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Bed Basics
Bed Basics

How to Clean a Mattress: Urine Stains

A cartoon illustration of a hand holding a spray bottle. A vacuum, baking soda and laundry detergent sitting next to a urine stained mattress.
Ashlee Wadeson

There are many reasons why an accident might occur on a mattress — it can happen to anyone, at any time. Regardless of what happened, there are a few easy steps to take to get urine out of a mattress, depending on whether it came from a person or pet, and how long it has been there. Here is what you need to know to eliminate urine stains and smells from your bed right away.

How to get pee out of a mattress

If you’ve encountered a fresh pee spot from a human, strip the mattress of bedding right away. Put all washable items, like sheets and mattress protectors, in the wash — ideally sprayed with stain remover or a vinegar solution. Check that box now that the bedding is taken care of.

Now it’s time to triage the mattress. You’ve got this!

Before you start, be sure to have rubber gloves and an absorbent rag or towel, distilled white vinegar and a spray bottle for mixing up a solution, as well as baking soda, plus your vacuum cleaner — you’ll use all of these along the way.

First, put on the gloves and use a clean rag or towel to soak up any remaining urine. “Blot the stained area until the area is dry [or not soaked to the touch],” says Jessica Samson, a cleaning expert at The Maids. “Be sure not to rub the urine deeper into the mattress when drying.”

Next, it’s time for a diluted solution using the distilled white vinegar. The main odor in urine, whether human or pet, is ammonia. The acetic acid in vinegar can neutralize ammonia and the bacteria present in pee. Vinegar will serve as both your disinfectant and deodorizer.

“Create a solution of two parts water and one part white vinegar,” Samson recommends, “and spray the stain until it is really wet with the solution. Give the solution about 15 minutes to set and do its magic, and then blot the area and dry up the stain.”

A cartoon drawing of a hand holding a spray bottle. Text reads: DIY mix to get pee out of a mattress. 2 parts water and 1 part white vinegar.
Ashlee Wadeson

Next, Samson recommends sprinkling baking soda on the spot. Baking soda also performs double duty. It will further control odors, including from the vinegar, and it will help absorb the remaining moisture from your mattress. Moisture can attract dust mites, so this is very important. Let the baking soda sit for as long as possible — aim for six to eight hours, Samson advises. Ultimately, the goal is for the spot and the baking soda to dry completely.

Next, use an upholstery vacuum attachment to fully suck up the baking soda. Then put clean bedding — including a five-sided mattress protector or two — back on the mattress. You’re all set, but you can repeat these steps if for any reason the stain or odor persists, Samson adds.

How to get the pee smell out of your mattress

If you notice a urine smell or a dried pee stain on a mattress, there’s no reason to panic. You can still nurse that mattress back to health in a few easy steps.

First, as with a fresh stain, toss the bedding and the washable mattress protector in the washing machine.

For a dried stain, the solution differs slightly from what you would use for a fresh stain.

“Create a mix with 8 ounces hydrogen peroxide, 3 tablespoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon laundry detergent, and 2 tablespoons of water,” says Diana Rodriguez-Zaba, the president of ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, a Chicago-based business specializing in mattress cleaning. “Apply on the mattress surface to soak the area for 15 minutes,” she adds.

A cartoon image of laundry detergent, hydrogen peroxide, water and baking soda. Text reads: DIY mix to get the pee smell out of a mattress.
Ashlee Wadeson

Each element of the mixture will help neutralize the issue. The detergent will help loosen and break down the stain. Baking soda is absorbent and will help lift both the discoloration and the odor.

Once you apply the solution and let it soak, cover the spot with a thick layer of baking soda. “If the stains are old,” Rodriguez-Zaba says, “you can use a toothbrush to gently rub the baking soda into the mattress surface. This helps absorb the liquid better.”

