How to Wash Your Pillows: Full Guide and Expert Tips


Maria DeSouza

| Published September 20, 2023

Pillows offer crucial comfort and support for restful sleep, but they can become dirty without you ever noticing. Therefore, it’s important to regularly change your pillows.

Unfortunately, changing your pillowcases regularly doesn’t guarantee a clean pillow.

Regularly washing and cleaning your pillows is essential, but you’ll need more than a simple washing machine cycle to properly wash your pillows.

We’ll cover pillow types, essential tools, step-by-step washing, risks to watch for, and expert cleaning tips here!

Types of Pillows and their Cleaning Instructions

Any pillow can harbor house dust mites, perspiration, and other allergens, but each one has specific care instructions.

From down to feather, synthetic, latex, and even memory foam pillows, every pillow type has specific cleaning methods you need to follow.

Here’s how to wash pillows according to type.

Feather and Down Pillows

Down pillows are made from the under feathers of geese and ducks, while feather pillows are made from wing feathers. Both feather and down pillows are soft, naturally hypoallergenic, and breathable.

Before cleaning them, inspect the pillow cover for rips to avoid the filling from leaking out, and to make the washing process easier.

You can use a washing machine for a down pillow. Use cool water, gentle detergent, and a delicate cycle. Avoid fabric softener to prevent clumping.

Inspect them after removing them from the washing machine. If you spot any soapy water, give them a second rinse cycle.

To prevent damage, tumble-dry pillows on extra low or no heat, as high temperatures can compromise the integrity of these two pillows. To be safe, check your pillow’s care instructions.

Synthetic Pillows

Synthetic pillows have a versatile polyester filling and offer durability and shape retention. These alternative pillows are easy to maintain.

They can be washed in a washing machine, but you may need a higher heat setting than a feather or down pillow.

Opt for gentle wash cycles to preserve longevity, and tumble dry the pillows on a medium heat spin cycle.

Keep some tennis balls on hand when washing these alternative pillows to prevent them from balling.

Memory Foam and Latex Pillows

Latex and memory foam pillows maintain their form and don’t need fluffing. These two pillows have a solid structure and should not be washed in washing machines and tumble-dried due to potential foam damage.

Instead, hand wash your foam pillow.

Combine lukewarm water and 1 teaspoon of detergent for deep cleaning. Wash and rinse the pillow gently, avoiding over-soaking it.

Vacuum off the dust, then spot-clean it with a damp cloth and mild detergent or isopropyl alcohol.

Absorb excess moisture by pressing a pillow flat between towels. Then air dry them on a rack, turning them periodically.

Specialty Pillows

Specialty pillows are specially made to provide support or comfort for various conditions or preferences, like allergies, neck problems, or different sleeping postures.

Each specialty pillow type has distinct cleaning instructions, so it’s important to follow the care label provided.

Here are some examples of specialty pillows:

  • Orthopedic pillow – Designed to support people with neck or back pain.
image of an orthopedic pillow placed on a bed, accompanied by smaller micro bed pillows
  • Body pillow – A long, pillow-shaped cushion that can support the body in various positions.
  • Buckwheat pillow – Filled with buckwheat hulls, which are small, round grains that provide support and ventilation.
  • Cervical pillow – Designed to support the neck and align the spine.
  • Microbead pillow – Filled with small, plastic beads that provide a comfortable and supportive sleeping surface.

Essential Tools and Supplies for Washing Pillows

Ensuring a clean and comfortable pillow requires the right tools and supplies.

From mild detergents to proper dry cleaning equipment, ensure you have these ready for a thorough and effective cleaning process.

Mild Detergent

We recommend using mild laundry detergent when washing your pillow.

Pillows are often filled with delicate materials that can be damaged by harsh detergents, like feathers or memory foam.

Mild detergents are designed to be gentle on these materials without sacrificing cleaning power. They don’t leave behind residue on the pillow filling, which can irritate the skin.

If you’re unsure about your laundry detergent choice, choose one designed for delicate fabrics.

A stain remover, fabric softeners, and harsh detergents are not totally off-limits, but they can damage the pillow’s fabric and filling.

Washer and Dryer

Washers are controlled environments that provide cool water, uniform agitation, and various wash cycle options to ensure efficient removal of dirt, body oils, dead skin cells, and allergens.

Dryers on low to no heat can dry pillows effectively, preventing mold and mildew growth.

Whether you have a front- or top-loading machine, these appliances improve the entire washing process.

However, not all pillow types are machine washable. If your pillow needs special care, treat it by hand washing it in cold water.

Pillows Drying

Drying pillows effectively prevents issues like clumping, excessive moisture, or damage during drying.

Here are some tools and supplies that you may need:

  • Drying rack – If you don’t have a dryer, use a drying rack.
  • Towels – Place towels on the drying rack to absorb excess moisture.
  • Wool dryer balls or clean tennis balls (optional) – These will help fluff the pillows while they dry and prevent clumping.
  • Dry, well-ventilated area – Ensure you have a suitable space for air-drying.

Detailed Steps on How to Wash Pillows

So, how do you wash pillows?

Here is a step-by-step guide, covering everything from pre-wash checks and preparations to washing and drying directions and post-wash care!

Pre-wash Inspections and Preparations

Pre-wash inspections and preparations are vital to identify damage and stains. This step guarantees your pillow is prepared for cleaning.

  1. Inspect your pillow. Check for tears, rips, or tough stains. If the pillow is severely damaged, it might be time for a new pillow.
  2. Remove the dirty pillow cover and wash it separately to avoid soiling your newly washed pillow.
  3. Evenly distribute the filling by fluffing them, preventing clumping during the wash.

NOTE: Some pillow covers are machine-washable.

Washing Instructions

Proper washing techniques can prevent clumping, filling damage, or fabric deterioration.

