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Your pillows can get really gross — here are the best ways to wash them, according to pros

Here's how to wash and dry all of your pillows — from memory foam and down to synthetic pillows.
Woman putting on a pillowcase in a bedroom
Vivian Le/ TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

Cleaning your bedroom? Remember to clean your pillows, too!

After all, while you’re snoozing peacefully, your pillow’s collecting drool, sweat and other bodily fluids, not to mention dead skin cells, dust mites and their excrement. Yuck! Just follow the easy steps below and you’ll sleep cleaner tonight.

If you're looking for a new pillow altogether, learn more about how to buy the right pillow for your sleeping position.

How often should you wash your pillows? | How to wash pillows in a washing machine | How to wash pillows by hand | Can pillows go in the dryer? | The best products for cleaning your pillows

How often should you wash your pillows?

Cleaning coach Leslie Reichert recommends cleaning pillows every three month. While Vera Peterson, president of Molly Maid, suggests washing your pillows at least twice a year, she mentions that it's probably a good idea to clean them quarterly if you're using the same pillows every night.

How to wash pillows in a washing machine

Before you go tossing all of your pillows into the washing machine, take a look at the manufacturer's instructions and take note of what kind of fill your pillow has.

For instance, “not all down pillows are washable,” says Reichert. "Most solid/memory foam pillows are dense and cannot be machine washed."

"First and foremost, follow the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning the pillow and the cover. Then, repair torn or loose seams before laundering so you don’t end up with a machine full of feathers or synthetic fill," she adds. Reichert also suggests using only a front-loading washing machine, as top-loading machines have agitators in the center which can damage your pillows.

How to wash down and synthetic pillows in a washing machine

If your pillows are machine-washable, here's how Reichert suggests washing them so you don't ruin them:

Set the washer for an extra-large load on a gentle cycle (to help prevent clumps) and prefill with warm water, adding a small amount of low-suds detergent (enough for a small load).

Allow the water to agitate for a couple of minutes to make sure the detergent is dissolved and evenly dispersed in the water.

Wash two pillows at one time — this keeps the machine balanced during the spin cycle. If you don’t have two pillows to wash, add extra towels to balance the load.

  • Rinse twice in cold water.

How do you wash pillows by hand?

"If your pillows are not machine wash-safe, all you need is a sink or bathtub or plastic tub," says Peterson. Here's how she suggests washing down, down alternative and synthetic fill pillows:

First, fill the bathtub, plastic tub or sink with warm water and a few drops of your preferred laundry detergent. Only use a small amount of detergent to prevent leaving behind any residue.

Then, submerge the pillows in the water and allow them to soak for 10 minutes.

Next, knead the pillow fibers and fabrics for another 10 minutes. Kneading the pillow mimics the same action the pillow would receive in the washing machine.

Drain the tub/sink and rinse the pillow with warm water. Saturate the pillow and wring it out to remove all soap residue.

Repeat the rinsing process until there is no sign of detergent and then it’s time to dry!

In terms of spills and stains, the experts at FluffCo say that pillows can be spot cleaned with stain remover. For larger stains, they can be dry-cleaned. Leaving pillows out in the sun on a dry day can also help to freshen your pillow without washing them.

How to hand-wash solid/memory foam pillows

“Most solid/memory foam pillows are dense and cannot be machine-washed,” cautions Reichert. Here's how to wash pillows with this specific material.

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 pillowcase or protector.

  • If the pillow comes with a removable and washable cover, clean it according to the directions on the care label.

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 it.

Using cool water, rinse until the 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.

Can pillows go in the dryer?

"Most pillows can go in the dryer, but always check the care tag for the laundering instructions for your specific pillow," Peterson says. Here are her tips on getting dry, fluffy pillows.

If your pillow can go in the dryer, always make sure your dryer is set on low heat.

When putting a pillow in the dryer, toss a few wool dryer balls or clean tennis balls in with the pillow(s) to help fluff and loosen up any clumped-up stuffing.

If your pillow is not able to go in the dryer, wrap the wet pillow in a big dry towel and give it a big squeeze to get rid of any excess moisture and then place it to dry in a sunny part of your home.

Sometimes, pillows need more than cleaning; they need replacing. Use the “fold” test to see if you need a new pillow. Fold the pillow in 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.

The best products for cleaning your pillows

Resolve Multi-Fabric Cleaner

A powerful fabric cleaner can help you spot-clean your pillows and get them back to looking good as new, especially for pillows that just need a little touch-up and aren't ready to be washed yet.

Brooklinen Wool Dryer Balls

Dryer balls are eco-friendly, reusable and a great investment that helps prevent static and reduce your energy bill. Best of all, it helps prevent clumps in your pillows if you throw them in the dryer.

Bio-Home Laundry Detergent

This low-sudsing detergent is perfect for washing pillows. You only need a tiny bit, and fewer suds means less of a chance that soapy residue will be left behind on or in your pillow.

Black + Decker Dustbuster

A well-preforming, inexpensive handheld vacuum is handy for cleaning up all sorts of messes but also works well to vacuum your pillows and get some of that dust and debris cleaned out of your pillows.

Collapsible Laundry Tub

This generously sized (10.5 gallons) bucket is great for washing your pillows and delicates if you don't want to put your laundry directly into your bathtub or sink. This can sit in your tub while you hand wash and then easily collapse for compact storing once you're done.