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How to Wash Pillows for
a Better Night’s Sleep

Blog Title Shape
March 21, 2024

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You do your best to keep your home clean and healthy. You sweep and vacuum, keep up with the laundry, and maybe clean the mattresses occasionally. But what about your bed pillows? Many people wash sheets, pillowcases, comforters, and even throw blankets once a week or more. But too many of us rarely think about pillows, let alone how to wash pillows. If you want a better night’s sleep, it’s time to learn how to clean pillows.

Is Washing Pillows That Important?

Your pillow is home to dead skin cells, sweat, bacteria, dust mites, mold, and mildew. And that crisp, clean pillowcase is your only defense against these unwanted bedfellows. If you wake up sneezing or get up in the mornings with a sniffle, it could be allergies or a cold. But if you haven’t cleaned your pillows lately, it could be those germs and allergens to blame.

You’re not alone if you don’t know how to wash pillows. You can wash some bed pillows in the washing machine, and they should be on your house cleaning checklist. How often should you wash pillows? To minimize the buildup of germs and make your pillow last longer, washing them twice yearly is a good rule of thumb.

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. Unless you enjoy sleeping on a lumpy, dirty, and uncomfortable pillow, it’s time to give them some TLC. When you wash your bed pillows correctly, you can keep them clean and the fill in good condition.

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

How to Clean Pillows in a Washer

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 proceeding. Cleaning pillows in a front- or top-loading machine without an agitator is the preferred method for cleaning your pillows. If you use a top-loading machine with an agitator, place the pillows vertically and run a short cycle on the gentle setting.

  • Wash two pillows together to balance the load and allow better circulation of the water and detergent.
  • Set the water temperature selector to hot to kill dust mites, bacteria, and mold.
  • Add a tablespoon of liquid detergent, and run the pillows through the wash cycle.
  • Put the pillows through the rinse cycle twice to remove dirt and detergent residue.
  • Run the pillows through an extra spin cycle to remove as much moisture as possible.
  • Dry your 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 with a few tennis or dryer balls. This will give them extra fluff and help the fill material spread evenly. Make sure your pillow is completely dry before using it, or you could invite 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 back into shape, the filling inside has broken down. Skip the wash, toss it out, and buy another pillow.

How to Wash Pillows With Down Filling

Cleaning pillows with down or feather fill is possible, and occasional cleaning keeps the pillows fresh and healthy. 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 good for your health and sleeping comfort.

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, reducing their fluffiness. It’s critical to thoroughly 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 Wash Wool Pillows

Though wool pillows may help you stay cool and snore-free—and offer certain self-cleaning benefits—the cotton liners will need cleaning occasionally. The cotton liner creates a barrier between your head and the wool that wicks away moisture. Eventually, the moisture and contaminants can create a breeding ground for bacteria and other health concerns.

The best way to wash wool pillows in your washer is to use the wool setting if you have one. Alternatively, you can use cold water and the delicate cycle to ensure the wool filler doesn’t permanently lose its shape. Use a minimal amount of mild detergent and include a cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle. The acid in vinegar helps remove detergent residue and softens the wool fibers. Skip the dryer and let your wool pillows air dry for a couple of days.

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.

For blood stains, 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 in a well-ventilated area. After two hours, check the pillow to ensure it’s completely dry. If not, let it dry a little longer before you replace the cover.

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

How to Keep Pillows Fresh and Clean Longer

A typical bed pillow lasts one to two years on average—if properly cared for. That lifespan means you sleep on your pillow hundreds of times before replacing it. Washing your pillows as recommended will ensure buildup and germs don’t get out of hand. However, there are a few ways to keep those pillows fresher longer.

Wash pillowcases at least weekly, along with the sheets and other bedding. Invest in zippered pillow covers for easy removal. Pillow covers protect your pillow from moisture, dirt, and germs, preventing frequent cleaning. Damp wipe the covers monthly to prevent buildup and wash them twice yearly. It’s also a healthy idea to know how to disinfect pillows between washings. Fabric-safe disinfectants, natural sunlight, and rubbing alcohol can be used safely on most pillows.

The Maids® is Your Partner for a Cleaner, Healthier Home

How do you know when to say goodbye to your pillow? The National Sleep Foundation suggests changing your pillows at least every two years. Some pillows can last much longer with proper cleaning and care, but it’s good to know when to call it quits. When your pillow doesn’t smell fresh after washing, or it’s lumpy and flat, it’s time.

If your pillow prevents a good night’s sleep, it may be time to give it a good cleaning. If your home won’t let you relax and recharge, it may be time for a healthy cleaning. Experience a clean you can feel with all your senses when you get your free personalized cleaning quote today.

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