Most of us spend about a third of our lives in bed. But if you were to think about all the germs, bacteria and even critters (yuck!) that make themselves at home in your mattress, chances are you wouldn't get much sleep. We wash our sheets faithfully every week (mom would be so proud), and we know that we should turn and flip our mattresses every few months to make them last longer ("should" is the operative word here), but is it possible to disinfect your mattress?
The short answer: Kind of. The longer version: With a little effort, you can disinfect the surface of your mattress. The insides are a different story, unless you happen to have access to an industrial-style steam cleaner and a sterile containment unit. But we've all survived sleeping on them this long, right?
If at all possible, clean your mattress outside on a warm, sunny, not-too-humid day. (There's a reason we have spring cleaning and fall cleaning instead of winter cleaning and summer cleaning!) The sunlight will help your mattress dry as you clean it; better yet, it acts as a natural disinfectant, helping you kill bacteria with a good dose of UV rays. If you can't get outside, the next best option is to clear some space in your room and lean your mattress against the wall in front of a sunny window.
Start by removing as much dust as possible (and maybe a few dust mites, if you're lucky) by going over the entire surface of the mattress with your vacuum cleaner's upholstery attachment and crevice tool. If your mattress-cleaning spree has been inspired by a fresh spill, pet accident or bedwetting event, use clean towels to soak up as much liquid as possible before you vacuum.
Once you've removed the dust, there are a few different methods you can use to disinfect your mattress. Running a garment steamer or other hand-held steam cleaner across the surface will help to kill germs and dust mites, and a sprinkling of baking soda will help to freshen the upholstery and remove mild odors (let it sit a few minutes, then vacuum). But to kill more bacteria, you'll need to use a disinfectant solution of some kind.
Choose an antibacterial spray or solution with a scent you like, and avoid using bleach -- it's great at killing germs, but it's too harsh for the fabric covering on most mattresses. If you use a liquid cleaner, dilute it with warm water according to the directions on the label, dip a clean rag into the solution, and then -- this part is key -- wring the rag out thoroughly so that it's just barely damp. The goal is to clean the surface of the mattress without letting it get saturated with moisture, which can lead to mold or mildew. For disinfectant sprays, spritz lightly across the surface of the mattress, then wipe with a clean rag that's been dipped in warm water and thoroughly wrung out. Be sure to give your mattress plenty of time to dry -- a few hours on each side is best. Then cover it with a freshly cleaned mattress pad, sheets and bedding and enjoy a good night's sleep!