How to Clean Your Pillow: Washing & Spot-Cleaning Guide

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Most people incorporate washing their bedding and pillowcases as a part of their regular cleaning routine, but people tend to overlook the pillows themselves. The truth is that the cleanliness of your pillow can impact your sleep quality and overall health.  

Below you’ll find a complete guide on how to clean your pillow and learn why the practice is so important. And watch our video below for demonstrations and more information on the best ways to keep your pillow clean. 

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Why Is It Important to Clean Your Pillow? | How Often Should You Wash Your Pillows? | How to Wash Pillows in a Washing Machine | How to Clean Pillows in the BathtubHow to Spot Clean a Pillow | How to Wash Pillows by Type | How to Clean Yellow Pillows | How to Deodorize Pillows

Why Is It Important to Clean Your Pillow?

Pillows can appear clean and cozy while being deceivingly dirty. Contaminants on your pillow can come from your body or the environment, and can make your pillow a less healthy place to sleep. 

Pillows tend to absorb sweat, dead skin cells and oil from your skin as well as dirt and pollutants trapped in your pores. Over time, these contaminants make your pillow a home to several types of bacteria and unhealthy microbes. 

Not only do these contaminants collecting in your pillow sound gross, they may be contributing to increased allergies and poor sleep quality. You also may notice with time that your pillow is not as fluffy or comfortable to sleep on from prolonged use without cleaning. A dirty pillow can even lead to acne formation and premature signs of aging.

How Often Should You Wash Your Pillows?

To incorporate washing your pillow with your regular cleaning schedule, try to wash it at least every four to six months. But if your pillow becomes visibly stained or soiled, wash it as soon as possible before sleeping on it again.

Take into consideration how often your pillows are being slept on. For instance, your guest room pillows shouldn’t need to be washed as often as the pillow you use every day. 

The telltale sign that your pillow needs to be washed if it shows signs of constant use. However, if your pillow is extremely discolored or has an odor that cannot be washed out, it is probably time to replace it with a new pillow. 

Related: Best Pillows of 2024

How to Wash Pillows in the Washing Machine

Before throwing your pillows in the washing machine, you need to ensure that your pillows are actually machine washable. Once you’ve ensured that your pillow is machine-washable, cleaning it is a piece of cake!

Loading the Machine

First, remove any protective covers and pillowcases. These can be washed and dried along with your pillow if you wish. If you find any rips or tears, this is a sign you need to replace your pillow rather than washing it. 

It’s ideal to load your pillows in a front-loading washing machine without an agitator. This will minimize the likelihood of your pillows getting damaged. If you must wash them in a top-loading machine with an agitator, place the pillow in the drum vertically. 

Another way to prevent damage to your pillows is to load two pillows at a time apart from each other in the drum. This step is crucial for having an evenly distributed load and getting them as clean as possible.

Running the Machine

Use a small amount of mild detergent and set your washing machine to a gentle or delicate cycle. Warm water is best to use for most pillows, but consult the pillow’s care instructions for what temperature to run the machine on. 

pouring detergent into washing machine

If possible, run a second rinse cycle with cold water to ensure no detergent residue is left behind. Afterward, set the machine to a “drain and spin” cycle to remove as much water from the pillow as possible. The more moisture you can get out of your pillow in the washer, the faster it will dry when you transfer it to the dryer.

washing machine set to drain and spin cycle

Drying the Pillow

For the best results, place one to two dryer balls or tennis balls inside tube socks along with your pillows. These will bounce around inside the dryer and will redistribute its filling helping it to dry as efficiently as possible.

woman holding tennis ball in sock

Set the temperature to your dryer’s lowest heat setting to not potentially damage the pillow. If you are worried about your dryer being too hot, it may be best to let your pillows air-dry instead. 

It may take a few low heat cycles for your pillows to dry completely. It’s important to let your pillows dry completely before reusing them to prevent mildew growth. 

How to Clean Pillows in the Bathtub

Washing your pillow in your bathtub is a great way to wash your pillow if it is not machine- washable but is also able to be completely soaked. 

Fill your tub with enough warm water to completely submerge your pillow and add gentle detergent. Gently move and massage the pillow with your hands to let the soapy water seep through the entire pillow. Wring out as much soapy water as possible and repeat this two to three times. Drain the soapy water and rinse the pillow in cold water until the water runs clear and all the suds are gone. 

Squeeze as much water out of the pillows as you can with a towel. Then find a place to let the towel air dry where fresh air circulates, ideally in direct sunlight. The drying process will take several hours, but do not use the pillow until it’s fully dry.

How to Spot Clean a Pillow

The third and final way to clean your pillow is by spot-cleaning it. This option is for pillows that cannot be completely submerged in water like pillows that are one piece of foam. 

Take a damp cloth with water and gently wet the stained area. Then take a mild detergent or cleaning solution and gently rub it into the area. If you have repeated this step and have not completely removed the stain, apply a stain remover and follow the directions on the package. 

rubbing dirty pillow with damp cloth

Take the same damp cloth to remove any detergent or stain remover left behind. Let the pillow fully air dry in a ventilated area, preferably in direct sunlight.

pillow air drying near window

How to Wash Pillows by Type

The best way to know how to take care of your pillows is to read the care instructions on the tag or visit the brand’s website for more information. Generally, the correct way to clean your pillow is determined by the material of its filling and cover. Below, we’ll go over the most popular types of pillows and how to clean each one. 

