How To Wash Pillows: Your Comprehensive Guide

Key Points

  • Wash your pillows every 4-6 months to prevent the buildup of sweat, dead skin cells, and bacteria.

  • Follow cleaning and drying instructions to extend the lifespan of pillows like memory foam, latex, down, feather, and polyester.

  • Use pillow protectors and cases, treat stains promptly, and wash pillows with other bedding items to prevent the growth of allergens and pests.

Don't lose sleep over worrying about how to wash your pillows properly. Rest well by following the tips in this guide to take care of those pillows that take care of you.

A good night's sleep is everything. Not getting enough shuteye in the evening causes mental and physical health problems. A good first step is maintaining your pillows and bedding.

How Often To Wash Your Pillows

Most people wash their sheets at least once a week, including their pillowcases. As the laundry list for the week gets longer, have you added pillows to the mix?

A good pillow-wash timetable is every 4 to 6 months or 2 to 3 times yearly. As you sleep, your body releases sweat, hair, dead skin cells, and drool. A buildup of these factors creates a breeding ground of unhealthy bacteria and uninvited bed guests.

Why Care About a Clean Pillow?

Have you heard of dust mites? They're so small, you certainly haven't seen one. When dirt and debris build up, these microscopic guests live in your sheets and pillows.

It's smart to give your bedding an extra shakeout in summer and spring because dust mites love humid weather. Other areas to keep tidy are couches and other upholstered furniture, especially in your bedroom.

Three white pillows stacked on a wooden chair.

Photo Source: Shutterstock

Don't panic. Dust mites don't bite, but as time passes and they lay waste to your fabrics, they leave a track of feces behind. Too much bug poop causes dust allergies, asthma, and sinus clogging to flare up. If you awake with a stuffed nose or congested chest, it's time to wash your bedding.

Clean sheets and pillows mean you breathe easier and have the added benefit of clearer skin. If your pillow has turned yellow, the sweat has accumulated to the point of no return. Most people think washing their pillowcases solves skin issues, but it goes a bit deeper than that.

DermCollective dermatologist Sam Williamson says, “Subclinical acne is associated with failing to wash your pillows regularly, a type of acne that sits deep within the skin and usually shows as aggressive red bumps.”

Hear that? Clean pillows equal clear sinuses and clearer skin. Follow these steps to ensure your pillows stay clean and don't fall victim to an aggressive washing machine.

When To Throw Out Your Pillow

There comes a time in life when you must face a harsh reality: your favorite pillow must go. Pillow experts recommend replacing your pillow every two or three years. Do you feel attached to your old head-hugger? It's okay. There's another one out there that's just right for you.

Keeping your pillow clean extends its longevity and promotes an allergen-free, supportive, and dust-mite-free sleep experience.

When you wake up with a sore neck, bad body posturing, and headaches, it's time to switch. When pillows become lumpy, loose, or saggy, it is best to throw them out. Suffering more from allergies or overall sleep discomfort are other signs your pillow is failing you.

It pays to invest in your sleep. Pillows made of quality materials last longer. For example, basic polyester pillows (down alternative or fiber pillows) have an "early bedtime," lasting only six months to two years. Here are some facts about the basic pillow types.

Memory Foam Pillows

These pillows are natural conformists, cradling your every joint and muscle. If you sleep the same way every night, the wear shows on a memory foam pillow in about four years. Some have extended warranties.

Memory Foam Pillows We Like

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Latex Pillows

More durable than memory foam and more expensive, latex pillows are made from rubber trees. They hold their shape well and last for 3 to 5 years. It is a classic example of "you get what you pay for."

Latex Pillows We Like

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Down and Feather Pillows

Sadly, down and feather pillows have the shortest lifespan, similar to the brief theatrical run of DC's Blue Beetle movie. The superhero flick hit the big screens in August 2023 and was set to be pulled from theaters a month later and made available for purchase.

A woman squeezing two pillows.Photo Source: Shutterstock

Down and feathers clump after enduring sweat and weight. You can fluff and re-fluff these pillows to extend their life but be ready to replace them within a year.

If you're still in doubt, try the fold test! Fold a pillow in half. If it holds its shape after you release your grip, it has lost its ability to support you in your sleep.

Down and Feather Pillows We Like

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How To Care for Your Pillows

Before diving into personalized pillow care and washing rules, all pillows have three universal steps for their care. Check them out!

Pillow Care Step #1: Air Out the Pillow

Depending on where you live, you may want to do this more often. The hotter it is, the more you sweat. If you don't air it out, the results can be unpleasant.

While washing your pillowcases, hang your pillows on an outdoor clothesline to catch some fresh air. Check the washing instructions before putting more solid pillows made of foam or latex in a quick spin cycle in the dryer. Remember to use no heat for the drying settings.

Fluff them every day as you make your bed to uphold shape.

Pillow Care Step #2: Check the Tags

There are various types of pillows. Some have materials that can take a harsher spin cycle; others tear on slow rinse. Reference the specific material guide included in this article.

For tricky stains, spot-clean before washing. Be sure to use the right ingredients to avoid making matters worse.

Wash two pillows at once to keep the load balanced. An unbalanced load isn't the end of the world, but the pillows keep their form much better if no pressure comes from one side or another.

Avoid the agitator — that middle shaft on most top-loading washing machines — because it can damage seams and open up the pillow during a spin cycle. If your home washer has one, opt for a laundromat with front-loading machines or wash on the gentle cycle for a shorter time.

Pillow Care Step #3: Dry Appropriately

It may sound crazy, but lobbing two or three tennis balls in the dryer with your pillows keeps the fluff and shape you love. Your neighbors might hate the ruckus, but you sleep well at night.

Add dry towels to speed up the process. Turn your setting to moderate heat for about an hour or so. Your usual dryer settings don't dry the pillow entirely without your help. Since the sensors track surface moisture, your fluffing is still soggy if you don't personalize the settings.

Pro Tip: If you're finding your pillows to be unnecessarily sweaty, dirty, or unkempt, purchase a pillow cover to go between your casing and pillow to stay clean longer.

modern tufted queen headboard

Photo Source: Shutterstock

More Washing Instructions for Each Pillow Fill Type

There are more specific instructions based on your pillow's filling. Make sure you know what type of pillow you have and its specific needs before washing it.

Latex Pillows

Avoid washing latex pillows in the washing machine or submerging them in water. Hand wash stains with warm water and a gentle detergent. Clean approximately every two months to maintain the pillow's condition.

Memory Foam Pillows

These pillows are not suitable for washing machines or dryers. Vacuum the top surface of the pillow. Perform spot cleaning or hand washing with a mild detergent. Allow the pillow to air dry on a flat surface.

Down and Feather Pillows

This pillow variety benefits from a machine wash using cool water and a mild detergent on a gentle cycle. Due to their dense filling, rinse twice to remove excess soap before drying. Dry for 20 minutes in the dryer or air dry.

Polyester Pillows

These resilient pillows enjoy a warm water wash with a limited amount of detergent — a tablespoon is enough. After washing, dry them using the tumble cycle to restore their fluffiness.

How To Wash Pillows in a Washing Machine

All pillows come with their own set of care guidelines. Before you get too hasty with tossing your pillow in the wash, check these tips on how to wash pillows.

  • Wash pillows on the gentle cycle

  • Wash pillows in warm water, never hot water

  • Use mild detergent sparingly

  • Combine with cold water on the rinse and spin cycle to combat suds

  • Tumble dry your pillows

  • Always dry your pillow on low heat

If your washing machine is a top-loader with an agitator, load your pillows vertically to avoid rips and tears. For front-loading washing machines, try to balance the load so no lumps form in your favorite pillows.

