How to Wash Pillows

There’s a good chance that your pillow, while at the top of your bed, isn’t top-of-mind. Most people barely have time to wash their sheets weekly, let alone keep track of when they last washed their actual pillows.

But it turns out that most people’s pillows are chock-full of germs, dust mites, and dirt, according to a study from UK public healthcare provider Barts and the London NHS Trust. Given that we spend around 8 hours a day up close and personal with our pillows, it might be a good idea to set a calendar reminder and give ‘em a wash a few times a year. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to making pillow-washing part of your deep cleaning routine.

3 white pillow on blue background with hands holding one of pillows

Table of contents

How to clean your pillows in 4 easy stepsStep 1: Put it on the listStep 2: Read the care labelsStep 3: Wash the pillows and treat stainsStep 4: Dry the pillows

How to clean your pillows in 4 easy steps

Step 1: Put it on the list

It’s recommended to wash your pillows seasonally. Add this task to your household’s master chore list so you don’t forget.

Step 2: Read the care labels

First, you’ll want to check the care label to understand what your pillow is made of. You can put pillows filled with cotton, polyester filling or even down feathers in the washing machine, but latex or memory foam pillows will need to be hand-washed and air dried, as the machines and the heat from the dryer can ruin the pillow. 

Once you know what type of pillow you have, follow the care instructions on the label. If you don’t have the label anymore, check out the tips in the next section.

Step 3: Wash the pillows and treat stains

Cotton, polyester filling or down pillows

In your washing machine:

  • Wash at least two pillows at a time to keep the washing machine balanced.

  • Place the pillows in the basin and select the gentle wash cycle with warm water and a small amount of detergent. Then rinse them on cold with a fast spin cycle.

  • A front-loading machine is best. If your washing machine has an agitator (that’s the pillar in the middle of the basin in top-loading machines), use caution or consider hand-washing, because the agitator can, well, over-agitate your pillow and cause damage. 

  • If you must use a top-loading machine, place the pillows in the basin vertically.

By hand:

  • Fill your bathtub with warm water and ⅛ cup of laundry detergent. 

  • Place the pillows in the tub, letting them soak for 5-10 minutes.

  • Use your hands to gently scrub the pillows.

  • Drain the water; rinse the pillows with cold, clear water from the faucet. 

  • Wring pillows out while also being careful not to disrupt their filling.

If you see stains on the outside of your pillow, spot clean them by creating a soap solution with a small amount of detergent and warm water, then dab the pillow with a rag.

For stubborn stains:

  • Make a baking soda paste with ½ cup of baking soda and ¼ cup of water

  • Apply the paste to the stain with your fingers or an old toothbrush

  • Let sit for 10-15 minutes

  • Remove the paste using a damp, clean cloth

  • Repeat as needed

Memory foam or latex pillows

By hand (recommended): Remove the pillow cover and use a hand vacuum cleaner to remove the dust. You can throw the pillow cover in the washing machine (make sure to check the care label for that, too).

Spot clean the actual pillow using a rag or cloth, soap solution, and warm water. 

For stubborn stains:

  • Make a vinegar solution in a spray bottle with one part water and one part white vinegar

  • Spray the area

  • Let sit for 5 minutes

  • Dab the area with a wet rag

  • Repeat as needed

If your pillow ever becomes soaked in liquid (like, erm, pet urine), sprinkle baking soda on the pillow and let it sit until the baking soda begins to clump as it absorbs the liquid (and odors!). 

Step 4: Dry the pillows

You can place cotton, polyester filling or down pillows in the dryer on a no-heat or low-heat setting. Pro tip: toss some dryer balls or tennis balls in there with them to keep them fluffy, not clumpy. 

For memory foam or latex pillows, it’s best to let them dry outside in the sun or dry them with a hair dryer. You can, of course, do this with cotton, polyester filling or down pillows as well. 

In both cases, be sure to let the clean pillows dry completely before placing them back on your bed. The last thing you need after kicking all those dust mites to the curb is mold! 

The average person spends 26 years in bed over the course of their lifetime. We obsess over thread counts, blanket weight, and mattress firmness—we should all add pillow cleanliness to our list, too.

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