How to Wash Pillows

Key Takeaways

  • Why Pillow Cleaning Matters: Regular cleaning of pillows is essential to remove sweat, hair, dead skin, and other debris that accumulate over time. Most pillows can be washed every three to six months, but those with severe allergies may need to wash their pillows more frequently.
  • How to Clean Pillows: The cleaning method varies depending on the pillow’s fill, with some pillows being machine washable, while others require hand-washing or spot-cleaning. It is crucial to follow the manufacturer’s instructions or specific guidelines for each type of pillow.
  • Maintaining and Replacing Pillows as Needed: Apart from washing, using pillow protectors and pillowcases, spot-cleaning stains, and airing out the pillow regularly can help minimize the accumulation of dirt and extend the lifespan of the pillow. Knowing when to replace the pillow is also crucial, otherwise, you may have to deal with a loss of support, unpleasant odors, allergy symptoms, and lumps.

Pillows absorb your sweat, hair, dead skin, and other debris night after night. Washing the pillowcase freshens up your pillow, but if you don’t clean your pillow as well, all you’re doing is placing a clean cover over a dirty core.

Even the best pillows benefit from regular cleaning. Most people are fine washing their pillows every three to six months—however, if you have severe allergies, you may need to wash your pillows more often.

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Washing Your Pillow

If you wash your pillow the wrong way, you can ruin the material, compromising its support and comfort. We strongly recommend reviewing the manufacturer’s instructions on the pillow’s care label before you wash it.

The exact steps you’ll take to clean your pillow depends on its fill—some are machine washable, others must be hand-washed or spot-cleaned. If your pillow’s care label is missing or too faded to read, our guidelines for each fill should suffice.

If your pillow is bigger than king-size, such as a body pillow, you will need to wash it in an industrial washer. Since most people don’t own an industrial washing machine, you may have to spot clean instead.

Memory Foam Pillows

Whether your memory foam pillow is machine washable or not depends on its fill. Pillows with a block of memory foam cannot be machine washed because the material may break apart in the washer or dryer. However, you can clean a shredded memory foam pillow on a delicate wash cycle with mild detergent and dry it on low heat.

To clean a solid memory foam pillow, strip off any pillowcases and covers. Throw them in the washing machine with your other bedding.

Take your pillow over to your bathtub and fill a bucket with warm water. Add a little bit of liquid detergent to the water to dilute it, then tip the bucket to let the water flow over your pillow in the tub. Massage your pillow until there are no more suds, then rinse the pillow out with clean water. Again, squeeze the water out and let the pillow dry in the sun or under a fan.

See our guide on finding the best memory foam pillows.

Latex Pillows

Like memory foam, solid latex pillows are not machine washable. Prepare a bucket of water with a small amount of detergent, then run it over your latex pillow in the bathtub. Press the pillow to get the suds out, then rinse the pillow until the water’s clear. Squeeze the excess water from the latex pillow and place it in the sun or under a fan to dry.

Down and Feather Pillows

You can throw feather and down pillows in a washing machine. However, check that there are no tears or holes in the cover or quills poking through before washing.

If you load your washing machine from the top rather than from the side, we recommend washing two pillows per load. Place the pillows vertically around the agitator (also known as a spindle) if it’s a top-loading machine; otherwise, you can lie the pillows flat.

The washer should run on a gentle cycle with a small amount of laundry detergent. The pillows should be only damp, not soaked when the cycle finishes.

Once washed, place the pillows in the dryer on low heat. You can throw in dryer balls or clean tennis balls to fluff up the pillows and speed up the dry time.

Polyester Pillows

As with feather and down pillows, load two pillows per wash if your washing machine has an agitator. Use a mild detergent and a cold rinse cycle, then dry the pillows on low heat.

Buckwheat Pillows

Buckwheat pillows cannot be washed, because soaking the hulls in water makes them brittle and less able to contour to your head and neck. The hulls may even grow moldy if you try to wash them.

Instead, carefully remove the hulls from the pillowcase, checking that none are sticking to the inside of the pillowcase. Wash the pillowcase in cold water with mild detergent. To avoid shrinkage, hang your pillowcase on a rack or clothesline to air dry.

Other Ways to Keep Your Pillows Clean

Washing is your pillow is a good way to eliminate all the gross germs, oils, and sweat it accumulates. However, there are other measures you can take to minimize what gets inside your pillow.

