Care Tips

How Do You Disinfect A Pillow?

    Last Updated
    September 8, 2022
    min read

    Pillows can get dirtier than you’d imagine. They can gather dirt, dust, bacteria, mold, and mildew from daily use and can even cause allergies or exacerbate skin problems. Fortunately, cleaning your pillows every few months can keep them fresh and decrease your chances of developing an adverse health reaction.

    In this guide, you’ll learn the best ways to disinfect different pillows and a few tips for keeping them fresh for longer.

    When And Why Should You Disinfect Your Pillows?

    Pillows should be disinfected at-least once a year, ideally once every 6 months.

    Just because your pillows look clean does not mean that they are. Things like mites, dust, dead skin cells and other residue are often invisible to the human eye. These irritants can also cause allergies and skin breakouts, so practicing thorough skin hygiene through disinfection is essential.

    Disinfection is typically only necessary if an accident happens, such as a spill. However, it’s good practice to sanitize your pillows at least once or twice a year. 

    Tips For Disinfecting Pillows

    Now that you know why it’s essential to disinfect pillows, keeping these tips in mind will help ensure that you eliminate as much bacteria as possible.

    Clean Before Disinfecting

    Always remove surface dirt before disinfecting your pillow. Otherwise, germs can hide behind dirt and avoid being killed by your sanitizing substance. Simply brush the dirt off or run a handheld vacuum over your pillow before disinfecting.

    Use Staple Household Ingredients

    Disinfecting your pillows doesn’t have to be expensive. You can use household ingredients like baking soda and vinegar to normalize smells and destroy bacteria. 

    First, gently mist the pillow with a spritz of vinegar (don’t worry, the baking soda will absorb the vinegar scent). Then, sprinkle a light layer of baking soda atop your entire pillow and leave it under the sun for roughly two to three hours. Do this on both sides.

    You can even use vodka to gently mist your pillows, as this ingredient is naturally disinfecting. Always blot your pillow clean after applying the vodka.

    Another helpful ingredient is hydrogen peroxide, which can eliminate many harmful microorganisms. You can usually apply hydrogen peroxide directly from the bottle.

    Finally, if using rubbing alcohol, use a concentration of at least 70% to kill germs effectively.

    Fluff Them

    Fluffing your pillows won’t thoroughly disinfect them, but it can remove superficial dirt and dust. There are two ways to fluff pillows: with your hands and in the dryer. 

    To fluff a pillow by hand, compress and decompress it for about thirty seconds on each side. Give it a few punches and kneads.

    When using a dryer to fluff your pillows, refer to any instructions your manufacturer might have. Otherwise, you can easily fluff pillows using your machine’s agitator on very low heat. Add extra fluff by throwing in a dryer ball.

    Spot-Clean Stains

    Sometimes, throwing your pillow into the washing machine won’t be enough to eliminate pesky stains. Instead, you can use ingredients like borax, rubbing alcohol, or even shaving cream to remove them.

    Here are the ingredients that are most appropriate for use with different stains.

    • Urine: vinegar, water, baking soda
    • Blood: baking soda, cold water
    • Sweat: hydrogen peroxide, baking soda

    When spot-cleaning your pillow, dab the area with a soft towel and let it dry for at least two to three hours.

    Use An Antibacterial Spray

    Antibacterial sprays are best for routine maintenance and removing sweat stains. When using an antibacterial spray, find a product that doesn’t contain bleach. Using too much bleach on your pillows can damage fibers. 

    Use A Steam Cleaner

    Steam cleaning is highly effective for eliminating dust mites and other allergens. Because steam cleaning doesn’t require other chemicals, it’s the perfect natural sanitization method. Use a handheld steamer to break up stains, and be careful not to soak your pillows. 

    Kill Germs With An Enzyme Cleaner

    Enzyme cleaners are like antibacterial sprays for tougher stains. You can purchase one from the store or make your own using eight ounces of hydrogen peroxide with three tablespoons of baking soda. Simply apply the formula to the affected area, letting it sit for two to three hours before blotting it dry.

    Dry Pillows Under Heat

    While you can, in theory, dry your pillows indoors, the best way to eliminate bacteria is under moderate heat. You can tumble-dry pillows under high heat (depending on what kind of pillows you use), but a safe and natural drying option is to place them directly under sunlight.

    While cold temperatures can inactivate germs, viruses, and bacteria, they will simply reactivate when exposed to heat. 

    Use Pillow Protectors

    Using a pillow protector can increase the time between complete washings. Protectors are typically made with hypoallergenic materials and can keep bacteria from getting trapped inside your pillows. Make sure to wash your pillow protectors once a month.

