Washing pillows can make your bed fresher and cleaner than ever.

By Lauren Phillips
Updated May 03, 2019
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Washing pillows might be the very last thing in your to-do list, but learning how to clean pillows is actually a necessary skill, regardless of whether you make your bed regularly or not. Yes, pillowcases are there to protect the pillows from sweat, hair and face oil, and more, but much of that can still seep through the cases onto the pillows. Even if you change your sheets and wash your pillowcases as often as once a week, you’re likely not washing pillows with them—and those pillows can get pretty filthy.

Replacing pillows should actually be an annual or biannual chore, because those things can collect a lot of dust mites, dead skin, and bacteria. It doesn’t matter if they’re the best pillows from the most trustworthy bedding store ever; the fluffy things you rest your head on at night need semi-frequent washings and/or replacements for a truly clean bed. If you’re sleeping on the most comfortable sheets around, don’t they deserve pillows of equal quality and cleanliness?

Your home likely has many different types of pillows. Inconveniently, washing instructions are different for each variety, but they are quick and simple—just follow these expert tips and tricks to learn how to clean pillows so they look, feel, and smell like new. (You can even get some bonus tips for cleaning the pillowcases while you’re at it.)

1

Use a washer and dryer: Feather pillows or down pillows can be machine-washed on the delicate cycle and then placed in the dryer to tumble dry. Make sure they dry completely, though, to prevent those feathers from producing mildew. Some experts even suggest leaving the pillows out near a window or warm radiator for a few hours before returning them to the bed or sofa to be certain that the interior filling dries out. (Don’t forget to read up on how to fluff a pillow to get that newly cleaned pillow styled just right.)

The same goes for travel pillows. Since their synthetic stuffing tends to breed mildew if left damp inside the pillowcase, only wash the pillow if completely necessary (like your soda spilled on it during flight). Otherwise, you should be fine with a simple pillowcase refresh.

2

Spritz them with vodka. You only need to wash your pillows every six months to a year. Between deep-cleans, vodka serves as a quick-drying sanitizer that can give your pillows a refresh as you are changing the sheets. Fill a spray bottle with vodka, spritz your pillows, and let dry. These will dry faster than when you do a deep clean, so you’re not risking the chance of mildew.

3

Spot clean throw pillows. More decorative pillows (like those on your sofa or guest bed) should be spot cleaned as needed. The appropriate cleaning technique depends on the type of material each is made out of. Since these pillows often have appliques and fabric that should not be machine-washed, spot removal when stains happen is the way to go. If the fabric is linen, cotton, jacquard, or a polyester-acrylic blend, try Capture Soil Release Pre-Mist (To buy: $6; homedepot.com) then sprinkle the spot with just enough Capture Carpet Dry Cleaner Powder (To buy: $21; amazon.com) to cover the stain. With a dry cloth, gently rub that powder into the fabric and vacuum it up; the stain should have disappeared. If not, repeat the same process once more. If the stain remains, experts suggest you leave it alone so as not to damage the integrity of the fabric. (Maybe just flip the pillow.)

4

When it comes to washing pillowcases, the pros suggest a weekly (twice-weekly during the hot summer months) machine-wash. If the cases are made of cotton, flannel, synthetic, bamboo, or modal, wash them in hot water. If your pillowcases are linen, silk, or sateen-weave cotton, opt for the gentle cycle and a cold water wash. Dry any material on the low setting.