Can Pillows Be Washed?

by Véronique Raymond
Published: Last Updated on

We sleep on our pillows every night. We spend up to a third of our lives asleep, faces pressed into our pillows. These two statements should make it very clear that our pillows need to be washed regularly, but most of us have never considered it. We think washing the pillow case is enough. We would all be wrong.

When you sleep, your pillow collects drool and sweat and accumulates dead skin cells, hair, dust, and dust mites among other things. In short, our pillows get pretty gross pretty quickly. Washing your pillow is an essential step toward a healthier sleep.

But how do you wash a pillow? How do you dry a pillow? How often do you need to wash your pillow? These are all great questions, and we’ll answer them below.


How Often Should You Wash Your Pillow?

Experts recommend washing your pillow at least twice a year. However, if you sweat a lot as a hot sleeper, have pets sleep in the bed with you (or on their own during the day), or eat in bed, you should wash your pillows at least four times a year to be on the safe side.

pillow in the dryer

How to Wash a Pillow

There are two methods of washing pillows you can choose between: hand washing and using a washing machine. Before choosing which way to wash your pillow, check to see if there are any stains present. if there are, you may need to spot-clean the pillow with bleach or a spot cleaner first. You should also check the care instructions on the care label of the pillow to ensure it is machine washable – it should also tell you if your pillow should be handled by a dry cleaning service only and if it can tumble dry or must be air-dried.

Washing Machine

The most effective way to clean pillows is to put them in the washer. Does the type of washer matter? Maybe. Front-loading washers are the best choice since the pillow isn’t scrunched into a semi-circle by the agitator in the middle of top-loading washers. Front-loaders also usually have more settings that are more applicable for washing pillows.

For example, pillows should be washed on a gentle cycle, and not all top-loading washers have that option. You should also run a couple of extra spin cycles to get out as much water as possible for the drying process, and front-loading washing machines are best for this step as well.

When washing pillows in the washing machine, you’ll want to keep the load balanced. If washing throw pillows, try to wash two at once so that the detergent and water circulate evenly for a more effective clean. Some washers are large enough that you can wash two bed pillows at once as well, but if not, that’s okay.

Hand Washing

If you want to hand wash a pillow or use a pillow that can only be hand washed, keep these step-by-step instructions in mind:

  1. First, vacuum dust off the surface of the pillow.
  2. Second, spot clean with a damp cloth and a very small amount of mild detergent. If there is a particularly bad spot, you can soak that portion of the pillow only to help combat the deep-set stain.
  3. Third, lay the pillow flat to air dry naturally. Keep in mind some pillows can be dried on a clothesline while others can’t be exposed to direct sunlight and need to dry indoors.

If you do own a pillow that can’t be machine-washed, such as memory foam or latex, a pillow protector is a worthy investment to reduce the allergens that build up on the pillow’s surface. Pillow covers aren’t enough of a barrier to protect the lifespan of the pillow or prevent an unhealthy sleeping surface below the exterior.

Polyester, Cotton, and Down Alternative Pillows

These pillow types are the only ones that are safe for a machine wash. Fiberfill pillows are the best pillows for machine washing since they can also be tumble dried to eliminate mildew growth inside the pillow. You can use cold water or hot water on these pillows, though you should be careful to use only a very small amount of mild laundry detergent. It may be wise to run a second rinse cycle to clear away any residual detergent from the pillow’s interior as well.

Latex and Memory Foam Pillows

Unfortunately, latex and memory foam pillows can’t be machine-washed. The agitation of the washer can break up the foam, so it’s best to only spot clean these pillows as needed to keep them free of stains.

Buckwheat Hull Pillows

Buckwheat pillows should not get wet, but since these pillows have a removable filling, there is a way to clean them effectively. Buckwheat pillows are designed with a zipper cover so you can empty out the filling into a plastic bag, bin, or pillow case while you wash the cover. You should turn the cover inside out to ensure all the small debris from the hulls is removed prior to washing. Before putting the hulls back into their cover, you can rejuvenate them by drying them in the sun for a few hours. This will eliminate odour and keep the hulls fresh.

how to choose pillow

How to Dry a Pillow

Not all types of pillows can be dried the same. Down pillows/feather pillows, polyester pillows, and other fiberfill pillows can be tumble dried with a no-heat setting. If you don’t have an air-dry setting on your dryer that uses no heat, a low heat setting will do (choose the lowest heat setting available).

Pillows that can’t be tumble-dried must be air-dried. However, using a clothesline in the sunshine is not a good idea for some types of pillows like latex shouldn’t be left in direct sunlight. Memory foam pillows do very well in direct sunlight since the rays kill microorganisms, a tactic you can use multiple times a year since memory foam can’t be machine washed.

If tumble-drying pillows, you should add a couple of tennis balls or dryer balls to fluff up the pillow and help it dry faster. Three cycles, or roughly three hours, should be enough to dry your pillow inside and out. If air-drying, you should wait at least 24 hours.


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