This Travel Essential Is Filthier than You Think

published Jun 21, 2023
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One unfortunate aspect of travel is that once you finally get to where you’re going, you’re exhausted. Many people try to get a jumpstart on recovery by catching up on sleep on the plane or in the car. A comfortable travel pillow is crucial for this. Lots of people have a favorite type that they swear is the best; mine happens to be a bone pillow

No matter what kind of travel pillow you use, there’s one thing they almost all have in common: how filthy they are. In addition to the common dirt, facial oils, and other things found on even a typical pillow, these travel pillows, which are often attached to the outside of a bag, also frequently come into contact with airplane seats, chairs in waiting areas at the airport, the backs of bathroom stall doors, Uber seats, and so on. I’m guessing these are not surfaces you want to put your face on. 

Although some travel pillows come with removable covers, making washing them straightforward, a surprising number of travel pillows don’t have them. So how can you keep these clean? 

How to Keep Your Travel Pillow Clean

One option is to bring a cover for your travel pillow, even if it doesn’t come with one. An extra pillowcase will do just fine, even if your pillow is a different shape. Keep the pillowcase inside your bag and wrap your pillow with it when you’re ready to use it. This ensures that the surface you put your face on is clean. It’s also easy to wash the pillowcase at home, although if you carry your pillow outside of your bag, the pillow should still be washed. 

If you don’t want to be bothered with this extra step of taking a pillowcase on and off while you travel (and I don’t blame you!), you’ll need to wash your pillow upon returning home. Just like you can wash most throw pillows, you can wash your travel pillows — and if you never have, you probably should. Here’s how.

How to Clean a Travel Pillow in the Washing Machine

  • First, be sure to read the instructions on the label. Some materials, such as memory foam, should only be hand-washed. However, many others, including those with microbeads, can be washed in the washing machine. 
  • Use cold or lukewarm water and mild detergent on a delicate cycle.
  • To dry, place in the dryer (if you can) or air-dry, making sure to reshape any pillow forms that got misshapen in the washing process. 

How to Hand-Wash a Travel Pillow

  • Another option is to clean your pillow by hand, using a soapy rag to scrub the outside of your pillow. 
  • Follow with a damp rag to wash off soap residue. 
  • Let it air-dry.

How to Disinfect a Travel Pillow

In between washings or instead of washing (if you fear it’ll ruin the pillow), you’ll want to disinfect your travel pillow. I love to use this Clorox Disinfecting Mist for disinfecting soft surfaces, and it’s perfect for use on travel pillows. Simply spray with the fine mist and let it dry thoroughly before using the pillow again.