Cleaning Bed Pillows (More Often Than You Think!)

woman asleep on a clean pillowThere's nothing quite like sinking your face into a soft pillow at the end of a long day. But you might think twice if you could see all the unpleasantries that accumulate on your bedding - like dust mites, pet dander, hair and more.

So, how do you keep yourself from falling into a pile of filth each night? Can pillows be washed? Good news! They can, and we have some tips to help you keep them fresh and clean.

How Often to Wash Pillows

Unlike sheets, comforters and pillowcases, actual pillows don’t tend to get washed very often — if at all. That’s not OK, as pillowcases really don’t provide that much protection. Ideally, you should wash your pillows every six months or so, assuming you haven’t been ill or spilled anything on them. And if you live in a warm or especially humid climate, it’s a good idea to increase the cleaning frequency to every four months.

Washing Pillows in the Washing Machine

Fortunately, most pillows can be cleaned in the washing machine. Before getting started, you should always check to see if there are care instructions on the tag. If not, the method you use to wash your pillows will depend on the materials they’re made from.

Washing down pillows in the washing machine

You’ll need:

  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of gentle, low-sudsing liquid laundry detergent (Make sure the soap is liquid. Powder can leave residue.)
  • Tennis balls or woolen laundry balls
  • Set the washing cycle to gentle and the water temperature to cool.
  • Add the detergent to the washer. Load one pillow on each side of the agitator to balance the load. (If you have a front-loading washer, toss in some light-colored towels. Also, do not wash more than two pillows at once.)
  • Let the washer run through its normal paces but add a second rinse cycle to make sure all the suds are removed. Leftover soap suds can damage down.
  • Fluff the pillows when you take them out of the washer.
  • Dry them on low heat with the tennis balls or woolen laundry balls. This will help prevent clumping.
  • Stop the dryer every 10 to 15 minutes to fluff the pillows. Continue this until the pillows are absolutely dry.

Washing synthetic pillows in the washing machine

To wash synthetic pillows, follow the steps above with a few exceptions:

  • You can wash the pillows in warm water instead of cool.
  • Synthetic pillows do not need to be taken out of the dryer for occasional fluffing.
  • Some synthetic pillows — particularly foam — cannot go in the dryer. Check the care instructions tag before drying pillows. When in doubt, dry them on a flat surface or outdoors in the sun.

How Often to Replace Pillows

Pillows don’t come with best-by dates, so when you replace them really depends on how much they’re used and the environment in which they’re kept. However, there are three factors to consider when determining how often to replace pillows:

  • Fluffiness — Is your pillow lumpy? Do you have to punch it into shape before you can get comfortable? When you lay it on a flat surface, can you see an indentation where your head rests? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time for a new pillow.
  • Springiness — This test is easy. Simply fold your pillow in half longways. Pillows that spring back open are still good. Those that stay folded need to be replaced.
  • Age — The longer you use a pillow, the more dust mites, skin cells and oils accumulate. This not only affects the condition of the pillow, it can make it more difficult to clean house for allergy sufferers. Therefore, a good rule of thumb is to replace pillows every 18 months.

So, can pillows be washed? Yes, they absolutely can and should be. While you’re cleaning pillows, you might as well take care of the rest of your bedding. Find out how often you should wash sheets, then learn how to clean bed linens — including comforters and mattress pads — like a professional.