How to wash pillows properly and how often we should be doing it

Discover how to wash pillows properly to ensure yours are germ-free and fresh

pillows on bed
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We spend more than a third of our lives in bed, so choosing the best pillow for us is critical for ensuring a restful night. And keeping them clean and fresh is equally as important - so here's how to wash pillows properly, as well as how often we should be doing it.

Washing your pillow might not be something you regularly do on your cleaning schedule - after all, who actually knows how to do it properly?! But, if you want to wake up feeling refreshed, using the right cleaning techniques for your pillow is essential. And proper laundering ensures your pillow continues to offer comfort and support, which is essential for a good, comfortable night's sleep. 

How to wash pillows for lasting comfort and support

Whether it's a conventional pillow or one of our best travel pillows, regular washing is crucial for general hygiene and health. 

1. Wash according to the filling of your pillows

Every pillow is different, and factors like the pillow contents (down, cotton, foam, etc.) can make a difference in how you need to care for your pillow.

In general, feather, cotton, or down pillows can be placed in the washing machine. Just make sure to use the gentle or delicates cycle.

Foam pillows - which are generally the best pillows for neck pain - however, should never be placed in your washing machine. If you use a foam pillow, your best bet is vacuuming it, then using a damp cloth (no detergent necessary) to spot clean any stains or grime.

2. Check for wear and tear before washing

Before you wash your pillows, always do a quick integrity check. Inspect your pillow, especially the seams and corners, to ensure there aren’t any rips or tears. The last thing you want is for your washing machine to get clogged with down or other stuffing material. 

3. Use the right detergents

pillows in a pile

(Image credit: Getty Images)

To maintain your pillow's structure and integrity, use a very mild liquid detergent. Because you spend so much time in close, intimate contact with your pillow, you may want to consider using a hypoallergenic detergent. 

4. Don’t overload your washing machine

Pillows are very dense, and they need plenty of breathing room in your washing machine. Try washing just two pillows at a time so that the water and detergent can circulate freely.

For the best results, wash your pillows on their own and don't add in other bedding material.

5. Dry your pillows properly

Because most types of pillows are quite large and dense, drying your pillows after you've washed them requires some planning.

If you washed your pillows in the washing machine, they're likely safe to put into your dryer (just double-check the instructions on the pillow's label). 

For the best results, set your dryer to either its lowest heat setting or air-dry tumble setting. Higher temperatures can ruin down and other common material used to fill pillows. 

However, a low-heat setting can take hours to get your pillow dry. Speed things up by:

  • Throwing in some dry towels or sheets with your pillow to help wick away moisture and enhance the drying process.
  • Adding either tennis balls or dryer balls, which help break up clumps and speed up the drying time.

If you use a foam pillow and only spot-treat problem stains, simply placing the pillow in a warm, dry spot should be sufficient.

6. Fluff your pillows after washing

No matter how gentle your wash cycle or how diligent your drying method, many pillows emerge from the washing process looking clumpy and uneven. A quick fluff can help get your pillow back to its original shape and form.

Once your pillows are thoroughly dry and all moisture is removed (moisture is the common culprit behind lumpy pillows), give the pillow a good shake. Then, grab the pillow from both ends and twist it back and forth to break up clumps and evenly distribute the pillow's stuffing material. 

7. Know when it might be time to get new pillows

All household items eventually approach a point when they need to be replaced. But how often should you change your pillows? You may want to consider buying new pillows if:

  • The pillow doesn’t spring back to its original shape when you sit on it or bend it in half.
  • You notice signs of mould and mildew growing on your pillow (this isn’t just a cosmetic problem but a serious health risk).
  • It's been more than a couple of years since you bought a new pillow.
  • You wake up with regular neck pain.
  • You experience symptoms related to severe allergies, such as headaches and chronic coughing or sneezing.

How often to wash your pillows

So now you know how to wash pillows - how often should we actually be doing it? 

It might be helpful to set regular reminders in your digital calendar to keep on track of your pillow cleaning. You should aim to wash your pillowcases weekly (at least) and wash your pillows every two to three months

After all, washing your pillow is not just about grime and dirt, but also about keeping pests like dust mites at bay. There are many benefits to keeping your pillows clean, such as reducing your risk of allergies and preventing acne breakouts. In fact, it's one of the reasons hotel pillows always feel so clean and fresh—they are regularly replaced and even more regularly washed.

So, set a cleaning schedule, and while you’re at it, maybe consider cleaning your sheets as well!