How to Properly Wash Your Bed Pillows in Just a Few Steps

An ivory bed with several throw pillows

Pure Salt Interiors

Once you’ve stripped your bed, washed your sheets, and primped your pillowcases, you may think you’ve fulfilled your bed-cleaning duties. But your work isn’t truly done until you’ve also washed your pillows. Yes, your pillows themselves need to be cleaned—so no, you’re not fully off the hook once you’ve washed your pillowcases.

“We spend a lot of quality time with our pillows,” Angela Bell, sustainable cleaning expert at Grove Collaborative, says. And during that one-on-one time, our pillows can collect all kinds of dirt and grime—including dust mites, oil, sweat, dead skin, saliva, bacteria, and more.

“Going too long without laundering pillowcases or pillows can mean these nasties cozy up to your face,” Bell says. “And this prolonged exposure can cause acne and other skin issues.” It can also cause your allergies to flare up.

Meet the Expert

  • Angela Bell is a sustainable cleaning expert and a Grove Guide at Grove Collaborative, a company that delivers eco-friendly home essentials.
  • Alicia Sokolowski is the president and co-CEO of AspenClean, a green cleaning products and house cleaning service company.
  • Marilee Nelson is a non-toxic cleaning expert, an environmental consultant, and the co-founder of Branch Basics, a non-toxic cleaning products company.

Given this, we have some bad news to share with you: You need to start washing your pillows regularly. The good news, though? Washing your pillows isn’t all that hard—and you probably don’t need to wash your pillows as often as you clean your sheets

A bedroom with light pink walls, printed lavender walls, and a printed mint headboard

Studio Peake

How Often Should You Wash Your Pillows?

If you like to keep your bed in tip-top shape, you’re probably used to cleaning your sheets and pillowcases about once a week. (That’s how often experts recommend washing your bedding to keep it clean.) Thankfully, you won’t need to wash your pillows nearly as often. 

And yes, you do have some wiggle room with this. “If you are prone to allergies, wash your pillows every two months,” Marilee Nelson, non-toxic cleaning expert and co-founder of Branch Basics, says. “If you have good dust mite pillow protectors that cover the pillows and zip closed, then wash your pillows twice a year.”

“You should wash your pillows every 3 months—or four times a year,” Alicia Sokolowski, president and co-CEO of AspenClean, says. “I typically recommend doing this when the seasons change.” If swapping out your bedding is part of your seasonal routine, make cleaning your pillows part of the ritual.

A minimalist bedroom with a sleek gold desk lamp

Pure Salt Interiors

How to Clean Machine-Washable Pillows

Things You’ll Need:

  • Stain remover spray
  • Laundry detergent

Step 1: Check Your Pillow’s Care Instructions

First things first: check your pillow’s care instructions. This will tell you whether your pillow is machine-washable—many are, but some aren’t. It will also give you important information about how to machine-wash your pillow, like what temperature water to use, what cycle to run, and more.

Step 2: Spot-Clean Any Stains on Your Pillow

If you notice any stains on your pillow, you’ll want to spot-clean those before tossing your pillow in the wash. “Start with a stain spray that uses enzymes,” Bell says. “Enzymes are extremely good at breaking down stains while remaining gentle on fabrics.” 

Apply the spray to any spots you see. Then, let it sit for about 15 minutes before machine-washing your pillow.

Step 3: Place Your Pillow in the Washing Machine

Once you’re done spot-cleaning, go ahead and place your pillow inside your washing machine. “Front-loaders are best for washing pillows, as top loaders agitate some types of pillows too much,” Nelson says. But if you have a top-loading washing machine, you’re not out of luck.

“Place pillows into top loaders vertically, so the pillows don't get wrapped around the spindle,” she says.

If your pillow’s care instructions told you to wash your pillow on its own, be sure to do so. But if they didn’t, you might consider washing your pillow with some other stuff. Sokolowski says she likes to balance out her washing machine by washing two pillows at a time—or by washing her pillow alongside some towels.

Step 4: Gently Wash Your Pillow in Cool or Warm Water

Your pillow’s care instructions should tell you everything you need to know about washing your pillow—like what temperature your water should be and what cycle you should use.

“Before washing the pillow, check the manufacturer's instructions, and follow them,” Sokolowski says. “While most pillows can be washed using a gentle cycle and cold or warm water, it’s always best to double-check.”

When in doubt, you can probably get away with running a gentle cycle and using cool water. “Pillows can often be washed in cold water on a delicate cycle,” Bell says. “Be sure to use cold water, since heat can shrink the materials inside.”

Step 5: If Needed, Run a Second Rinse Cycle

When you pull your pillow out of the washing machine, check to see if it feels soapy. If it does, you may need to run a second rinse cycle to get the soap out. “It might be a good idea to rinse the pillows twice to ensure no suds stay on the pillow,” Sokolowski says.

And if you encounter this problem a lot, consider using less detergent. “Use a minimal amount of liquid laundry detergent,” Nelson says. “And take advantage of the extra rinse feature.”

An all-white bedroom with two gold desk lamps

Julian Porcino

How to Clean Hand-Wash-Only Pillows

Things You’ll Need:

  • Stain remover spray
  • Laundry detergent

Step 1: Check Your Pillow’s Care Instructions

While most pillows are machine-washable, some pillows like foam, latex, and buckwheat pillows are not. So, check your pillow’s care instructions, and if they tell you not to toss your pillow in the laundry, heed their advice. If you don’t, you might end up ruining your pillow.

