How To Clean A Pillow (Memory Foam, Feather Pillows & More)

When it comes to bedding, most homeowners are usually meticulous about cleaning their sheets and comforters. Unfortunately, the narrative changes with pillows. Over time, pillows can accumulate dead skin cells, bugs, drool, and dust mites that, if left uncleaned, can taint your pillow yellow and make it less comfortable to use or give it funny drool stenches. That's why it's crucial to ensure your pillows receive as much attention as everything else on your bed.

But how does one clean a pillow? It seems like a daunting tasks considering the fillings in these pillows. Many avoid washing pillows because they don't want it to lose its loftiness and the fillers to chunk up. But, there are several ways to safely clean a pillow without destroying it. First, ensure that you read the manufacturer's instructions on how to clean the pillow since each pillow is constructed differently. In case there are no cleaning instructions, feel free to follow our guide below.

Here's everything you need to know about keeping your bed pillows fresh, clean, and serving you for longer.

Is it Okay to Wash Pillows in Your Washing Machine?

While many pillows can survive in a washing machine, they need slightly different care. So, before throwing your dirty pillow into the washer, make sure you know what type of fill it has and check the fabric for any rips or tears. You wouldn't want the fill to clog up your washer.

You should also ensure that the spin cycle speed is at a higher setting to get rid of as much excess water as possible if the type of pillow you have can handle that. Don't forget to check the tags or your company's website to confirm that they allow machine washing. If they don't, then try washing it in the sink instead.

With each fill needing different care instructions, below is how you can wash the different types of pillows.

What You Need to Wash Your Pillows

Getting a low-subsiding, high-efficiency laundry detergent (powder or liquid) can work just well on its own. However, if you're dealing with tough stains, use this potent solution and detergent: 1 cup dishwasher solution, ½ cup washing soda, 1 cup bleach( feather pillows excluded - you should only add a small amount of detergent).

If you use a pillow case (which you always should), then take it off first, mostly if it's a colored pillow case to prevent the bleach from destroying it's color. It's also easier and advisable to wash the pillow encasement on its own as you'll see later in our cleaning steps.

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How to Clean Fiberfill and Down Pillows

Most fiberfill and down pillows are machine-friendly, meaning you can just toss them in your washing machine for cleaning. Consider washing two pillows simultaneously to help keep your washing machine balanced and avoid unevenly distributed loads. While you can use any washer, front-or-top-loading washing machines without agitators are your best bet. However, if an agitator-style top loader is the only alternative you have, place your pillows in the tub vertically to reduce the chances of them getting ruined by the agitator.

Take the following steps to clean your pillow, keeping in mind manufacturer's instructions if any.

Step 1: Remove the Pillowcase

If you've placed your pillow in a sham or pillowcase, take it off to wash it separately. Some pillows feature additional zip-on cases that you should remove as well and wash separately from the pillow. If your pillow didn't come with a removable cover, and you don't use a pillow case, then skip this step.

Step 2: Put Your Pillow in Your Washing Machine

As mentioned earlier, it's perfectly okay to wash your down and fiberfill pillow in your washing machine. If your pillow has tough stains, mostly stains that have been there for a while or greasy stains, try rubbing the soiled areas with white vinegar and warm water before adding them to your washer. Think of it a pre-clean phase before actually cleaning it. Most times the pre-clean step helps the stain from spreading to the rest of the pillow when washing.

Step 3: Add Your Laundry Detergent

For a normal wash job, add a cup of your regular detergent. To get your bed pillows ultra white, also add the following: 1 cup of powdered dishwasher detergent, bleach (the recommended amount), and ½ a cup of borax. Alternatively, you can just use a special detergent specially meant for discoloring white garments. Make sure you do NOT use this method if the pillow isn't made from white fabirc.

Step 4: Start the Wash Cycle

Adjust your washer's settings to run with hot water and go through a 2nd rinse cycle. If your washer has the "bulky/large" cycle, use it and let your machine work its magic!

