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How to Wash Pillows – Keeping Your Pillow Fresh

Written by Tuck Staff

Washing your pillow regularly is as important as washing your bedding. If you sleep for the recommended average of eight hours a night, over the course of a year you’ve been resting your head on your pillow for 2920 hours, or 121 days. That’s plenty of time for build-up to occur.

Some people avoid washing their pillow because they believe it’s complicated or time consuming. It doesn’t have to be, and if you’re not sure how to clean your pillow, keep reading while we walk you through the process.

How Often Should You Wash Your Pillow?

Using and washing a pillowcase or pillow cover can mitigate some build-up, but without regular cleaning, your pillow can become a haven for dust, dust mites and their droppings, dead skin, and other debris you don’t want next to your face all night.

Not only is this unhygienic, but it can also aggravate asthma and allergies. This is particularly true for those who are allergic to dust mite droppings, for whom clean bedding should be a priority.

If you use a pillowcase or cover and launder it frequently, washing your pillow every six months (or when visibly soiled) is often enough to keep your pillow healthy and clean. People with dust mite allergies or other allergic conditions may want to wash their pillow every three months.

How To Wash Your Pillow

Most pillows can be washed at home. To find out if your pillow needs dry cleaning, read the label instructions. (If you’ve cut off the label and thrown it away, instructions may be available on the manufacturer’s website.) The label should also include any other special instructions for washing.

Your pillow’s fill material is the most important thing to consider when planning how to wash it. When washing your pillow, everything — including the filling — becomes soaked through. Regardless of the brand, different fill materials have different washing needs.

Fill Material Can it be cleaned in a washing machine? Cleaning notes
Feather or Down Yes Use a detergent formulated for washing feather or down pillows to avoid post-wash stickiness or clumping. Hand-wash or use a washing machine on the delicate or gentle setting.
Synthetic Down Yes Follow the cleaning instructions for a feather or down pillow. However, you can also use a small amount of powdered detergent.
Polyester Yes Use a small amount of powder or liquid detergent. Wash in warm water on delicate.
Latex or Memory Foam No Spot-clean as necessary. To air it out and eliminate odor, place in direct sunlight for several hours every 3-6 months.
Buckwheat No Empty the buckwheat hulls onto a large, flat surface which can be placed inside in direct sunlight for several hours. Wash the casing.

The biggest danger in washing your pillow is that the filling will clump together and form uncomfortable lumps. This can be avoided through proper drying and fluffing techniques (see below), but there are some steps you can take during the wash cycle as well:

  • If possible, wash two pillows at once. By filling your washing machine closer to capacity, both pillows are more protected and less likely to form clumps.
  • Always wash your pillow on the gentle, hand-wash, or delicate cycle.
  • Use as little detergent as possible. A tablespoon of liquid detergent is usually enough for two pillows.
  • Avoid fabric softeners, which leave residue and can create stubborn lumps.

How To Dry and Fluff Your Pillow

This is the crucial step in ensuring your pillow is even more comfortable and supportive post-wash than it was before you washed it. Incomplete drying will result in mildew and odor, while drying incorrectly can leave you with a lumpy, possibly even singed, pillow.

Dryers are safe for the majority of pillows. Once again, your fill material will dictate your dryer settings:

  • Use air-dry only (no heat) for down and feather pillows. These are prone to heat damage and can even singe, leaving a permanent odor.
  • Synthetic down and polyester can both be dried on low to moderate heat. However, drying on lower temperatures for longer is safest.
  • Ignore any smart-dryer settings, as these are dependant on surface moisture readings and the surface of your pillow will be dry long before the interior.
  • To encourage fluffiness and speed up drying time, place clean, dry towels or tennis balls in with your pillows.
  • Dryer sheets can be added for extra freshness. However, many brands leave residue which can irritate the skin or attract debris. An alternative is a few drops of essential oil on the dry towels.

If you have an outdoor clothesline, hanging your pillow to dry in the sun is an excellent way to dry it while eliminating any stubborn odors. Of course, it’s important to ensure the filling is completely dry once you take it down. If there is any lingering dampness, use the air-dry setting on your dryer to finish the job.

Once your pillow is dry, use your hands to gently pull apart any obvious lumps. Shaking it well with quick snaps of your wrists will also help re-distribute the filling.

Keeping Your Pillow Clean

The easiest way to protect your pillow is to use a pillow cover or protector. When used with a pillowcase and cleaned regularly, these protect against obvious soiling and staining as well as less visible build-up.

Different styles of protectors are available, ranging from simple cotton to thick, water-resistant varieties. Most are inexpensive and do not interfere with the feel of your pillow, so choose whatever suits your needs best.

Airing out your pillow regularly will also keep it fresh between washes and help you avoid having to wash it more than necessary. When making your bed, fluff your pillow by hand and place it on top of any other bedding to allow any moisture it collected overnight to evaporate.

For a more thorough airing-out, place the pillow insert in a sunny area every time you wash its pillowcase or cover. Sunlight is a disinfectant and will leave your pillow smelling and feeling fresh and clean. (If you hang your pillow outside on a clothesline, make sure there are no insects hidden in the seams before replacing your cover.)

Finally, pay attention to your pillow’s lifespan. While some pillows can last 3-4 years, the majority of pillows have a lifespan of 1-2 years. Washing your pillow regularly and drying it well will keep it in better condition for longer, but eventually even the best pillow will lose its structure or begin to form lumps.

Additional Resources

Creating the perfect place to sleep and keeping it clean can take effort, but it’s worth it for the positive impact it can have on your sleep health. Follow the links below to learn more: