Two clean white pillowcases on a pink coverlet spread on a bed

Want to Clean Your Greasy Pillowcase? Put Down the Bleach.

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Parents of teens know how gross their pillowcases get: yellowing, waxy, and that smell! I had a brief dry shampoo habit, and the same thing happened to my pillowcases, too. That grimy residue? It’s from body oils, sebum, and hair products.

You may have tried to bleach the stuff out. Didn’t help, did it? That’s because bleach doesn’t remove grease. In fact, it can make the stain more stubborn — even permanent. So, here’s how I finally got my yellowing, grimy pillowcases clean again.

Deep Cleaning Grimy Pillowcases

This method is just as effective as strip-washing but won’t leave your pillowcases thin or rough.

1. Prepare a cleaning solution. First, fill your kitchen sink or a bathtub with very hot water, then add 1/4 cup Dawn Original dish detergent (Fairy or Sunlight in the UK) and 1 cup baking soda. Swirl until the baking soda is dissolved and then add the pillowcase.

2. Scrub the fabric. Grab a hunk of the pillowcase in each hand and rub the two bunches together, so you’re rubbing the fabric against itself. Switch to another area on the pillowcase and repeat until you’ve given it a good all-over rub.

3. Refill the sink and let it soak. Drain the sink, refill it with very hot water, and add a few more drops of dish soap. Let the pillowcase soak in this fresh solution for 1-2 hours, or even overnight. Then rinse it thoroughly in HOT water until it runs clear.

4. Launder. Finally, put the pillowcase through a hot wash and rinse cycle in your washing machine using your regular laundry detergent and 2 cups of white vinegar in the rinse cycle—but no fabric softener.

The vinegar in this final step removes any lingering greasy residue and kills odors, so don’t skip it. If your machine has one, use a second rinse cycle.

Why This Gets Pillowcases Clean

What we just did loosened the bond between that grimy buildup and the fabric fibers mechanically (by rubbing) and then by soaking. In the washer, the detergent took care of the rest, then the vinegar double-checked and deodorized your pillowcase, too. Ta-dah!

Tips to Prevent Greasy Pillowcases

Now, that’s not a simple process, so here are some tricks I’ve learned to keep pillowcases from getting greasy and oily once they’re clean.

Switch how you soften

Fabric softeners and dryer sheets work by leaving a thin, petroleum-based coating that makes fabrics feel smooth. But that coating also traps the oils, makeup residue, moisturizers and lotions that make pillowcases grimy. Try softening clothes with vinegar instead.

Whiten with oxygen

To brighten white pillowcases and bedding, use non-chlorine, oxygenated bleach. Its primary ingredient turns into hydrogen peroxide in the wash, which eliminates stains and whitens pillowcases. It’s also gentler on fabrics and the environment than chlorine bleach.

Sleep clean

Showering before bed and waiting for lotions to dry can keep your pillowcase from getting greasy. If that’s not convenient, consider wearing a satin lined sleep cap to bed to keep your scalp oils from reaching the pillow. It will keep your hair from getting snarled in your sleep, too.

Now that your pillowcases are clean and fresh, ready to learn how to wash the actual pillows to get rid of the stink?

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  1. I tried this and was amazed at how clean and stain-free they came out. Sent this pin to my daughters

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m happy to have helped, Lonnie!

  2. What type of vinegar do you use? White vinegar?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      That’s what I use, yes.

  3. How much vinegar do you use in the fabric softener dispenser?


    1. Katie Berry says:

      Whatever amount of fabric softener you’d have used, replace that with vinegar.

  4. Finally, pillowcases that aren’t stiff and smelly. That worked out great. Now to do the rest of them. Thanks for the information. Using a washboard made in Ohio made the process go better than hand rubbing the cloth together too.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Glad to have helped!

  5. This has been a life save. I haven’t been able to use my softest, most favourite set of sheets because of the horrible look of the pillowcases. I follow this yesterday and have got the sheets back on my bed today. Can’t wait for bed tonight. Thanks

    1. Katie Berry says:

      So glad to have helped, Dawn! Sweet dreams. 🙂

  6. A. Sulaiman says:

    I’m looking forward to trying this so I can save my beloved white pillowcases!

    However, I don’t have Dawn at home, will any dish detergent do the job?

    Thank you Katie.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I recommend Dawn because it’s an excellent degreaser. If you want to use a substitute, make sure it focuses on degreasing and not moisturizing hands.

  7. Wow! The amount of gunk that came out of those pillow cases & pillow covers was disgusting! It feels so good to have clean cases & covers again. Thank you!

  8. I’m looking forward to trying this method this weekend!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Great! Let me hear how you like it. 🙂

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