Futon Care and Maintenance
So you’ve made a move to floor sleeping. I know from experience that futon care is slightly different to mattress care. Here are some tips on how to care for your Japanese futon mattress to get great sleep night after night. Haven’t decided on the nest futon yet? Check out my buying guide right here.
If you are going to be sleeping on the floor every night, you will need to consider the possibility of mold building up on the bottom side of your futon. Don’t worry – it has never happened to me and I live in an area with high rainfall and high humidity where mold is a problem in many homes. Let’s protect your investment and keep you healthy with a few easy futon care tips.
When you sleep, the best futon will wick moisture away from your body towards the floor. In Japan, people generally fold up their futons each morning and place them in a special closet. This gives the underside a chance to dry out and allows the sleeping space to be used for living during the day. Folding the futon just becomes part of the morning routine: instead of making the bed, we fold the futon and store it away. If you are unwilling to do this, a futon frame is a good idea. You can see my review of a good futon frame to suit Japanese futons here.
You can also place your Japanese futon mattress on tatami – traditional reed mats which can be found in many Japanese homes – see image below for a modern interpretation.
If you don’t want to fold your futon away or use tatami or a frame, simply flip one end over the other to make a futon taco, alternating each day so both ends get some air.
The more often you air the underside of the futon, the less likely that mold will develop.
Check out some skilled Japanese hotel staff preparing a futon for sleep below. I love the deliberate movements: they give a mundane task a certain grace.
Airing Your Japanese Bed
If you can, getting some sunshine on your Japanese style bed will help keep it in top condition. The sun works like a recharger: it helps fluff up your futon, dries it out completely and gives it a lovely fresh smell that can’t be beat.
Most homes in Japan (even tiny apartments) have a place to air out futons on sunny days. Anyone walking outside in nice weather in Japan is greeted by the sight of futons airing over railings everywhere you look.
Here, we need to be creative as many places have rules about hanging items outside. I have a space outside where drape my futons over a couple of chairs when the sun is out. In our old place, we were able to use part of a small fence rail off the back porch. A friend places her futon on top of her car to catch all the rays – it works!
One or two hours in full sun is all that is needed, every couple of months (or more frequently if you wish). Flip it to make sure both sides get some sun. Some people recommend beating the futon while it is outside but this is not a great idea. Beating can damage your futon and allows dust particles and other allergens to fly straight up your nose. I have found no benefit to it.
If you absolutely can’t get your Japanese futon mattress out to the sun from time to time, don’t worry. Just follow the tips for preventing mold above. You can vacuum it to remove dust.
An important note: if you are living in Japan you may have heard of dani, a little mite which can take up residence in your futon or tatami if you don’t take care of it properly. To prevent them, you will need either regular sunlight on your futon or a vacuum cleaner that is up to the task. Luckily in Japan most homes have a place to air futons in the sun and the right type of vacuum is readily available. These mites don’t seem to be an issue outside of Japan.
Keeping Your Futon Clean
It goes without saying that you should use sheets with your Japanese style bed. You can buy special futon sheets but really any good quality sheets your have will work fine.
I like cotton sheets best because they help wick moisture away from your body and they are cool in summer and warm in winter.
A mattress protector is essential for a Japanese bed which might come into contact with small children, pets or people who perspire a lot. You can easily machine wash even the best mattress protector – cleaning your futon is more of a process so, if in doubt, use a protector.
Cleaning Your Futon
If you have followed all futon care tips above, your futon will stay quite clean. The only other worry is accidents. You’ve spilled something on your best futon – what now?
Blot the spill as best you can with old towels. Really apply pressure to get as much of the spill out as possible. Place the towel on top of the spill and dance on it! The extra pressure from your body weight will help extract as much as possible.
If the spill is something you think will grow mold – anything milky comes to mind – apply a little soap and water and blot again, then air the futon in the sun until completely dry. If the ‘accident’ is from a pet, consider the use of an odor neutralising spray.
You can’t machine wash or dry clean most futons (check the manufacturer’s instructions for your particular item). You can follow similar directions for cleaning mattresses. Search out natural solutions for common stains and apply them as if you were cleaning a mattress. In all cases, make sure you find a place for your futon to completely dry before using it again – in the sun or in a warm, dry room. I have found that placing the futon directly in the airflow of an air conditioner set to warm is very helpful if the sun is not an option.
My go to guide for cleaning and household stain removal is a little book called Completely Spotless by Shannon Lush and Jennifer Fleming. Even if you don’t have a stained futon, this little book is gold for anyone wanting a quick reference for any cleaning problem. As a bonus, most of the tips are easy and cheap.
If all else fails and you have a stain you can’t live with, hide it with a pretty, cotton quilt cover or a specially designed futon cover, like this one by EMOOR which doubles as a bottom sheet – stylish and convenient. Since good futon care starts with protecting the futon mattress, you might like to grab one of these as a preventative.
In the end, futon care is all about prevention. Just being aware of moisture and potential for accidents is really all there is to it. I don’t worry about it too much – flipping the mattress, getting a little sun or dry air across my futon once per month plus using a good protector is all I have done to keep it in perfect condition for several years now.
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