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How to Wash Pillows for
a Better Night’s Sleep

November 3, 2022

how to clean pillows

You do your best to keep your home clean and healthy. You sweep and vacuum, keep up with the laundry, and maybe even clean the mattresses once in a while. 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.

So think about this. Your pillow can be full of dead skin cells, sweat, bacteria, dust mites, and even mold and mildew. And that crisp, clean pillowcase can only do so much to keep all those contaminants from your face, eyes, and lungs.

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 because you don’t know how to wash a pillow, it could be those germs and allergens to blame.

If you want a better night’s sleep, it’s time to learn how to wash pillows. When you know how to clean pillows the easy way, you’ll be much more likely to keep your bed cleaner more often.

Can You Wash Pillows?

Yes, you can wash some bed pillows in the washing machine, and it’s a cleaning task that should be part of your house cleaning checklist. 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 don’t know exactly how to wash pillows, you’re not alone. Read on to see why it’s a good idea, how to do it, and how often.

As mentioned, pillows can harbor various nasty things, and 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. As long as you wash your bed pillows correctly, you can keep them clean and keep the fill in good condition.

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

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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 machine washing pillows. If you ignore those instructions, washing pillows in a washing machine could ruin them.

Washing pillows in a front- or top-loading machine without an agitator is the preferred method for cleaning your pillows. If you are using a top-loading machine with an agitator, place the pillows vertically and agitate for only a couple of minutes on the gentle setting.

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.

After washing pillows, dry them 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 Pillows With Down Filling

Washing pillows with down or feather fill is not only possible, it’s easy and helps keep the pillows newer longer. 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 make them more comfortable.

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 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.

While knowing how to wash pillows is important, it’s also good to know when to replace them. The National Sleep Foundation suggests changing your pillows at least every two years, but some types of pillows can last much longer with proper cleaning and care.

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. Get your free estimate today and find out how we can make your home a beautifully clean space week after week.

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