Down and Feather Pillows

Most down pillows can be put in the washing machine on gentle settings just like their down alternative counterparts. We don’t recommend using harsh chemicals like bleach on down or down alternative pillows. If your pillow has a natural feather filling, opt for a no-heat setting in the dryer or let it air-dry. Just expect the feathers to air-dry slower than synthetic filling.

Foam Pillows

Memory foam pillows and latex foam pillows cannot be put in the washing machine or dryer. The best way to clean a foam pillow depends on if its filling is one piece or several pieces of foam. 

Before hand-washing a memory foam pillow, remove its pillowcase and any protective covers. Then vacuum the foam with a hand vacuum or brush attachment. You could also spot-clean the foam at this step if necessary. Afterward, consult our hand-washing instructions for pillows above. 

Most shredded memory foam pillows come with an inner lining separating the foam from the cover. This shredded foam can be kept in its lining and put in the washing machine. Be sure to get the foam as dry as possible before putting in the dryer on a low-heat setting. 

Bamboo Pillows

Typically, bamboo pillows have removable bamboo covers that are machine-washable. Just like down pillows, bamboo pillows require using a mild detergent with no harsh chemicals. Avoid using hot water to prevent the cover from shrinking. You can throw a bamboo cover in the dryer on a low tumble-dry setting. 

Body Pillows

Body pillows have various fillings and come in various sizes, so be sure to check your body pillow’s care instructions. If your body pillow is machine-washable, wash it alone so as to not overload the washer. If your body pillow is too large to fit into a washing machine, you can stick to hand-washing and spot-cleaning when necessary. 

Travel Pillows

Travel pillows like U-shaped neck pillows come with various care instructions, so consult its care tag for more information. Some travel pillows come with removable machine-washable covers, and some are entirely machine-washable. Make sure to throw in an additional pillow or other items for an evenly distributed load. For travel pillows made with memory foam or microbeads, follow our washing instructions above. Microbead pillows can be too easily damaged in the washing machine or dryer. 

Throw Pillows

The most popular throw pillow fillings are polyester, down alternative or down feathers. Thankfully, polyester and down alternative filling pillows are very easy to clean. Just remove the cover and use the washing machine instructions above. Double check beforehand if the cover is machine washable or can only be spot cleaned. 

How to Clean Yellow Pillows

Have you ever noticed that a white pillow you purchased has turned yellow over time? Some reasons why pillows turn yellow is because they absorb sweat stains, drool and oils from your skin. If your pillow has a few yellow stains and still feels supportive, it can be salvaged. 

White pillow with yellow stains from use

First, you will want to spot clean the yellow stains using our instructions above. You can also use a baking soda and water mixture as a home remedy for stain removal. Let your preferred stain remover solution sit for a few hours before rinsing or further washing. 

If your pillow is machine-washable, throw the pillow in the washing machine according to our instructions above. To help whiten pillows, try adding bleach or white vinegar to your detergent.

How to Deodorize Pillows

Dirt and oil can make your pillow stink with continuous use. If you are just looking to get rid of odors without entirely washing your pillow, then all you have to do is deodorize it. Baking soda is known as a natural deodorizer that binds and eliminates bad smells. All you have to do is sprinkle baking soda on your pillow and let it sit for up to one hour. Then vacuum the baking soda and reapply the pillowcase. If deodorizing and washing your pillow does not get rid of stains or unpleasant smells, it’s time to replace your pillow


Can you wash shredded memory foam pillows?

Yes, you can wash shredded memory foam pillows in the washing machine. To do so, keep the shredded foam in its inner lining that separates the foam from the cover. Be sure to use the most delicate settings on your washer and dryer as to not damage the foam. You can also spot clean the shredded foam when necessary.

Can you put pillows in the dryer?

Some pillows can be put in the dryer depending on the material they are filled with. Polyester, down alternative and most down feather pillows are durable enough to put in the dryer on a low-heat tumble dry setting. However, memory foam, latex and microbead pillows should be air-dried after hand washing or spot cleaning. Some body pillows are also too large to fit in a dryer.

Can you dry clean pillows?

Unless the manufacturer says a pillow is dry-clean only, we do not recommend dry-cleaning your pillow. Dry-cleaning solvents can possibly ruin the cover or filling of your pillow. It is better to wash your pillows with mild detergents without harmful chemicals. 

Can I machine wash spot clean only pillows?

It is not recommended to machine wash a spot clean-only pillow. Often the reason why a pillow is spot clean-only is because it is more likely to be damaged in a washing machine and/or dryer. For example, memory foam pillows should not be machine washed because the agitating tumbling could cause the foam to fall apart.

Celeste Parler

Celeste is an editorial intern for Mattress Clarity and a current senior at Texas State University studying digital media innovation. After graduating in December 2023, she hopes to work in the realm of content marketing and SEO and become a content creator. In her spare time, she enjoys supporting local musicians and watching reality TV.