Design & DIY

Any advice for refurbishing a horsehair mattress?


Do you have any advice on refurbishing a horsehair mattress? I’d like to replace the old cover and clean the horsehair.
—A.L., Lake Umbagog, Errol, NH

Whoa! Before you whip out the cleaning products, you should know that the cover fabric could be stitched to the mattress materials inside, says Nicholas Vardon, a consultant for Swedish horsehair mattress maker Hästens. If that’s the case (some old horsehair mattresses are made this way), gaining access to the innards to clean them—especially without damaging the mattress—may be very difficult. And unnecessary. “Hygienically, there shouldn’t be a reason to clean the horsehair,” says Vardon. “Horsehair allows for air to flow through and moisture to be wicked away, so bacteria won’t grow inside.”

If the mattress looks dingy on the outside, one option is to cover it with an all-cotton slipcover, says Vardon. Or, you could spot-clean the current cover with a cotton cloth, cold water, and very mild soap. As for any rips or tears in the fabric, Hillary Anderson, the conservator at the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto, recommends you patch them with a material of similar
composition and weight, using regular polyester sewing thread and a herringbone or zigzag stitch.

But if you’re determined to get at that horsehair, pay an expert. Look for a seasoned upholsterer with experience in horsehair furniture. He or she would likely have to take the mattress apart, clean it, and rebuild it. “It’s definitely not a simple fix,” says Anderson. “Cleaning something like this would be quite complicated.” Not to mention, expensive. When you find out how much you’ll have to pony up to refurbish the mattress, you may decide you’d rather spend the money on something else…like a brand new mattress. Or heck, an actual horse.