Step 5: Place Your Pillows in the Dryer

Put your pillows in the dryer and then adjust the settings accordingly, as we'll discuss further below on how to dry pillows. For instance, if you're using feather pillows, put your dryer on the fluff/air/no heat setting. And for synthetic pillows, adjust your dryer to low heat.

Step 6: Check Your Pillows

Once the dryer has finished its cycle, take out the pillows and feel them to check for dampness. If the pillows don't feel quite dry, follow the drying process once again and check them a second time. Otherwise, the bed pillows are clean and ready for use.

How to Clean Memory Foam Pillows

While memory foam is usually a lifesaver for many sleepers, it needs a little extra TLC, especially when it comes to washing. Here, you want to avoid the washing machine and instead opt for vacuuming or hand washing and spot treating.

Here's a breakdown of how to hand wash your foam pillows.

Step 1: Remove the Cover

If your pillows have pillowcases, take them off before you start the cleaning process. Most memory foam pillows come with zip-on protective covers that you should also remove. You can wash these items separately in a washing machine.

Step 2: Fill a Tub With Water

Washers are too rough for density memory foam pillows, and that's why pillows of this material should be hand washed. Fill your tub or sink with warm water. Remember, you only need enough water to cover your pillow.

Step 3: Add Your Detergent

For every pillow, add a tablespoon of detergent to the water. Use your hands to swirl the solution around to bubble it up a bit and get it evenly mixed.

Step 4: Wash Your Pillow

Put your pillows in water, moving them around to help the solution work its way in. Use your hands to squeeze and massage the pillows to help get out the dirt.

Step 5: Rinse the Pillow

Run your pillows under fresh water. Here, you need to ensure that you get out as much soap as you can, inspecting for suds in the runout. This process might take several minutes longer than the washing process.

Step 6: Dry the Pillow

Since high heat levels can ruin your memory foam pillow and cause it to crumble, don't put it in the dryer. Instead, consider laying them out in the sun to air dry completely.

Step 7: Check Your Pillow

Memory foam is usually susceptible to holding water for long, as it's made of a sponge-like material. That said, ensure no moisture is left in the pillow before putting it back on your couch or bed. Otherwise, it will start growing mold or mildew.

How to Clean Pillows With Buckwheat Hulls

Since liquid ruins buckwheat hulls, you shouldn't place the hulls in your washer. To clean your pillow cover, remove the buckwheat hulls first and place them inside a large tub. Make sure you check the cover's tag for any special instructions before putting it in the washer. When it comes to caring for the buckwheat, put them evenly on a baking sheet and move them outside or to a windowsill to dry out any moisture inside the buckwheat hulls.

Spot Cleaning Minor Stains

For minor stains, consider spot-cleaning your pillows in between major washings or before putting them in the washing machine. Spot cleaning the pillow covers is also the only effective way of cleaning foam pillows without removing the fill.

Remember to follow the specific cleaning instructions for whatever stain remover you settle for. But basically, you'll want to saturate or spray the stain directly, pinch the pillow fabric on either side of the dirty mark, and then rub the fabric sides together, pushing the spot treatment into the dirty mark.

Leave it for a few minutes or overnight (for dried, old stains) to soak, and then use a clean wet rag to blot and rinse your pillow around the soiled area. It's always wise to use warm water to rinse the treated stain as it's best suited for loosening grime. Feel free to put foam pillow covers and non-foam pillows into your washing machine once the spot treatment has soaked in.

How Often Should You Wash Your Pillow?

Unlike other bedding, pillows have a grace period when it comes to maintenance and cleaning. Most experts recommend washing pillows 2 to 3 times per year. This translates to about once every 4 to 6 months. However, that can change depending on some factors, such as your regional climate. For instance, if you reside in hotter areas, you should wash your pillow as often as 4 times per year.

Related Content: How often should you wash your sheets

Importance of a Clean Pillow

Everyone knows that they should clean their pillowcases regularly (about every 2 to 3 weeks). However, less well-known is that our pillows also need the same treatment but just not as frequently.

The reasons behind washing pillowcases and the pillows themselves are pretty much alike. Our bedding are traps for millions of small particles that float around our bodies, turning where we sleep into breeding grounds for some tiny unwelcome house guests.

