Mattress Cleaning and Other Indoor Sports

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
What is the best way to clean a mattress? Dec 2008 I splurged and upgraded from a queen bed to a fabulously huge king size bedset. I’m wondering what is the best way to clean the mattress? I have a small “spot” cleaner by Hoover (I think) – and I use that to get stains/spills – thank goodness there have only been a few. But I’ve been thinking how does everyone clean their mattresses? I’ve heard of putting it outside and letting it “air out” but that’s not feasible where I live. Recently in a yoga catalog I saw a sanitizing wand sort of thing (uses UV I think) and have thought about getting that. Just curious as to what other people do.
How to clean your mattress
Heather says:

We humans are fairly nasty creatures and we spend a lot of time in bed. We shed skin cells, which the dust mites adore and then there’s hair oil, sweat, drool, and potentially other bodily fluids. Even if you don’t have allergies, it’s something to think about. Mattresses can get pretty funky without attention.

Let’s give a thought to prevention. Let your bed air out daily and no, I don’t mean drag the whole thing outside. Just fold the sheets back toward the foot of your bed. Take a shower, eat breakfast, then make your bed. Dust mites love moisture and if you create a favorable environment, they’ll hang out eating, breeding, excreting. . .

Change your sheets frequently, they are your mattress’s first line of protection.

Invest in a good mattress pad. These are absorbent and made to soak up sweat and other people funk.  Wash the mattress pad every other week or once a month. In the Solos house, it’s every other week in the summer and monthly in the winter, unless someone has been ill.

If you have allergies, consider encasing your mattress in an allergen barrier, these can make a huge difference if your mattress is several years old.

Speaking of allergies, your bed is a haven for dust mites.

Vacuuming is the only recommended cleaning technique by Sealy. Simmons, Serta, and Sealy all recommend using a mattress pad since stains are not covered by their warranties. If your mattress is dirtier than a vacuum can clean and still under warranty, contact the manufacturer for advice.

Never use dry cleaning chemicals on a mattress, not only can they damage the fibers, most are toxic.

Never soak a mattress, they take a long time to fully dry and this could encourage the growth of mildew.

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As a last resort, for a mattress that is no longer under warranty, consider steam cleaning, but approach the job with care, try not to get the mattress too wet, and remove as much moisture as possible with the unit. Allow the mattress to dry fully before replacing the mattress pad.

Some carpet cleaning companies offer mattress cleaning services.

Good luck and take care of your investment.

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Mattress Stains, When to Worry and When to Say to Heck with It

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Dear Home Ec 101,

I’ve got a problem that I haven’t seen addressed on the blog, or anywhere else for that matter.  We have an older twin-size, leather sofa-bed; which lived happily in our library in our home for several years, did an eight-year stint as extra seating at my office, and now has been moved to its permanent home in the boys’ bedroom of our new cabin.  Taking it to the cabin was a chore; and as we’re getting older, we thought it would be a good idea to take the mattress-bed contraption out of the leather frame and take it upstairs in two trips.  No problem there, we got it apart.  Unfortunately, for the first time in probably decades, we unfolded the hide-a-bed part, only to discover rust stains on the top of the mattress!  Perhaps really cat pee stains from when it was at home?  Maybe coffee spilled behind the cushion at the office?  No clue.  I figure we can sand and paint the rusted metal hide-a-bed frame with no problem, but how do I possibly get the rust stains out of the mattress?

Any guidance would be most welcome.


Secret Stains

Heather says:

We are going to look at these mattress stains from a couple of different perspectives.

Let’s pretend you do have a cat urine issue on your mattress.  Without a doubt you will know if you have cat pee on your mattress all it will take is a quick sniff test, not even up close and personal to your mattress, to determine if urine was anywhere near your couch. Cats are quite notorious for the amount of funk (ammonia) contained in their urine. There is simply no way a sniff test will leave you confused about the source of the stain.

Get yourself some Kids’n’Pets or other enzymatic cleaner and if you don’t own a carpet / or upholstery steam cleaner, rent one.  Also find a box fan or make sure there is lots of air flow in the room where the mattress cleaning will occur. You absolutely do not want to trade your stain issue for a mildew / mold problem. Only steam clean one side of the mattress at a time and make sure the first side is COMPLETELY -got it?- dry before doing the other.

