How to decontaminate a mattress

Posted on 8 November 2019 in Care Beds

Mattresses and beds are among the most common equipment found in any healthcare setting. Whether you work in a hospital, hospice, or care home, every patient or resident needs their own bed.

It is unsurprising then, that ensuring all beds remain hygienic and fit for use can be a huge task. Mattresses are particularly difficult to keep clean — anyone who has spent time working in healthcare will vouch for that! They are regularly in direct contact with the user’s skin, which houses bacteria (some harmless, some less so). They can be exposed to bodily fluids due to open wounds or incontinence. They are even at risk of contamination from food and drink spills.

But the challenges don’t end there. Mattresses are bulky, it’s difficult for one individual to remove the cover and properly check the mattress. Making sure you have the right type of mattress can help. For example, every Somlent mattress is covered with a polyurethane film coating that is antimicrobial. But even with covers and waterproof bedding, there’s still a risk that soiling and bacteria can be absorbed deep into the mattress. That’s why proper mattress care is critical.

So, how do you properly decontaminate a mattress?

We have put together this simple, user-friendly guide on how to decontaminate a mattress. All of the information included is based on the expertise of our Service Department, MRHA regulations and NHS guidelines. But, as always, we recommend that you check any decontamination method complies with your organisation’s policies.

Why is mattress decontamination important in healthcare settings?

Infection control is a top priority for everyone working in healthcare environments. NICE has estimated that 300,000 patients a year in England develop a healthcare-associated infection (HCAI). However, these figures only included NHS facilities — where HCAI was found to cost over £1 billion per year — so the true scale of the issue across the entire healthcare sector is likely to far exceed the NICE estimate.

What is HCAI?

Healthcare-associated infection covers any infection that develops as a direct result of medical intervention, e.g. surgical treatment, or indirectly as a result of being in contact with a healthcare setting e.g. a hospital or care home.

Due to the prevalence and cost of HCAI, both to patient wellbeing and financially, healthcare professionals work hard to comply with infection prevention and control policy.

Individual policies may vary slightly to suit the needs of a specific facility, but all policies will include guidelines for personal hygiene e.g. handwashing, proper disposal of single-use equipment, and maintenance of reusable equipment — including mattresses.

This means that proper mattress decontamination isn’t just important, it’s actually a requirement in many healthcare settings.

What’s the difference between cleaning, disinfection and sterilisation?

There is more than one correct method for decontaminating mattresses. The recommended method varies depending on the perceived infection risk.

Infection Risk Decontamination Recommendation
The mattress has not been in contact with a patient or has only been in contact with healthy skin.
The mattress has been in contact with mucous membranes; is at risk of contamination with virulent or readily transmissible organisms; has been in contact with blood or bodily fluids; or is going to be used for someone with a compromised immune system.
Cleaning followed by disinfection

The mattress has been in close contact with broken skin or broken mucous membranes or is going to be used in a sterile area.

Cleaning followed by sterilisation

Here are the key differences between each method:

  • Cleaning physically removes dirt, germs and bacteria from the surface of the mattress using detergents. You should use a disposable cleaning wipe, or a clean cloth dampened with warm water (at least 40 °C) and detergent.
  • Disinfection uses chemicals to kill bacteria on the mattress. You should use a disinfectant, such as a mild chlorine solution, on a disposable cloth. Then wait, don’t wipe the mattress dry immediately, leave at least 5 minutes so the disinfectant has enough contact time to kill the bacteria. A hot washing machine cycle is also an option for disinfecting mattress covers.
  • Sterilisation uses heat or chemicals to kill all microbes on the mattress. This means that sterilisation eliminates harmless microbes as well as harmful ones, ensuring anything which disinfection may have missed will also be destroyed.

As you might expect, when there is a higher risk of infection more intense decontamination is required to protect the person using the mattress and their carers. Cleaning is the least intense method of decontamination, disinfection is medium intensity, and sterilisation is the most intense.

Note: Some healthcare environments will have approved wipes, detergents and disinfectants that they require you to use for mattresses. So, always make sure that you are using the recommended equipment for decontamination.

How often should you decontaminate a mattress?

As with many questions in healthcare, there’s no single answer for how frequently mattresses need to be decontaminated. It depends. But that’s not always particularly helpful, so there are some guidelines you can follow to help determine when a mattress needs to be decontaminated.

Clean Between Uses

When a patient is discharged, or a resident leaves, you will need to decontaminate the mattress before it is used by another person.

In a busy A&E department, this can mean decontaminating mattresses multiple times a day, whereas in long-term care the same patient can be using a mattress for months.

Perform Regular Checks

Of course, even when the same patient will be using a mattress long-term some form of decontamination will likely be needed during that time.

To ensure the mattress remains safe for patient use, you should regularly check its condition. This can be done at the same time as patient care checks. If you notice that the patient has been bleeding or has soiled themselves then the mattress will need to be decontaminated.

As soon as the patient has been cared for and made comfortable, the mattress should be removed from the bed for decontamination.

Whilst these guidelines may seem self-explanatory, healthcare professionals are extremely busy. Having the guidelines clearly written down like this serves as a reminder of the simple steps you can take to reduce the risks of infection.

Mattress Decontamination Services

A concern for many larger healthcare facilities, or those with a particularly high risk of infection, is that they simply don’t have the time, staff or resources to keep up with their needs for mattress decontamination.

One solution is to outsource mattress decontamination to a specialist organisation.

Did you know that Innova provides professional decontamination services across the UK?

We have specialised decontamination centres across the country, we can even set up a centre on-site if that’s more convenient!

Using a decontamination centre has benefits beyond saving your staff time:

  • We have purpose-built facilities to ensure the highest standards of infection prevention.
  • We are independently audited by microbiology specialists for compliance.
  • We use innovative ozone technology.

What is ozone technology?

Ozone technology is an alternative to conventional thermal washing machines. It uses a natural, cold water ozone laundry process rather than hot water and harsh bleaching agents.

The Department of Health and the FDA have validated ozone technology has a highly effective decontamination method. The ozone dissolves in water and then disinfects by oxidising microbial cells – destroying 99.999% of harmful micro-organisms such as MRSA, E. coli, Norovirus and C. difficile spores.

What are the benefits?

Ozone technology has several key advantages over traditional decontamination methods:

  • Eco-friendly: using cold water and avoiding harsh chemicals reduces the environmental impact.
  • Fast: Ozone technology destroys bacteria 3,200x faster than chlorine solutions. So, you can get your mattresses back in use quicker.
  • Extends mattress life: Harsh chemicals and high temperatures can damage the mattress as well as the environment. Ozone technology avoids both and so can significantly increase the lifespan of mattresses.

To learn more about our decontamination services, and other equipment that can assist with infection control, call us on 0345 034 1450 or send us an enquiry online. A member of the team will be happy to advise you!


Mattress decontamination is a crucial part of infection control in all healthcare settings. There are three main ways to decontaminate a mattress — cleaning, disinfection and sterilisation. The most appropriate method depends on the risk of infection.

For large healthcare facilities, or those with a high risk of infection, using a decontamination service may be the best way to ensure that hygiene standards are met consistently. Innova offers a specialist mattress decontamination service that uses innovative ozone technology. This provides the highest standard of infection prevention whilst minimising downtime, maximising mattress lifespan and reducing environmental impact.

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