It’s Time to Spring-Clean Your Mattress

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As winter turns to spring (though none too fast for those of us in the Northeast), our thoughts turn to spring cleaning. And while you can find countless articles about how to tidy up mildewed bathroom grout or polish grimy door hardware, even homemaking authority Martha Stewart neglects to mention cleaning what might be the most used surface in the house: your mattress.

Over time—and no matter how much of a clean freak you are—a buildup of dead skin, dried sweat, and household dust can collect on your mattress. That can lead to the presence of fungus, bacteria, and dust mites, which can worsen allergies and cause other health issues. “Dust mites feast on the dead skin cells,” says allergist Janna M. Tuck, M.D., a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can clean your mattress and keep it fresh for longer with a few simple steps. “Remember, you are lying on this piece of furniture for almost a third of the day,” says Dr. Tuck. “Keeping it clean and well maintained is essential to good health, especially if you are allergic.”

Here’s how to clean your mattress in a few easy steps.

Ready to Clean Your Mattress? Break Out the Vacuum

If you’re only going to do one thing on this list, make it this one. A good once-over with a vacuum will get rid of a significant amount of dust, crumbs, dust mites, and other nasties. Use the vacuum’s upholstery and crevice attachments to get into the nooks and crannies of your mattress. If you’re a true germaphobe (or very allergic), the Dyson V6 Mattress Handheld Vacuum may be a worthwhile investment: A Consumer Reports test found that it sucked up three times more material than a typical vacuum. Bonus tip from the cleaning experts at Good Housekeeping: If you have a garment steamer, go over the mattress with that before vacuuming to kill and loosen even more dust mites.

Spot-Treat Mattress Stains

Most experts recommend using a pet-stain upholstery cleaner to treat stains from sweat or other body fluids, like urine. If you’d prefer something with fewer chemicals, look for a natural enzyme cleaner formulated for stains and odors, such as ones made by Biokleen and Simple Solution. Or try this all-natural DIY stain remover from the domestic geniuses at Apartment Therapy: Make a paste from lemon juice and salt, apply to the stain, and let sit for up to an hour. Then just wipe off the salt with a clean towel; no need to rinse.

Deodorize Your Mattress With Baking Soda

Generously sprinkle your whole mattress with baking soda—up to a full 1-pound box of it if this is the first time you’ve cleaned your bed. Leave it on for a full day if possible, then vacuum it up and go over the mattress one more time with the upholstery attachment. Get rid of even more odor-causing bacteria by exposing your mattress to antibacterial UV-light, either through a big sunny window or, if you’re really motivated, by carrying it outside on a dry, sunny day to soak up the sun’s rays and get a good airing out.

Put on Fresh Mattress and Pillow Covers

Mattress and pillow protectors will help keep mites, dust, and other dirt from building up in your bed again. “As allergists, we recommend placing dust mite covers on pillows and mattresses—these should be cleaned a couple of times a year, and try to wash your sheets and pillowcases weekly in hot water,” advises Dr. Tuck.

Consider Not Making Your Bed

If you’re really dedicated to keeping mites at bay, you might want to skip making your bed in the morning. The microscopic critters need moisture from your sweat to thrive, says Dr. Tuck. “There is some evidence that if you turn the covers back instead of making your bed each morning, this helps decrease the moisture in the bed. A heated bed pad or electric blanket in the winter may serve the same purpose,” she says. Of course, if you go this route, you’ll have to answer to Navy Admiral William H. McRaven. Good luck with that.

For more spring cleaning tips, check out our Guide to Cleaning the Bedroom.