Clean Your Pillows!

Pillow talk. It’s usually sexy and almost never about how clean or dirty your pillows actually are. I’ve investigated the situation and demonstrate the proper way to clean your pillows, an often overlooked cleaning task. 

There’s also a fairly interesting quick test which will let you know when it is time to replace your pillows.  If they pass the test – then you can use the cleaning method explained to clean your pillows, quickly and easily!

Warning…this may get gross!

Did you know?

Your pillow doubles in weight over a span of time from absorbing dust, mold, bacteria, allergens, and dead skin when we sleep on them. Oh joy…

To test if you need a new pillow:

Fold your pillow in half and if it won’t bounce back, get rid of it.

If it springs to life when folded over, it’s still good.

Go do it now, I’ll wait…

Best pillow practices:

Wash your pillows 3x a year and replace them once every 2 years.

I usually wait until they go on sale (because what department store isn’t having their year’s biggest bargain-basement-blowout sale on the exact weekend you need new pillows?)

Fillings, nothing more than fillings…

You can wash polyester and feather-filled pillows the same way.

For memory foam or silk pillows, wash them separately and follow product care instructions.  You will never be able to get the water out of a memory foam pillow (they are ‘cellular’ and won’t release soap or water) and silk pillows are a whole other scenario.  I’ve never met anyone with a silk pillow nor have had the opportunity to clean one so I cannot speak from experience and have not come across any solid information on how to do it.  I’d recommend taking the pillow to a dry cleaner.


To clean your pillows:

  • Use a gentle detergent that is ideally scent-free.
  • Press out as much air as possible before loading it into the washer.
  • For top load washers, do 2 at a time for balance (or else you will hear a loud knocking sound coming from your washer and may think there is a monster, Chuckee or Jason in your basement and who the heck needs that additional stress?).
  • Front load washers don’t have an agitator so you can do 1-2 per load. Set your machine to run a full cycle using warm water. Run a second spin cycle to help eliminate excess moisture. By removing excess moisture, you’ll help reduce mold growth and any unpleasant odors from developing.
  • To dry, take 2 tennis balls and split them into 2 socks. Tie the socks to secure the tennis balls in place. The tennis balls will help beat out excess moisture while putting them in socks will prevent the smell and color of the tennis ball from transferring to your pillows. Put the pillows in the dryer using a low heat setting. It may take a few cycles to fully dry the pillows. Once dry, take a deep smell of the pillow to test if there’s still moisture in the pillow.


If your pillow smells, add half a cup of baking soda into the wash.
If you pillow is musty, moldy or has mildew, throw in some vinegar into the wash cycle.

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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.


  1. I don’t think the pillow test works. After watching your video, I demonstrated it to my husband so I could convince him that we needed new pillows. We have had these pillows since 2006 and were probably only washed twice when my daughter peed on them. Last time they were washed was a couple years ago. However, when I folded the pillows, they sprang to life and unfolded itself. Needless to say, my husband still doesn’t think we need new pillows, since they are broken in perfectly according to him. I do double up on the pillow liners, so . . . don’t know if that kept it clean???

  2. I’m a 49 year old mother of one daughter and I NEVER knew how to clean & when to toss out my pillow! Thank you so much! I Tested my pillows and I’ll spare you the details, but I’m heading out this evening to REPLACE those that didn’t pass the TEST. Very clever website & I’ll be back for sure!

  3. If you want to get all the water out of a foam pillow put it in a space bag & using a shop vacume suck all the water out–fluff pillow & repeat till you feel that the water is out then dry as usual.

  4. hi Melissa,
    I was just wondering about washing pillows. I have done this a couple of times. They always get really bunched up and lumpy. This has kept me from continuing to wash them. How can I avoid this? TIA

  5. What wash cycle should I use? Gentle? Normal? Bedding? Sorry if this was already answered in the comments section. I scrolled through but there are about a million of them!!!

  6. Should you wash new pillows before using the or will they be fine? These were purchased within a plastic cover. I am just weird about using anything before washing it

  7. Melissa! Love your site, and the video! After reading thru all the comments, tho’ … I find that you did not answer one question several asked. Because my front load washer *locks tight* right after settings are selected/it starts ~ and I’m *really* not able to put the baking soda and/or vinegar into the liquid detergent dispenser ~ I need to know if it’s okay to sprinkle and pour those directly on/around the pillows as they are loaded? I see no alternative … I don’t have any way to “dilute” the products in the water. This is a problem I’ve found w/this front load machine … a design flaw, that has presented other issues for me (dyeing, etc.) … !!!

  8. Could you please advise on my current ‘problem’…I have 3 x 100% polyester accent pillows (very fine & silky material) for a bedroom set. The instructions say no dry cleaning, but state spot clean only…there is no letter designation on the tag. I have a bottle of “Dry Cleaner” all purpose stain remover with the only ingredient listed being chlorinated solvent. I am very nervous about trying it on the few grease-like stains on the pillows as there is no hidden bit of material to test the result. Please — any advice on this…I have only had this bed set for 2 years and adore it…thanks!!

  9. I have had trouble getting hair oil out of pillows AND mostly pillow cases. Seriously, they had become so smelly they stunk up the whole linen closet. I took to using Mean Green or LA’s Awesome Cleaner from the dollar store prior to washing. It does the trick. You can also spray it on the discolored spots on the pillows prior to machine washing. I had tried vinegar, baking soda, bleach, etc and nothing worked as good. I try to buy white pillow cases so I don’t risk discoloring. I also think it’s important to rotate your sheets and pillow cases in your linen closet to allow air to circulate.

