Accidents happen from time to time; you may find spilled coffee or juice on your mattress, your child or pet may urinate on it, or rainwater from a roof leak or open window could get it wet. There could even be a hurricane or flood that leaves your mattress soaking wet. The damage your mattress will sustain depends on its material.
When a mattress gets wet, it becomes a perfect environment for mold to breed. Memory foam has tiny air pockets where water gets trapped and creates a musky smell. Moisture oxidizes the springs in a regular mattress, making it uncomfortable and noisy. It also reduces the mattress’s integrity.
In this article, we’ll talk about how different types of mattresses react to moisture and water. We’ll also tell you what to do if your mattress gets wet and how you can prevent that from happening.
What Happens for a Regular Mattress
Spring mattresses are the most common type of mattress on the market. They’re made of springs covered with cotton and foam, which means more empty spaces and better ventilation. It also means they can easily absorb water and moisture.
In the presence of air and moisture, metal springs start to oxidize and lose their tensile strengths. As a result, your mattress will become noisy and uncomfortable. Oxidation also causes terrible smells and stains.
Mold and fungi breed in moist, dark places, and what better place than the core of a soaked mattress. Inhaling mold spores can result in allergic reactions such as nasal congestion, coughing, itchy throat, and itchy eyes. It can also cause skin reactions and rash. Things become more serious if you have a respiratory illness or immune system disorder. So, never sleep on a mattress that has visible mold spots on it.
Plus, moisture shortens your mattress’s lifespan. A regular mattress should typically last five to six years. However, once you add water to the equation, that lifespan becomes significantly shorter.
What Happens for a Polyfoam Mattress
Polyfoam mattresses are the second-most vulnerable type of mattress. Although they don’t contain metal, they’re less durable than their memory foam counterparts.
A polyfoam mattress’s potential to absorb and hold water depends on its foam density and thickness. Denser materials tend to absorb liquids more slowly, giving you more time to soak up a spill with some paper towel or a cloth.
Some polyfoam mattresses come with a biocide layer. A biocide is a chemical that destroys harmful organisms like mold and prevents them from growing. However, if you’re planning on buying a mattress that claims to be “antibacterial,” make sure it complies with the Biocidal Product Regulations or an equivalent standard. That’s because biocides can pose health risks themselves.
Generally, you can expect your polyfoam mattress to be very forgiving about water, and if you dry the mattress properly, it won’t sustain severe damage.
Polyfoam mattresses last longer than spring mattresses, typically remaining usable around a decade.
What Happens for a Memory Foam Mattress
Memory foam mattresses are made of a polymer called polyurethane. The material is viscoelastic, meaning that it takes the shape of your body when you lie down, and it returns to its regular form once you get up.
These mattresses consist of many connected polyurethane cells, with air pockets between them. Polyurethane is porous, so unlike a sponge, it doesn’t absorb water or other liquids. However, water can get trapped inside the air pockets or the microscopic holes in the foam. That’s why memory foam mattresses can look dry on the outside but still have plenty of moisture inside them.
Luckily, memory foam is durable and forgiving when it comes to liquids. So, if you manage to get the water out quickly, you can expect your mattress to last its normal lifespan—eight to ten years.
That said, enough moisture and water can ruin even the highest quality memory foam. So, you need to let the water out quickly and let the mattress ventilate.
If the water stays inside the mattress for over 24 hours, mold and mildew start to form, causing a musky odor.
Some manufacturers use zinc-based polyurethane to create antibacterial memory foam. A study found that biocidal polyurethane can be effective against mold and bacteria.
However, that amount of antibacterial activity is only suitable for regular use. If your memory foam mattress has been soaking wet for a few days, it’s best to consider buying a new one. A mold-infested mattress is impossible to salvage, and sleeping on it has serious health risks.
What Happens for a Tempurpedic Mattress
Tempurpedic is a manufacturer that sells mattresses, pillows, and sleep accessories. It’s a reputable brand established in 1992, and it’s famous for its durable, high-quality memory foam products.
Tempurpedic mattresses are made of high-density memory foam with a proprietary design that claims to reduce odors, sagging, and heat retention.
