Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
 / Updated  / Source: TODAY
By Karen B. Gibbs

Just because you don't sleep directly on mattress pads doesn't mean they don't get dirty.

Between dust mites and dead skin, spilled food and drinks, bladder leaks (or worse), mattress pads collect some gross stuff. So how do we clean them? The fact is, since mattress pads come in an assortment of materials — cotton, plastic-backed, foam, egg crate, down — there is no universal way to do it. That's why TODAY Home asked green-cleaning expert Leslie Reichert for advice on tackling this chore. Not only does she know the best way to clean, she keeps it eco-friendly.

Want more tips delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for our Everyday Solutions newsletter.

VGstockstudio / Shutterstock

How to clean a cotton mattress pad

"Most manufacturers recommend cleaning cotton mattress pads at least every two or three months, depending on use," said Reichert. "Always follow the instructions on the care label, but, as a general rule, machine wash on warm or cool using a mild detergent."

Tumble dry on the lowest temperature recommended, using wool or rubber dryer balls or a few tennis balls to keep the pad fluffy. If machine drying is not recommended, then air dry.

How to clean a vinyl-backed mattress pad

Always follow the instructions on the care label of the pad, but, in general, vinyl-backed mattress pads can be machine washed in cold or warm water on a gentle cycle using mild detergent. Never use bleach on these pads, cautions Reichert, as it may damage the backing. Also, to assure an equal distribution of laundry detergent, allow the machine to fill with water, add the detergent, swish to mix and then add the pad into it.

If machine drying is recommended, tumble dry on low heat only. High heat will damage the vinyl. Toss in a few dryer balls or tennis balls to help the pad dry more evenly.

If air drying is recommended, hang the pad outside on a clothesline. If you don't have clothespins to fasten the pad to the clothesline, drape across the line with the vinyl side facing up. Once that side is dry, drape the pad across the line with the cotton side up.

To avoid odors, mold or mildew, make sure the pad is completely dry before putting it on the bed.

How to clean a foam mattress pad

Be sure to follow manufacturer's instructions before cleaning foam mattress pads because foam pads are more delicate than fabric versions. They can shred and tear in washing machines and melt when dried at high temperatures. "Your best bet is to spot clean them," Reichert said.

To spot clean, begin by vacuuming both sides of the pad. Next, clean stains with an enzyme-based cleaner, such as Oxi-Clean or a solution made from equal parts water, distilled white vinegar and lemon juice. To keep the stain from spreading, start applying cleaner on the outside of the stain and work in circles toward the center. Allow the cleaning solution to sit on the stain for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse by soaking a clean sponge in cool water and blotting water into the stained area. Remove water by blotting with a clean towel. Continue until most moisture is removed. Or, remove excess water using a wet/dry vacuum. Allow pad to air dry by laying it on a flat surface, turning occasionally so it can dry evenly.

If the entire pad needs to be cleaned, lightly spray with a solution of one part mild, low-sudsing detergent to two parts water, or use equal parts water, lemon juice and white vinegar. If extra cleaning power is needed, you can add an enzyme cleaner. Allow the solution to sit on the pad for 20-30 minutes. Rinse lightly in the tub or shower using a hand-held shower head. Squeeze — never wring out! — the extra water, or remove it by using a wet/dry vacuum. Lay the pad flat for several days, turning a couple of times a day, so it can dry evenly.

If you don't have the space or time needed to dry a foam pad, consider spot cleaning or replacing the pad altogether.

How to clean an egg crate mattress topper

The first step to cleaning an egg crate is to vacuum it on both sides to remove dirt and debris. If the manufacturer's care label indicates that the egg crate is machine washable, wash it only in a commercial or oversize washer because agitator-type machines may tear the foam, Reichert suggests. Use a gentle cycle and a small amount of mild detergent.

If machine washing is not an option, consider spot-cleaning the egg crate. Spray the stained areas with a solution made from equal parts water, distilled white vinegar and lemon juice. Allow it to sit for 15-20 minutes. Rinse the stained areas completely in the shower. Fold and press the egg crate or use a wet/dry vacuum to remove excess water.

Lay the egg crate on a dry, flat surface to dry. To prevent mold, mildew and odors, do not place egg crate on the bed until it is completely dry.

How to clean a down mattress pad

As with all mattress pads, follow instructions on the manufacturer's care label for cleaning.

For machine-washable down mattress pads, it is preferable to use a front-loading washer because they are made to handle large loads and do not use an agitator to clean.

Before washing, remember to check both sides of the pad to make sure there are no open seams or tears in the fabric. The last thing you need is a washer filled with feathers, Reichert points out.

Next, pre-treat stains by rubbing them with a bit of detergent or down cleaner. Allow the solution to soak in for 15-20 minutes before washing. Use the delicate cycle with cool water and a small amount of gentle, low-sudsing detergent or a special down cleaner. (Down cleaner is formulated to retain the water-repellent features of the down.) Rinse twice to remove all detergent residue from the feathers.

Dry on the lowest heat — never on high. To keep feathers fluffed, toss in a few wool, rubber dryer balls or tennis balls. Every 15 minutes or so, remove the pad from the dryer and, using your hands, break up and fluff the clumps of feathers. This will help the down dry evenly. Damp feathers will absorb odors and mildew, so continue drying until no trace of moisture remains.

Using interviews with specialists, online reviews and personal experience, TODAY editors, writers and experts take care to recommend items we really like and hope you’ll enjoy! TODAY does have affiliate relationships with various online retailers. So, while every product is independently selected, if you buy something through our links, we may get a small share of the revenue.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com on Nov. 3, 2015.