Before using any of the steps mentioned below you should see the manufacturer’s care instructions first. The contents of this website are for informational purposes only.
When was the last time you washed the pillows on your bed?
For a lot of people, the answer might be never. After all, most of us cover our cushions with pillowcases, but that doesn’t negate the need for an occasional cleaning. Over time, neglected cushions can turn yellow and lose their shape. You spend a lot of time on these cushions, and if you take care of them, they’ll reward you with fresh scents and a comfortable night of sleep for years to come.
The good news about this whole washing scenario is that you don’t need to wash your cushions every time you change your sheets. Twice a year is plenty to get rid of any built-up dirt, grime, dust and skin cells unless you live in an exceptionally warm climate. If that’s the case, we recommend that you double that number.
Between cleanings, you may want to fluff your pillow or freshen it up by hanging it on the clothesline on a sunny day or tossing it in the dryer for a few minutes.
When it does come time to clean your cushions, you can avoid destroying them by following our pillow washing instructions. We’ll cover both hand and machine washing, and we’ll also include some helpful tips at the end to make the job easier.
Before you clean anything, check the label to make sure it’s safe to begin. Some materials could have special instructions or restrictions.
How to Wash a Pillow Using a Machine
Remove the Case
Take off the pillowcase before washing. If there’s an additional cover or zip-on case, remove that as well. Double check the instructions on the cushion to make sure it’s machine washable.
Put it in the Washing Machine
We recommend front-loading washing machines as the center agitator is rough on delicate materials. If you must use a machine with a center agitator, place two pillows inside to balance the load.
You can set the temperature to whatever’s recommended on the label. After the initial wash and spin cycles are finished, run a second rinse cycle to ensure that all the soap gets washed out.
Add the Detergent
Liquid detergent is best. Powder could clump or dissolve improperly. If your items are yellow, then add bleach but make sure it’s safe for the fabric.
Start the Machine
Isn’t modern technology a delight? All you have to do is press start, and your machine does the hard work for you. If your washer has it, use the button setting “bulky/large.”
Put it in the Dryer
Most cushions can be placed in a dryer, though some materials, like down feather, need to be dried on a no-heat cycle. Add a few towels, so there’s extra fabric to help accelerate the drying. Low and no heat cycles will take longer, but they preserve the material.
To help them dry faster, grab a few tennis balls and put them in the dryer, too. We suggest using a sock as the holder.
Check for Dampness
Most drier cycles are either programmed to stop drying when the surface material is dry. Instead, set a timer of about an hour and check them then. If necessary, use a no-heat cycle or hang them in direct sunlight to get rid of all the moisture and kill unwanted bacteria.
How to Hand Wash a Pillow
Remove the Cover
If you’re concerned about the durability of the material, especially memory foam, then handwashing may be the best bet. Just like the machine instructions, the first thing to do is to remove the pillowcase and any other covers.
Fill a Tub with Water
It could be a bucket or bin as long as it’s big enough to hold one or two cushions submerged in water. Opt for warm water. If it’s too hot, it could damage the inner materials. If it’s too cold, it won’t do an adequate job of cleaning. Don’t put the cushion in yet. That’ll come in a moment.
Add the Detergent
Add one tablespoon of liquid detergent for each cushion that you’re cleaning. Swish the water around to ensure that the soap spreads out evenly in the water.
Now, it’s time to add your pillows into the tub. Push the cushions down, so they get full exposure to the water and detergent. Then gently knead and squeeze the cushions. Your movements should simulate what happens in a washing machine, but by using your hands, you can be more gentle and thorough.
This step is the most challenging during the handwashing process. It’s critical to get all the suds out. Run water over the material and continue squeezing out excess soap. This could take a few or several minutes. When the water that’s running through the material no longer has any soap residue, then you’ve finished the process.
If you’ve chosen to clean your pillow by hand, then it’s probably also too delicate for the dryer. If you have memory foam, then the dryer will ruin it and cause the insides to crumble. We recommend placing it on a clean white towel and lay it in the sun to air dry. If it’s a rainy day, then it’s okay to leave the items inside for the drying process.
