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How often you should clean your pillows — and the right way to do it

Spring cleaning your bedroom? Remember to clean your pillows, too!

After all, while you’re snoozing peacefully, your pillow’s collecting drool, sweat and all matter of other body fluids, not to mention dead skin cells, dust mites and their excrement. Yuck! That’s why cleaning coach Leslie Reichert recommends cleaning pillows every three months. Just follow these easy steps below and you’ll sleep cleaner tonight.

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Solid or memory foam pillows

Non-washable types

“Most solid/memory foam pillows are dense and cannot be machine washed,” cautions Reichert.

  • Freshen them by vacuuming (use a setting that has less suction) or place them in the dryer on an “air only” setting for 15-20 minutes.
  • To remove stains, spot clean using a cloth lightly moistened with mild soap and water. Rinse with a damp cloth. Blot with a towel and allow the pillow to air dry before covering it with a pillow case or protector.
  • If the pillow comes with a removable cover that is washable, clean it according to directions on the care label.

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Washable types

If your solid/memory foam pillow is hand washable, be careful. “Solid foam, when wet, is fragile and can tear easily,” says Reichert. “Proceed gently.”

  • Submerge the pillow in lukewarm water mixed with a small amount of mild detergent. Carefully squeeze water through the pillow to clean.
  • Using cool water, rinse until water runs clear.
  • Gently squeeze to remove excess water.
  • Place on a flat surface to air dry. If possible, dry outdoors on a sunny day.”
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Down/synthetic pillows

“Not all down/synthetic pillows are washable,” says Reichert. "First and foremost, follow the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning the pillow and the cover, too."

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  • Repair torn or loose seams before laundering so you don’t end up with a machine full of feathers.
  • For down pillows, wash only in a front-loading washer. Top-loading washers with agitators in the center could damage the down.
  • Wash two pillows at one time to keep machine balanced during the spin cycle. If you don’t have two pillows, add extra towels to balance the load.
  • Set the washer for an extra-large load. Pre-fill with warm water, add a small amount of low suds detergent (enough for a small load), then allow the water to agitate for a couple minutes to make sure the detergent is dissolved and evenly dispersed in wash water.
  • Place pillows in the washer.
  • Wash on gentle cycle.
  • Rinse twice in cold water.


  • Fluff pillows then tumble dry on low heat. To help prevent the filling from clumping, toss in a few rubber or wool dryer balls.
  • Every 15-20 minutes, fluff and turn the pillows to insure even drying and maximum fluffiness.
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Sometimes, pillows need more than cleaning; they need replacing. Use the “fold” test to see if you need a new pillow. Fold the pillow half, then let it go. If it unfolds and fluffs back up, it’s still got some dream miles left in it. If it stays folded, it’s time to recycle it to an animal shelter or send it to that great bed in the sky.

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