How to Wash Pillows

By: Alia Hoyt  | 
woman holding pillows
You can machine wash pillows in most cases. Just check the label first. Olga Nikiforova/Shutterstock

Most people spend hours and hours every night in close contact with a pillow, yet shockingly few people wash them on a regular basis. (When last did you wash your pillows?) The problem is, human beings are constantly shedding some pretty nasty stuff, like bacteria, dead skin cells and the like. All of that winds up on — you guessed it — the pillow.

In fact, one study found that 30 percent of the weight of a pillow after two years of use is actually made up of dead skin, bacteria and feces from dust mites (not to mention the mites themselves), which aside from being gross, can actually cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

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Also, many people experience skin breakouts or rashes because their drool, sweat and hair/body oils soak into the pillow. Repeated exposure to these built-up substances can seriously irritate sensitive skin!

So, if you're not in the habit of washing your pillows, now's the time to start. Fortunately, it's easy enough to do if you follow some simple steps.

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Steps to Washing Your Pillows

1. Check the Pillow's Tags

Some pillows are machine washable, but others are dry clean only. Before using the washing machine, check the tags to make sure they can be washed at home. Don't say we didn't warn you.

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2. Opt for Hot Water

Though some manuals say you can use cold or warm water, hot water is far superior at killing germs, viruses and bacteria than cold, so set the cycle to reflect that.

3. Use the Gentle Cycle

Pillows aren't as fragile as say, fancy lingerie, but they still shouldn't take too much of a beating. Opt instead for the delicate cycle, rather than the normal or heavy-duty settings.

4. Add an Extra Rinse

Pillow filling does like to cling to detergent, however, so tack another rinse cycle on to make sure it's all washed out. While we're talking detergent, don't pour too much in the machine. A small amount will do nicely.

5. Wash Two at a Time

One pillow runs the risk of throwing your machine off balance, so try to launder two pillows at once to keep everything in check.

6. Dry the Pillows Completely

Pop pillows in the dryer on low heat, along with a couple of tennis balls (or dryer balls), which will help fluff the pillows back up. Before putting a pillow case back on, double-check that your pillows are totally dry. If not, you could risk mildew or mold growing, which would defeat the whole purpose of your cleaning job.

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Washing Memory Foam Pillows

Note: If you need to wash memory foam pillows, don't put them in the washing machine. Instead, sprinkle the pillow with baking soda to freshen it. Let it sit for an hour and then use a hand vac or an upholstery attachment to vacuum the pillow. This gets rid of the baking soda, plus any dust, dandruff or pet hair.

Next, dip a cloth in some warm water mixed with mild detergent and gently dampen the pillow to remove stains. Once the stains are gone, use another cloth dipped in plain water to remove the soap. Allow the pillow to air dry.

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How Often Should You Wash Pillows?

Pillows should be washed at least twice a year to keep them from getting too icky. Too much more than that and the pillow's life span will be greatly shortened (although they really should be laundered after the user recovers from any infectious illness, like flu or COVID-19).

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