How to Wash Pillows and How Often You Should

When was the last time you laundered your pillows? Here’s how to wash them in the machine or by hand, and how often you should.

Assorted sizes of pillows arranged on a bed positioned beneath a sunny window

You’re good about washing your sheets, and maybe even your duvet cover or comforter. But when was the last time you laundered your pillows? You’d be surprised at what a difference it makes in how supportive they are.

And, if you have allergies, washing your pillows properly can remove allergens and dust mites that ruin your rest. So, here’s how to wash your pillows to get them clean, safe, and smelling fresh again.

What Type of Pillows are Washable?

Down, feather, and “down alternative”: Hand-washing is not recommended because it causes the feathers to clump. Instead, wash these pillows in your machine using cool water and a mild detergent. Dry them on low heat.

Polyester: Wash these pillows in your machine or by hand using warm water and only 1-2 tablespoons of detergent. If using the machine, select a gentle cycle and launder two at a time to keep the machine balanced.

How to Clean Non-Washable Pillows

Memory foam or latex: If your pillow is made from shredded foam, you can wash it by hand or in the machine using a gentle cycle, then dried on low heat. If it’s a solid foam, remove and launder the cover in warm water, vacuum both sides of the foam, and then let it air out until the cover is ready.

Buckwheat hulls: Empty the filling into a shallow box and launder the cover in the machine. Meanwhile, put the box of hulls in a sunny spot outside, sheltered from the window, to help reduce odors and dry out the hulls. Add the hulls back to the cover once it’s fully dry.

How to Machine Wash Pillows

Step 1: Add your pillows to the machine. Try to wash two pillows at a time so your machine stays balanced throughout the cycle. If you have a small washer and king-sized pillows, you may need to wash one and fill the remaining part of the washer drum with a towel to balance the weight.

Step 2: Add half of your usual amount of laundry detergent. If you’d like to brighten the pillow cover, add 1/2 to 1 cup of oxygenated bleach, too. (Oxiclean is one.) It’s best not to use chlorine bleach to whiten pillows, though, since it can damage the fabric and filling. Don’t add fabric softener, either: it will make your pillow stuffing clump together and keep it from fluffing.

Step 3: Launder using the delicate cycle and appropriate temperature (cold for natural fillings like down or cotton, warm for polyester). Set the machine to run a second rinse to get out all the detergent and any other residue. Wait for the washer to stop spinning before you remove the pillows.

Step 4: Dry your pillows. Set the dryer to delicate or low heat, then add two pillows and two clean tennis balls. The tennis balls help fluff pillows and keep the filling from clumping together. They’ll make noise but won’t damage your machine. If you prefer to line-dry, hang pillows from the long sides and rotate them every 20-30 minutes.

Step 5: Check your pillows and repeat if needed. If you’re using the dryer, you’ll most likely have to run two and perhaps three cycles to get them completely dry. Turn them over between cycles to help them dry evenly. If you’re line-drying your pillows, fluff them by hand once they’re dry. Never put damp pillows into a pillowcase or sleep on them, or they’ll develop mold or mildew inside.

How to Hand Wash Pillows

If you’d prefer to hand-wash your polyester-filled pillows, here’s how:

1. Add four inches of warm water to a large sink or tub. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of liquid laundry detergent, then add a pillow, pressing down to submerge it.

2. Use your hands to squeeze the suds through the pillow. Carefully turn it over and repeat.

3. Drain the basin and squeeze the soapy water out of the pillow. Push the pillow to one side, refill the basin with water again, and squeeze the pillow to release suds. Repeat until the water is clear.

4. Gently press the excess water out of the pillow. Dry as indicated above.

How Often Should You Wash Pillows?

You should fluff pillows by hand every day when you make your bed. To fluff your pillow, grab one end in each hand, then push and pull, shaking the pillow as you do. This helps keep the fibers separated and dry, so your pillow stays full and lasts longer.

Even with daily fluffing, you should still wash your pillows immediately after any illness and otherwise once a season to keep dust mites under control and reduce allergens. It’s smart to deep clean your mattress at the same time.

Washing won’t make them last forever, though: pillows should be replaced every 2-3 years or any time they smell off despite washing. You can tell if the pillow is worn out if you fold the pillow in half and it stays folded instead of springing back to flat.

Where to Next?

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4 Comments

  1. Great tips but my pillows are duck feather/down and they’ve gone yellow with sweat. I’ve never washed pillows before but the ones I have are perfect for me, and are still in good nick, so not willing to throw them out. You seem to be talking about synthetic pillows, will your method be safe to use with duck feather/down?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      This method works for feather/down pillows, too, so long as their fabric exterior is in good shape and free from tears. You’ll want to be sure to rinse them a second time, and use tennis balls in the dryer to fluff them. That also prevents them from clumping and developing mold.

  2. Michelle Muller says:

    What about memory foam pillows?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Memory foam can’t be washed in a machine. To clean memory foam pillows, spot treat the surface with a damp washcloth and some soapy water. Be careful that you don’t drench the foam, though. Then dry it in a sunny spot with good air circulation, but never put it in a dryer since that will damage it, too.

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