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How to Wash a Pillow in 7 Easy Steps

You have to wash your bed pillows. We know – it seems unfair since you do such a great job of keeping them covered with pillowcases and washing those pillowcases regularly. But even with a pillowcase, and a lot of unsavory things can work their way through the material and into your pillow. Here’s how to safely and effectively get your pillows clean so that you can rest easy and enjoy a great night’s sleep.

How to Clean a Pillow

  1. Read the manufacturer’s label
  2. Gather your supplies
  3. Remove all bed linens or pillow coverings
  4. Air out your pillows
  5. Use your washer (when you can)
  6. Hand wash if necessary
  7. Dry gently

Your pillow is dirtier than you think. After all, it spends a lot of time pressed up against your face and hair, so it’s bound to attract some debris. In fact, some research shows that after just two years of use, one-third of an average pillow’s weight is made up of dead skin cells. Gross!

Since you spent a lot of time inhaling what’s in your pillow, a dirty, funky pillow can potentially make you sick. Keeping your pillows clean and fresh is simply a win-win – it protects you from scary things like dust mites, allergens, dirt, dust, mildew and more, plus it can help extend the life of your pillow.

Hopefully, you’re good at regularly washing your sheets, pillowcases, and other bedding. You’re probably also well versed in how to clean a mattress. But are you washing your pillows? While washing your pillow takes a little more planning and forethought than some of your other bedding or laundry, it isn’t too complicated. If you don’t wash them, your pillows can collect some really gross stuff over time – oils, skin cells, dust, mold, fungi, dust mites, and more.

It’s in your best interests to make sure your pillows periodically get a good cleaning. Besides protecting you from nastiness, regularly washing your pillow can help prevent all that yuckiness from breaking down the filling in your pillow, which shortens its overall life.

How to Clean a Pillow

brush to clean pillow

Since you’re putting your head and face directly on it every night, it pays to make sure your pillow is fresh and clean so that you get a healthy and restful night’s sleep. Depending on the type of pillow you’re using, there are some specific steps you’ll need to take to provide the best care – we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to keep your pillows clean and fresh for a good night’s sleep.

1. Read the Manufacturer’s Label

There are many different types of pillows out there – latex pillows, memory foam pillows, feather pillows, and more. Before you do anything else, make sure you know exactly what kind of pillow you have and how the manufacturer recommends you care for it. Most manufacturers are good about giving very detailed care instructions – especially for latex or foam pillows, which can be a little more high-maintenance. Some pillows need to be dry cleaned, while others can be machine washed but not put in the dryer. If your pillow doesn’t have a tag with washing instructions – or if you removed it when you bought your pillow – your best option is to hand wash or spot clean it to make sure you don’t inadvertently damage it.

2. Gather Your Supplies

supplies to clean a pillow

Depending on the condition of your pillows, you’ll need supplies like a gentle laundry detergent, warm water, dryer balls or tennis balls, and cleaning cloths. If you can find a very mild liquid detergent that has antibacterial features, that’s a double win. But stay away from harsh cleaning agents like bleach. Depending on the intensity of any stains, you may also want to make sure you have a good supply of baking soda and even vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Make sure you have everything you need before you get started.

3. Remove All Bed Linens or Pillow Coverings

To really get your pillow clean, you have to strip off the pillow cover and any additional pillow cases or shams you may be using. You want to get your pillow as bare as you can for a good washing. Once you’ve removed these linens, you can always wash them separately as well.

4. Air Out Your Pillow

lines moving in an air motion

Fresh air and sunshine are powerful cleaning agents. Before you do anything else, let your pillow sit outside in the warm sun for a few hours. If you can’t do this, you can always run it through the dryer on a no-heat cycle. Be especially careful with a memory foam pillow or latex pillow – they don’t do well in heat.

5. Use your Washer When You Can

If you’re dealing with a down or a microfiber pillow, you can throw it right in the washing machine – as long as there are no rips or tears in the pillow. Washing pillows in your washing machine isn’t difficult, but there are a few tips to keep in mind. For example, you may want to wash two pillows together so that your washer stays balanced throughout the cycle. Always wash your pillows separately from other laundry.

