How to clean a memory foam mattress – and the health risks you run if you don't

Learn how to clean a memory foam mattress not just to keep it fresh and new, but to avoid poor sleep and all manner of health complaints

Baby on memory foam mattress
(Image credit: Alamy)

There are so many reasons to find out how to clean a memory foam mattress or topper. You may have accidently spilt your morning brew on it, of course, but accidental spills aside, and however clean your habits, there are all sorts of nasties lurking within your memory foam that means cleaning it regularly is a must. 

Cleaning a mattress at least every couple of months will mean your choice of the best mattress or best mattress topper will stay that way. We asked mattress experts for their advice on the best way to clean a memory foam mattress.

How to clean a memory foam mattress

Need an incentive to clean a memory foam mattress? Memory foam mattresses and mattress toppers 'gather dead skin cells, sweat and body oil. This attracts dust mites, bacteria, fungi and other allergens into your bed,' says April Mayer, sleep expert from Amerisleep (opens in new tab). 'Dust mites can trigger sneezing, coughing, runny nose, watery eyes, itchy throat, breathing difficulties and skin rashes.' 

'The average mattress is home to between 100,000 to up to 1 million dust mites,' says Martin Seeley is the CEO and sleep expert at MattressNextDay (opens in new tab). 'What’s more, regularly cleaning your bed is the best way to prevent bed bugs, which can survive up to a year. Female bed bugs also produce around 200 to 500 eggs over two months, all of which hatch in about a week and, therefore, breed quicker – making it harder to get rid of them altogether.'

So, you can see why cleaning memory foam regularly is worthwhile. Here, we explain how. 

1. Read the instructions

Martin Seeley, CEO and sleep expert at MattressNextDay, says it's important to 'check the care instructions on your mattress before you start. If you take action that damages the foam, you may find that your warranty becomes invalid. So read your care instructions.'

2. Remove and wash the cover

If you're wondering if you can wash a mattress cover, the answer is: if you can get it off, you not only can but should.

'If the mattress has a removable cover, it’s a good idea to clean this regularly. Most removable memory foam mattress covers are machine washable,' advises cleaning expert Sarah Dempsey at My Job Quote (opens in new tab).

If your memory foam mattress doesn't have a cover or mattress protector, make a note to buy one when you get the chance. Our buying guide lists the best we have tested; Amazon also sells mattress protectors (opens in new tab) by size and for every category, from bed bugs to incontinence.

3. Vacuum the memory foam

Failing that, start by vacuuming the memory foam.

'We advise using a vacuum with a soft brush attachment, as a harder brush can damage the fabric cover. Go in gentle circular motions to clean dust and grime.  When done, flip the mattress over and do the other side,' says April Mayer, sleep expert from Amerisleep. 'Best practice is to vacuum once a week, or every time you wash your bed sheets. Frequent vacuuming will prevent dust and debris from building up.'

If the cleaning has made you wonder how often you should flip a mattress, take note that hybrid mattresses might have a memory foam layer over the springs, and that these should not be flipped.

'Breaking out the vacuum regularly will help reduce dust and dirt. It won't eliminate any dust mites, but it will take away their food source, namely dust and dead skin cells. Use a soft attachment and carefully give the surface a quick vacuum when changing your sheets,' says Martin Seeley at sleep expert at MattressNextDay.

4. Spot clean stains

Wondering if you can shampoo a mattress? The answer is: yes but with caution. 

'Stains can be caused by sweat and body oils or accidental spills. Spot cleaning is essential as soon as you notice the stain. Use a light-colored, clean cloth to remove stains as darker colors may bleed when dipped in cleaning solutions. There are general rules to removing stains but we recommend reading the care label instructions before using anything on the topper,' says April Mayer, sleep expert from Amerisleep.

'Use a mild liquid detergent diluted with water. Avoid low-quality or powder detergents as they can discolor or alter the texture of the fabric cover.

'Mix detergent and water in equal parts in a bowl. Dip your cloth in the solution and rub it into the stain in circular motions. Let the solution rest on the stain for 30 minutes. Take another damp cloth and wipe the solution off. Gradually rub the cloth over the stain a few times and ensure there’s no detergent left on the topper. Clean with a dry towel by blotting the area.

'Even without any stains, you can use laundry detergent to deodorize and clean the mattress after vacuuming. To do so, mix one part detergent and two parts warm water in a spray bottle. Gently spray over the mattress, try to avoid getting it too wet, as this can damage the memory foam. Move the bottle as you spray to ensure an even spray.'

Martin Seeley at MattressNextDay adds: 'The first step in cleaning your memory foam mattress is to use a mild detergent solution on the stain. Use warm water and apply the solution directly onto the stain with a sponge or rag. Apply enough pressure so that it penetrates into the surface of the mattress, but not so much that it pushes out any of the stuffing inside of it.

'After five minutes, use another sponge or rag and rinse away any excess liquid from the surface of your memory foam mattress. If there's still some left behind, continue soaking until all of the liquid has been removed from both sides of your mattress cover.'

4. Allow to air dry

Once you have finished cleaning a memory foam mattress, it's vital to allow it to air dry before replacing bedding. 

'Any leftover moisture can encourage mold and mildew to grow,' says April Mayer, sleep expert from Amerisleep. 'Memory foam takes a while to dry. Keep it in a well-ventilated room with fans on to speed the drying process.' 

