How do you get smells out of a mattress? Best tips, products and bed cleaning hacks

A woman stands next to her bed as she shakes her duvet into the air
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We spend a lot of our time in bed and that means our mattresses can accumulate some unpleasant smells. Even if you regularly clean your bed sheets, the build-up of sweat, body oils, dead skin cells, dust mites, spills and accidents can all create a breeding ground for odor-causing bacteria that lurk deep within the layers of your mattress. 

But the good news is that there are several ways that you can get smells out of a mattress and we will share with you our best tips and mattress cleaning hacks to help you achieve a sweeter-smelling sleep surface. 

Whether your mattress is older or you have just invested in the best mattress for your sleep style, all mattresses can fall foul to staining and odors. Whilst keeping on top of your mattress maintenance will keep those smells at bay, the upcoming Memorial Day mattress sales is a great opportunity to buy one of the best beds for less. But first, let's tackle those smells. 

What causes a mattress to smell? 

Bad odors in the bedroom can be caused by a variety of things but the most likely culprit is the build-up of sweat, body oils, dirt and allergens which create a breeding ground for bacteria, which is what causes that lingering musty smell. 

Spills and accidents are common occurrences but if they’re not promptly cleaned up then the liquid can seep in to the fabric of the mattress which then leads to stains and unpleasant odors. The longer the liquid is left to soak in, the deeper in to the fibers it goes and the harder it is to remove the smells. This can then also mean that moisture gets trapped within the mattress which then encourages mold and mildew growth. As well as emitting an unpleasant smell, mold can also be harmful to your health so it’s important to know how to spot mold on your mattress and deal with it quickly. 

Dust mites are another thing that can also contribute to any smells as their droppings release a faint ammonia-like odor, which can be noticeable when dust mites are present in large numbers.

How to get bad smells out of your mattress

1. Vacuum often

There is a quick and easy way to stop smells in their tracks and prevent new smells from starting and that’s to vacuum your mattress regularly. Mattresses can trap dirt, dust, dust mites and dead skin cells in their fibers which breakdown over time causing smells. Vacuuming the surface of your mattress will remove these obstacles and stop yeast, bacteria and mold from forming. Removing trapped debris also helps to improve the airflow of your mattress. This means that your mattress can breathe better which won't just stop the growth of odor causing bacteria but it will also help to keep you cooler at night. 

2. Use baking soda to deodorize  

If you're looking for a cheap and easy way to freshen up your mattress, then the answer can be right there in your kitchen pantry. Baking soda is a great way to lift odors and freshen the surface of any mattress, plus the good news is, it works with any mattress, including the best memory foam mattress, as it's a safe and natural way to clean. 

Baking soda is a mild alkali and is fantastic at absorbing liquids. If you sprinkle a layer on your mattress it will act to soak up any lingering sweat, body oils or other moisture that causes smells. As these get absorbed so do the unpleasant smells associated with them. 

A spoonful of baking soda next to a spilled jar and a cork lid

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Baking soda works really well when mixed with a couple of drops of essential oils. We'd recommend lavender and lemon, as the lavender has sleep-inducing properties and lemon will leave your mattress smelling super fresh. For the best results vacuum the surface of your mattress before sprinkling a layer of baking soda mixed with essential oils over the top. We would recommend using a flour sifter to sprinkle your baking soda, this will give you an even layer.

Leave the baking soda for a couple of hours, the longer you leave it, the better it works, and then vacuum off ensuring that you remove all trace of baking soda left behind. Because this is a natural way of cleansing your mattress you can do it as often as you like. 

3. Spot clean stains with vinegar

Often you'll notice your mattress start to yellow and get stained, and it's those stains that cause the bad smells because of the bacteria present. Once you've noticed a mattress stain you've got to act fast — stains can also cause the breakdown of your mattress leaving it to become lumpy, uneven and sag. Vinegar works as a natural disinfectant and odor neutralizer perfect for spot cleaning your mattress. 

Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and lightly mist the area, being careful not to soak the mattress. Then lightly blot at the excess liquid and leave to dry. Once dried run your vacuum cleaner over the top and you should see the stain lifting, you can repeat this process until the stain is gone and the smell has left. 

4. Get a good enzyme cleaner

Urine is a common cause of funky mattress odors. Unless you're able to tackle any accidents immediately, opt for an enzyme cleaner to break down any odor-causing bacteria and other organic matter at the source. These enzyme cleaners work to remove the odors rather than just masking them with a perfume scent. Check some of the larger stores such as Amazon or Walmart for enzyme cleaners that are specifically made for mattresses. Although enzyme cleaners are gentler than harsh chemicals, making them a good choice for almost all mattresses,  always do a spot check before spraying on large areas of your mattress to ensure they won't cause any damage or discoloration. 

5. Invest in a mattress protector

Linenspa mattress protector being fitted to a mattress

(Image credit: Linenspa)

If you want a super simple way to keep your mattress clean and free of any stains and odors then invest in one of the best mattress protectors. Mattress protectors provide a barrier between you and your mattress so any sweat, dirt and debris doesn't get caught up in your mattress. Mattress protectors are also easier to clean as they often can be machine washed so you can pop it in the machine when you do your weekly bedding change. When looking for a mattress protector look for one that is either waterproof or water-resistant so if there are any accidents your mattress doesn't get wet. 

How to prevent your mattress from ever smelling 

There are several steps you can take to stop your mattress from smelling in the future. The most important step is to wash your bedding regularly. We recommend that you change your bedsheets at least once a week in order to keep odor-causing bacteria at bay. 

You can also help prevent an odor build up by regularly airing your bedroom. Open all windows and doors, especially when you’ve stripped your bed, and ventilate your sleep space. Keeping your room cool and dry will also help to reduce the amount of moisture and sweat build up in your mattress. Plus, avoid immediately making your bed in the morning in order to avoid trapping moisture and bacteria between the sheets. 

Another investment to make is in a decent mattress protector. These can shield your mattress from spills, sweat, and dust mites reducing the risk of odors developing. Meanwhile, regularly rotating your mattress head to foot will expose different areas of the mattress to air, preventing moisture buildup and potential odors from becoming established. 

How to tell when your mattress needs replacing 

A couple go mattress shopping together

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're struggling to get your mattress smelling as fresh as you'd like, it may be time to consider investing in a new one. Mattresses have a lifespan of around 10 years, unless you have an expensive latex mattress which should be good for around 20 years. Once your mattress surpasses this age, it might start to sag and feel lumpy, leading to joint and back pain. 

Whilst it can be expensive to replace your mattress it is worth timing your purchase to coincide with major sale events such as  Memorial Day mattress sales where many of the best mattress brands offer big discounts on their range of beds, meaning you can get a new bed for less. 

Rachael Penn

Rachael is a freelance journalist based in South Wales who writes about lifestyle, travel, home and technology. She also reviews a variety of products for various publications including Tom’s Guide, CreativeBloq, IdealHome and Woman&Home. When she’s not writing and reviewing products she can be found walking her Sealyham and West Highland terrier dogs or catching up on some cringe-worthy reality tv.