts and moulds in them.
“Due to the amount of human contact with the average mattress, it’s inevitable that microbes and unwanted guests will develop over time,” notes leading environmental hygiene expert, Dr Lisa Ackerley. “People tend to focus on cleaning the things they can see – such as pillows and sheets – but the mattress itself can be a hotbed of potential illness.”
“Most people would be rather surprised by the things you can find in an old mattress. Mould spores and bacteria build up over the years, and although invisible, you could be breathing in these harmful spores at night.”
This can be especially problematic for people with allergies, breathing and skin conditions and who are prone to rhinitis (runny nose).
How often should you change your pillows and duvets?
If you’ve been using the same pillows for years, you’re definitely not alone: last year, Ergoflex surveyed more than 2,000 people and found that 82% had no idea how often we’re meant to be replacing pillows (when they’re covered in stains and flat as a pancake, no?).
Experts at the Sleep Council recommend pillows are replaced every two to three years, while others – like Dr Robert Oexman of Sleep To Live Institute – suggests getting new ones every six months (yep, that does sound rather costly!), because dirt, skin cells and dust mites build up in them over time, which could worsen things like allergies and asthma.
Pillows that have lost their shape and plumpness could contribute to neck pain – not to mention poor sleep - too.
Duvets, thankfully, have a slightly longer life, with experts advising we replace them every five years or so.
How to Clean a Mattress
Before you start cleaning your mattress, strip the bed and launder your linens. Wash and dry your mattress pad first, then the sheets, and finally your bedspread/comforter/duvet. use the hottest water and dryer heat setting allowed since heat will kill dust mites in your bedding. While the washer and dryer are doing their thing, turn your attention to the mattress.
Step 1. Vacuum it
Your vacuum cleaner’s upholstery attachment is your Number One ally in mattress cleaning. Start at the top of the mattress and work your way down in overlapping, narrow paths and then vacuum the sides of your mattress the same way. (Don’t worry about the other side of the mattress just yet; we’ll get there.)
Step 2. Deodorize it
Although we don’t usually notice our own bodily smells, over time sweat can build up and lead to an unmistakable funky aroma. To rid your mattress of rankness, sprinkle it well with baking soda and gently rub it in with a scrub brush, so it gets into the mattress fabric where the stink lives. Let the baking soda sit for 10 minutes, and then…
Step 3. Vacuum again
By scrubbing the baking soda into your mattress you’ve helped it bond with moisture and body oils in the top layers of material. Vacuuming it a second time pulls that moisture out, along with the cause of the odors.
Step 4. Get the stains out
Mattresses typically acquire three types of stains: with bodily fluids. While it’s best to treat stains immediately, let’s face it, sometimes sleep is more important. Here’s how to clean stains on your mattress after they’ve set in:
Dried blood stains can be treated by making a paste of 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide (3%) mixed with 1 tbsp. each liquid dish soap and table salt. Lightly spread this onto the stain and allow it to sit until dry before scraping the residue off. Dab at any remaining stain with a white rag* dipped into hydrogen peroxide, rotating the cloth as the stain lifts off.
*Using a white rag prevents dye transfer from the cloth to the mattress.
Urine stains are tough but not impossible to get out once they’re dry, but this two-step method helped dramatically when my kids were little.
- Dissolve 3 tbsp. baking soda in 8 oz. of hydrogen peroxide then add a drop or two of liquid dish soap. Dab this solution onto the spot. (Do NOT drench your mattress!)
- If the stain persists, wait until the area is dry then whisk together 3 tablespoons dry laundry detergent powder (NOT Oxiclean or anything containing oxygenated bleach) and 1 tablespoon water to make a dry foam. Lightly spread this on the stain and let it sit for 30 minutes.
- Scrape the dried paste away with a spoon. Use a white cloth dipped into hydrogen peroxide to remove any stubborn bits of paste.
- Vacuum the area.
Other bodily fluids (vomit, etc.): Open the windows then, using a white rag, blot the stain with undiluted, unscented household ammonia. Do NOT drench your mattress! Wipe the area with a clean, damp cloth and sprinkle the spot with baking soda to neutralize the ammonia odor and pull out any lingering moisture. Let this dry then vacuum the area thoroughly.
Step 5. Flip it and repeat steps 1-4
Innerspring or coil mattresses should be flipped side-to-side and top-to-bottom weekly for the first three months of ownership, then quarterly after that. If yours is a pillow-top mattress you can’t flip it over but should still rotate it top to bottom seasonally.
While you’ve got the materials handy, repeat the cleaning process above after flipping your mattress.
Preventing Mattress Stains
Since cleaning a mattress is such a daunting task, I wholeheartedly recommend using a washable mattress cover. I’m not talking about the crinkly, plastic kind you might remember from childhood. These days, mattress covers are made from fabric bonded to a waterproof layer that prevents liquids and dead skin from touching your mattress.
Pop the mattress cover into the wash if you have a spill, and make laundering it part of your routine, so you’ll never have to know how to clean a mattress again