Sanitizers We Love

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How To Make Your Pillows Last

Nobody wants to say goodbye to their favorite pillows. Finding a pillow that works for you, your sleeping habits, and your body posture takes ages. When you find “the one,” you just know. However, if you absolutely have to replace your pillow, it's important to know what to look for.

Whether your pillow is pricey or affordable, sustainability matters. Besides blending up your pillow with the top-loading washing machine agitator, here are some other ways to wash your pillows:

A family of three in pjs with white sheets and pillows against a purple backdrop.

Photo Source: Shutterstock

Pillow Protection

Keep your pillows fitted with a pillowcase and pillow protector to keep them fresh and without stains. Use pillowcases and pillow protectors to extend your pillow’s lifespan. Wash a pillow protector monthly and a pillowcase weekly.

If you sleep warm, have pets, or your allergies kick up, change your bedding more regularly.

Pillow Protectors We Love

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Damage Prevention

Good advice bears repeating. Don’t put your pillow horizontally in a top loader. Disregard this tip; you may not have any stuffing left when the wash finishes.

Check the information on your tags. Check the recommended washing temperature. Review the instructions on how to dry appropriately.

Treat Stains

Instead of deep cleaning your heavier outfitted pillows, spot cleaning is the cure.

When you spill or stain your pillow, spot-treat it as soon as possible. Use a dab of detergent or diluted baking soda and a toothbrush for gentle application.

For feather and down pillows, readjust the filling out of the way of the stain so it dries faster. Give it a tumble in your dryer with a few tennis balls to fluff the shape back to normal.

Stain Removers We Love

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Wash Pillows Together

Think about taking a shower but leaving your socks on. You still track all the outside dirt and debris into a clean and fresh environment.

When you wash your pillows, wash the decorative pillows, cushions, and bedding. It revitalizes your bed and keeps away the creepy crawlers looking to feast on dirt and dead skin cells you left behind.

Wash mattress pads or toppers at the same time you give your pillow a refresh. You don’t want to leave untidy bedding lingering as you sleep on a clean pillow.

A woman squeezing a white pillow against a pink backdrop

Photo Source: Shutterstock

Why Is It Important To Maintain Clean Pillow Habits?

The key factor in any comfortable night’s sleep is a soft, clean place to lay your head after a long day. Having a fresh pillow and clean bedding lets you relax in a cloud of “aaahh!” and catch some serious ZZZs.

Maintaining your pillow also maintains your skin. Your facial pores don’t soak up the sweat and dirt from a month of soccer practice, and you keep your face pollution to a minimum. Failing to freshen up your pillows can lead to mold and mildew. Nobody wants that anywhere near their face, let alone their lungs.

Having a pillow protector keeps bed bugs at bay. Dust mites aren’t getting their dose of dust, so they move out. You sleep on the cool side of the pillow even in the warmer months.

A dirty pillow is a playground for allergies and insects. Bed bugs, dust mites, and fleas all flourish in a warm, moist, unkempt environment. These microscopic creatures cause dust-related allergies with symptoms such as:

  • Nasal congestion

  • Sneezing or coughing

  • Itchy eyes and nose

  • Irritated skin, similar to a rash

  • Sore throat

  • Headaches

Final Thoughts on How To Wash Pillows

How many young adults experiencing the joy of living on their own walked around in pink underwear for the first several months of their independence because they washed their colored clothes with their whites? Life is a constant learning process. As we live, we learn new and improved ways to power through even the simplest tasks.

Hopefully, you learned some new tips to make your life easier and your next laundry day more successful. Now that you know what to do and why you need to do it, you're ready to sleep well tonight. Three big things to remember: check the tags, don’t wash with hot water, and do not put memory foam, gel, or any foam-based pillows in the washer.

If you're feeling especially inspired, you may want to wash your pillows right now.

If you need more pillow talk, subscribe to Snooze. As always, sleep well.

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