Two freshly washed pillows not yet in pillowcases sitting on a bed with a brown headboard

No-Nonsense Steps to Wash Pillows and Keep them Fresh

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Ever tried to fall asleep on a smelly pillow? They collect all sorts of stuff, from sweat to sebum and skin flakes, which is why it’s important to wash your pillows at least twice a year.

But this isn’t just about eliminating odors, it’s also about comfort and getting a good night’s sleep—especially if you have dust mite allergies like I do. So, read on for how I do this in the machine and by hand, plus my tips to fluff and freshen them all year.

What Pillows Are Washable?

Just like washing clothes, you should check the care label on your pillows to see if they’re washable. If not, here are general guidelines:

  • Feather down and “down alternative”: Machine wash since hand-washing can cause the filling to clump. Check for and repair rips or tears first.
  • Synthetic fill (like polyester): Wash in the machine or by hand. 
  • Memory foam and latex: Spot clean. See my steps for non-washable pillows.
  • Buckwheat hull or rice filling: Not washable. See my steps for non-washable pillows.

How to Machine Wash Pillows

Once you know your pillow is safe to wash, the process is simple: wash two at a time to keep your machine balanced, using the delicate cycle, warm water and a mild, low-sudsing detergent. Selecting an extra rinse cycle helps get out all the suds.

  • Skip the bleach: Chlorine bleach can weaken the pillow cover and damage the filling.
  • Brighten and disinfect: Add 2 tablespoons of non-chlorine bleach instead. (Oxiclean is one brand, or you can make your own oxygen bleach.)
  • Deodorize: Add up to 1/2 cup of baking soda with the pillows.

How to Hand Wash Pillows

Washing your pillows by hand is equally straightforward: Submerge your pillow in a tub filled with cool or warm water and a small amount of mild detergent. Work the soapy water through your pillow by gently squeezing it. Rinse your pillow with clean water until it runs clear, then press out the excess water between two towels without wringing or twisting.

How to Dry Pillows

Tumble Drying

Add two pillows at a time to your dryer and use the delicate or low heat setting. Every 20-30 minutes, take your pillows out and rearrange them so they dry evenly. Adding two clean tennis balls along with your pillows can prevent clumps, but it’s noisy.

Air Drying

Press out excess water between two towels without twisting or writing, then lay your pillows flat on a clean dry towel or rack. Flip them hourly so they dry evenly. (I put the rack above a heater vent to speed up the process.)

Line Drying

Press excess water out of the pillow between two towels, then hang them from the long side from the clothing line. Every hour or so, flip and fluff the pillow to help it dry evenly.

Pro Tip

Make sure your pillows are bone dry before you put on a pillowcase, or they may develop mold and mildew.

Cleaning Non-Washable Pillows

To clean non-washable pillows, wring out a cool, soapy rag then use it to wipe the cover and dab stains. Wring out a fresh cloth dampened with water and wipe the pillow to remove the soap residue. Let it air dry away from direct heat or light.

Pro Tip

To deodorize nonwashable pillows, I sprinkle them with baking soda then vacuum both sides with the upholstery attachment after a couple of hours. Or set them in a shady spot outdoors for the afternoon.

How Often Should You Wash Pillows?

Washing pillows twice a year helps keep them smelling and looking their best. To fluff pillows and eliminate dust, tumble them using the low- or no-heat for 5 minutes.

Fluff Pillows Between Washing

To fluff and freshen pillows in the dryer, tumble them using the low- or no-heat for 5 minutes. You can do this as often as you like.

To fluff pillows by hand, hold an end in each hand then push and pull your hands together to break up clumps. Rotate the pillow and repeat on each end. Then grab a short end and shake the pillow to redistribute the filling.

Know When to Replace Them

Even with regular washing, pillows only last 2-3 years. To test if your pillow is worn out, fold it in half and hold it like that for 15 seconds. If it stays folded when you let go, it’s time for a new one.

And, of course, replace them any time that washing your pillows doesn’t get rid of unpleasant odors or leave them feeling fluffy and clean.

Now that your pillows are clean, are you ready to learn how to clean your mattress?

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