'Once you've removed all of the excess liquid, place your memory foam mattress in direct sunlight to dry,' says Martin Seeley is the CEO and sleep expert at MattressNextDay. 'If it's cold outside, use a fan to blow warm air over the wet spots on your mattress cover so that they dry faster.'

Anne also suggests giving your mattress a daily dose of sunshine: 'It can be exposed to direct sunlight for around 30 minutes in the morning which will help to absorb moisture and eliminate odors without having to do anything. If you air dry in sunlight at noon or afternoon it can damage the memory foam as it’s too hot.'

5. Repeat as needed

'If your mattress still smells like mildew after it's been dry for a few hours, repeat the above steps until all of the odor is gone. If you've done everything correctly, you should be able to enjoy your memory foam mattress again without worrying about any lingering odors!' says sleep expert Martin Seeley.

Can you use baking soda to clean memory foam mattress?

Cleaning with baking soda is really useful for not just stains but for banishing nasty smells from memory foam caused by sweat and dead skin (also known as bacteria).

'Baking soda is a good stain remover which also neutralizes odor,' says April Mayer, sleep expert from Amerisleep. 'Mix one part baking soda and two parts cold water. Rub solution on the stain, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Dip a dry cloth in clean water and remove any residue. Blot dry with a clean towel or paper towel. 

'Alternatively, sprinkle baking soda directly onto the stain and vacuum it up after eight hours or overnight.  You can also use baking soda to deodorize. Sprinkle all over the mattress and leave for eight hours or overnight and vacuum any residue.'

Martin Seeley is the CEO and sleep expert at MattressNextDay recommends that every time you strip your bedding, you add baking soda: 'When you strip your bedding off, sprinkle a little baking soda on the surface of the bed. It absorbs moisture, so it's a great way to freshen up a musty mattress in just a few hours. Vacuum off before you make your bed.'

Can you use vinegar to clean a memory foam mattress?

Cleaning with vinegar, specifically distilled white vinegar is a good way to remove stains, says April Mayer, sleep expert from Amerisleep. 

'Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a bowl. Take a soft cloth and dip it in the solution. Gently rub into the stain using circular motions, moving inwards, which minimizes the chance of spreading the stain. Repeat until the stain disappears. Once the stain is removed, wipe off the solution with a cloth dipped in clean water. Pat dry with a towel or paper towel.'

Can you use boric acid to clean a memory foam mattress?

April Mayer, sleep expert from Amerisleep, says that you can use boric acid to clean memory foam.

'Moisten the stained area with clean water, then sprinkle boric acid onto it. Dab and blot the stain with a sponge or soft cloth in circular motions until the stain has gone. Avoid scrubbing as this could set the stain further. Wipe clean with a dry towel. Vacuum the topper once dry and ensure no residue is left.'

This boric acid is Amazon's top seller (opens in new tab).

Can you wash a memory foam mattress? 

Steve Adams, CEO at Mattress Online (opens in new tab) advises caution when washing a memory foam mattress. 

‘To clean your memory foam mattress, we recommend first checking the care guide to check the cleaning steps that the manufacturer recommends. When spot cleaning stains on your memory foam mattress, don't get it too wet as this can ruin the foam filling inside. To avoid this, lightly spray lukewarm water onto the stain and gently dab it with a damp cloth. Some manufacturers suggest using water mixed with gentle laundry detergent or dish soap, but check the manufacturers' care instructions first. This is because harsh chemicals can break down the memory foam inside.  

'If possible, try to tackle the stains when they're still wet as it's much easier to work with. Clean the mattress with a damp cloth and try to soak up as much moisture as possible. Afterwards, open your windows and let the mattress air-dry for as long as you can before putting your bedding back on. When you change your sheets, you should also vacuum your memory foam mattress too. This will removes any dirt, dust, hair and dead skin cells which gives you a clean surface to put your fresh bedding onto. This is also really beneficial if you suffer from allergies.’ 

Do I need to clean a memory foam mattress?

You do need to clean a memory foam mattress if it isn't to eventually smell (caused by bacteria) and harbor dust mites, which feed on your dead skin cells.

Jonathan Warren, Director and bed specialist at Time4Sleep (opens in new tab) says: ‘The average person will spend almost 19,000 hours sleeping on the same mattress, but most rarely clean their mattress – if ever! Ensuring that your mattress is kept clean is an easy way to ensure you get a great night’s sleep.

‘Without regular cleaning, your mattress can accumulate dust, sweat and dead skin. The average person can sweat up to 22 gallons a year while they sleep so it’s essential we make it a clean environment.’

How often does a memory foam mattress need cleaning?

Jonathan Warren, Director and bed specialist at Time4Sleep advises: ‘A thorough mattress clean every one to two months can help tackle any allergy flare-ups you have been experiencing at bedtime and generally improve your health and sleep quality overall.’

Lola Houlton
Contributing Editor

Lola Houlton is H&G's long-term intern. Currently student of Psychology at the University of Sussex, she began writing content for Real Homes around the subjects of children's and teenagers' bedroom, in particular covering the psychology of teens and their approach to tidiness. From there, Lola expanded her knowledge of a broad range of subjects and now writes about everything from organization through to house plants while continuing her studies.