Step 2: Remove and Wash Your Pillow’s Cover

Some pillows come inside removable covers. And sometimes, these covers are machine-washable even when the pillows themselves are not. 

If your pillow has a cover, go ahead and remove it. Then, check its care instructions. If the cover is machine-washable, spot-clean it using a stain remover spray. Then, toss it in your laundry. If the cover is hand-wash-only, clean it when you clean your pillow.

Step 3: Spot-Clean Any Stains on Your Pillow

If you spot any stains on your pillow, you’ll want to handle those before washing. 

Spray a gently stain remover spray onto the spots. “Then, let the stain spray work its magic for 15 minutes or so,” Bell says. Once the 15 minutes are up, move on to hand-washing your pillow.

Step 4: Wash Your Pillow in Cool or Warm Water

Check your pillow’s care instructions to see whether you should clean it using warm or cool water. Then, submerge the pillow in water, and gently massage it with detergent. “You can hand-wash a pillow by submerging it in soapy water for a few minutes,” Sokolowski says. “Wash it by squeezing gently, and rinse well.” Be sure to keep rinsing your pillow until it’s no longer soapy.

A bedroom with several indigo pieces

White Sands

How to Clean Pillows That Can’t Get Wet

Things You’ll Need:

  • Stain remover spray
  • Cloth
  • Vacuum

Step 1: Check Your Pillow’s Care Instructions

Believe it or not, there are some pillows that genuinely shouldn’t get wet. (We’re looking at you, memory foam.) So before assuming your pillow is machine-washable—or even hand-wash-friendly—be sure to check its care instructions. And rest assured knowing that you can still clean your pillow, even if it isn’t supposed to get wet.

Step 2: Remove and Wash Your Pillow’s Cover

If your pillow comes inside a removable cover, check to see if the cover has its own care instructions. Your pillow may be fragile, but your pillow cover may not be. In fact, you may be able to machine-wash your pillow cover while you hand-clean your pillow.

Step 3: Spot-Clean Any Stains on Your Pillow

Before giving your pillow a deep clean, take a moment to spot-treat any stains you see. Spray a gentle stain remover onto any spots, and let it sit for about 15 minutes. 

“If the pillow is not machine-washable, blot the spray with lukewarm water and a cloth,” Bell says. (Even if your pillow is sensitive to water, it should be able to handle it in small doses. The key is not to get it soaking wet.)

Step 4: Vacuum Your Pillow

It may sound strange, but if your pillow can’t get wet, you’ll want to vacuum it clean. “Use an upholstery attachment or other small vacuum attachment to vacuum the pillow well, being sure to give it a good shake every so often,” Bell says. This should help you remove some of the dirt and grime that’s built up in your pillow over time.

An ivory bed with several throw pillows

Pure Salt Interiors

How to Dry Pillows

Things You’ll Need:

  • Dryer balls or clean tennis balls (optional)
  • Drying rack
  • Towels (optional)

To Machine-Dry Your Pillow:

Once your pillow has been thoroughly washed and rinsed, there’s only one thing left to do: Dry it. And if your pillow is dryer-friendly, your job is pretty easy.

Check your pillow’s care instructions to see what heat level and cycle you should use. And when in doubt, stick to the gentlest settings. “A low to medium heat setting works best with most types of pillows to avoid any shrinking,” Bell says.

To make sure your pillow’s filling stays evenly distributed, you might consider throwing in some dryer balls. “Add dryer balls or clean tennis balls to prevent the filling from clumping,” Sokolowski says.

And if you really want to take things to the next level, you can always pause the dryer periodically to hand-fluff your pillows. (Sokolowski says she does this every 15 minutes.)

To Air-Dry Your Pillow on a Drying Rack:

“If your pillows must be air-dried, lay them flat on a drying rack in a well-ventilated part of your home,” Bell says. (You can even place them outside to speed up the process.) “About every hour or so, give them a really good shake before flipping them over,” she says. “Don’t be shy.” This should keep the filling in your pillows from clumping or bunching.

And if your pillow is taking a really long time to dry, there are some steps you can take to speed up the process. “Place the pillow in between two thick towels, and press gently to get the extra moisture out,” Sokolowski says. Gentle is the key word here. (Sokolowski notes that you should never wring out a pillow—especially if it’s made from foam.)

A bedroom with many storage solutions, including a nightstand, a basket, and two luggage racks (which have been placed at the foot of the bed)

Katie Hodges Design

Tips to Keep Your Pillows Clean Longer

Want to keep your pillows in tip-top shape between deep cleans? Put them inside a pillow protector—not just a pillowcase. “A pillow protector can make your pillows last longer, and we recommend that everyone use them,” Sokolowski says. Look for a zip-up option. (These are some of the most protective around.)

Then, change out your pillowcases regularly and be sure to flip your pillows every time you make your bed. “Change the position of the pillow every night to avoid wearing fibers down on one side,” Nelson says.

If you really want to keep your pillows fresh, consider placing them in the sun when you’re not using them. “Sun them!” Nelson says. “Sunning is when you leave products in open-air with direct sunlight, which naturally kills bacteria.” (That said, some pillows—like latex pillows—do not take kindly to sunning. So check your pillow’s care instructions before taking this approach.)

Article Sources
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  1. "Can Dirty Pillows Make You Sick?". Cleveland Clinic, 2021.

  2. The Mattress Firm Sleep Experts. "Allergies? Maybe Your Pillow Is To Blame". Mattress Firm, 2020.

  3. Noyed, Daniel. "How Often Should You Wash Your Sheets?". Sleep Foundation, 2020.