How to Wash Pillows: Try These Proven Tips, Tricks & Hacks

How-To Guides
by How-To Guides

Your bed is a sanctuary, and you want to keep your pillows fresh and clean by learning how to wash them the right way. Clean, fresh pillows are proven to enhance sleep and keep your allergies at bay, so it’s important to keep up the maintenance of washing them, along with the rest of your bedding.

We’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to washing every type of pillow, along with answering some of the most commonly asked questions: How often should you wash pillows? Can you clean your pillows in the washing machine? How often should I replace my pillows?

how to wash willows

Photo via Everyday Edits

Why should you wash your pillows?

Let’s get straight to the point: Your pillows get pretty dirty. Every night, you shed around 15 million skin cells in your sleep. Most of these land on your pillowcase, but some can seep down below to your actual pillow.

Dust mites, which are a big source of allergies, eat these skin cells. Bacteria also collects on the pillows during the night, which can cause acne. Giving your pillows a good regular wash can get rid of any lingering dirt or makeup and take care of odors or stains.

How often should you wash pillows?

As a rule of thumb, you should wash your pillows every season, or four times a year. However, if your pillows are starting to look yellow, have an odor, or aren't fluffy anymore, it doesn’t hurt to expedite washing.

If you shower at night and completely dry off before hitting the sheets (and pillows, in this case), your pillows will stay clean for longer, as oils and bacteria from your body, face, and hair tend to cause most pillow grime.

how to wash pillows in the washing machine

Photo via Chas' Crazy Creations

Can you wash pillows in the washing machine?

Yes! Most types of pillows can be washed in the washing machine, but the care label on the pillow will tell you for sure.

Front-loading washing machines are better at washing pillows than top-loading ones. If you have a top-loading washing machine with an agitator, be sure to place pillows into the washer vertically so they don’t get stuck around the washer’s spindle.

How to wash pillows

Here are instructions on how to wash the most common bed pillows, including those filled with polyester, cotton, and fiberfill. Remember to first check the instructions on your care label to get the best results. If you notice that there are tears in the pillow, don’t put it in the washer, as it may cause further damage.

1. Prepare Pillows

Remove any pillowcases or covers from your pillow.

2. Set Machine Cycle

Pick the gentle or delicate cycle. Choose warm water.

3. Add Detergent

Add a small amount of detergent, about one tablespoon if you’re using liquid.

4. Add Pillows

Place your pillows inside the washing machine. It’s best to place two in there at a time to keep your load balanced.

5. Start the Machine

Set your washing machine to perform an extra rinse to get all the detergent off the pillows after the first wash. Let the whole washing cycle run until the load is done.

How to wash down pillows and feather pillows

While luxury down and feather pillows might seem like they need extra care, they can actually be washed right at home in your washing machine.

In fact, washing down and feather pillows will even help reinvigorate their fluffiness and make them feel as good as new. Here’s how to wash down and feather pillows.

1. Prepare Pillows

Remove any pillowcases or covers.

2. Set Machine Cycle

Pick the gentle or delicate cycle. Choose cool water (warm or hot water can shrink pillows).

3. Add Detergent

Add mild detergent—be sure that there are no extra additives or dyes, which can harm the pillow and feather filler.

4. Add Pillows

Place your pillows inside the washing machine.

5. Run Machine

Set your washing machine to run an extra rinse. Run the washing machine until the load is finished. Keep in mind that down pillows will take extra time to dry (see drying instructions below).

How to wash memory foam pillows

Unfortunately, you can’t just throw your memory foam pillows in the washing machine like you can with other pillows—agitation of the machine can break up the foam. Instead, you’ll need to break out the vacuum and clean the pillows by hand in a few steps.

1. Prepare Pillows

Remove the pillow cover.

2. Vacuum

Vacuum any dust off the pillows using the vacuum’s brush attachment.

3. Spot Clean

If there are any specific stains you’re trying to get rid of, spot clean by dabbing the area with a damp cloth and a small amount of liquid detergent.