Nevertheless, if a Tempurpedic mattress gets wet, it’s just as likely to become infected with mold and mildew. The manufacturer mentions explicitly on their website that their “material should never become wet” and that they can’t promise the wet mattress is fully recoverable.
If your mattress does become wet for some reason, take the same measures as every other mattress. However, if you own a TEMPUR-Topper Supreme, don’t have it dry cleaned. Instead, remove the cover and wash it in cold water.
What Happens for an Air Mattress
An air mattress is what its name suggests: a mattress filled with air. It comes with either an electric or a manual pump that lets you fill the mattress whenever you want to use it. When you don’t want to use it, you can let the air out and keep it in a closet.
Unlike spring or foam mattresses, an air mattress is usually made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), plastic, or rubber to make it elastic and durable.
Some air mattresses are made of polyurethane plastic, a material similar to memory foam but not entirely the same. Memory foam contains other chemicals that increase its density and make it less bouncy.
Polyurethane plastic and PVC are much less vulnerable to mold. So, you don’t need to worry about spilling your coffee on this type of mattress. If your air mattress does get wet, you can just wipe it clean with a cloth. And if the problem is more serious, just let the air out and leave the mattress under the sun for about an hour until it’s dry.
However, if you’re using an electronic pump, water can be hazardous. Be careful with the electronic parts, and make sure you keep the pump in a dry place away from liquids and moisture.
Finally, if you’re not going to use your air mattress for a while, deflate it and keep it inside a plastic bag in a dry place. Prolonged exposure to moisture can result in mold and make your mattress unusable.
How to Recover a Soaked Mattress
If your mattress gets wet or even soaked, you might be able to save it. Taking quick action will reduce the damage. Here’s what you need to do:
Consider the Source
Before you do anything, you need to think about the source of the problem. Water, juice, or coffee spills aren’t dangerous, and they’re relatively easy to deal with. Plus, you don’t have to worry about mold if the spill isn’t large.
Urination is a bit more serious because it’s more likely to cause mold. So, clean the mattress as soon as possible before the urine penetrates the mattress. Also, cover the stain with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and leave it for 24 hours. Baking soda absorbs moisture, and it’s also a strong antibacterial agent that prevents mold.
If you like to sleep outside and your mattress gets caught in the rain, there’s no need to worry. Rainwater is usually clean. So, you can salvage your mattress with proper sunlight and ventilation.
Nevertheless, not every mattress can be salvaged. If your mattress is wet due to a flood, hurricane, or pipe burst, you should think about getting a new one. Flood water usually contains bacteria, chemicals, and other dangerous contaminants. Even if you use a strong disinfectant, you can never be sure that all the contaminants are gone. So, throw the mattress away if you don’t want a disease or an allergic reaction.
Remove the Moisture
If you’re sure about trying to save your mattress, you should immediately try to soak as much of the liquid away as you can.
Use paper towels, liquid-absorbent cloth, or a clean towel to absorb the water. The more water you pull, the better. Press the cloth with pressure to push the liquid out. Change the towel if it gets too wet and keep pulling the water.
You can also sprinkle some absorbent powder like baking soda, calcium chloride, or silica gel on the mattress. Baby powder works well, too, especially if you’re dealing with urine. If you have a pet cat, kitty litter will do the trick. Leave the powder for a couple of hours until it sucks up all the moisture. Then vacuum the surface to get rid of the wet powder. Repeat the process if the mattress still feels wet.
Dry the Mattress
Once you’ve managed to pull out most of the liquid, it’s time to dry the mattress. If the wetness is limited to one spot, like the spill from a glass of water, a hairdryer works best. Set the hairdryer to warm—not hot—and aim it at the spot.
If the problem is bigger, remove the mattress from your bed and put it under direct sunlight. This exposure to the sun assures that the remaining moisture evaporates quickly. It also prevents spring oxidation if you have a regular mattress.
What’s more, sunlight has ultraviolet rays, which can kill germs and prevent mold. It’s best to keep your mattress under direct sunlight for at least three hours or until the moisture dries out completely.
Remember that the surface may feel dry, but there might still be moisture inside the mattress. So, be patient.
