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How to Steam Clean a Mattress

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Something that doesn’t really cross people’s minds is the amount of time we spend in bed. Some of us would like that number to be higher, of course, but the inescapable fact is that the mattress is an important part of our lives.

Learning how to steam clean a mattress yourself instead of hiring a professional can save you money and possibly improve your daily life.

What You Need to Steam Clean Mattresses

  • Steam cleaner
  • Baking soda
  • Essential oil (optional)
  • Vinegar or laundry detergent (optional)
  • Vacuum
  • Upholstery attachment
  • Clean towel
Baking soda in a cup to be used as a way to clean a mattress

Preparing to Steam Clean a Mattress

The first thing that you need to do is get familiar with your steam cleaner if you haven’t already. Fill it with water to the recommended fill line, close it up and turn it on to pre-heat. Distilled water is recommended, especially if you live in an area with hard water, or high mineral content in the water.

Otherwise you can leave hardened mineral residue on and in your mattress.

Be sure that your steam cleaner can heat the water to at least 212F. Some home steam cleaners may not get quite hot enough, this will cause too much water to collect on the mattress, and will not kill germs or dust mites.

A clean mattress starts with clean sheets, if you put dirty bedding on a clean mattress it defeats the purpose. Remove all of your bedding including the mattress cover if you are using one. Wash and dry the bedding on the highest possible heat that the material can handle. 

To deodorize the mattress, sprinkle the entire surface of the with a thin coating of baking soda. You will end up using a lot of baking soda, a queen or king sized bed may take up an entire box. Be sure that you have enough on hand before you start.

To add an extra scent to the mattress, you can choose to add a few drops of essential oil to the baking soda before you put it on the mattress. If you are planning on using an entire box, add the essential oil to the baking soda in the box and shake thoroughly, breaking up any clumps that have formed.

If you want to use a bit less, combine the baking soda and essential oils in a ziploc bag and shake them together there.

Man trying to vacuum his room and mattress

Another tip we often hear is mixing a small amount of vinegar or laundry detergent into the baking powder. We find that this does not help very much in deodorizing or cleaning the mattress, and the added hassle of adding and mixing these with baking powder far outweighs any benefits they might add.

Finally, using a vacuum with an upholstery attachment (or most hand attachments if you don’t have that specific one), vacuum up the baking soda. If the attachment you are using has a brush at the end, feel free to add extra pressure and rub it back and forth on most mattresses other than memory foam. If it does not have a brush and is only plastic or metal, be gentle with the mattress surface.

Steam Cleaning a Mattress

By this point, since you started pre-heating the steam cleaner before you deodorized with baking soda, it should be heated and ready to go.

Secure an upholstery attachment to the head of the steam cleaner if you have one. If you do not, there is another option. Find a kitchen towel, or another small towel, and attach it to the head of the steam cleaner. You can bind it with a rubber band, shoelace, velcro tie, or anything that will keep it from falling off.

Some steam cleaners will have mattress-specific instructions, but if they do not, look for instructions on cleaning upholstery.

If you do not have the original owner’s manual, simply follow these instructions for steam cleaning your mattress.

  • Use a light touch – don’t drag the head across the mattress or add downward pressure. This is especially important with memory foam, since leaving the steam in one place can damage that section of the mattress.
  • Go back and forth in long, slow strokes.
  • Start at one side and work your way to the other, keeping track of the areas already cleaned.
  • Steam the sides of the mattress as well.
  • If it is a double-sided mattress that you can flip, let the top dry completely before cleaning the other side.
Two pillows placed above a mattress

After you are done, the mattress should be damp but not soaking. When you start steam cleaning the mattress, check if a small area is too wet. If it is, the water may not be hot enough to generate the sufficient steam, or you may be leaving the cleaner head in one area for too long.

Plan to leave the mattress to dry for at least two hours. Memory foam and pillow-top mattresses can take over 4 hours to dry since they are more absorbent. If you have a clean area available outside, we highly recommend drying the mattress there. Sunlight will help with the drying process as well as killing additional bacteria.

Why You Should Steam Clean Your Mattress

Even if you use a mattress cover, the buildup of dead skin, sweat, germs, and dust mites is highly likely. Mattress covers help, but many of them are not 100% impermeable. The most effective ones are made out of plastic, which can bother some people while they are sleeping.

The statistics on the average number of dust mites alone in a typical uncleaned mattress ranges from 100,000 to 1,000,000. Dust mites and their droppings can exacerbate symptoms in asthma and allergy sufferers, so getting rid of them can improve your health.

Dust mites are not bed bugs – that is a completely different insect that will bite you in your sleep and leave a rash.

Dust mites feed on dead skin cells that slough off our bodies as we sleep. Showering regularly can help get the dead skin off before we get into bed, but there’s nothing we can do to stop it completely. That’s just the way the human body works.

In addition to losing dead skin at night, humans also sweat quite a bit, more than you probably realize since most of it dries before you wake up in the morning. Sweat can cause odor, stains, and harbor bacteria, so cleaning it with a steam cleaner before too much builds up will extend the life of your mattress and help keep you healthy.

Close up of a mattress about to be steam cleaned

Types of Mattresses You Can Steam Clean

While it is possible to steam clean most mattresses, some manufacturers specifically state that steam cleaning at home will void the warranty.

You can usually steam clean:

  • Spring mattresses
  • Memory foam mattresses
  • Pillow top mattresses
  • Pillows!

Most adjustable bed mattresses have plastic or other parts inside of them that can be easily damaged by a steam cleaner. Check your owner’s manual before trying to steam clean any mattress, check the manufacturer’s website, or give the company’s customer relations department a call. If at all in doubt, have your mattress professionally cleaned instead.

Tips for Steam Cleaning a Mattress

  • Steam is hot! When using a steam cleaner, take the proper precautions.
  • Steam cleaning can fade colors. A mattress is rarely seen without bedding so it may not be a big deal, but it is a good fact to keep in mind.
  • Keep everything and everyone (especially pets) off the mattress until it is completely dry.
  • For steam cleaning a small spot on the mattress, you can try to use a steam iron or clothes steamer, following the same instructions. With an iron, place a towel between the iron and mattress.

Conclusion

Mattresses become dirty over time, and it is important to clean them. If you own a steam cleaner, cleaning your mattress with one is a no-brainer, and doing it at least a few times a year can help keep allergens down.

Another option is to rent a steam cleaner to clean your mattress. If you do so, be sure to check our instructions on what to do if you do not have an upholstery attachment.