How To Clean Grimy Pillowcases

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If you’ve laundered your bedding and still notice greasy, yellow stains and odors, these steps to clean grimy pillowcases will get your linens clean and fresh again.

How To Clean and Whiten Grimy Pillowcases

When you’re dealing with a yellowed pillowcase, it’s tempting to add extra bleach to the washer to get the pillowcase white again. However, that won’t work because bleach doesn’t remove grease and can make the stain permanent. Instead, follow these steps, which dissolve the chemical bonds between the greasy residue and the fabric to get your pillowcase white again.

Step 1. Prepare a cleaning solution.

First, fill a sink basin 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.

Step 2. Scrub the fabric.

Grab a hunk of the pillowcase in each hand and scrub it against itself. Switch to another area on the pillowcase and repeat until you’ve given it a good all-over rub. (A laundry scrub board works even better.) If washing multiple pillow cases, you use the same cleaning solution for all of them but scrub each one at a time.

Step 3. Refill the sink and let it soak.

Drain the sink, refill it with hot water, and add a few more drops of dish soap. Then put the pillowcase back in and let it soak for 1-2 hours, or even overnight. After it has soaked, rinse it thoroughly in HOT water until the water runs clear.

Step 4. Launder.

Finally, put the pillowcase through a hot wash and rinse cycle in your washing machine using your regular laundry detergent plus 2 cups of white vinegar. Do not add fabric softener. The vinegar in this final step removes any lingering soap or grease residue and kills odors, so don’t skip it. If your machine has one, use a second rinse cycle for this last step. Tumble or air dry.

Why Do Pillowcases Get Yellow and Grimy?

Parents of teens are familiar with how their hormones lead to greasy hair and skin, which stains their pillows and bed linens. Active adults and those who exercise heavily or work outdoors also find their pillowcases turn yellow due to hair and body oils. Moisturizers, overnight face treatments, and makeup residue can also lead to a grimy or slick, waxy feeling on your pillowcase.

How to Wash Pillowcases to Keep them Stain-Free

There are three secrets that help keep that yellowing grime from staining your pillowcases once you’ve removed it.

Skip the fabric softeners and dryer sheets

Fabric softeners and dryer sheets work by coating fabric with a light layer of wax or grease. This coating attracts and holds onto skin and hair oils. If you’ve been using them to fight static cling, try adding white vinegar to your laundry instead.

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Use Oxygen Bleach

Chlorine bleach can cause the proteins in sweat and body oils to permanently bond with the fabric. Plus, adding bleach along with the recommended vinegar is dangerous. Oxygenated bleach turns into hydrogen peroxide in the wash, where it helps eliminate stains and whiten your pillowcases again.

Strip-Wash

If yellow, grimy wax on your pillowcases is a frequent problem, you may want to strip wash your pillowcases routinely. Follow the same method you’d use to strip-wash towels by using borax and washing soda.

How to Keep Pillowcases from Getting Greasy

To keep your pillowcases from getting greasy, get in the habit of showering before bed or, at the very least, wash your face well so body oils don’t rub off on your pillow while you sleep.

Another way to prevent grimy stains on your pillowcases is to wash your bedding every week. Follow a good bedroom cleaning routine that includes laundering your sheets and pillowcases. If you are very active or work outdoors, have allergies, or are just prone to oily hair, you should consider changing pillowcases every other day.

Finally, if you like to stretch the time between shampooing, you might want to consider wearing a satin-lined sleep cap or bonnet to bed. The satin keeps your hair from tangling or getting frizzy while you sleep, while the cap protects your bedding from hair products and oils, so your pillowcase never develops that yellow, waxy layer of grime at all.


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25 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post about cleaning grimy pillow cases!! This WORKS….yay!! I tried it on 3 pillow cases today and soaked them in the Dawn and baking soda, wow it really got the grimies out. I boiled water on the stove so it would be really hot and poured it into a basin with everything. Now I have some more pillowcases to clean. This may not solve the world problems, but it solves one of mine…ha ha.

  2. I have inherited beautiful old linens but they are yellow in some ares especially the pillowcases. I have laid them on the grass in the sun, my mother’s way especially for cloth baby bibs n diapers.) but the yellow comes back. Plus they have that waxy smell. They seem very strong or not easily torn. They are all white.

  3. I found your website looking for a way to clean my pillowcases. It worked and they are very clean. Thank You.Solves a real pet peeve of mine. When I wash the sheets and use the oxiclean and vinegar, what is the ratio? With the new washing machines, HE and just a tad of detergent is recommended. I am assuming the mixture goes into the tub and not the soap dispenser.

    1. Yes, it goes into the tub, not the dispenser. For an HE machine, I’d use half the amount described above.

  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.

  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

  6. 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. 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!

    1. I love the Platinum for washing pots and pans, but it does contain a water softener agent that could actually cause the grime to permanently bond with the fabric. If you can’t find original, try Ultra.

  8. I appreciate the advice but I have reservations about adding vinegar to the washing machine. Numerous posts warn that doing so can damage rubber seals and hoses and lead to leaks in the machine. The cost of repairing or replacing a washing machine can buy a lot of pillow cases!
    I’ll try the steps you recommend but skip the vinegar in the washer. With luck it may not be necessary for me anyway.

    1. Vinegar’s pH is between 2.4 and 3.5, making it roughly as acidic as hydrogen peroxide — the primary ingredient in laundry aids like Oxiclean. The type of rubber that washing machine gaskets are made from is ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) rubber. Acetic acid (the type in vinegar) has no corrosive effect on EPDM. But you should, of course, do whatever you’re comfortable doing.

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