The enzymatic cleaner should take care of any pet urine issues in your mattress.

Now here’s where I believe I’m probably going to give an unpopular answer.

If the stains were caused by rust. . . Do the stains on your mattress really matter at all?

Rust stains are harmless. Sure they aren’t attractive, but they aren’t doing anything to the mattress other than sitting there and being ugly. What’s the crime in ugly, I ask? This is a hide-a-bed, the mattress isn’t ever going to serve as a conversation piece in your home, right?

On another note, it’s not even like it’s an extremely comfortable mattress. (I’m sure someone, somewhere may make a comfortable hide-a-bed mattress, but I have never encountered one.)

If you want to ensure guests never see the stains, grab yourself an allergen mattress barrier. Zipper that around the mattress and voila! No one sees the rust stains unless they are creepy weird and unzip the barrier and really, who are you inviting into your home that would do that?

For what it’s worth, I do think you are on the right track to fix up the source of the rust stains, I just don’t think the rust stains themselves matter that much.

Good luck!

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Related post: Mattress Cleaning and Other Indoor Sports

Potential Sources for Mildew Odor in a Bedroom: A Friday Ask the Audience

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
There is a musty / mildew smell in my home, but I’m having issues locating the source of the smell. As far as I can tell, it’s restricted to one bedroom. I’ve examined all of my clothing, removed the air conditioner, checked all of the furniture, and even the air ducts. I’m guessing it might be in the carpet? Any ideas? The mildew smell is driving me crazy, and I’m sure the bleach fumes aren’t great for me either.
Thank you for any and all suggestions help!
Musty in Muncie

mildew in bedroom

Heather says:

First of all, you are right to not ignore a musty or mildew scent in a home. While the chances are that it’s cause was rather benign -not thoroughly drying carpeting after cleaning up a pet mess- there are chances that the smell may be your first clue to a more serious problem.

The sniff test is one of the less than fun homeowner chores, but get ready, you’re going to try to find the source of the problem. If you have central AC, turn it off and turn off any fans in the room. What you’re going to do is try to zero in on the source of the smell and we don’t want anything stirring the air, making that more difficult. Enter the room and shut the door.

Begin trying to find the source of the smell by following the mildew. It is likely to be found around sources of moisture.

Check your windows as a potential site for mildew growth.

Sometimes condensation occurs due to temperature differences between indoors and out. If the blinds are never opened this moisture may take a long time to evaporate, especially if the window is on the north side of a home.

Sometimes there is a problem with the flashing around a window that has allowed rain or melting snow or ice to seep down into the walls. If this has occurred, mold may be growing inside your walls.

Remove switch plates and outlet covers.

Is the air trapped in the walls musty? Is the room adjacent to the bathroom, kitchen, or laundry where there may be a hidden, leaky pipe?

Check the HVAC vents.

Sometimes, especially homes on crawl spaces, it’s possible your duct work may have a leak. If this is the case, stale or musty odors may be drawn into your home. (We actually had this issue and our only clue was a musty odor in a bathroom;  I’m just so thrilled we spent part of the summer air conditioning the crawl space.)

Look up at the ceiling.

Look for any discolorations that may hint at water damage.

Finally get down on your hands and knees and check the most likely source, your carpeting.

Work your way around the room. If the smell is isolated to a certain spot and you know that there is ongoing problem exacerbating the situation (a leaky pipe, window, or toilet) then first dry the area thoroughly. A shop vac is great for extracting any water. Then lightly spray the area with a dilute solution of white vinegar (about 50:50) and set up a fan to dry the area thoroughly. If after two applications this has not taken care of the mildew odor, it’s time to ensure that mildew is not growing in the pad or the subflooring. If this is the case, the carpet and pad may have to be patched or replaced (depending on the size of the mold growth).

bedroom and closet cleaning

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If the subflooring also shows signs of mold / mildew growth, it will need to be sanded and sealed to prevent recurrence.

Home Eccers, have I missed any potential sources of mold / mildew growth in a bedroom?

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What Causes Smelly Sheets?

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Dear Home Ec 101,
I’ve been wanting to write you for a while! I have smelly sheets! I wash them and I promise I don’t use too much laundry detergent. Then I dry them and then store them in a built-in bookshelf that’s in our closet. For some reason as soon as I get the sheets out to put on the bed they smell weird, a little musty. However they are completely dry when I put them up. I hang up our wet laundry to dry in our closet, do you think that could be the reason?

