How to steam clean a mattress to get rid of dust mites, bed bugs and more

Person steam cleaning a white mattress to get rid of bed bug residue
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Steam cleaning a mattress is the best way to freshen it up, get rid of stains, and kill dust mites, bed bugs and bacteria. Most of us sweat and release body oils in our sleep, all of which will seep into a mattress if it isn't protected properly. 

Stains and odors don’t just look unsightly, they can also damage your mattress. Leave them untreated and your mattress might not offer the same support it once did and may feel lumpy and uneven, comprising the comfort it can offer.

If that describes your mattress, then you might need a new one – and there’s no better time to bag yourself one of this year’s best mattresses for all sleepers than in the forthcoming Memorial Day mattress sales. For now, here's how to steam clean a mattress and why you should...

The benefits of steam cleaning a mattress

Steam cleaning reaches deep in to the mattress fibres so it dissolves any dirt, grime and allergens that may be lurking. Steam cleaning a mattress can also effectively kill off any bacteria. Why? Because steam cleaners typically reach high temperatures of at least 100°C which is hot enough to kill off any bacteria.

High heat also helps kill any dust mites and bed bugs that you have in your mattress, creating a cleaner more hygienic sleep space. When mattresses absorb sweat and other body fluids such as sebum it can start to smell a bit funky. Steam cleaning will help eliminate these odors, leaving your mattress smelling brand new. 

A mattress being stem cleaned to get rid of dust bites and bed bugs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Regular steam cleaning also helps to prolong the life of your mattress by stopping dirt and dust from accumulating – both of which can lead to wear and tear if they are left to build up over time. 

How to steam clean a mattress

What you need to steam clean a mattress

  • Vacuum with upholstery attachment
  • Steam cleaner
  • Distilled water
  • Baking soda
  • Essential oils (optional) 
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Towels
  • Laundry detergent (optional)
  • White vinegar (optional)
  • Spray bottle (optional)

You will need a handheld steam cleaner in order to steam clean a mattress. Of course, you could technically get away with a stick model, but it’s going to be awkward to manoeuvre so we advise against it. 

If you don’t have a steam cleaner and you’re not sure whether you’re ready to invest then follow our guide on how to steam clean your mattress with an iron

1. Prepare your mattress for a steam clean

Before you get started you need to prepare your bed so strip off all the bedding and linens and place them on a hot wash whilst your tackle the rest of your bed. 

2. Vacuum your mattress

Using the upholstery brush, thoroughly vacuum your mattress surface. This will get rid of any dead skin flakes, dust, dander, pollen and dust mites that are present on your mattress. Make sure that you get right in to the seams and tufts to get any pests that may be hiding. 

 you have time then you may want to sprinkle baking soda mixed with a couple of drops of essential oils over the top of the mattress. Leave the baking soda for at least an hour before vacuuming again making sure you vacuum all traces of the baking soda. 

Vacuum cleaning a mattress topper

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

3. Spot treat any stains

If you have used the baking soda during the vacuuming stage, this should help to loosen any light stains. But if you notice heavy staining you need to spot treat these before starting to steam clean your mattress. 

In a spray bottle mix together two parts water, one part white vinegar and a small dash of laundry detergent. Spray on the mattress and blot at the stain to remove it. Don’t rub the stain, this will just make things worse and make sure that you don’t get the mattress too wet, the purpose is to dampen the surface not saturate it. 

4. Test a small area on your mattress

Next you’re going to want to set up your steam cleaner by adding water and letting it heat up to at least 100°C. This temperature will be hot enough to kill bacteria as well as any bed bugs or dust mites you may still have in your mattress after vacuuming. 

We recommend you use distilled water if possible, this is because regular tap water can leave behind residue on your mattress that will show up as water marks, stains or yellowing. Plus, distilled water will also protect your steam cleaner against a limescale build up. 

5. Get steaming

Don’t forget, you don’t want to saturate your mattress so once your steam cleaner reaches optimum temperature, hold the steam cleaner around 2 to 3 inches above your and slowly move across the mattress. 

Do this in long, even strokes making sure to avoid any blasts of steam. If you think your mattress is getting too wet, then lift it further away from the surface.  As well as the surface, you should also steam clean the sides of your mattress. 

6. Leave to fully dry

Open up the blinds and windows and leave your mattress to dry. Do no attempt to replace your bedding on to the bed before it’s fully dry and if it’s a bit damp when you’re ready to go to bed, it’s best to sleep elsewhere. Placing bedding over a damp mattress could cause mold and bacteria growth that won’t just be detrimental to your mattress but also to your health.  

Steam cleaning a mattress FAQS

Will steam cleaning a mattress kill bed bugs?

If you’ve noticed signs that you have bed bugs in your mattress then it’s important to act fast to stop them spreading. Bed bugs don’t just live in your mattress, they can also make their homes in other areas of your home such as sofas, dog beds and carpets so the sooner you tackle any infestation the better.

A person holds a magnifying glass to a mattress to see the bed bugs crawling beneath

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Steam cleaning offers an effective way of killing bed bugs if done properly. Bed bugs don’t like high temperatures so since steam cleaners reach at least 100°C this is hot enough to kill bed bugs, their eggs, and larvae. Combine this with our step-by-step guide on how to deep clean your mattress at home and you’ll find your pest issue will be a problem of the past.

And steam cleaning won’t just get rid of bed bugs, it’s also a great way of riding your bed of dust mites. If you’ve noticed that you’re waking up in the morning feeling stuffy, itchy eyes, sore throat, or sneezing, you likely have dust mites. But they also hate high temperatures so steam cleaning your mattress will kill those off too leaving you sleeping and feeling a lot better. 

Can all mattresses be steam cleaned? 

As we always like to remind you, before undertaking any kind of cleaning activity with your mattress, make sure that you check the care label for specific manufacturer instructions. However, there are some limitations when it comes to steam cleaning mattresses. 

If your mattress is made using memory foam then you shouldn’t attempt to clean it with a steam cleaner. This is because memory foam is very sensitive to heat and that heat can break down the cellular structure of the foam causing it to lose it’s shape and become less supportive. 

Moisture is also an issue when it comes to memory foam, as it’s absorbent the moisture from the steam can saturate the foam which then can create a breeding ground for mold and mildew. 

Steam cleaning a mattress that is made using delicate materials like cashmere or wool is also a no-no as the fibers can be damaged by the high head and cause them to shrink, lose their shape and even become so brittle they break apart.  

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.