Then let the spot dry for four to six hours. “Once the baking soda changes color to a pale yellow,” Rodriguez-Zaba adds, “vacuum it.” If you still have a surface stain or detect an odor, repeat the process.

How to get cat pee out of your mattress

Whether by accident or as a behavioral territory issue, many pet accidents occur on mattresses. As much as we love our pets, this can be frustrating, not to mention noxious. After all, pet pee — particularly cat urine — often smells very potent.

Urine smells may differ between humans and animals and even from animal to animal because of varying metabolites and other factors, like the bacteria and steroids present. The odors tend to magnify as pee dries and the bacteria present begin to decompose.

Dried urine can also have the added problem of crystalizing into a hard-to-remove salt because of the uric acid. Some pets may have more uric acid present in their pee than others. “Enzymatic cleaners are designed to dissolve uric acid crystals,” says Paola Cuevas, MVZ, a veterinarian and behaviorist with “In the case of mattresses, they work great because they can achieve a great cleaning with limited mechanical action in hard-to-reach areas, such as inside a mattress.”

Grab your rubber gloves. Strip the bed and toss the launderable items, including your washable mattress cover, into the wash. Then tackle the problem spot directly on the mattress. If the spot is still wet, blot with paper towels or a rag first.

If you have an enzymatic cleaner — Cuevas recommends that every pet parent have one on hand — it’s the only product you’ll need. “Make sure you allow the cleaner to penetrate as deep inside the mattress as the urine might have reached,” she says. “The cleaner will completely remove any residual stain or smell. This last part is very important because pets have a tendency to repeat marking [or] on places they have previously left their scent on.”

If you don’t have an enzymatic cleaner at home, don’t panic. You can also use vinegar and cold water. Cuevas recommends a half-and-half mixture for the job. Spray the stain liberally. Then let it sit for 30 minutes while you play fetch with Buster or scratch his ears — with clean hands, of course.

Then get those gloves on again and blot the spot with a fresh rag. Next, sprinkle with baking soda. The baking soda will help absorb any moisture and lift any residual odor or stain. Let the powder sit for several hours while the spot dries thoroughly, as dampness in a mattress can attract dust mites or breed bacteria. Then use your upholstery vacuum attachment to vacuum up the baking soda.

“Make sure your pet does not have access to this room until the baking soda has been removed,” Cuevas cautions.

How to prevent accidents on your mattress

Accidents happen. But a few steps can help lessen their chances. And you can even take measures to protect a mattress from the occasional calamity.

It’s important to know that bedwetting is common in young children. About 20% of kids at age 5 occasionally still wet the bed. To help prevent bedwetting, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends limiting liquids before bedtime, encouraging a potty trip before lights out, waking your child in the middle of the night for a bathroom break and avoiding any punishing behaviors.

For pets, similar strategies can also work. Take your dog for a potty walk right before bed. And make sure your cat has litterbox access throughout the night; if you have multiple cats, get one box per cat. If you have a puppy with a small bladder or an older dog with health conditions, a middle-of-the-night pee break might be necessary, or wee pads if they’re trained to use them. This is especially true if an aging pet is taking any medications that may cause them to urinate more frequently. If you’re unsure why your pet is suddenly having accidents in the house, schedule a checkup with your veterinarian. Do not restrict your pet from drinking water, however.

Finally, a waterproof mattress protector is the best way to protect your investment in your sleep. It can not only protect your mattress from stains and soils, it can help minimize dust mites. If you have a potty-trained kid who still has occasional accidents, double up on the protectors, so you can strip one in the middle of the night without having to make the bed on a bare mattress. The same is true if you have a new pet who is still learning all the potty rules or an older one with a health condition that makes oopsies more common.

Accidents happen. It’s one of those facts of life. But they don’t have to ruin your mattress. Whether you encounter a wet pee spot or a dried urine stain, the situation can ultimately be remedied with a few easy cleaning steps. And preventive measures can help lessen the chances of a mattress mishap altogether.

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