Ventilate the Mattress
Air circulation is also an effective way to dry the remaining moisture. However, you shouldn’t expose your mattress to direct wind because it’ll collect dust and maybe even harmful bacteria.
Instead, use a fan. Put the mattress in a large room with open windows. Turn on its side and lean it against a wall. Place the fan in front of the mattress with around two feet (61 cm) of distance. Make sure you set the fan to oscillate so that the circulation covers the entire surface.
If you have two fans, you can put them on both sides of the mattress to speed things up.
Remove the Stain
You’ll probably end up with a stain on your mattress once all the moisture is gone. The stain is easy to remove with a toothbrush and some dishwashing soap. Hydrogen peroxide is also a good choice if you want extra cleaning. Mix two parts of it with one part soap and brush the stain away.
If the mattress is wet from urine, go for an enzymatic cleaner to remove both the stain and the odor.
Disinfect the Mattress
To make sure bacteria and mold won’t grow on your mattress, you need a strong disinfectant. Vinegar is a powerful natural remedy. Diluted rubbing alcohol—equal parts of water and alcohol—is another effective option.
However, never use strong chemicals such as ammonia or bleach on your mattress. Bleach corrodes metal, so it can damage the springs in your mattress. It also ruins memory foam or polyfoam mattresses.
Get Professional Help
Sometimes, it’s best to leave the job to professionals, especially if you have asthma or intense allergies. Professional cleaners can do a thorough job of making your mattress safe to use.
Furniture cleaning businesses often clean mattresses, too, since the process is very similar. They use hot water extraction to remove dust mites and other contaminants from your mattress using hot steam.
They may also use special high-power UV lights that kill over 99 percent of the mattress germs.
Recycle the Mattress
As a last resort, if your mattress isn’t salvageable, you can recycle it. Not all mattress parts are great for recycling, but the springs can be melted and turned into new products. It’s also possible to convert the foam layers into carpets. Anything that can’t be salvaged will be taken to a plant and burned to yield energy.
Contact your nearest recycling center to see if they have the tools to recycle unusable mattresses. Some centers even offer pick-up services, so you don’t have to do any heavy lifting.
How to Prevent a Mattress From Getting Wet
To avoid further accidents, it may be a good idea to cover your mattress with a waterproof protective cover. This provides extra protection for your mattress, and since removable covers are cheaper than the mattress itself, it’s worth having one.
Make sure you buy a waterproof but breathable cover. Although the two properties seem to go against each other, there are special synthetic materials that are both.
Mattress covers made of vinyl or PVC aren’t breathable. As a result, they feel hot and make you sweaty. They’re also noisy, making them uncomfortable to sleep on. Mattress protectors that come with a polyurethane membrane are much more comfortable and allow air to pass through the cover.
There are also organic options on the market. They’re mostly made of organic cotton, but they still include around 15 percent polyurethane to make the cover breathable.
Copper-infused mattress protectors are waterproof and have extra health benefits. Sleeping on copper improves blood circulation and prevents blood clots. It also helps with oxygen transport throughout the body and has anti-aging effects.
Bamboo covers are another organic choice. They’re completely waterproof, and the bamboo gives them antibacterial properties. Some products even add copper to the bamboo to enhance their health benefits.
If you have to deal with urine frequently, a single protective layer won’t be effective. After all, you don’t want the urine to penetrate inside the mattress or the foul odor to linger. Plus, it’s expensive to replace a mattress.
Use at least two protective layers. First, cover the mattress with a vinyl layer to prevent any moisture from seeping through. Then, add a softer polyurethane pad on top of the vinyl cover for extra comfort and protection. This approach also makes cleaning up easier since you can just wash the covers or replace them with new ones—the mattress remains unaffected.
Almost all mattresses are vulnerable to moisture. A wet mattress is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and mildew. Plus, moisture can corrode the springs in your mattress and weakens its integrity.
If your mattress gets wet, collect as much of the liquid as you can using a cloth or towel. Then use heat and air circulation to dry it, remove the stain with some detergent, and disinfect the mattress with diluted rubbing alcohol or baking soda—but never bleach.
Buy waterproof protective covers to make sure liquids don’t damage your mattress.