07. How to store and maintain tatami

If tatami are properly maintained, they can be used for nearly 40 years. Let us make tatami last as long as possible by doing daily cleaning and care, regularly renewing the tatami facing, etc. The following methods can be used to maintain not only regular fixed tatami but also unit tatami, tatami pillows, straw mats put on top of tatami, and so on.


How to clean tatami


Cleaning tatami is done with a vacuum cleaner or a special “tatamibōki” (tatami broom). The tatami broom can be purchased in home centers or broom specialty shops in Japan. Some people use a “gum roller” for cleaning the floor to remove hairs and dust, but if an adhesive cleaner is used with strong adhesion, it will cause damage and fraying to the “tatami facing”.


When cleaning with a vacuum cleaner or a broom, clean from one long side of the tatami to the other, along the grain. In the case of a vacuum cleaner, slowly go back and forth over the tatami with the vacuum cleaner several times, rather than trying to remove all the dust at once. If you clean tatami with a broom, sprinkle the tatami with used tea leaves squeezed dry. By sweeping away the leaves and all, you can remove all the dust. Because tatami easily absorbs moisture, sprinkle tea leaves after you completely squeeze the moisture from them.


If you have spilled drinks on a tatami or bits of food have stuck to it, after cleaning it with a vacuum cleaner, etc., give it a wipe with a thoroughly squeezed cloth or a dry cloth.


Measures to protect against mold and insects


When mold develops because of moisture, etc., soak a cloth in a diluted mild detergent and wipe off the mold. Then lightly wipe the tatami with rubbing alcohol.


If mold develops frequently, an effective way is to remove the tatami from the floor on a fine sunny day and give it some sun drying. In this way, you can exterminate mites and other pests. When drying, do not do it on the soil surface but in places where insects are unlikely to stick, such as a verandah or a concrete surface. Because the tatami will absorb moisture if you dry it in the rainy season, choose a day during a spell of fair weather, and do it twice a year. If there is no place to dry, just lift up the tatami a little to improve the ventilation, and it will make a good moisture prevention measure.


Measures to prevent dents


Putting a table, a shelf, etc., on a tatami for a long time will create dents on its surface. Since in many cases it is impossible to get rid of dents once they have formed, it is a good idea to place a thick mat under the table or shelf beforehand. In the case of slight dents, they may be repaired by applying a towel wetted by being lightly sprayed with water and ironing them out. After ironing, improve the ventilation of the room and dry the tatami.


If it still is damaged…


Because a tatami is a floor material made of plants, no matter how diligently you take care of it, its facing will be damaged over the years. In such a case, there are ways of replacing the “tatami facing.” For how to do that, please refer to “How to renew tatami” in the next section.