Yes, It's Possible to Clean Your Mattress
Jolie 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.
I spilled a very small amount of beer on my bed. My immediate thought was, "What would Jolie Kerr do?" so I stripped down my bedding and tossed it all in the wash. The beer got only on the corner of a pillow and on the fitted sheet. I had a mattress protector on the bed which did its job and mostly absorbed the brunt of the blow. I tossed that in the washer too, after checking the care guide symbol thingy.
However, a tiny bit of beer did make its way onto the mattress, so I put a minimal amount of soap and water on a washcloth and wiped it, then dabbed it up with a different clean towel. I am now leaving my mattress to air dry. So my question is: Did I do that right? If in future this happens again, is there anything I should do differently (other than not drink beer in bed)?
You totally did that right! Wow, I'm so pleased right now—you got the "grab for the soap" part right, you got the "dab at the stain" part right, and you even got the super important "let the mattress dry" part right. It is a grand day indeed!
With your question more or less answered, let me say this: I think it's fine to drink a beer in bed. If that makes you happy, keep on keepin' on.
Still though, there are more things to say, so today we'll cover what to do about other kinds of stains that commonly occur on mattresses, like blood and urine. We'll also touch on what you should know if your mattress develops a mold or mildew problem, and talk about routine mattress care.
General Tips for Handling Spills in Bed
We spend a lot of time in our beds and all kinds of stuff goes on in there, so it's likely that at some point along the way, you're going to end up with a mess of some sort that needs to be cleaned up. But the "how" of removing a stain from a mattress isn't all that intuitive—I mean, you can't just chuck the thing in the washing machine and be done with it. We're going to talk about some specific stains that can commonly occur on mattresses, but before we do there are three general rules of thumb to follow.
The first is that you want to be aware of not saturating the mattress with water or liquid cleaning solutions—in addition to being not-washing-machine-chuckable, a mattress also poses the problem of being tricky to dry out when it's gotten wet. And a wet mattress is not only unappealing in terms of a sleep environment, but also is a breeding ground for mold and mildew. It probably goes without saying that you don't want to be sleeping atop a sea of mold.
The second thing to say about dealing with a stain on the mattress is that, provided you know what it is, you'll want to treat it with the right product. That's especially important because a number of substances that typically stain a mattress (think: blood, sweat, urine) are protein stains which, when combined with bleach, for example, can be made worse.
The third thing to say is that the Letter Writer's approach—using a damp rag and a small amount of soap—is a very good one that you can and should bear in mind in the event you, too, spill some beer or wine or juice or soda in bed and catch it immediately.
Treating a Blood-Stained Mattress
Blood stains can happen on mattresses (or pillows) for a number of reasons; menstruation is an obvious one, but things like nosebleeds happen, sometimes dry skin cracks overnight and bleeds, etc. There are a lot of ways to treat blood stains—you can make a paste of baking soda or crushed up aspirin, use hydrogen peroxide or lemon juice, or a product like Carbona Stain Devils #4 or Zout.
If you go the paste route, apply it to the stain and allow it to sit for 30 or so minutes before wiping away with a clean, damp rag. To use a liquid stain remover, start by applying it to a slightly dampened rag or sponge, and then dabbing at the stain. That will help you to control that amount of moisture the mattress is exposed to, though you may have to take several passes to fully remove the stain.
So You* Peed the Bed, Now What?
*Or the dog, cat, child, etc.
Accidents will happen. If they happen to you, and you catch an accident right away, grab some paper towels or rags to soak up as much of the urine as possible. Then, use a product like Nature's Miracle, which is designed for use on pet messes but can be used on human messes as well, or a laundry pre-treatment spray like Zout, to remove the remaining stain.
After removing the stain, there may be a lingering odor; if that's the case, when the mattress has dried, spread baking soda on the area, allow it to sit for 30 or so minutes, and then vacuum it up.
Cripes, There's Mold Growing on the Mattress
In the event that you have a mattress that's developed mold, you should think seriously about replacing it. Mold spores aren't things you want to be breathing in while you sleep, and mold can be particularly trick to eradicate entirely when it takes root in a mattress. However, there are cases where replacing a mattress isn't an option. Lysolcan be a good choice for blasting mold out of a mattress, though you can certainly also employ rubbing alcohol, bleach, or white vinegar. To use one of those options, apply to a sponge or rag and scrub at the moldy spots until they're gone. Then allow the mattress to dry completely.
Some Tricks For Drying a Wet Mattress
If you live in a warm, dry climate, you're in luck—a damp or wet mattress will dry fairly quickly, especially if several windows are open to help with air circulation. Setting a fan and/or dehumidifier near the mattress can also speed along drying time, and is recommended for those in damper climates. If the spot you've been treating is on the small side, a hair dryer will allow you to quickly dry that area out.
What to do About a Mattress That Just Smells… Bad
Sometimes mattresses may take on a funk that is unrelated to stains, and sometimes those stains leave behind an odor even after cleaning. Here's what to do about that: Sprinkle plain baking soda or one of the scented household deodorizers that Arm & Hammer makes on the mattress. Leave it to do its deodorizing thing for, say, 30 minutes (more for very strong odors) and then vacuum the powder up. Setting a mattress outside to air out and take some sun is also an option, provided you have the space for such an operation.