How to wash pillows properly at home: everything you need to know

Discover how to wash pillows and how often you should be doing it, to ensure yours are germ-free and fresh for a better night's sleep

blue bedroom iwth black wall-mounted light beside a bed with freshly made white bedding to support a guide for how to wash pillows
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ensuring you know how to wash pillows properly at home will make your bedding last for longer – because washing pillows incorrectly can compromise their integrity. 

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 for good sleep hygiene.

However, washing your pillows might not be something you automatically factor in when considering how often to clean around the house – after all, you might not be sure how to do it properly?! But, if you want to wake up feeling refreshed, using the right cleaning techniques for your pillow is essential. Proper laundering ensures your pillows continue to offer comfort and support, which is essential for getting a good night's sleep

How to wash pillows: 6 simple steps 

Whether it's a conventional thin pillow or one of our best travel pillows, regular washing is crucial for general hygiene and health. Plus plump, fresh pillows are the key to making your bedroom feel like a luxury hotel – and who wouldn't want that?

Here's how to wash pillows properly, in six easy steps as well as expert guidance as to how often we should be doing it to ensure lasting comfort and support.

1. Wash according to the filling of your pillows

utility room with pillows in a basket beside teh washing machine ready to wash following our guide on how to wash pillows properly

(Image credit: Getty Images | Brizmaker)

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

In general, feathers, cotton, or down pillows can be placed in the washing machine. Just make sure to use the gentle or delicate cycle. "Always check the care label," advises Lucy Ackroyd, head of design at Christy, "as synthetic and feather pillows can be washed at slightly different temperatures.”

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 to spot clean any stains or grime.

As Lucy suggests: “If you have memory foam pillows, avoid using a washing machine and instead wash them by hand. Submerge the pillow in warm water, add a capful of detergent, and wash the pillow by evenly distributing the detergent while massaging all the dirt out. When finished, make sure you rinse out all the dirt properly. Since memory foam pillows can’t withstand heat from the dryer, leave the pillows out on a towel to dry.”

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 that can worsen during the washing process. The last thing you want is for your clean washing machine to get clogged with down or other stuffing material. 

3. Use the right detergents

To maintain your pillow's structure and integrity, use a very mild liquid detergent – look for a natural, eco-friendly brand that doesn't use harsh chemicals. Because you spend so much time in close, intimate contact with your pillow, always look to use a hypoallergenic detergent. 

Lucy suggests: “washing pillows in the washing machine, along with regular detergent, add around 200ml of distilled vinegar; this will help to disinfect your pillows. Add your favorite essential oils to prevent your pillows from holding on to the smell of the vinegar. Lemon is great for whitening, whereas lavender is the perfect soothing scent to help you relax at night.

You can also try spot-cleaning any stains with white vinegar pre-wash, by gently dabbing a diluted solution of 50/50 vinegar and water directly onto the stain, and allowing it to rest for 15 mins or so. This will lift the staining off the fabric and you can continue to wash the pillow as the instructions indicate. The pillow will need a machine wash after cleaning with vinegar to ensure the smell is not unpleasant one when you later rest your head on it at night.

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

Pillows outside on an airer after being washed, drying in the sunshine to show how to was pillows properly

(Image credit: Getty Images |PJjaruwan)

Thorough drying is absolutely essential when washing pillows because you run the risk of breeding mold if they are still damp.  And ecause 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 materials 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, or under a DIY heated airer hack to be savvy with how to dry clothes indoors.

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. 

How do you wash pillows without ruining them?

care labels on two pillows to demonstrate how to wash pillows properly

My two pillows to demonstrate why it's important to check the care labels: the Eve pillow can be washed at home while the label in my Simba foam pillow advises against machine washing

(Image credit: Future)

To avoid ruining your pillows during the washing process it is highly advisable to always follow the care instructions to ensure the type of pillow you have is suitable for cleaning at home – most standard pillows are. 

"Wash your pillows at 40 degrees in the washing machine at home using a non-bio (enzyme free) detergent - using about a third of the usual amount," advises Emily Attwood, co-founder of Scooms.

Carrying out the pre-wash assessment to make sure the pillow casing isn't in any way damaged or likely to fray if it's thrown around during a wash cycle. In this instance, it might be time to consider buying new because 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 should you wash your pillows?

So now you know how to wash pillows - but how often should we actually be doing it? Like when managing how often you should wash your towels or how often you wash your sheets a number of different factors will come into play – so it's more of a professional guideline. However, experts suggest you should aim to wash your pillows every two to three months (while washing pillowcases weekly.)

To explain why this amount is recommended Lucy explains: “Pillows should be washed every three months as, similar to bedding, they contain a build-up of sweat and dead skin. Most good quality ones will be able to endure several washes without going lumpy, but be sure to check the care label, as synthetic and feather pillows can be washed at slightly different temperatures.”

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.

It might be helpful to set regular reminders in your digital calendar to keep on track with your pillow cleaning.

Amy Hunt

Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on 

With contributions from