How to clean a pillow

Does your pillow require hand-washing, or can it be put in the machine? And what about drying? Our expert guide explains all...

Soak and Sleep Ultimate Hungarian Goose Down Pillow
(Image credit: Soak and Sleep)

Gross as it sounds, even the best pillows are constantly absorbing our oil, sweat, drool and bacteria. If you have pets or children who spend time on your bed, that grossness is only going to multiply. So knowing how to clean a pillow is vital.

The pillowcase is the main place where dirt and grime gathers, and this should be washed every one to two weeks, along with your sheets and duvet covers. Most pillowcases can be machine-washed, although there are some exceptions, so it’s important to check the manufacturer’s instructions. 

But that’s not all: the pillow inside needs to be cleaned, too, ideally once every 4-6 months. However, different pillow types need to be treated in different ways. So in this article, we’ll explain what you need to know.

How to hand-wash a pillow

Some types of pillow are not typically suitable for machine-washing. In particular, memory foam  and latex pillows should never be placed in a washing machine, and it’s generally advised not to submerge them in water at all. 

To clean a memory foam or latex pillow, first sprinkle the top with baking soda, covering as much of the pillow as possible. Next, vacuum it using the brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner, or a handheld vacuum. Then flip the pillow and repeat. This will help your pillow to stay smelling fresh. 

Next, mix a small amount of gentle detergent with lukewarm water and use a cloth to remove any stains. Gently rub the material using a circular motion until the stains have been removed. Then dip a new cloth into (just) water and use it to remove any remaining soap or foam. Finally, leave the pillow to dry in an airy, clean and secure area, preferably in the sun. Do not return the pillow to its case until it has dried fully. 

If these measures aren’t enough and you need to deep-clean your pillow to remove, for instance, unpleasant smells then do check the care label, as instructions vary wildly between different manufacturers.

How to machine-wash a pillow

How to clean a pillow: washing machine

(Image credit: Rodnae Productions on Pexels)

The simplest way to clean a pillow is by washing it in the machine. Pillows filled with down, feather and polyester are typically machine-washable, although it’s again vital to read the care label and follow the instructions carefully. Normally, such pillows are best washed at a low temperature and with a small amount of gentle detergent.

Although some manufacturers may stipulate line-drying, most down, feather and polyester pillows can be tumble-dried on a low heat. A tried and tested way of keeping your pillows fluffy is to add a tennis ball tied up inside a sock to your dryer. Alternatively, you can buy commercially produced ‘dryer balls’ that achieve the same effect.

After you remove your pillows from the dryer, it’s vital to air them, as any moisture that’s left to fester in your pillow is only going to encourage bacterial growth and dust mite infestation. So leave your pillows in a safe, clean and dry place, ideally in the sun, for at least 2-3 hours. And don’t put them back on the bed until you’re confident they’re dry throughout.

When to replace a pillow

best pillow: Scooms Hungarian Goose Down pillow


(Image credit: scooms)

However well you treat them, pillows don’t last forever. Signs that you need to replace one include when it’s a faded or yellowing colour, feels lumpy and bumpy, no longer supports your head adequately, or stays folded when folded in two. 

Getting a good night’s sleep is very important for your health and well-being, and this is not an area you want to skimp on. So order a replacement pillow as soon as possible, and don’t suffer any more than you have to.

Tom May
Tom May

Tom May is a freelance writer and author of the book, Great Ted Talks: Creativity. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including Radio Times, NME, Heat, Company and Bella.