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How to wash your pillows the right way

Posted by AMH Team

6m read time

Jun 29, 2024

Your bedroom is your home's sanctuary. Whether you’re looking to turn it into a zen palace or simply want to get better sleep every night, keeping your bedroom in good shape starts with developing regular habits.


You might make your bed every morning and wash your sheets every few weeks, but what about your pillows? Not the pillowcases—the actual pillows themselves. We spend about a third of our lives with our heads on these pillows. That’s a lot of skin cells, sweat, oils, and drool that builds up! If you can’t remember the last time you washed your pillows, now is a great time to start. It’s not usually as simple as tossing all of them into the washing machine and pushing start. Each type of pillow needs different care. Here’s how to wash your pillows the right way so they maintain their quality.


How often should you wash your pillows?


Your pillowcase is a strong defender against the various oils and bacteria that find their way onto your pillow, but even the best defenders need periodic relief.


Aim to wash your pillows every six months. That cadence will keep them refreshed and pay off in the long run, as you won't need to buy new pillows as often.


Throw pillows can go a bit longer between washes. You can get away with washing them once a year. Meanwhile, memory foam pillows tend to accumulate residue faster, so look to wash them every three to four months.


How to clean dirty pillows in a few different ways


Machine washing a pillow


Start by looking at your pillow’s tag, which will feature general washing instructions. Most importantly, you’ll see if you can put the pillow in the washing machine or if it requires hand washing.


If there’s no tag or the directions don’t specify, set your washing machine to the most delicate cycle and warm water. You can wash your pillow and pillowcase at the same time. Pillows tend to absorb detergent fairly easily, so use about half the detergent of a regular load of laundry.


It can also help to include a couple of towels in the washing machine to balance out the weight of the pillow and distribute the wash more evenly. After the wash, grab the pillow. If you still feel detergent, run a second rinse cycle. Squeeze out excess water before letting the pillow dry.


Air-drying pillows is the best way to maintain their quality, though you may not always have the time to do that. When you’re in a rush, toss it in the dryer on a low to mid-heat setting or air dry only.


Alas, there’s no way to sugarcoat it: Drying pillows takes a long time. Adding dryer balls or tennis balls and a few dry towels can quicken the drying process while giving your pillows a nice fluffy boost.


Before returning your pillow to the bed or couch, make sure it’s fully dry. Not only is it unpleasant to rest on a damp pillow, but it can also be a home for bacteria, mildew, or pests.


Hand washing a pillow


Some types of pillows, most notably memory foam pillows, require hand washing. The tumbling of a washing machine can rip those pillows, and that’s no good for anyone.


Remove the pillow’s cover, which can go in the washing machine. Run your bathtub with warm water and add a mild detergent to create low suds. While it’s filling, use a hand vacuum or vacuum hose extension to get rid of dirt or lint.


Let water fill until you can submerge the pillow. Doing so will give the detergent time to do its thing and fully sink into the pillow.


Air drying is a good strategy for just about any pillow, but memory foam pillows must be air-dried. If you live in a low-humidity area, you can keep the pillows outside to dry. Otherwise, find a clean table or chair and place your pillows there. Before letting them sit, squeeze excess water into the tub, sink, or backyard.


Specialty pillow considerations


Some pillows require additional care when washing them. They usually have specific fibers or designs that can't be tossed in the washer or dryer without a second thought. Luckily, these pillows are still easy to take care of.


How to clean memory foam pillows


Memory foam pillows can provide extra support for your neck and spine and are hypoallergenic, which is great if your pets sleep in the bed with you. To maximize those benefits, hand-wash and air-dry your memory foam pillows. Follow the hand-washing and drying instructions above to keep your pillow in good shape for years.


How to clean wool pillows


Wool pillows are soft and comfortable, giving you a refreshing sleep. Keep that coziness going with proper care. Most wool pillows can go in the washing machine, though it’s best to keep things on the lowest, most delicate heat and spin settings. There are also wool-specific detergents that better handle the fibers of those pillows.


How to clean throw pillows


Though you can often go longer between throw pillow washes (up to a year), you’ll need to clean them eventually. Remove the throw pillow’s cover and check the tag to see if there are specific washing instructions. Many can go into the washing machine on a delicate or low-heat setting.


As with other types of pillows, air drying is the preferred method. It’s also worth noting that some pillows come with unremovable external decorations, like glitter or tassels. In those cases, spot-clean those pillows—we’ll show you how.


How to get rid of pillow stains and odors


Even if you meticulously care for your pillows, you might notice yellow or brown stains on them or odors emanating from the fibers. The buildup of oils, drool, skin cells, bacteria—whether from you or your pets—and other materials in the air can all contribute to the discoloration.


Spot cleaning is a great way to address those stained areas. You can combine a mild detergent and cold water for something like a throw pillow. For a larger pillow, use one of our favorite cleaning solutions: baking soda.


Sprinkle baking soda on the affected area for a second or two, then let it sit for at least 45 minutes. Mix 2 cups of water with 1 cup of detergent, ½ cup of baking soda, and ¼ cup of vinegar. Stir it into a nice paste, treat the impacted areas, and let it sit for another 30 to 45 minutes.


If the pillow is machine washable, rinse it off in the washing machine with no detergent. Otherwise, rinse off with water in the bathtub or sink and let air dry.


Washing your pillows is something everyone should do, but it’s one of the most overlooked home maintenance items. Follow these steps and enjoy the freshness of a like-new pillow—without actually having to buy a new one!

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