Check for Dampness
Be sure to press into the surface and look for any hint of dampness. Because memory foam has a sponge-like texture, it’s particularly susceptible to holding water. Err on the side of caution and ensure complete dryness before bringing the pillow back to bed with you. Any dampness could lead to mold and mildew growth.
Other Helpful Tips
Fold Your Synthetic Pillow in Half
This tip has nothing to do with how to clean it. Instead, it’s a way to test if your pillow is worth washing. If it’s memory foam, all you have to is fold the cushion in half, and then let go. It should spring back to its normal shape immediately. If it doesn’t, then that’s an indicator that the foam is old and too far gone to make it safely through a wash cycle. It’s time for a new one, and you’ve just saved yourself a lot of time!
Roll it Longwise and Secure with Rubber Bands
Synthetic memory foam can break apart and clump, no matter how gentle and careful you are. We recommend rolling the pillow lengthwise and then wrapping rubber bands around it before washing. This helps the foam stay intact. Once you’re done washing it, remove the rubber bands and lay it flat to dry.
Use a Mild Liquid Detergent
Our instructions have specified liquid detergent only. That’s because powder could clump or leave behind a residue. We also suggest unscented soaps to prevent allergies or skin reactions.
Wash a Pair of Pillows Together
Washing two cushions at once helps keep your load balanced. Even front-loading washers need to stay balanced during a wash and spin cycle. Failure to keep the load balanced can result in your newly washed items coming out of the machine too wet. It can also cause excess wear and tear on the internal parts, which are expensive to replace and repair.
Place a Few Tennis Balls While Drying
The tennis balls provide help with fluffing the pillows. We recommend placing them in socks to prevent any fuzz or ink from running off. To do this, put one tennis ball in the toe end of a sock, and then tie the top. About three tennis balls total should suffice.
Need help? Check out complete guide on how to fluff your pillow.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I wash a bamboo pillow?
Most bamboo pillows are blended with memory foam, so putting them in a washing machine is not recommended. Instead, check the label for further instructions. If no care instructions are listed, or the tag has been removed, follow our hand wash instructions.
Any considerations for gel style pillows?
Like bamboo, gel-style cushions are also primarily made of memory foam. While the cover can usually be cleaned in a machine with ease, the interior cushion must be cared for meticulously. Again, hand washing is strongly recommended.
How can I remove sweat odor from a pillow?
A thorough cleaning will remove most odors, but for stubborn, lingering smells, you may need a special blend to remove them. Mix up a batch of this concoction and keep it on hand for when your bedroom starts to get smelly.
- ½ cup vinegar
- 1 cup dishwasher detergent
- 3/4 cup Arm & Hammer washing soda
- 3 tablespoons liquid laundry detergent
You might be tempted to use bleach, especially if there are yellow stains associated with the sweat. However, for this type of sensitive material, bleach could make the yellowing worse.
What’s the best way to clean a memory foam pillow?
You can’t be too gently with memory foam. It’s propensity to break apart and absorb water mean that you’ll have to take extra care in the washing and drying process. Follow our above tips on how to wash a pillow by hand, and triple check the label to see if there are any additional instructions.
Can I wash down pillows without an issue?
Down pillows are more durable than memory foam when it comes time to clean them. You can put them in a machine but use about half of the typical level of detergent. Otherwise, rinsing will be problematic. One thing to look out for with down is holes. Any rips or tears will allow the feathers to escape and could ruin the item. Before putting it in the machine, sew any holes first.
Also, be sure to set the machine to a gentle or delicate cycle. If you put them in the dryer, choose the “no heat” setting. Before drying them, remove excess liquid by pressing the cushion between two towels. Don’t wring out the cushion or you could damage it.
Learn More: How to Wash Feather & Down Pillows
If you’re looking to freshen up your bedroom or you’ve had some unexplained allergies, it might be time to wash your pillows. As long as you follow the manufacturer’s care instructions and take our tips if you can, you should be able to clean your cushions several times without damaging them.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.
She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.