Always check the care label, but you can also follow these general steps:

  1. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing machine settings.
  2. Use a gentle cycle and cold water for machine-washable foams or fillings.
  3. Use a mild detergent and gentle stain remover to protect the pillow filling from damage.
  4. Wash them separately. Avoid washing bed pillows with other laundry items to prevent re-soiling.
  5. Wash with warm water and include an extra rinse cycle for thorough detergent removal.
  6. Adhere to the recommended washing time according to the care label.

Drying Instructions

Proper drying techniques prevent over-drying, which can damage the filling, or under-drying, leading to moisture retention and unpleasant odors.

  1. Air-dry your pillow if possible to prevent overheating and damage.
  2. Remove excess water by squeezing gently and without wringing them.
  3. For tumble drying, use a low heat setting and limit to 30 minutes.
  4. Regularly check your pillow to ensure it isn’t exposed to excessive heat.
  5. Fluff it again after drying to distribute the filling.

Post-wash Care

This final step removes detergent and moisture, preventing skin irritations and preserving pillow freshness.

  1. Once they are dry, store them in a clean, dry place.
  2. Inspect your pillows frequently for signs of damage.
  3. Most experts recommend washing foam pillows at least every six months.
  4. Replace them every 2-3 years.

Potential Risks and Precautions When Washing Pillows

While washing your pillows is necessary for hygiene, here are a few concerns and safeguards to be aware of.

Avoiding and Removing Lumps

Improper cleaning can cause the filling to clump, leading to an uneven pillow. Prevent this by drying the pillow properly.

You can add tennis or dryer balls to the dryer to help maintain filling distribution. If you’re machine-washing, use a gentle cycle and mild detergent.

To avoid lumps, fluff the pillows before washing and gently massage the filling with detergent to break up clumps.

Regularly check for lumps when drying your pillows.

Pillows Shrinking

Pillows are likely to shrink and deform without proper care.

You can prevent this by washing them with a gentle cycle, cold or warm water, and a small amount of mild detergent.

To prevent excessive heat exposure, use low-heat settings in the dryer. Washing in hot water or drying on high heat can also lead to shrinking.

Also, avoid overloading the washing machine to prevent pillow damage, shrinking, and loss of shape.

Care for the Color and Fabric

Incorrectly washing your pillows can damage their fabric and cause their color to fade. Different fabrics and dyes react differently to soapy water and detergents.

Check your pillow’s care instructions to avoid color bleeding and fabric damage, especially if they have intricate patterns or are made from delicate materials.

You can use either gentle stain remover or baking soda to eliminate stains.

Expert Tips and Tricks for Maintaining Clean Pillows

Here’s how you can keep your pillows fresh and spotless.

Frequency for Washing Pillows

As a general rule, remember to wash your pillows every 6 months.

However, if you’re allergy-prone or your pillow has visible dirt, more frequent cleaning might be needed.

Quarterly washing is advised for those who eat in bed, have pets, or sweat heavily.

Depending on use, specialty pillows (like a throw pillow) should be cleaned every 3-6 months.

Use of Pillow Protectors

Use pillow covers and sleeves to protect pillows against sweat, saliva, and other accidental spills. They come in various materials like cotton, synthetic blends, terry cloth, and vinyl.

These barriers prevent dirt, oils, and allergens from settling on your pillow. Regularly clean your pillow protector to ensure its efficacy.

Store Pillow Properly

Store clean, dry cushions in breathable fabric bags or covers to shield them from dust mites. Avoid plastic bags to prevent moisture and mildew.

You can also place pillows in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight, and use breathable pillowcases for air circulation. You can also store them alongside sheets and blankets in the linen closet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some additional questions for more information about washing bed pillows.

Can I Wash All Types of Pillows?

All types of pillows can be washed, but the washing methods differ according to type.

You can machine wash most pillows. However, others may require a hand wash, like memory foam pillows.

Additionally, certain pillows, particularly those with feathers, may benefit from a pillow bag during deep clean washing to protect the feathers from damage.

What Is the Best Way to Dry a Washed Pillow?

The best way to dry a washed pillow depends on the pillow’s type and materials. For many pillows, using a dryer on low heat is recommended.

Adding dryer balls or clean tennis balls can help prevent clumping and evenly distribute the filling.

Alternatively, air drying in a well-ventilated area can also be effective, especially for those unsuitable for machine drying.

How Frequently Should I Wash My Pillows?

Bed pillows used nightly should be fully washed at least 2-3 times a year.

Your pillow’s removable cover or pillowcase should be changed and washed weekly, along with bed linens. Decorative cushions require less frequent cleaning unless used daily.

For throw pillows without a removable insert, follow the proper cleaning of pillowcases in the pillow’s care instructions.

Can Washing Machine Damage Pillows?

Washing machines can damage a memory or solid latex foam pillow.

Feathers, down, or polyester fiberfill can be machine-washed and tumble-dried. Solid latex or memory foam pillows cannot be machine-washed and should be cleaned by hand.

Nonetheless, the pillow’s care instructions will tell you how to safely wash and dry your new pillow.

What Kind of Detergent Should I Use While Washing Pillows?

Opt for a mild, dye-free, perfume-free laundry detergent to prevent staining its surface Liquid fabric softener can also be added to reduce static cling when drying.

Take care when selecting detergent for a delicate foam pillow to prevent stains.

In addition, spot clean pillows between thorough washes and use baking soda to freshen foam pillows.


Proper pillow care ensures your pillows are clean, hygienic, and last longer.

Remember the washing steps, regular maintenance for better sleep and pillow durability, and pillow care tips we’ve discussed above.

When in doubt, check your pillow’s care instructions and take care to hand wash more delicate materials, like specialty and foam pillows.

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