Also, I have noticed on a set of our nice silver sheets that reddish stains have formed. Not blood or anything like that, but a little like the red mold/mildew you get in the shower. I wash them with color safe bleach and it still doesn’t come out! Any advice?

Thank you so much for all your help! Keep up the great work!
Smelly in Smyrna

what causes smelly sheets

Heather says:

First of all, thank you for submitting your question.

How do you solve the mildew problem?

Bacteria and fungi are usually the source of musty odors and their favorite conditions are damp and still. Unless your closet is well ventilated, it may not be a great place to store your bedding. Cotton is hygroscopic, this is a fancy word that means it can absorb water from the air. So even though your sheets are perfectly dry when they are placed on the shelf, they absorb the humidity in the air providing a great environment for bacteria and mildew. The organisms’ waste is the source of the musty smell. Now there’s an appetizing thought for you.

It may be time to find a new place to dry your laundry. To reduce the amount of mildew, mold, and bacteria in the closet, you must reduce the humidity. To further reduce the amount of mildew spores, I’d give the shelves a good wipe down with a dilute bleach solution, dilute white vinegar, or tea tree oil. Run a fan in the room until the shelf is completely dry before storing clean sheets.

It may also be worthwhile to use a desiccant like DampRid in the closet.

Another way to tackle the musty odor may be to ask yourself:

How much bedding are you storing?

Do you have more sheets than necessary?

For each bed we have two sets of sheets. One goes on the bed and the other set is stored flat, between the mattress and the box spring. Every Monday the beds are stripped, the dirty sheets are washed, and the spare set is put on the mattress. When the sheets are clean and fully dry, they are tucked.

Guide to Household Odors

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The discoloration is likely oxidation -that’s a reaction similar to what happens when iron rusts- caused by salts in you or your partner’s sweat or a reaction with benzyl peroxide, which is in many topical acne treatments. Both of these are permanent chemical reactions that have changed the color of your sheets. Don’t kill yourself trying to remove the stain, it’s usually irreversible. If the culprit is acne medication, try to put it on earlier in the evening so it can dry completely before going to bed. Additionally, you may want to use an old pillowcase rather than one intended for decoration.

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How to Store Blankets Without Inviting Mildew

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Dear Home Ec 101,
I have a serious problem with the old lady, musty laundry smell. I keep my sleeping bag, electric blanket and my baby blanket in a chest at the foot of my bed. Since these are all seasonal items, they quickly get musty in my chest (which isn’t cedar). I’ve tried potpourri, but it’s really too little. I’ve also found that a quick run thru the dryer will freshen them, but that’s irritating because my stuff is dry and clean. Is there a secret to keeping this stuff smelling fresh? Some kind of super potpourri, perhaps?
I Want My Blankie

eliminate musty blankets

Heather says:

Sleeping bags are notoriously difficult to dry completely. Folding or rolling it up and placing it in a virtually air tight box is rolling out the welcome mat for mildew, the source of your musty smell.  Mold and mildew are both fungi that love damp environments. While mold can grow inside walls and ventilation systems, mildew is more often associated with fabrics. This is especially true if you live in a humid environment.

You can add a bag or two of chemical desiccant to the chest. Silica gel is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture from the air.  If your chest is not packed tightly, this should suck up the moisture and reduce the growth of mildew, eliminating the source of smell. When adding items to your chest, be sure they are packed loosely, rather than crammed into every last nook and cranny. If air can’t circulate at all, mildew will have a field day.

One last thing, if the chest has picked up the scent of mildew find some activated charcoal, place this in the chest and lock it up tightly for a a few days. Activated charcoal adsorbs -yes, that is a word, it means attracts chemically, a slightly different mechanism than absorption- some odors. Once the chest itself is fresh smelling, it’s safe to store your dry, clean blankets with the chemical desiccant.

Without mildew in the odor competition, any potpourri should be up to the task.

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A final few tips:

  • Line wooden storage boxes and chests with acid-free paper.
  • Roll linens rather than folding.
  • Cloves, rosemary, thyme, lavender, and dried orange peel all make excellent potpourri, just ensure they do not come in direct contact with any fabric to prevent staining during long term storage.

Good luck!

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