The Right Way to Wash Pillows (and How Often You Should Be Cleaning Them)

published Apr 9, 2024
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How often do you wash your pillows? Probably not as much as you should. Regular bed pillows should be washed at least once or twice a year or more, depending on if you have pets or allergies, or you are a sweaty sleeper. Throw pillows, on the other hand, can go longer between washes.

Here’s how to wash pillows without ruining them.

How to Wash a Pillow

Experts Delah Gomasi, managing director and CEO of Australia-based MaidForYou; Katie Dills, brand president of The Cleaning Authority; Julia Forbes, a sleep product expert at Sleep Advisor; and Marten Carlson, a Certified Sleep Science Coach at Mattress Clarity, recommended following this step-by-step guide for cleaning pillows.

  1. Remove the pillowcase and check the pillow’s tag. This will let you know whether you can wash your pillow in the washing machine or if it needs to be hand-washed.
  2. For machine-washable pillows, put them in the washing machine with the settings set to a delicate cycle and warm water (unless the tag says something different). Use less detergent than you’d use for a typical load. You can wash the pillowcase or cover at the same time. Run the wash and do a second rinse cycle to ensure all the detergent is rinsed out of the pillow.
  3. For hand-wash-only pillows, head to the tub or sink. Fill it up with warm water and add a tablespoon of liquid soap. Submerge the pillow and knead it with your hands to get the soap into the filling. When you’re satisfied with the wash job, rinse the pillow until there’s no soap left and squeeze out all the water you can.
  4. It’s best to air-dry your pillow; if that’s not possible, put it in the dryer on either the air tumble or the lowest heat setting. Be sure your pillow is fully dry before using it.

How to Wash Memory Foam Pillows

Memory foam pillows retain water and cannot be put in the washer and dryer. Instead, you’ll want to hand-wash and not fully submerge them. Remove the outer and inner cases (those can go in the washing machine), then sprinkle baking soda over the memory foam and let it sit for an hour. Flip the pillow after the hour and repeat the baking soda application on that side. Combine room-temperature water and gentle, unscented liquid detergent, and wipe the outside of the pillow with it using a cloth. Use constant motion so water doesn’t pool or soak into the pillow. Then allow the pillow to air dry.

How to Wash Feather Pillows

Ideally, you would hand-wash and air dry your feather pillows. Most of them, though, can be washed on a gentle cycle and tumble-dried with little to no heat. 

How to Wash Throw Pillows

Throw pillows can often be put in the washing machine as per the instructions above, but be sure to remove all covers and check the tag first. If your throw pillows have decorative elements that can’t be removed, spot-clean them with a mild detergent and cool water, or get them dry-cleaned. Remember not to put them in the dryer if you can avoid it — air drying is always best.

How to Remove Odors and Stains from Pillows

If you sweat at night or regularly go to bed with wet hair or hair products in, your pillows may start to have a yellow or brown stain and a bit of an odor. You can neutralize this by sprinkling the surface with baking soda and letting it sit for an hour. Then wash your pillows with Forbes’ suggested solution: A mixture of half a cup of vinegar, one cup of dishwasher detergent, 3/4 cup of baking soda, and three tablespoons of liquid laundry detergent. “This combination can help get out the toughest stains and smells from your pillow,” Forbes says.

How to Make Sure You Don’t Ruin Your Pillow

As long as you’re following the instructions on your pillow’s tag, you should be able to wash it without ruining it. But if the tag has worn off (or it never had one to begin with), the best bet is to hand-wash the pillow and air dry it. Dills has some other advice as well: Don’t stuff your washer with more than two pillows, because it “can cause uneven washing and even trigger error warnings from your machine,” she says. 

Also, go easy on the detergent. With pillows in particular, your washing machine might have a hard time getting all of it out before the cycle is finished if you use too much.