How & When to Wash Your Pillows

by | Read time: 4 minutes

It’s laundry day! You grab all the dirty clothes, pull off bedding and tug away pillowcases… but all of a sudden, you’re met with a fright. Those pillows, once so fluffy, fresh and clean, are blemished with some unsightly yellow stains.

So now what? You can’t just wash pillows in the washing machine, can you?

The answer is YES for some pillows – and NO for others.

In this pillow-cleaning how-to, we’ll explore how to carefully clean those pillows you love, bringing back their life and fluff – and getting you a better night’s sleep in the process!

Person Holding a Stack of Freshly Washed Pillows |

Why clean your pillows?

Just like bedding and mattresses, our pillows are a great hiding place for dirt, dust, oils, sweat, saliva – even fungi and bacteria. So, when our pillows get dirty, washing the pillowcases alone is not enough.

For some other great spring cleaning ideas, including how to clean your mattress, read 10 Household Areas You Should Add to Your Deep-Cleaning Checklist.

Cleaning beyond the pillowcase not only helps keep your sleeping area more hygienic – but it will smell and feel fresher – helping you to get a better night’s sleep!

How often should you clean your pillows?

A good general rule is to clean your pillows every season – so every three months. At the latest, every six months is acceptable. Remember to always use a good (preferably zipper-closed) pillowcase to help protect your pillow.

How to wash pillows

*Always follow the care instructions of your pillow, especially if it can only be dry-cleaned.

1. Spot-treat stains

Time for those yucky yellow stains to go. Using a stain removing solution, gently dab at the stain and allow it to sit for 5 to 10 minutes (or according to the directions on your stain remover). You can also use a homemade, equal parts baking soda and white vinegar solution for a more gentle stain-removing action.

2. Wash gently

  • For cotton, down, feather and polyester/synthetic pillows:
    *Avoid using fabric softener on down pillows as it can coat the feathers and reduce their fluff

Push the pillows into the washing machine – preferably more than one (if they’ll fit) as they will balance the load nicely. Make sure the pillows are the only thing in the washing machine. Switch to a cold-water, gentle agitation cycle, for the shortest amount of time, then add a small amount of detergent as the water fills.

For snow-white pillows, add 1 cup hydrogen peroxide, ½ cup white vinegar and  ½ cup of borax, in addition to a powdered detergent.

Washing machines are a bit too rough on these sensitive materials, so, you’ll need to wash them by hand. To do that, fill a basin with warm water and mix in 1 tablespoon of liquid laundry detergent. Press the pillow into the water, massaging and squeezing for about 5 minutes. Rinse with clean water and make sure you get all the soap out – which will likely take a bit longer than the washing.

For more on hand-washing clothing, read A Step-by-Step Guide to Hand Washing Clothes.

Note: Most “bamboo” pillows are simply memory foam pillows with bamboo covers. You can place the bamboo cover in the washing machine on the gentle cycle, but wash your pillow depending on its filling.

  • For buckwheat:

Soaking buckwheat will ruin the hulls, sorry folks! Instead, dump the buckwheat out onto a large tray so the hulls can get a deep-cleaning sunbath. A study showed that sunlight (even filtered through windows) can inhibit bacteria growth from household dust. Plus, if it’s a sunny day, those hulls can get some of that au naturel fresh-air smell! And, don’t forget to launder that buckwheat pillow cover!

  • For gel:

Since this can be easily cleaned without the use of a washing machine, just use an antibacterial wipe to clean the outside of the gel pillow. You can also wipe it down with a baking soda/white vinegar mixture for a more gentle cleaning solution. And, of course, remember to toss that cover in the washing machine.

3. Dry and fluff

  • For cotton, down, feather and polyester/synthetic pillows:
    *Use a no-heat setting for feather pillows

Switch to a low-heat setting and push pillows into the dryer. You may have to run a few cycles, and fluff in between – but the real key for the fluffiest pillows? A bit of thrashing action. Using either a couple of lacrosse balls or two tennis balls in two separate white socks, throw them in with the cycle. Don’t be alarmed by the thumping sounds as that means it’s fluffing! Keep checking your pillows for dampness, and throw them back in the machine until they’re completely dry.

  • For memory foam, latex and wool:

Squeeze out as much of the water as you can, then lay out on a big, clean towel to dry. Flip the pillow a few times throughout its drying-time. Make sure you allow the pillow to completely dry because you don’t want mold or mildew to take root!

Note: Some wool pillows have zippers where you can access the wool puffs inside. To dry faster, you can remove the wool puffs and spread them out in the sun – but be careful of breezes, bored children… and cats.