As you sleep, your body sheds millions of dead skin cells, which can accumulate over time and feed dust mites. While not harmful per-se, these parasites feed on the skin cells, producing droppings that can cause allergic reactions.

All that nighttime sweating and drooling can also create a perfect environment for mold spores and mildew, which, in turn, exacerbate symptoms in allergy sufferers.

That's not all!

Residue from hair products, greasy body products, make-up, and skin and hair oils can work their way into your pillow, too, leaving your pillows stained and aggravating skin conditions.

Another reason you should wash your pillows is that dirty pillows can massively ruin your skin care routine. Note that bed pillows are a great source of bacteria that can easily cause acne, even if you use a clean pillowcase.

While the case you use offers a barrier between your pillow and the skin, bacteria can still find their way onto the upper surface of your skin, causing medical conditions like acne to emerge. More importantly, subclinical acne is usually linked to failing to clean your pillows regularly. This type of acne sits deep within the skin and normally shows as aggressive red bumps.

Lastly, it's vital to wash your bed pillows if you own pets and often share your mattress with them. While sleeping with your cats and dogs may be cute and cuddly, you should remember that it also takes the urgent need to wash your bedding to another level.

How to Keep a Pillow Clean

Generally, the best way to keep your pillow clean and improve your sleep hygiene will depend on the material it's made of. That's why you should always check the tag on your pillow before washing it for any special cleaning instructions.

Otherwise, follow these useful tips for keeping your pillow clean:

It's always wise to leave your bed pillows in the sun for a few hours every 10 to 12 days to remove dust mites

Vinegar or baking soda is the best alternative to clean pillows producing a rotten smell

Always use gentle cycles and a little detergent. Ideally, use cold or warm water during washing

Give your pillow time to dry completely before using it again

Preferably, you should wash your pillows every 4 to 6 months.

Wearing head scarfs for women and washing hair before bed for men to keep away hair oils can also help keep the mattress clean. And for drooling and spills when eating in bed, consider purchasing a waterproof pillow protector.

In addition to the tips mentioned above, you should always go through the pillow care guide on the labels. Most of them come with step-by-step manuals for cleaning your pillows.

How to Dry Pillows

There's totally nothing wrong with allowing your bed pillows to air-dry. You can also put them in the dryer, depending on the cleaning instructions on your label. For instance, foam pillows can easily catch fire when they come into contact with heat. In case you use your dryer, run it for several cycles to ensure your pillows dry all the way through. When drying, consider removing pillows and fluffing them periodically to prevent clumping. This can also promote even drying and reduce the drying process. Tossing a few tennis balls or dryer balls in your dryer with the pillows can help prevent clumping.

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How to Take Care of Your Pillow Long-term

While pillow protectors aren't always the most comfortable for sleeping, it's wise to use them to avoid washing your pillows as often. Also, consider kneading your pillows once a week like a loaf of bread to allow the shredded foam inside to open up. Putting them on the dryer for about 10 minutes a week on no heat can help keep your pillows fluffed as well.

Most sleep experts recommend using the dryer for down and down alternative pillows. When you buy a new pillow, put it in the dryer every 3 to 4 weeks for about an hour on regular heat to remove moisture and sweat that has collected. That way, your bed pillows will stay fluffier for longer. And if you have allergies, put the pillow in your dryer on high heat for about 20 minutes to kill off dust mites.

Closing Thoughts

If you've just finished cleaning your pillows and they still have the same smell they had before cleaning, it's time to toss them. Old pillows that don't spring back into shape after folding them in half also indicate that it's time for a new pillow.

Bear in mind that if your pillow didn't smell before cleaning but began to afterward probably wasn't dried long enough. Consider rewashing it and letting it dry for a longer period. To extend the useful lifespan of your pillows, use a cover under the pillowcase and clean both regularly.

Now that you know how to wash and spot clean pillows, it's time to include them in your cleaning schedule and start reaping the benefits. If your washer is big enough to hold it all in one go, toss your pillow case, sheets, and other bedding in the machine and prepare for the best restorative sleep of your life.

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