Mold and mildew are never welcomed guests in your home, especially in your bedroom! Yet, the two can find your mattress to be a perfectly hospitable environment to grow and spread. Even if you rest your head on your organic buckwheat pillow, a moldy mattress that lies beneath could have short and long-term effects on your health.
In order to know if you have mold on or in your mattress, it is important to first differentiate between mold and mildew. Mold and mildew are often used interchangeably, but they are distinctly different. Mildew is a type of mold which is a type of fungus. There are over 100,000 different types of mold, some being relatively harmless and benign and others toxic and harmful.
Mold, mildew included, thrives in warm, moist environments. Mildew is one of the most common types of mold and can quickly grow out of control if not addressed early. Generally, it is not considered toxic; however, it can cause allergies, wheezing, irritated eyes, persistent cough, or skin rashes. Other, more dangerous types of mold can also grow in mildew. For these reasons, you should not continue to sleep on your mattress if it has mold, and it is essential to remove the mold or invest in a new mattress right away.
As mentioned, mold and mildew love moisture! This is why homes located in humid climates are so much more susceptible to mold. Unfortunately, an increase in humidity also increases your chances of mildew and mold. Poor or improved ventilation, high temperatures, spilling liquids on your mattress, or keeping your bed on the floor will also increase the likeliness of mold growth.
Bedrooms in basements with less airflow, dampness, and a lack of direct sunlight are more likely to experience mold. A dehumidifier is extremely helpful for those in basement bedrooms as it removes moisture from the air and therefore reduces the chance of mold growth. Although it won’t work independently, an air purifier can work with the dehumidifier by removing mold spores from the air. This will reduce any physical symptoms you may be experiencing as well as make it more difficult for new mold colonies to develop.
Your first sign of a moldy mattress may be your own physical symptoms like worsened allergies or it could be a noticeable change in your mattress. For example, you could find it gives off a musty odor, see discoloration or black spots, or your bed becomes warped. If you have noticed a funky, musty smell or have seen black marks on your mattress, you need to investigate further. To determine whether it is mildew or mold, answer the following questions:
Does it appear to be only on the surface or deeper in the mattress?
- Mildew only grows on the surface of the mattress, where mold grows into the mattress.
Look for any irregular discoloration - what color is it?
- If it looks white, yellow, or gray, it is mildew, and if it is green or black, it is mold.
Does the discoloration have a texture?
- If the texture appears powdery or fluffy, it is mildew, and if it is slimy or fuzzy, it is mold.
Mold can grow on certain pillows as well. Many people, especially hot sleepers, sweat when they sleep, which creates that warm, moist environment mold loves. This is more likely to happen in pillows that aren’t breathable, like fiber-filled or memory foam pillows. A buckwheat pillow or millet pillow is much less likely to grow mold because of increased airflow and because it doesn’t hold onto moisture like other materials. That said, it is still vital you wash your pillowcase and use a moisture-wicking fabric like a Tencel pillowcase.
The easiest way to address a moldy mattress or pillow is to buy a new one, and if it is really bad, you may have to. If you live in a humid climate, try to get a mattress that has moisture-wicking properties and is breathable. Latex is an excellent option as it has a natural open-cell structure allowing air to travel freely. This means it will keep you cool and won’t allow your mattress to remain damp for a prolonged period. Alternatively, cooling gel memory foam features modern sleep technology with cooling gel beads that absorb and release heat so you don’t sweat and your mattress doesn’t get wet.
The good news is that unless your mattress is ravaged with mold, you don’t have to toss it in the dump. When you identify and treat mold early, you can kill it and prevent it from returning.
How to remove mold from your mattress
The first step to removing mold from your mattress is addressing the reasons that caused it. For example, if you sweat while you sleep, consider moisture-wicking bedding like a Tencel sheet set or a cooling pillow. If your mattress has been on the floor, put it on a bed frame. Slatted bed frames will increase ventilation and reduce moisture in your mattress. You can also increase ventilation in your bedroom by using an air purifier, dehumidifier, or leaving a fan on.
Rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide (used separately) can remove mold. Isopropyl alcohol is a standard household product that does a great job destroying the mold’s cells, killing it, and preventing it from growing further. In addition, it is able to cross the cell membrane, killing the mold. However, the alcohol will need to be diluted with water so it can soak into the mold. If your cleaning solution is too concentrated with alcohol or if you were to use rubbing alcohol on its own, it would evaporate too quickly and wouldn’t have enough time to kill the mold. It would also help if you also did this in the morning, so your mattress has enough time to dry.
- Before applying the solution, vacuum your mattress, including the sides.
- Create your cleaning solution by mixing equal parts rubbing alcohol and warm water.
- Take a cloth and saturate it in the solution, wring out any access.
- Scrub the moldy areas with the cloth, going beyond any discolored regions as you want to kill any invisible spores that may be present.
- Allow your mattress to dry completely, ideally in direct sunlight.
- Spray a mattress or upholstery-safe disinfectant on your mattress. Allow this to dry.
A 50/50 solution is critical. If it is too weak and there is too much water, it can make it harder for the water to evaporate and can cause your mattress to stay wet for a prolonged period and even make the situation worse.
If you don’t have rubbing alcohol, you will likely find some hydrogen peroxide in your medicine cabinet or first aid kit. Hydrogen peroxide fizzes because of a chemical reaction that releases oxygen, and when this reaction occurs on a moldy surface, it degrades the mold cell and kills it.
Just as you would with alcohol, you should begin the cleaning process in the morning by vacuuming the mattress, including the sides. However, the preceding steps for hydrogen peroxide are a bit different, as are the solution ratios.
- Create your cleaning solution by mixing one part hydrogen peroxide with three parts water.
- Soak a cleaning bristle brush in the solution and then begin to scrub the mattress (note that if you have a colored mattress, the solution can cause the color to fade).
- Scrub the affected area around it to kill any invisible spores.
- Put the remaining solution in a spray bottle and lightly spritz the mattress.
- Allow your mattress to dry completely, ideally in direct sunlight.
After your mattress has dried, you can complete steps 1 to 5 again. Moving your mattress into direct sunlight is best, as the sun is a natural way to kill mold. If you don’t have enough sunlight through a window, you can take it outside and stand it up against a wall, basking in the sunlight.
Although you can purchase a mattress disinfectant from a store or online, you can also make your own. To make a mold disinfectant, you will need
- ½ cup of vodka
- ½ cup of white vinegar
- ¾ cup of water
- 5 drops of tea tree oil or lavender oil
Simply mix the solution in a spray bottle and lightly spray the entire mattress, including the sides. If you don’t have vodka, you can substitute it for rubbing alcohol. Lavender is a powerful natural disinfectant, which is why it is often seen in cleaning products. Plus, the smell of lavender is much more pleasant than vinegar or tea tree oil and can help you fall asleep at night.
If you are concerned about the type of mold you have or are experiencing severe symptoms, you should reach out to an expert and stop sleeping on your mattress immediately and for a mold-free sleeping situation, clean and inspect your mattress regularly. Lastly, if you do spot anything questionable, you should act immediately.