  10. Hi Melissa,
    I bought new pillows (Sleep for success by Dr. Maas) what do I need to do before using…do I wash them, air them out…please advise.
    thanks, Maria

    • You shouldn’t need to wash them before you’v even used them. Air them by all means (though I didn’t bother airing the down and feather pillows I opted for). I would suggest you put pillow protectors on them, however. These aren’t just for asthma sufferers; they also protect the pillow against natural hair oils, hair conditioners, etc. Also, pillows need to be plumped up every morning to keep them lofted and prolong their life. I’m sure Melissa mentions that here somewhere.

  11. Hi Melissa

    I have a water pillow how would you clean that and dry with out damaging the bladder.
    Thank you for your hope.

    • I must admit I’ve never heard of a water pillow before. But wouldn’t you treat it much as you’d treat a waterbed? I put conditioner in my waterbed’s bladders twice a year and I have a waterproof mattress protector over it (to protect it against body oils). Other than using conditioner in your pillow (and especially if you don’t have a pillow protector over it) wiping it down occasionally with a damp cloth and a mild detergent, and drying it off well, should do the trick.

  12. Hey Melissa Maker, I was wondering my pillows say they are made of cotton and to spot clean only. Do you have any suggestions? Should I wash it the way you suggest for the other pillows in the video? Or should I spot clean them, if so what with? Also, what about cleaning decorative pillows? thanks p.s I love your videos

  13. I need to wash a pillow that doesn’t have a pillow case that removes. (Stupid huh? Its one of those pillows with arm rests that you use on your bed when you want to sit up to watch TV or read.) The fabric is assumingly a cheap one being that I purchased the pillows from Target. Its a fuzzy fabric and the filling is most likely polyster. (Its definitely not foam or down so what else is there, right?) I’d rather hand wash this because I don’t know if my washer’s gentle cycle is gentle enough not to cause clumping.

    Is it okay to gently hand wash the entire pillow or is it better to just clean the fabric on the outside of with some kind of detergent and a terry cloth using very little water?

  14. Hi, Melissa, I have a top loading washing machine. Every time I take out my washed clothes, they come with a lot of scum and residu. I have tried all sorts of techinques such as bleach and viniger to clean my maching. Tried all settings and temperatures. Tried different detergents. Nothing worked. What is your suggestion?

    • Haran, you could be overloading your machine. I find these machines don’t hold as much as the manufacturers claim. But even when I’m careful not to put too much in I occasionally get white stuff on a few of the clothes, especially if some of the clothes are fluffy (brushed) on the inside. I find putting the offending clothes back in the machine for an extra rinse helps. I also find the stuff comes off if I use a “magic” brush on it, and that’s how I deal with it if there isn’t a lot. Hope this helps.

  15. How do I clean pillows that I bought from a pallet of custumer returns and have dirt like soil from being in the pallet in a warehouse?

  16. I have a question
    we have a 4 in. memory foam on top of our air mattress, it’s a hunk of form does that hold moisture from our bodies & does it contain mold??

  17. how do you wash a fuzzy body pillow i have two of them and i recently found a few fleas on my cats sooo im washing everything

  18. Hi Melissa, how can I remove a blood stain from a pillow? My son had a nose bleed yesterday. P.S: I think I need to replace my pillows! I didn’t know you should wash them! 🙁

  19. Thank you for all the helpful videos, especially this one! But I was wondering if trick to checking to see if you need to replace the pillows will work on any pillows, regardless of how thin they are and if it still works on pillows that are constantly folded while sleeping?

  20. Dear Melissa,

    I really liked your video. But what if I don’t have a dryer? how do I dry my pillows and prevent mildew or mold?
    thank you in advance!

  21. Hi there, the care instructions in my pillows say not to wash them in a washing machine with an agitator but it is my only option, I don’t to run my pillows. I’ll appreciate any advice you can give me, thanks!

  22. I have the tiny beads that are synthetic from a pillow I purchased when they first came out. I wash my pillow (actually a small square and meant to be more ‘decorative’. It says NOT to put it in the dryer due to a fire threat, but I put mine in on low until some of the moisture is out and then air dry. This is NOT a sobakowa that has seeds/shells in them it is ONLY for the synthetic beads. Added this here in case someone has this kind. I will be devistated when the material wears out because I can’t stand having a pillow behind my neck but need it for the sides. I sleep in a recliner and thus am a back sleeper..

  23. When every I wash my pillows in the washer they don’t go back to there original form they get all balled up on one side. How do I prevent this

  24. Hey Melissa. Great article. Very informative. I really learned a lot from it especially about pillows that it doubles in weight over a span of time from absorbing dust, mold, bacteria, allergens and dead skin when we sleep on them. I love all the tips that you have mentioned. I read an interesting article about choosing the right pillow for you. I think this might help your readers. Let me share it with you. Here’s the link:

  25. Melissa, what do you do to dry your pillows if you don’t have a dryer? I’ve always put mine on the clothes line, pegging them the other way after they’ve been out several hours, and putting them out again the following day if they don’t seem dry. Is that not enough?

  26. The person’s name in the video who asked the question was Nicky and you called them Carrie when you signed off. lol
    Good information to know though!

  27. Could you give me some room cleaning tips? I’m in desperate need of a clean room. But can’t get in the right head space and don’t know what to start with.

  28. Hi Melissa, my name is Nichole. I have tried to wash my down pillows and regular pillows in my front load washer. It’s not working.:( My washer is brand new. The pillows get really heavy and the washer resets itself while washing because the weight changes. Any suggestions?

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