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How to clean a mattress protector without damaging it

Slightly open white quilted mattress protector on a mattress with brown siding

Just like pillowcases, sheets, and blankets should be washed, so should your mattress protector. Even though our skin doesn’t come in direct contact with mattress protectors, it can still collect oil and sebum, sweat, dead skin, dust, and dust mites. This build-up can begin to grow bacteria making your bed less clean, and even potentially causing skin issues or allergies. To keep your bed cozy and clean, and to increase the lifespan of your mattress, you should make washing your mattress protector part of your cleaning routine. 

What is a mattress protector?

A mattress protector is a protective covering that is placed on top of a mattress. A mattress protector shields the mattress from absorbing excess oil and sebum, sweat, dust, dead skin cells, spills, and bacteria. A mattress protector can increase the longevity of your mattress while also keeping it more hygienic, as deep cleaning a mattress is very difficult and sometimes impossible to do without damage. 

Mattress protectors can come in a number of forms, all of which can serve a different purpose, and require different cleaning instructions. A cotton mattress protector for example generally serves the sole purpose of protecting the mattress from bodily secretions like oil, sweat, and dead skin cells. This keeps your mattress in better condition longer and is also easy to clean. A waterproof or vinyl mattress protector also serves the same functions, while also protecting the mattress further from spills or accidents. For this reason, vinyl and plastic mattress protectors are commonly used for small children. A foam mattress protector provides added softness and comfort while also protecting the mattress. Depending on your lifestyle and needs you can choose which mattress protector is best for you. 

Orange spill stain on a white quilted mattress

Why should you use a mattress protector?

A mattress protector can provide extra cushion to a firm mattress and can save your mattress from unnecessary damage that could otherwise be avoided. While we sleep, we secrete natural oils, sweat, dead skin cells, and salt. All of this can get trapped in your sheets and mattress protector and begin to grow bacteria, or leave staining. When this staining gets to your mattress it is almost impossible to clean completely. While you can vacuum your mattress, and deodorize it with fabric sprays and baking soda, it’s hard to give it a real good clean. With a mattress protector, you can keep your mattress clean, and even save money on a premature mattress replacement. With the “annual expenditure on mattresses in the US [having] risen by over 50% since 2011″[1], keeping your mattress in great condition has never been more important. 

How often should you clean your mattress protector? 

Because your sheets protect your mattress protector from coming in direct contact with your skin, they can be washed less frequently than the rest of your bedding. While your pillowcases, sheets, and duvet covers should be washed about once a week, your mattress protector can be washed just every 2-3 months[2]. If you sleep with pets, you may need to wash your mattress protector more often, as the added pet dander and dirt can cause extra damage to your mattress protector. If you spill food or drink on your mattress protector, you should wash it immediately to prevent staining, mold and mildew, and bacteria from growing. 

Persons hand filling washing machine detergent tray with powder detergent

How to clean a mattress protector

Step 1: Check the tags

It’s important to always check your care tags before washing. The care instructions tag will tell you what is permitted when cleaning your mattress protector. Depending on the care tag you can adjust the washing instructions to clean your mattress protector without the risk of damage. 

Step 2: Spot treat stains

If there are stubborn stains on your mattress protector you can use a stain-removing product like Oxi-Clean, or a small amount of laundry detergent and leave it to soak for up to 20 minutes. You can also DIY a stain removing solution yourself by mixing 1 part distilled white vinegar with 1 part lemon juice[3]. After you’ve let the solution soak for 20 minutes it’s time to wash! 

Step 3: Check for damage

Before you move on to machine washing or hand washing, check for any signs of damage. Check for any holes or tearing on your mattress protector and repair them before washing. If the holes are left unrepaired that could end in a washing machine full of fluff, and an empty mattress protector. 

Step 4: Wash your mattress protector

How to wash a cotton mattress protector: Most cotton mattress protectors can easily be washed in the washing machine. Always check the care instruction tag to make sure yours can before running a wash cycle. Using a mild detergent, wash your mattress protector on a gentle cycle with warm or cool water. Don’t use excess detergent as this can leave a soapy residue on the protector and damage the fibers of the fabric. Make sure there is plenty of space in your washing machine to allow the protector to move around freely. 

