Cleaning Yellowing Pillows (and More)

8 Materials
2 Hours

I have washed pillows in the past but my latest challenge was to not only clean them but also whiten them. Our pillows, pillow covers, and mattress pads turn yellow over time due to our body oils, sweat, etc. I tried a few different techniques and wanted to share my results. You can see more of my crazy creations here

So let's start with the disclaimer... I have washed and dried my pillows - and we all know drying sets stains in. So I knew going into this that I would have some challenges... These are our pillows and mine is a slightly off white to begin with. It's hard to see the yellowing stains here but I promise they are there and you'll see them more in the next few photos... In addition to this I also washed my pillow case covers to run the test as to how this would work with those and potentially with mattress pads.

First whenever you wash your pillows, it's best to do 2 at a time to create balance in your washing machine. (See how yellow they are - gross)

Settings - to get rid of stains like these you need to set your temperature to the hottest setting you have, fullest load, and then if you have a soak setting select that. If you don't have a soak, you'll need to fill up you washing machine with water and then stop it so that it can soak.

For my first run through I added 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide - this is a bleach alternative.

1/2 cup of vinegar - this is a natural cleaner, breaks down stains, and fabric softener.

Editor's Note: This post mentions using hydrogen peroxide with vinegar. This practice is fine to do, as long as you are not mixing them together in the same container (such as a bottle), rather using them in succession. Mixing hydrogen peroxide and vinegar creates peracetic acid, a corrosive acid that can harm the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.

And 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Lemon juice is also acidic so same qualities as vinegar, & added a nice lemon smell.

Let soak for 30 minutes, then flip the pillows to make sure you get both sides and soaked for 30 more minutes.

I realized that my washing machine is a fairly large one and I was not satisfied after the 30 minutes how things were going so I added another cup of hydrogen peroxide. Everyone's laundry tubs are a different size so take that into consideration. (So in the end I used 2 cups hydrogen peroxide, 1/2 cup vinegar, and 1/4 cup lemon juice.)

Add your laundry detergent of your choice and run your normal wash cycle.


Pull your pillows out and inspect them. If they are clean enough which mine were - put them in the dryer. If not you may need to start over and soak again or try an alternative method below.

I set my dryer to low, and it took about 30 minutes to dry my pillows.

Here is how they came out - and I was extremely pleased with the results.

What else did I try? (and why - this one is color safe)

Here is the next set of pillows and again they had been washed and dried before. I placed the pillows in the wash and added a mixture of 1 cup laundry detergent, 1 cup washing soda, 1 cup Borax, and 1 cup Castile soap. Soaked 30 minutes, flipped the pillows and soaked another 30 minutes, ran the wash cycle and here is how they came out...


Definitely made a difference but one pillow was still more yellow than I liked.

In the end, these are great alternatives to bleach if you want to stay away from chemicals. It works on pillows, pillow covers, and mattress pads.

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  • Kay Heichelbech Kay Heichelbech on Jul 16, 2023

    I have feather pillows? Can you wash and dry them?

  • Mla61340620 Mla61340620 on Jul 16, 2023

    Can I use a front loading washing machine for this project?

  • Shuganne Shuganne on Jul 16, 2023

    So, could I dump hydrogen peroxide and vinegar, wearing eye protection and a mask, down my drain to clear out clogs? It's gotta be cheaper than Drano, or any other drain cleaner - and maybe better for the environment?

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