Cover your pillow with a pillow protector and a pillowcase. The extra layers protect your pillow from dead skin, dust, face oils, sweat, pollen, and pests. Wash your pillowcase every week with your other bedding.

Avoid eating in your bed. Breakfast in bed may be fun, but crumbs and spills attract bacteria and pests like dust mites.

Spot-cleaning stains help you stretch out the time between full washes, although it’s no substitute for a thorough cleaning. To spot-clean your pillow, remove the pillow from the bed and use a cloth damp with soapy water. Don’t put the pillow back on the bed until it’s completely dry.

Let the pillow air out every month in the sun or under a portable fan for a fresh feeling. You can also sprinkle some baking soda on your pillow and leave it for a few hours before vacuuming up the powder.

Daily fluffing a pillow with a loose fill—such as shredded foam, down, feather, or polyester fibers—maintains the pillow’s shape and lets air flow through the pillow, removing dust particles. How you arrange the pillows on the bed can also affect how clean they stay, and some may wish to use coverlets and such to keep dust off of them.

When Should I Replace My Pillow?

Cleaning your pillow extends its lifespan, but your pillow still won’t last forever. The material inside your pillow determines its likely lifespan—low-quality polyester pillows might need replacing after only six months, while high-quality memory foam, latex, or down pillows may last five or more years. Many pillows are ready for replacement within one to three years.

You probably need a pillow if you see any of the following signs:

  • If you can no longer fluff your pillow or if you find yourself waking up with neck pain, shoulder pain, or headaches, your pillow has lost support.
  • Your pillow smells like mold or mildew, which has a pungent, musty scent. Don’t try to clean your pillow to get rid of the smell—it’s much safer to just throw it in the garbage.
  • You’re waking up with allergy symptoms such as sneezing or a runny nose. Pillows accumulate allergens that attract dust mites as they age.
  • Your pillow is lumpy or has lost its shape. A common quality test is bending your pillow to see if it snaps back to shape once it’s released.
  • Side sleepers and stomach sleepers may see increased acne breakouts from the oils and sweat an old pillow collects.

When you purchase a new pillow, make note of the day you purchased it, so you know how long you’ve had it. Save the date on your phone or file the receipt away.

How to Clean Your Mattress

After working hard to clean your pillow, you don’t want to undo all of your work by placing the pillow on a dirty mattress. The best mattresses still require regular upkeep. We recommend cleaning your mattress when you rotate it, which you should do every three to six months.

Here’s how to clean your mattress:

1. Strip your mattress of all bedding. Toss your bedding in the washer, so it’ll be clean as well.

2. Vacuum the top, sides, and underside of your mattress.

3. Spot clean any stains you see. Do not spray cleaner or water directly onto the mattress. Instead, spray a cloth with cleaner and blot the stain.

4. Sprinkle baking soda over the mattress to freshen it up. Leave it for at least 30 minutes, although you can leave it for a few hours or even a full day.

5. Vacuum the baking soda and let the mattress air out.

6. Replace your mattress’s bedding.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should you wash pillows?

You should wash your pillow every three to six months. However, if you have bad allergies, you might want to wash your pillows weekly in hot water to prevent dust mite infestation.

How do you disinfect a pillow you can’t wash?

If you can’t machine-wash a pillow, as is the case with solid memory foam and latex pillows, you can still clean it by vacuuming the pillow to remove dust and debris. You can also freshen up its smell by sprinkling baking soda on it and leaving it alone for a couple of hours—then vacuum up the baking soda.

Did We Help?

With all the debris pillows absorb, you should try to wash your pillow every three to six months with mild laundry detergent. Many pillow fills are machine washable—however, one-piece memory foam and latex pillows must be hand-washed, and it’s best not to get a buckwheat pillow wet. Check the pillow’s care tag or the manufacturer’s website for specific instructions.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

Sarah Anderson, Certified Sleep Science Coach Sarah Anderson

Sarah Anderson is a sleep, health, and wellness writer and product reviewer. She has written articles on changing and improving your sleep schedule, choosing the right mattress for chronic pain conditions, and finding the best pillow for you. Sarah Anderson has her Bachelor of Arts degree from Arizona State University in Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to working for Zoma, she wrote for a variety of news publications. Sarah's work has been featured on Bustle, PureWow, and other publications.

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