You Need to Wash Your Pillows. Here’s How.

Healthy Living

March 24, 2020

Night in and night out, your pillow is there for you. Are you showing it as much love as it shows you? If not, now’s the time to turn things around.

Your pillows need a good, thorough cleaning two or three times a year and regular maintenance throughout. And it’s not just because of oily hair and dead skin cells that get trapped in the fabric. As if those aren’t good enough reasons to scrub your pillows from time to time, tiny bugs also burrow into your pillows at night. They’re called dust mites, and some people are highly allergic to them.

Some research suggests that dust mites, other bugs, insect feces and dead skin cells can account for about a third of your pillow’s weight. Ready to throw your pillow away? Don’t panic yet. A good wash may be enough to breathe new, cleaner life back into your fluffy friend.

A clean pillow not only lasts longer but feels better as well.

Here’s how to tackle that job.

Machine Washing for Most Pillows

It’s generally okay for down and fiberfill pillows to take a trip through the washing machine. Just check the care instructions on the tag before beginning. If you don’t have access to a care tag, here are some general cleaning tips for most pillows.

  • Top or front? Machine-washable pillows can go in top- or front-loading washers, but front-loaders are usually easier on the pillows. If you have a top-loading machine, don’t worry about it. You can still wash your pillows as long as they fit.
  • Soap. You only need a small amount of detergent — aim for just a tablespoon or so. For down pillows, powdered detergent is better because it’s less likely to leave behind clumped-together filling. The opposite is true for fiberfill pillows; those do best with a gentle liquid detergent.
  • Method. Put two pillows at a time in the washer so they balance each other. Fill the machine with warm water, and wash the pillows on the shortest or gentlest cycle. If your pillows have a feather filling, reach into the washer a few times during the cycle to ensure that the water has evenly saturated the material. Finish with one or two extra cold-water rinses.

From Wet to Dry

Once you wash the pillows, make sure they’re 100% dry before putting them back on the bed. Damp filling at the center of the pillow could foster unpleasant smells or mold and mildew growth.

  • Before starting the drying cycle, turn off your machine’s auto-sensors. They can’t detect whether the inside is sufficiently dry, so the cycle may end prematurely.
  • For synthetic pillows, set the dryer on low or medium heat. Run the cycle for at least an hour. Adding plastic or wool dryer balls can help the process along and may also keep the filling fluffy. If you don’t have dryer balls, you can use clean tennis balls for the same purpose.
  • Down pillows shouldn’t get a heated cycle. Instead, run the air-dry feature for as long as needed. Once again, dryer balls can help the process.
  • Whether your pillows are down or polyester, open the dryer a few times during the cycle to check on them. Shift them to a new position and give them a good fluff to help them dry evenly and keep their shape.

As an alternative, consider air-drying your pillows. On clear days, lay them to dry in a flat spot right in the sun. If the weather is gray, put your pillows on top of the dryer while it runs. The radiant heat will help evaporate the moisture.

Touch-up Tips for Foam Pillows

Unlike down or fiberfill pillows, you can’t toss foam ones in the washing machine. The same goes for latex pillows.

The cover for a memory foam or latex pillow is usually washable, though. Remove the cover and wash it in the machine according to the directions on the tag.

For the pillow itself, opt for dust removal and spot cleaning.

  • First, use your vacuum hose to remove any loose dirt and debris from the pillow. If the pillow fits in the dryer well, you can also tumble it on the air-dry setting to shake off the dust.
  • Next, mix a solution of water and mild detergent. Use that and a rag to gently dab at any spots or stains on your pillow. Don’t rub too hard or you may damage the material. Rinse away the detergent with a clean rag and clear water.

You’ll have to let the pillow air dry. Make sure it’s fully dry before putting the cover and pillowcase back on.

An Ounce of Prevention

Follow these cleaning tips two to three times a year. To get as much life out of your pillows as possible, though, it’s also important to give them some everyday TLC.

When you get up in the morning, fluff your pillows. This daily shaping will help keep them from becoming flat and lifeless. It can also serve to shake off some of the dust.

You don’t have to wait for wash day to hang your pillows on the clothesline. On a bright, clear day, let them hang out in the great outdoors. The sunshine and fresh air can help perk them up between washes. Try to get them outside about once a month.

Don’t forget to use both pillow covers and pillowcases. And give these a monthly trip through the washing machine.

Out with the Old

As careful as you might be with your pillows, they’ll still need to be replaced eventually. Unpleasant odors are one sign that it’s time to pitch your pillows. If it seems like the wash cycle didn’t do much to freshen them, just get rid of them.

Also, if the fluff seems lifeless, it’s time to move on. You can test this by folding the pillow in half. If it springs back open, that’s a good sign that there’s still some life left in it. But if the pillow remains in the folded position, then it’s pretty much a goner.

For your new pillows, establish a care routine — daily fluffing, monthly refreshing and regular washing — right from the very beginning. That way, your pillows will last as long as possible, and you’ll always have a clean, comfortable place to lay your head at night.