4. Mix Cleaning Solution

If your memory foam pillow needs an overall wash—like if it’s yellowing or if it’s starting to smell—start by filling up a bathtub with lukewarm water and gentle detergent. Agitate the water so the solution mixes.

5. Add Pillow(s)

Submerge your memory foam pillow or pillows under soapy water. 

6. Penetrate Pillows

Use your hands to squeeze the pillows a few times to penetrate the soapy water through the pillows.

7. Drain and Fill With Clean Water

Lift the pillows out of the water. Drain the tub of soapy water and fill the tub back up with clean water.

8. Penetrate Pillows Again

Submerge the pillows into the clean tub water. Give the pillows several squeezes to flush them out with clean water until the water runs clear.

9. Let Dry

Take pillows out of the water and gently squeeze them to flush out excess water. Lay out pillows to air dry.

How to wash throw pillows

Every decorative throw pillow has different materials and needs, so it’s best to find the care label on the pillow and follow those instructions for washing.

If there aren’t any instructions, it’s safer to spot-treat or hand wash them instead of using the washer and dryer—especially if you're washing throw pillows without removable covers.

how to dry pillows

Photo via Megan Aubrey

How to dry pillows

If you have a clothesline, pillows can be hung out in the sun for a few hours to dry in the breeze. If you don’t have anywhere outside that you can hang them out to dry, you may be able to put them in a dryer depending on the care label drying directions.

If the pillow you’re working with doesn’t have a label or it doesn’t specify, here’s the safest route to drying pillows.

1. Set Up the Dryer

Place your washed pillows inside the dryer. Turn off the auto setting on your dryer. If you skip this step, you’ll be left with a pillow that’s damp on the inside. Set the heat to moderate or medium. (Reminder: No heat for feather or down pillows.)

2. Start the Dryer

Run the dryer for an hour. Repeat if necessary until the pillows are completely dry.

Note: However you dry your pillow, make sure that it’s completely dry before putting it back on your bed and using it. Not properly drying a pillow can cause mildew.

Tip: Speed up your drying time and keep your pillows fluffy by adding dryer balls or tennis balls to the load.

How to spot treat pillows

If your pillow has a stain that needs some special attention, you’ll need to learn how to spot-treat it. First thing first, you’ll want to get to that spill or stain as quickly as you can while it’s still wet, so the damage doesn’t seep too deeply into the pillow and possibly become permanent.

1. Clean Up

Use a clean cloth to clean up any liquid from a spill.

2. Use Detergent on the Stain

Add a dab of liquid detergent and use a clean cloth to rub gently in a circular motion over the stain. You can also spray your favorite all-purpose stain remover on the affected area.

3. Dry

Allow the pillow to dry completely.

4. Repeat if Necessary

Repeat the steps above until the stain lifts.

Can you dry-clean pillows?

Sometimes—only dry clean pillows if the care tag instructs you to. Most pillows will be ruined in dry cleaning so make sure that your pillow requires it before taking it in, but it’s pretty rare that a pillow will require dry cleaning.

How to keep your pillows clean

Daily Care

To keep your pillows nice and fresh in between washings, there’s one simple tip that will do the trick: Every day, as you’re making your bed, fluff your pillows to remove any dust (do this over the floor to be vacuumed up) and help them keep their shape.

Monthly Care

Every month, you can freshen up your pillows by letting them hang outside in the fresh air for a few hours. Alternatively (or if you have outdoor allergies), you can place them in the dryer and run them on a no-heat cycle for about 30 minutes to fluff them up.

When to replace your pillows

It’s a good idea to replace your nightly pillows every one or two years. You’ll know it’s time to get new pillows when they won’t keep their original fluffy shape. Also, if there are any stains or discolorations that you can’t seem to get rid of, it’s probably a good time to replace your pillows.

Now, you can rest easy knowing that you've learned how to wash pillows with confidence and keep pillows fresh in between washes.

Frequently asked questions
Have a question about this project?
Join the conversation