how to clean pillows

Can You Wash Pillows?

For the most part, yes you can! Is pillow washing part of your house cleaning checklist? Probably not. Many people wash sheets, pillowcases and even throw blankets once a week or more, but they rarely think about their pillows.

That leads to our second question: How often should you wash pillows? At least twice per year—more if you see dirt or notice persistent odors. If you’ve never considered washing pillows, read on to see why you may want to reconsider.

Pillows can harbor a variety of nasty things, including dust, sweat, saliva, dirt, dead skin, mold and dust mites. If you’re not washing pillows as part of your routine, all that icky stuff can cause the pillow’s fill material to break down—and you’re left with a lumpy, dirty and uncomfortable pillow.

Sleeping on a dirty pillow can also harm your health. From illnesses to allergic reactions, a dirty pillow can cause all sorts of issues. If you keep waking up from a poor night’s sleep with watery eyes and a stuffy nose, that dirty pillow could be the culprit.

Pro Tip: You should also clean and disinfect your mattress for the same reasons you should wash pillows.

How to Wash Pillows

Most pillows with synthetic fill can be machine-washed and dried, but some are “dry clean only.” Read the manufacturer’s instructions on the care label before washing pillows in the washing machine. If you ignore those instructions, you may end up with a ruined pillow.

You should wash two pillows at the same time to balance the load and allow better circulation of the water and detergent. The agitators in top-loading machines can be rough on pillows and shorten their lives, so set the machine on the “gentle” cycle for the shortest time. Set the water temperature selector on hot, as it takes a water temperature of 140°F or higher to kill dust mites, bacteria and mold.

Add a tablespoon of a mild, low suds liquid detergent, as powdered detergents can leave your pillows with a residue. Run the pillows through the machine’s rinse cycle twice. This will make sure all the soap and dirt have been removed. Run the pillows through an extra spin cycle to remove as much moisture as possible.

Dry the pillows according to the instructions on the manufacturer’s care label. If it’s safe to dry your pillows in a dryer, place them inside along with a few tennis balls or dryer balls. This will give them some extra fluff and help the fill material spread evenly. Your pillow must be completely dry before you use it, or you could be inviting mildew, dust mites and bacteria to return.

Pro Tip: Before washing a pillow with synthetic fill, fold it in half. If it doesn’t bounce right back into shape, the filling inside has broken down. Skip the wash, toss it out and buy another pillow.

How to Wash Down Pillows

Many pillows with down or feather fill can be washed and even dried. In fact, you can clean your duck or goose down and feather pillows over and over with no issues. Keeping down and feather pillows clean is not only good for your health, it can also extend their lifespan.

Wash down pillows the same way you wash a pillow with synthetic fill. You’ll still use the hottest water temperature, but it won’t hurt down or feather fill. Avoid fabric softeners because they can coat the feathers or down with residue that reduces their fluffiness. It’s critical to fully rinse and dry your down pillows because of their density. Use the dryer’s no-heat setting to avoid damaging the fill or creating unpleasant odors.

How to Clean Pillows That Can’t Be Washed

Pillows with buckwheat hulls or millet fill can’t be machine washed—but you can wash the pillowcase in most cases. Open the zippered end of the pillowcase, empty the hulls into a large bowl and set it in the sun for natural disinfecting and deodorizing. Unless the manufacturer’s label states otherwise, wash the cover in cold water using a mild detergent and dry it on medium. The pillowcase and the fill must be completely dry before refilling the pillow.

Memory foam and latex pillows can’t survive machine washing and shouldn’t be steam cleaned, but you can “hand wash” and spot clean them. Mix wash soap and water in a bowl until bubbles form on top of the water. Scoop up some bubbles on a damp cloth or sponge and rub the pillow lightly until the stain disappears. You may need to reapply the soap bubbles a few times before the stain fades.

Pro Tip: Add white vinegar to the mixture if your pillow has an unpleasant odor.

For stubborn stains like blood, makeup or wine, a cotton swab soaked with hydrogen peroxide is perfect for dabbing away the stain. After hand washing or spot cleaning, let the pillow dry completely in a well-ventilated area. After two hours, check the pillow to make sure it’s completely dry, and replace the cover or let it dry longer.

The best way to keep a latex or memory foam pillow clean and sanitary is to use a machine washable cover to protect it. A zippered pillow protector is a good idea for any pillow, especially those that can’t be machine washed.

If your pillow is preventing a good night’s sleep, it may be time to give it a good cleaning. And if your home is less clean and organized than you like, it may be time for a good cleaning from The Maids. Our service will leave your home cleaner and healthier than ever before, so you can focus more on the important things in life.

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