Your Guide to Cleaning Throw Pillows

Living room with couch and throw pillows

Robb McCormick Photography for Carrie Livingston

Think of throw pillows as jewelry for your couch. They provide color, texture, and can instantly mix up the look of your living room with nearly no effort. 

They’re also a magnet for microscopic dust, bacteria, and allergens. “Throw pillows also have such varied uses,” Alex Wojenski, the Grove Guide at Grove Collaborative, says. “In one moment you may be using it to prop your feet while sitting on the couch and another you may be resting your head.” Because of their variety of uses, knowing how to clean your throw pillows—both the covers and the insert—is a must to keep bacteria from spreading. 

Meet the Expert

Alex Wojenski is the Grove Guide at Grove Collaborative, a household cleaning products company focused on sustainability.

How Often Should You Clean Your Throw Pillows?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for how often you should give your throw pillows a whirl in the wash. “As with most items in your home, the frequency in which you wash your throw pillows will vary with use and the living environment,” Wojenski says. “The pillows on a couch that are used multiple times throughout the day for extended periods or one in a home with children or pets will require more frequent cleaning than those on a couch that is used mostly for a weekend movie night.”

A good rule of thumb: wash pillow covers every two to four weeks, and wash throw pillow inserts one to two times a year. Depending on the frequency used, or if it’s seen dirty puppy paws or a wayward wine spill, up the frequency.

Things You'll Need

  • Gentle laundry detergent
  • Dryer balls
  • Carpet cleaner
  • Vacuum attachment
  • Upholstery stain remover
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Laundry bags
  • Linen spray
Black and white living room with couch and throw pillows

Gail Owens Photography for Tiffani Baumgart Interiors

How To Clean a Throw Pillow Insert

Step One: Remove The Insert From The Cover to Wash Separately

Unless otherwise specified on the label, pillow inserts are safe to machine wash. Place them in the drum of a washing machine—front loading or non-agitator top loaders are preferred to avoid tangling, says Wojenski—two at a time to keep the weight distribution even.

Step Two: Machine Wash on a Cold, Delicate Cycle

Run your washing machine on a cold, delicate machine cycle with a modest amount of gentle detergent, which will both protect color and prevent pilling. Wojenski recommends using half the amount of detergent you would for a similar-sized load of clothing. You can follow that run through the machine with a cold rinse cycle to make sure all the detergent is out, but this isn’t necessary if the appropriate amount of detergent is used.

Step Three: Tumble Dry on Low Heat

Once washed, pillow inserts can go directly into the dryer on a low heat setting. Don’t forget to add dryer balls—those will help fluff the pillows during the dry cycle. Or, fluff wet pillows by hand and hang them to dry.

Living room with couch and throw pillows

Robb McCormick Photography for Carrie Livingston

How To Clean a Throw Pillow Cover

Step One: Machine Wash or Hand Wash, Depending on the Material

For machine-washable covers, remove the insert and run the covers through a delicate cycle in cold water. Wojenski recommends using laundry bags for added protection. 

Machine washing isn’t always an option though, especially if the pillow is made out of silk or wool, or features decorative touches like sequins or beads. “Those covers will have to be washed by hand or dry cleaned,” says Wojenski. When in doubt, consult the instructions on the care label.

Step Two: Hang the Cover to Dry or Machine Dry on Low Heat

Whenever possible, hang dry your machine covers. If you must machine dry them, go for a low heat setting to avoid shrinkage. 

How to Hand Wash a Throw Pillow Cover

Step One: Fill a Clean Tub With Neutral Temperature Water

Mix a small amount of liquid detergent into the water, then submerge the pillows and let them soak for a few minutes.

Step Two: Agitate the Water

After the pillows have soaked through, gently press the pillows, agitating the water. That will help loosen and remove any dirt that may have built up.

Step Three: Drain the Tub and Rinse

After draining the tub, run warm water over the pillows to rinse them. Then press on the pillows to remove excess water.

Step Four: Dry on a Drying Rack

Cover the rack with a towel to absorb dripping water. This also prevents the pillow from falling through. 

How to Spot Clean a Throw Pillow Cover

Depending on the severity and type of stain, you’ll have to deduce the best way to clean it. There are a few options:

  • Dust the stain with a carpet cleaner and use a vacuum attachment to clean it up.
  • Treat the stain with an upholstery stain remover. This may be used between washes or to pretreat a stain prior to washing. Depending on the material, a regular stain remover may also work.
  • Keep microfiber cloths on hand to blot the stain with the stain remover, being careful not to press it into the fabric further.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should You Spot Clean or Machine Wash Your Throw Pillows?

Whenever it’s possible to machine wash throw pillow covers and inserts, opt for that route. “It’s the easiest and most effective method,” Wojenski says. For pillows that can’t be machine washed, like ones with decorative additions like beads, you’ll need to spot clean.

Does The Material of The Throw Pillow Change How and How Often It Needs To Be Cleaned?

Short answer: yes. Wool, for instance, is moisture-wicking and naturally antibacterial, meaning it requires less frequent washing. Buyer beware though. “If buying a throw pillow containing wool,” Wojenski says, “it is harder than some alternatives to clean, as it cannot be put in the washing machine.” Cotton, meanwhile, needs to be washed more frequently, but is most often able to be machine washed.

What About Seasonal Pillows? Should You Clean Them Before Storing Away for the Season?

Definitely, says Wojenski. “It is best practice to clean novelty and holiday pillows prior to storing them away for the season to clean off body oils, dust, dust mites, allergens, and mold to keep the pillows fresh in storage,” she says. If your pumpkin-shaped and Santa-themed pillows need a refresh come next holiday season, spritz them with linen spray.