How to Wash Pillows the Right Way to Avoid Ruining Them

Knowing how to wash pillows is important for a night of restful sleep. Pillows become stained and soiled from our body oils, dead skin cells that attract dust mites, and hair products. Most pillows can be machine-washed or washed by hand and should be cleaned at least once or twice a year.

Here are easy-to-follow steps to clean every type of pillow.

How to Wash Pillows in the Washing Machine 

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

If you have feather down or polyester fiberfill pillows, they can all be machine-washed. Ideally, use a front-loading washer or a top-load washer without a center agitator so the pillows have more room to move in the washer.

Latex, memory, or gel-infused memory foam pillows should be hand-washed. The agitating action of a washer can cause the foam to break into pieces.

  1. Pretreat visible stains. Remove pillowcases and covers and inspect the pillows for blood, makeup, or other stains. Dab a small amount of an enzyme-based stain remover or good-quality detergent on the stains and work it in with a soft-bristled brush. Allow the cleaner to work for at least 15 minutes before washing.
  2. Select the washer cycles. Use cold or warm water, the gentle cycle, the highest water level available, and add only a small amount of detergent (a couple of teaspoons).
  3. Load the washer correctly. If using a front load or top load washer, add some white bath towels to help keep the washer from becoming off-balance. If you have a washer with a center agitator, it’s important to wash at least two pillows to balance the machine.
  4. Add an extra rinse cycle. When the cycle is complete, run the pillows through an extra rinse cycle to ensure all the detergent is rinsed away.
  5. Fluff and dry the pillows. Remove the pillows from the washer and fluff the filling. To help the pillows dry more quickly and to break apart any clumps in the filling, add wool dryer balls or clean tennis balls. Use on low or medium heat and stop the dryer every 15 minutes to fluff the pillows by hand. You can also allow the pillows to air-dry but be sure to turn and fluff them often.

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How to Hand-Wash Pillows the Right Way 

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

A benefit of hand-washing pillows (you can do so in a bathtub): it works for all types of pillows since you can control the amount of agitation.

The downside? It usually takes longer for the pillows to dry—our hands are not as efficient at removing rinse water as a washing machine.

  1. Pretreat visible stains. Remove pillowcases and covers and inspect the pillows for stains. Dab a small amount of an enzyme-based stain remover or good-quality detergent on the stains and work it in with a soft-bristled brush. Allow the cleaner to work for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Mix a washing solution. Be sure the bathtub is sparkling clean—then, fill with lukewarm water and about two teaspoons of gentle detergent. Make sure there is enough water to submerge the pillows.
  3. Agitate the pillows in soapy water. Remove the pillows from their protective covers and completely submerge them in the soapy solution. Allow them to soak for about 10 minutes and then knead the pillow gently for about 5 minutes to move the cleaning solution through the filling.
  4. Rinse well. Drain the soapy water and refill the tub with cool water. Submerge the pillows and knead for another 5 minutes to gently remove the suds. Drain and refill the tub several times with clean water until no more suds appear. Gently squeeze the pillows to remove the water, but do not wring them.
  5. Absorb excess moisture. Use thick, heavy bath towels to wrap the pillows and absorb as much water as possible. Down and polyester-filled pillows should be fluffed and can then be tossed in the dryer. Foam pillows should be placed flat on a ventilated surface away from direct heat and sunlight. Allow plenty of time for drying—it could take a full day.

How to Remove Odors From Pillows 

Removing and washing the protective cover helps freshen a pillow. To tackle odors, spritz the pillow with a fabric refresher, or sprinkle one side of the entire pillow generously with baking soda.

Allow the baking soda to sit for at least an hour before vacuuming it away using the upholstery brush attachment. Flip the pillow over, and repeat. Baking soda absorbs odors, and vacuuming removes dust mites and pet hair.

Cleaning Tip

Pillows turn yellow from body soil and sweat. To help remove the stains, mix a paste of baking soda and lemon juice or baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and let it sit—it should work in no time.

Washing Other Types of Pillows 

There are a few special tips that will make washing every type of pillow more successful.

  • Feather and down pillows: Both types of filling can be machine-washed or by hand. Do not use fabric softener on the pillows because it can coat the down and reduce the pillow’s fluffiness.
  • Wool pillows: It is best to hand-wash wool pillows in cool water with a gentle detergent. Do not use oxygen-based bleach to treat stains or whiten the pillows because it can cause the wool to deteriorate.
  • Throw pillows: If the cover is not removable, only spot-clean the pillow. Throw pillow inserts can be hand-washed or machine-washed depending on the type of filling.

How to Keep Pillows Clean Longer 

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  • Always use a protective cover to prevent the build-up of dust and dust mites in addition to the pillowcase.
  • Change the pillowcase at least weekly, more often if you are ill or sweaty. Wash the protective cover at least once a month.
  • Never sleep on a pillow with wet hair.
  • Place pillows in a tumble dryer on the air cycle for 10 minutes to help remove dust.
  • Thoroughly vacuum foam pillows each time you change bed linen to remove dead skin cells, dust mites, and other allergens.

When to Replace Pillows 

If a pillow doesn’t bounce back after folding it in half or it no longer springs back and fluffs up after kneading or massaging, it’s time to consider getting a new pillow.

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