    Vacuum Foam Pillows

    If you have non-washable or foam pillows, use an upholstery attachment on your vacuum to remove dust and dirt. Sprinkle a bit of baking soda on top of your pillows and leave it for roughly half an hour to draw any bacteria to the surface before vacuuming.

    Best Pillow Disinfectants

    If you don’t have the time to make DIY disinfectants, consider purchasing these pillow sanitizing products.

    Shout Triple-Acting Stain Remover Spray

    This disinfecting stain remover eliminates your toughest stains without stripping color. It is 50 times more concentrated than regular in-wash powders and works on virtually every stain (including grass, sweat, and blood). Because it clings to fabric stains in water, you can throw your pillows into the wash immediately after applying the product.

    Oxiclean Stain Remover

    Oxiclean is a color-safe stain remover that is chlorine-free and fast-acting. Its oxygen-based and water-activated formula can remove tough stains in under six hours. This stain remover is also available fragrance-free for people who suffer from allergies.

    Lysol Disinfectant Spray

    Lysol Disinfectant Spray replaces bleach with quats (quaternary ammonium), making it more fabric-safe than other aerosols. It is specifically formulated to eliminate the coronavirus in just ten minutes.

    You can opt for the Lysol Disinfectant Max Cover Mist alternative for more robust disinfection.

    How To Manage Pillow Odors

    There are many DIY fixes for removing foul odors from your pillows using simple, store-bought ingredients. Here are a few at-home solutions:

    • Sprinkle small amounts of baking soda on your pillows to remove moisture and smells. This ingredient effectively protects against bacteria and pathogens. Let it settle on your pillows for at least 30 to 60 minutes. Remove it using a vacuum cleaner with an upholstery attachment. 
    • White vinegar is a safe and natural remedy for mold and mildew. Use a spray bottle and lightly mist your pillows. Alternatively, you can use a sponge to dab away at pesky stains.
    • Air dry your pillows under sunlight on non-humid days to remove any traces of moisture. Alternatively, store them in a well-ventilated room.

    When To Replace Your Pillows

    As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to replace your pillows every one to two years or when they start to develop lumps and stubborn stains.

    If you’re unsure when to replace your pillows, ask yourself the following questions:

    • Are your pillows no longer offering the support you require?
    • Do your neck and shoulders feel sore when you wake up?
    • Are there white or yellow spots on your pillows that you can’t seem to remove?
    • Is your pillow lumpy or deflated?
    • Are your pillows giving you allergies?

    If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, it might be time to replace your pillows.

    The Bottom Line

    Dirty pillows don’t just smell and look bad – they also put you at risk of developing allergies or other health problems. By disinfecting your pillows correctly at least one to two times a year, you can keep them fresh and fluffy and prevent unwanted sleep disruptions.

    For high-quality and flexible pillows, shop Purple’s GelFlex Grid line today! Our pillows are perfectly fluffy, long-lasting, and ergonomic for all sleeper types.


    FAQs About Disinfecting Pillows

    How often should pillows be washed?

    A good rule of thumb is to wash your pillows at least twice to four times a year. If you can afford to do so, wash your pillows once every three months to prevent dirt buildup and keep them fresh year-round. Wash pillowcases with your bedding at least once every other week.

    Can you use disinfecting spray on pillows?

    Yes, you can use disinfecting sprays like Glade or Lysol on your pillows to eliminate germs and bacteria. Ensure your pillows are completely dry before sleeping to prevent trapping moisture. Avoid oversaturating your pillow with a disinfecting spray.

    How many pillows should you put inside a washing machine? 

    How many pillows you put inside your washing machine will ultimately depend on the size of the machine and the size of your pillows. Larger washing machines can typically fit two pillows at a time. Even if your machine can fit more than two pillows, you don’t want to overstuff it to avoid risking tears.

    What disinfectant is most effective on pillows?

    The most effective disinfectant for pillows is a product specifically formulated to sanitize fabrics. Because fabrics are soft and porous, disinfectants for hard surfaces might not be as effective.


    About the authors

    April Seifert

    April has nearly a decade of writing experience, with 3+ years specializing in sleep content. Her work has been covered by sites like BuzzFeed, Entrepreneur, and Money Under 30. She has an M.A. in Magazine, Newspaper, and Online Journalism from Syracuse University and a B.A. in Communication Studies. As a self-proclaimed expert in all things cozy, she sleeps better at night, knowing her writing helps others sleep in comfort, too.