If you have a front-loading machine, that’s best, but a top-loading machine can still get the job done – just watch out for the agitator. If you’re using a top-loading machine with an agitator, make sure to insert the pillow vertically, so that there’s less chance of their getting wrapped around and/or damaged by the agitator. Use a gentle cycle with warm water – never hot water – and try to add an additional cold water rinse.

When you wash down pillows, try to use a powder detergent. A liquid detergent that doesn’t get rinsed out all the way can leave a sticky residue behind, which can sometimes cause down to clump. You may also be able to find products that are designed specifically to launder down, which can make the process easier. Throughout the washing process, it’s a good idea to massage the pillows within the detergent mixture to make sure they’re thoroughly wet.

Polyester pillows can be washed in warm water on your gentlest cycle. You don’t have to use much detergent to get them clean – usually, about a tablespoon will do.

6. Hand Wash If Necessary

If you have memory foam pillows, you cannot machine wash them. If your pillows have a removable cover, you can take that off and throw it in with the rest of the laundry, but not the pillow itself. Instead, make sure to regularly vacuum your pillow. Spot clean any stained areas with a damp cloth dipped in lukewarm water mixed with a mild detergent. If detergent isn’t cutting the stain, you can always try baking soda, too. Rinse with a clean rag and let air dry. Just be very careful when hand washing your memory foam pillow – wet foam is fragile and can tear very easily.

If you want to take things a step beyond spot cleaning, you can also soak your pillows in a small basin filled with warm water and your gentle detergent. Use just a little detergent so that it doesn’t take forever to rinse it all out. When you’ve let your pillow soak for a few minutes, very gently squeeze it a few times to make sure the water and soap pass through the filling. Then, drain your basin and keep squeezing your pillow until you’ve purged all the soap and excess water. If you overdid it on the detergent, you can also run your pillow under cool, clean water from your tap and keep gently squeezing until all the soap is gone. And we mean gently – don’t wring your pillow, or it can lose its shape.

7. Dry Gently

It’s extremely important that your pillows are thoroughly dry before you use them. This will protect against mold and mildew. You can usually tumble dry your pillows on low, but make sure to take them out and fluff them a few times during the drying cycle so the filling stays evenly distributed. One helpful trick is to add dryer balls – or even clean tennis balls – to the dryer with your pillows. This helps prevent your pillow from clumping up as it dries. Be careful when using the automatic settings when drying your pillows – those settings may only pick up on surface moisture instead of ensuring your pillow is dry all the way through.

Check your manufacturer’s instructions, but many pillows can be dried for about an hour on moderate heat. Don’t forget to add tennis balls or dryer balls, and if you can toss in a dry towel or two, that can speed up the drying process.

Note: Be careful if you’re drying down or feather pillows, though – you’ll want to use the no-heat, air-dry feature of your dryer, and then get ready to wait. It will take a while for them to dry all the way through.

If your weather is nice, you can also put your pillows outside to dry in the sunshine – they’ll smell amazing. The most important thing, no matter which method of drying you use, is to make sure the pillows are completely dry before putting them back on your bed – any lingering dampness can breed mildew, which defeats the whole purpose of washing your pillows in the first place.

How Often Should You Wash a Pillow?

Unless your manufacturer’s information suggests otherwise, most experts recommend washing your pillows at least twice per year. And keep in mind that pillows aren’t meant to last forever – at some point, you’re going to want to replace them with fresh, new ones.

Most experts recommend replacing your pillows every two years or so, but it all depends on the quality and condition of your pillow. You’re the best judge of when it needs to be replaced. A quick test is to fold your pillow in half and see if it can spring back into shape. If it can’t, it may be time to let it go. Same if it’s lost its fluff and/or isn’t providing appropriate head and neck support while you sleep. The best pillow will hold your head and neck in a neutral position.

Rest Your Head on a Clean Pillow

woman laying her head on clean pillow

Washing your pillow on a regular basis can go a long way toward making sure you enjoy a healthy, restful night’s sleep each night. By washing consistently, you keep your pillow from becoming a breeding ground for dust mites, skin cells, oils, dirt or other grimy and yucky substances that can inflame allergies, irritate your skin and/or endanger your overall health. If you’ll follow the steps listed here, you can help keep your favorite pillow fresh and clean.