How To Clean Your Pillow

Have you ever stopped to think about how long it has been since you cleaned your pillow? Have you ever cleaned your pillow?

If you’re reading this post and watching our video, chances are it’s been a while. Fear not, we’ve got you covered.

Whether or not you use a pillowcase, having a clean pillow is important. Dead skin cells, facial oils, drool, sweat, and other gross stuff can be absorbed through your pillowcase and end up in your pillow over time.

That adds weight to your pillow and makes it a den for bacteria, dust mites, and other unhealthy microbes that can worsen your allergies or make you sick. It also stops your pillow from being able to perform at its highest level and provide you with the support you need.

So, how do I clean my pillow? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It will depend a lot on what materials are used to make your pillow. In some cases, you’ll be able to remove and wash just the cover; in other cases, you can wash the whole pillow (filling and cover). Don’t worry, we’ve broken it all down below.

If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to comment and we’ll do our best to help you figure out how to clean your pillow as well!

How Often Should I Wash My Pillow?

If you get your pillow dirty, wash it right away. If nothing especially gross happens to it, try to wash it at least every 4 to 6 months. I like to wash my pillows once a quarter (so approximately once every three months) when I rotate my mattress.

It’s always a good idea to air out or fluff your pillow occasionally, as well. That might mean throwing it in the dryer for a few minutes to help it maintain its loft or leaving it outside in the fresh air overnight.

Check out our list of Best Pillows for 2019

Cleaning Your Pillow In The Washing Machine

Basic Instructions

Great news: Many types of pillows and pillow fillings are washing machine-friendly. This includes most down or down alternative options and even some foam pillows. We’ve broken down the instructions for different fillings below.

Polyester

Most down alternative or microfiber filling pillows are made of polyester. This is one of the easier materials to clean, so congratulations! More likely than not, you can put your pillow in the washing machine (make sure to keep the load balanced) and put it on a cool or warm delicate wash. Once it’s clean, toss it into the dryer on a low tumble dry.

Pro Tip: Adding one or two tennis balls housed in socks (so the green dye doesn’t transfer) will help break up the filling in your pillow and allow it to dry faster.

Down/Feather

Down pillows (in general) can be machine washed and dried just like their down alternative counterparts. The key is to be gentle with it; this means using detergents that aren’t harsh (no bleach!) and washing on a delicate cycle and air drying or doing a low tumble dry.

If your pillow smells funky after you pull it out of the dryer, that means it’s not fully dry yet. Try hand fluffing it before throwing it back in, and don’t be alarmed if it takes a few cycles.

Shredded Foam

The best way to clean your foam pillow will vary depending on whether it’s a solid piece of foam or shredded pieces. Shredded foam pillows can often be washed in the washing machine (in most cases). You’ll want to wring out the foam pieces before throwing the pillow in the dryer to help lower the drying time, and make sure to add the tennis balls in socks that I mentioned earlier. It can take many cycles in the dryer for a shredded foam pillow to dry completely.

Microbeads

Microbeads can be machine washed in most cases, but they require an extra step. You will want to wrap the pillow in a large pillowcase and tie it up so the beads don’t accidentally spill out in your laundry machine.

Spot-Cleaning Your Pillow

Basic Instructions

Solid Foam (Memory Foam or Latex)

Typically, it’s not advisable for you to do anything but spot-clean a pillow that features a solid piece of foam. I recommend spot-cleaning by getting a damp washcloth with a little bit of detergent and gently pressing into the area of the pillow that is stained or dirty. Depending on the cover material, you might be able to rub instead of just pat the cover. Make sure you press a dry cloth into it and dry it as much as possible. Avoid putting it in the dryer, as this could potentially melt the foam.

There Are Some Pillows You Just Can’t Wash

There are some fillings that are special and cannot be washed. But don’t worry; in many cases, you can remove the filling and still wash the outer cover to keep it somewhat clean.

  • Buckwheat hulls. Don’t wash the buckwheat hulls in a buckwheat pillow; instead, just wash the cover. If the hulls become damp or soggy, they won’t work as a filling. You can put the hulls in a plastic bag while you wash and dry the cover. It will make a mess, but it’s worth it for a clean pillow.
  • Kapok fibers. These eco-friendly fibers, which are the seed pod fluff from a rainforest tree, cannot be cleaned. Pillows with Kapok fibers are often spot-cleaned only or have removable covers that can be cleaned separately.

Overall

Because there’s so much variation among pillows, the best way to be sure that you’re cleaning your pillow correctly is to read the care tag on your own pillow. If you no longer have the tag, go online and look up the pillow via its website; most companies post their care instructions online. These are going to be the best guide to cleaning your pillow.

But if you’ve lost your tag or don’t feel like going on a scavenger hunt, then follow the basic instructions above and either use the washing machine or spot-clean it. Keeping your pillow clean is essential to good sleep health (and just a good health practice in general!).

One final note: If you really, really can’t remember how long it’s been since you’ve cleaned your pillow and it looks really yellow or feels damp and/or unnaturally heavy, it’s time to trash it and get a new one.

Different pillows work better for different sleep types, so if you’re in the market for a new pillow, make sure to check out my list of Best Pillows here.

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Katie Golde

Katie manages the day to day operations of the Mattress Clarity news site and reviews sleep products in addition to writing and editing sleep news.She hails from Austin, where she lives with her growing family. She is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and has a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and has a background in health and science content. Her work can be found in print and online publications like Discover Magazine, USA Today and The Huffington Post.

3 thoughts on “How To Clean Your Pillow”

  1. Hello. I just watched your video on how to clean a pillow. I am so glad to learn I can wash my down pillows! I was worried that it was not possible. Thanks so much for this information! Sherry Farrington

  2. I had not thought about emptying out the Buckwheat Hulls in the one pillow I have with those. I don’t use it under my head and it is typically under another pillow that I use to support my arm (I’m a side sleeper). But, it would be helpful to at least clean the pillow covering, if not the actual buckwheat hulls. I have actually thought about figuring out how many hulls there are in it and then ordering some replacement hulls. I may do that one of these days. But, for now, I will try your trick of just removing all the hulls before washing. I also appreciate the tips about temperature sensitive pillows. I only have one of those, a neck roll pillow. And, I have been hoping that it is remaining clean because I have a 3 pillow case method . . . the original terry cloth pillow case, plus a muslin one and, lastly, a flannel pillow case. Of course, all the pillow cases kind of defeat the purpose of it being temperature sensitive. Thank you for the hints.

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