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How to wash a pillow

How to wash a pillow
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

We all wash our bed sheets and pillow cases on a regular basis, but have you ever thought about washing the pillows themselves? Given the hours we spend sleeping, pillows naturally harbor sweat, oils and dust mites — not to mention dust mite droppings — so it’s essential that we take the time to clean them. 

The question is, how do you wash a pillow? There are different methods for each type of pillow, which can make it confusing. But don’t panic, we’ve broken down the instructions for you. Whether you use a polyester, feather or memory foam pillow, here’s how to wash it.   

How often should you wash your pillows?

You should wash your pillow as often as necessary — if you start to notice yellow sweat stains, then it’s time to wash it!  

What you will need

For polyester, cotton, feather or down pillows:

• Washer 

• Dryer

• Laundry detergent

For memory foam or latex pillows:

• Baking soda

• Vacuum cleaner with upholstery attachment

• Microfiber cloth

• Dish detergent

With regular use, a deep clean is recommended once every four months, regardless of the type of pillow you use. If you have allergies, you should wash your pillow more often. If your pillow comes with a removable case, this should be washed regularly as well, ideally once a month. 

Can I use a washer and dryer?

Most polyester, cotton, feather and down pillows can actually be washed and dried in your washer and dryer, although you should check the care tag as some are dry clean only. A front load or top load washer without an agitator is preferred, as the agitator can damage a pillow. However, you still can use this type of machine so long as you stack the pillows vertically. Memory foam and latex pillows should not be placed in a washer or dryer as these will damage the foam. 

How to wash a polyester, cotton, feather or down pillow

Pillows in washing machine

(Image credit: Future)

1. First and foremost, follow the care tag instructions. Most of these pillows can be machine washed and the tag should recommend what temperature and cycle to use as well as drying instructions. If no instructions are given, remove any cases or covers and wash these along with the pillows using warm water on a gentle cycle and a small amount of detergent. We also recommend adding an extra rinse cycle to remove any residual soap. 

Always wash two pillows at the same time to balance the load. If you don’t do this, the washer will struggle to spin. It’s also a good idea to check for any tears or broken seams on the pillow. If the case isn’t robust enough, the filling could be released in the cycle and potentially damage your washer.  

2. Following this, tumble dry on a low heat, taking the pillows out to fluff them regularly during the cycle. You may have to run this program more than once to sufficiently dry them.  

3. Once finished, take your pillows out to air, ideally in direct sunlight, until you’re satisfied they’re completely dry. This gets rid of any remaining moisture which you may not notice immediately. 

If you’re dealing with a pillow which has a direct stain on it, you can spot-clean with a pre-treatment such as Shout Laundry Stain Remover Spray before machine washing.  

How to wash a memory foam or latex pillow

Vacuuming memory foam pillow

(Image credit: Future)

1. Memory foam and latex pillows cannot be machine washed as it would damage the filling. First, remove and wash any covers according to the care tag. If no instructions are provided, machine wash using warm water on a gentle cycle with detergent and dry on low heat. 

2. To clean the foam, the best practice is simply to vacuum both sides of the pillow using an upholstery attachment. If it smells, you can sprinkle baking soda on the foam and leave it for a few hours to absorb any odors prior to vacuuming. 

3. If the foam is stained, you can spot clean with a microfiber cloth and mild dish detergent solution, then rinse with a damp cloth. Clean in a circular motion and be careful not to scrub too hard as foam can tear easily.   

4. Following this, leave the pillow to air dry, in direct sunlight if possible, before putting the case back on. 

How often should you change your pillow?

Pillows sadly won’t last forever, and there are ways to tell you need a new one: 

  • For polyester and cotton pillows, try the fold test. Fold the pillow in half. If it doesn’t spring back and stays folded, then it needs replacing. 
  • Lumps and bumps may have developed in the filling, making it uncomfortable to sleep on, or perhaps you are waking up with a neck ache.
  • Your pillow might have lost its support, becoming flat even with regular fluffing. In the case of memory foam, these can also lose support by dipping over time.   

Some pillow types will last longer than others; generally speaking, polyester pillows will wear the fastest, while memory foam and latex are the most durable. However, as a rule, you should look to replace your pillow every 1-2 years. 

Tips to keep your pillow clean

  • Invest in a pillow protector 
  • Fluff your pillow daily to remove dust and restore its shape 
  • Leave a bedroom window open in the mornings for at least an hour to air the room and release moisture
  • Wash and change your bedding regularly, including the pillow protector  
Katie Mortram

Katie looks after everything homes-related, from kitchen appliances to gardening tools. She also covers smart home products too, so is the best point of contact for any household advice! She has tested and reviewed kitchen appliances for over 6 years, so she knows what to look for when finding the best. Follow her on Twitter at @KatieMortram.