How Clean Are Those Sample Mattresses You’re Sitting On?

Before you lie down to sample multiple beds at the mattress store, you might want to think about the potential germs you might encounter.

Unless you buy your mattresses online, testing out a bed at a mattress showroom before you make a purchase is part of the whole mattress-buying process. Most of us sit down—or even lie down—on a potential bed to test out its comfort level. After all, a mattress is a huge investment and something we will sleep on every night for many years to come. Science has confirmed that mattresses are germy in general. So what does that mean for sample mattresses, considering they may be touched by numerous people every day for months or years? We spoke to mattress expert Mike Magnuson, CEO and founder of GoodBed.com, to get the 411 on how germy sample mattresses actually are.

Fewer people sample mattresses than you think

Magnuson says that the number of people who have actually snuggled up on any given floor model is probably less than you’d expect. “A typical mattress store that has around 50 mattresses on its floor might only see 200 to 300 customers walk through its doors each month,” he says. So, even if every one of those customers were a couple, and each couple were to lie down on 10 different mattresses, an average mattress in that store would still have only a few people lie down on it each day. Are you in the market for a mattress? Here’s everything you need to know before making your purchase.

Most stores replace floor models regularly

Floor-model mattresses are regularly swapped out at a reputable retailer, says Magnuson. “A given mattress would rarely stay on the showroom floor for more than a year,” he explains. “Most stores we work with replace their floor models closer to every three to six months, especially for the more popular models.”

Look out for foot protectors

When it comes to the assorted dirt, gunk, and germs that end up on a sample mattress, by far the biggest source is the shoes people are wearing when trying them out. “This is why almost every store has foot protectors on their floor models, sometimes called boots, which wrap around the foot of the bed and can be easily removed, washed, and/or replaced,” points out Magnuson. These are often provided to the store by the manufacturer, who naturally doesn’t want their product to look dirty on anyone’s sales floor. However, if you don’t see any around, you might want to resist hopping on the bed and instead try a different mattress store that does make more of an effort to keep their beds clean. Other than keeping yourself germ-free at the store, here are 7 things you need to know when shopping for a mattress.

Also, be wary of pillows

As a customer, the biggest concern you’re likely to have is with your head, Magnuson points out. “Here again, most stores have pillows on each floor model, which have cases that can be more easily washed or replaced,” he says. Additionally, some stores will provide their customers with a disposable pillow sock or single-use sanitary sheet to place under your head when trying out mattresses and/or pillows. After all, you want to avoid things like lice, as well as cold and flu germs.

How are sample mattresses cleaned…or are they?

According to Magnuson, most retailers do clean their mattresses. However, they are just vacuumed or spot-cleaned as needed. That being said, it’s important to note the difference between the dirt and germs on these sample mattresses and the ones on a bed that’s regularly slept on. Skin likely isn’t being shed on them, nor is sweat penetrating the surface. In case you didn’t know, you can spot-clean your mattress at home by following these simple steps.

Are they ever fully disinfected?

While there are facilities that provide a disinfecting service, Magnuson says they are generally only used to prepare returned mattresses for resale in a clearance center as used products. “The process generally involves a heat treatment—essentially baking the mattress at a couple hundred degrees for some period of time to kill bacteria,” he explains. “I’m not aware of retailers using this service to disinfect floor models that will be going back onto the sales floor. My sense is that if they are bad enough to need this level of cleaning, they would just switch them out for a new floor sample.”

In comparison to other public places, how germy are mattress stores?

While the types of germs would be the same as any other public place, Magnuson theorizes that the incidence of these germs would be far less than most public places. After all, the number of people contacting these products is so much smaller than in most public places. Did you know that you are probably carrying germs with you right now? Here are 11 germ-spreading items you might have in your possession.

Should people with allergies be cautious when testing out a mattress?

People with severe allergies should be aware that they might come into contact with certain fibers, such as pet hair. Typically, it’s from people’s clothing, not from pets themselves being in the store. “That said, hair is something that is easily vacuumed, so it shouldn’t remain on a given floor model for long,” Magnuson adds. If pet hair is a problem in your own home, check out these 14 vacuums specially designed to get rid of it.

Should you worry about bed bugs?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the worst stories Magnuson has heard tend to involve low-end retailers. “In such cases, there have been tales of bed bugs, though this is fortunately quite rare and isolated, and even a lower-end store would take immediate action to resolve such an issue were it to arise,” he says. More commonly, the worst-case just involves filthy beds that have been on display far too long. This tends to be most prevalent at lower-end department stores and mass-volume retailers. If you do end up buying a new mattress, don’t forget to invest in one of these covers to protect it from bed bugs.

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Leah Groth
Leah is a Philadelphia-based writer, editor, mother and product junkie. Her obsessions include old houses, home design, fashion, beauty, books and anything that makes her life — which includes working full-time and taking care of two "spirited" children and a Vizsla puppy — a little bit easier. Her work has appeared on a variety of publications and websites, including Glamour, Prevention, Business Insider, Livestrong, Mindbodygreen, Fatherly, Scary Mommy, Wonderwall and Cosmopolitan.