Linenspa Premium Smooth Waterproof Mattress Protector-Vinyl Free Waterproof Mattress Cover, Full, White

How to wash a waterproof or vinyl mattress protector:

Waterproof mattress protectors typically have a fabric side and a vinyl side which provides waterproofing. Remember to check the care instructions before washing, as the vinyl can easily be damaged if improper care is taken. If the care instructions permit, wash your waterproof mattress protector in cold or warm water on a gentle cycle. Use a mild detergent to avoid residue, and completely avoid using bleach, or hot water, as these can damage or even melt the vinyl backing. 

How to wash a down mattress protector: 

Many down mattress protectors can be cleaned in the washing machine as well but may require special detergent. Check your care instructions, and if permitted, wash your down mattress protector with cool water on a delicate cycle. Use a small amount of mild detergent, or a specialty down detergent if suggested by the care instructions. Excess soap can damage the down feathers and even cause them to rot. Run an extra rinse cycle after washing to ensure no soap residue is trapped within the fibers. 

Pure Green Natural Latex Mattress Topper - Firm - 3 Inch - Cal King Size (GOLS Certified Organic)

How to wash a foam mattress protector: 

Foam mattress protectors are unfortunately far too large and delicate to be machine washed. Cleaning a foam mattress protector must be done by hand. As always, check the care tag for special instructions before beginning. If you just want to remove small stains you can spot clean. Begin by vacuuming both sides of your mattress protector. This will remove any hair and embedded dust. Using a spray spot cleaner,  apply it to the problem areas. You can use a small amount of laundry detergent, Oxi-Clean, or a 1-to-1 mixture of lemon juice and distilled white vinegar as a spot cleaner on hard-to-remove stains. Allow the spot treatment to soak on the stain for up to 20 minutes, and then remove excess product with a damp towel or sponge. Follow up with a dry towel to sop up any moisture, and wait until completely dry before putting it back on your mattress. 

If your entire foam mattress protector needs to be cleaned, spray the spot cleaning mixture over the entire surface. Allow it to sit for up to 30 minutes. Rinse out the solution in the bathtub using your shower head, or by submerging the foam mattress in shallow water. Squeeze the foam to remove the product, and continue rinsing until the water runs clear. Do not tug or wring out the foam as this can cause it to tear. 

HOMCOM Compact Laundry Dryer Machine, 1300W, 3.22 Cu. Ft. Electric Automatic Portable Clothes Dryer with 7 Drying Modes and Stainless Steel Tub for Apartment or Dorm, White

How to dry a mattress protector?

How to dry a cotton mattress protector:

After machine washing, tumble dry your cotton mattress protector at the lowest temperature possible. You can add dryer balls or clean tennis balls to help make your mattress protector extra fluffy, and help with drying evenly. Shake out the protector occasionally to help with drying time and even distribution of stuffing if it contains cotton filling. Continue drying until completely devoid of moisture. 

How to dry a waterproof or vinyl mattress protector:

You can air dry, or tumble dry your waterproof mattress protector depending on the care instructions. If tumble drying, use the lowest heat possible. Occasionally shake out the mattress protector to ensure it’s drying evenly, and to make sure no damage is being done to the vinyl from the dryer. 

How to dry a down mattress protector: 

Dry your down mattress protector in a tumble dryer on the lowest temperature setting. Allow plenty of space in the dryer so your protector has space to move freely. This will help the own be evenly distributed. You can add dryer balls or tennis balls, and shake the protector out occasionally to help with feather distribution. Continue drying your down mattress protector until completely void of moisture to protect the feathers from rotting. 

How to dry a foam mattress protector: 

A foam mattress protector must air dry, as the heat of the dryer could melt the foam, and it’s unlikely to fit in a dryer anyways. Dry your foam mattress protector on a flat surface, rotating occasionally to help with even drying. Flip the foam mattress protector daily, to make sure both sides are fully drying. It may take several days to dry completely. 


Article Sources:

  1. The Beloit. “How Frequently Should You Wash Your Mattress Protector?
  2. Good House Keeping. “How Often Do You Need to Wash Your Mattress Pad?
  3. Today. “How to clean a mattress pad