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Washing Your Nasty Pillows Isn’t as Hard as You Think

Woman's hands placing a pillow on a bed.
New Africa/Shutterstock

Most of us wash our bed linens pretty regularly, but it’s easy to neglect washing your pillows. Here’s why you should do it and how.

If it’s been a while (or never) since you washed your pillow, it’s harboring some gross stuff, like sweat, oils, drool, dirt, mold, bacteria, and dust mite dander. Blech!

Pillows aren’t the easiest things to wash and dry, so we get why you don’t toss them in the wash all the time. Plus, depending on the materials in your pillows, you might need to be careful when washing them. It’s worth the effort, though, because a freshly laundered pillow has fewer allergens and you’ll sleep better.

Before You Wash Your Pillows

There are a couple of things you can do between washings to keep your pillows fluffy and aired out.

First, fluff and shake them out every day. Pillow fluffing is a great habit of getting into when you make your bed. Fluffing restores the pillow’s shape, shakes out some of the dust, and airs it out. Some pillows (like the solid, memory foam kind) don’t shake back into shape. You can toss these pillows in the dryer on a cycle with no heat (high heat damages many synthetic materials) now and then to air them out.

Next, if possible, hang your pillows outside once a month. A few hours in the warm sun on a breezy day (doesn’t matter if it’s cold or hot) freshens your pillows. If you wash your pillows too often, it can break down the fibers, so hanging them outside keeps them fresh. The sun’s ultraviolet rays also kill off any surface bacteria.

How (and When) to Wash Your Pillows

Before we dive into how to wash your pillow, you might be wondering how often you should do it. The typical recommendation is every three months, so you can time your washing with the change of the season. You can adjust this schedule if you use an allergen case or pillow protector, as these cut down the dirt.

Before you wash your pillow, always look at the care tag. If it’s dry clean only, washing it in water could damage it. If you know the material your “dry clean only” pillow contains, it might help you determine whether you can wash it at home.

If the tag says your pillow can be washed normally or by hand, you can follow the instructions, but they won’t be very detailed. Let’s break down the basic washing instructions by pillow material.

Before you start washing them, make sure you can thoroughly dry your pillows. Not all can survive the heat of a dryer, so you might need to hang them outside. Damp pillows left inside can breed even more fungus and bacteria. The last thing you want is a mildewy pillow so don’t wet it down unless you can thoroughly dry it immediately after.

Also, consider whether your home washing machine is big enough for your pillows (something like a body pillow is probably too big). You might have to trek to the laundromat a few times a year if your home machine isn’t big enough. Agitators damage pillows, so a front-loading washer is ideal for them.

Polyester

Because polyester pillows are the cheapest option, they’re probably in most bedrooms across the country. They’re also one of the easiest types to wash.

You can wash your polyester-filled pillow on the gentle cycle in warm water. Wash more than one at a time, so the load is balanced. You only need a small amount of laundry detergent (one tablespoon is plenty).

You can dry polyester pillows on medium heat. Make sure you leave them in long enough to dry all the way through. Tossing a couple of tennis balls in the dryer with your pillows helps keep them fluffed. If it’s a warm day with a breeze, hang them outside to dry.

Down and Feather

Down and feather pillows require a little more delicate care than the polyester-filled. You definitely want to use a mild detergent, or a product made specifically for washing down and feather pillows. Powdered detergent might be the better option, as liquid detergent might leave a sticky coating on the feathers and cause clumping.

Never dry feather or down pillows on any heat setting in the dryer. Always use an air-dry setting with no heat. Use dryer balls to prevent the down and feathers from clumping. You can also hang dry your down and feather pillows, but make sure they dry all the way through before you make the bed.

Memory Foam

You shouldn’t wash your memory or latex foam pillows in the washing machine, but you can spot wash them. Because you only clean them externally, dry time doesn’t take long for memory or latex foam pillows. And, you can just leave them sitting out until they’re dry.

To keep memory foam pillows cleaner, longer, you can use a pillow cover between the pillow and your pillowcase. This adds one more layer of protection and cuts down on cleaning.

Typically, pillows filled with shredded memory foam, like the popular MyPillow product line, can be machine washed, but always check the care tag to make sure.

Buckwheat

If you like the coolness and comfort of buckwheat hulls in your pillow, you still need to clean them a couple of times a year. You can do this by emptying the hulls onto a cookie sheet and setting them outside in the sun. The fresh air and heat remove odors. If a good sunny airing out doesn’t refresh them, you can always buy new fill for your pillows.

While the buckwheat is outside, wash the shell fabric in cold water with a mild detergent (in the machine or by hand). Dry the fabric shell in the dryer or on the clothesline.


Next time you strip the sheets off your bed, take a little extra time to wash your pillows. Add a reminder to your calendar to do it again in three months, so you can keep them clean and fresh.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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