The Secret to Washing Pillows


Did you know that your pillow gains weight over time? That’s because it’s absorbing dead skin cells, pet dander, body oils, sweat, bacteria and dust mites. Pretty nasty, huh?  Essentially, anything that’s floating around in your room, in some way shape or form, will eventually land on your pillow and get absorbed in. Your pillow becomes basically a sponge.

Get this, in a poll we did recently, 52 percent of you said you didn’t even know you had to clean your pillow. Well, you do. I’m going to teach you everything you need to know about how to clean your pillow and some tips for how to keep it clean.

Clean My Space Poll

The Importance of a Good Pillow

Any health practitioner can tell you how important it is to have a quality pillow. It’s a very important part of getting a good nights’ sleep. But there is more to a good pillow than choosing the right loft, firmness, and material. You really need to take good care of your pillow and make sure it’s clean. It also means knowing when it’s a little too ripe for use.

Pillows Do Expire

I remember when I was growing up I had a pillow that just got progressively more flat. It felt good, I guess, but I didn’t really know the beauty of having a loftier pillow. That is one of the signs that it’s time for a new pillow.

Here are other signs that your pillow should be replaced:

  • Depending on the type of material, if it’s clumpy and the clumps cannot be broken up, toss it.
  • If it’s discolored or stained, it is probably time for a new one.
  • If it fails the fold test: Fold the pillow in half and if it springs back, it’s good to go. If it struggles to flip back, it’s past the point of no return.

The average lifespan of a pillow is about 2 years–unless you take really good care of it and can’t part ways with a pillow you absolutely love

Melissa Tossing a Pillow

How to Wash a Pillow

As a general rule, you should wash your pillows 3 times a year. There is, however, a couple of exceptions to that rule. There are generally six different types of pillow fillers: polyester stuffing, cotton, down, feathers, gel, and memory foam. Depending on the material, you may not be able to machine wash your pillow. If you have a memory foam, gel, or a silk pillow, for example, you cannot machine wash them and will have to follow separate instructions.

Memory Foam

Memory foam has a very dense cellular structure. If you look at a cross-section of it, it looks like a piece of sponge cake with a lot of tiny holes. The problem is, once moisture gets in, it can never really get out. For that reason, you really can’t actually wash it. Please never wet your memory foam pillow. Instead, when you buy a memory foam pillow buy a pillow protector at the exact same time. If you have a memory foam pillow without the protector, go get one now. 


As for a silk pillow, I’ve never met anyone with a silk pillow, nor have I 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.

Feather, Synthetic & Cotton

As with anything you are ever going to wash in your life, it is important to understand the material and the wash instructions or care label.

If you have a top load washing machine with an agitator, which is that central bar that turns everything around, you will need to wash your pillows in pairs. That way you’re not putting an uneven load on one side of your machine. If you have a top-load or front load washing machine with no agitator, pop in as few pillows or as many pillows as you can safely fit in. 

Use gentle detergent that is, ideally, scent-free so that the scent won’t overwhelm you as you’re trying to sleep. Unless the instructions on the pillow say otherwise, wash in warm water on a regular cycle with an extra spin cycle. The extra spin cycle will ensure the pillows aren’t too wet for the dryer.

For yellow stains, treat them with a stain remover. Just give it a spritz and then put it in the washing machine. 

If your pillow is a little bit smelly, add half a cup of baking soda to your washing machine. 

How to Dry a Pillow

Put every single dryer ball you have on your property in the dryer. It’s going to be really important to get the pillow dry without any lumps. If you don’t have dryer balls, you can take tennis balls and stick them in sports socks and tie the ball inside.

If the pillow doesn’t dry all the way through, mold can start to grow.  To test how dry it is, hold the pillow up to your face and take a deep breath in. If you sense moisture in your mouth and in your trachea, then you know you have to put it back in the dryer. If you breathe in and it feels nice and crisp and dry, your pillow is done!

Fluff that Pillow

You know when you watch home TV shows and the hosts fluff the pillows? Well, that’s not just for aesthetic purposes. Your head creates a groove in your pillow after a while, so fluffing it up will help redistribute the loft, keeping it comfy and longer-lasting.

No Wet Hair

I used to do this all the time when I was younger, but I know now that it’s a total no-no: going to bed with wet hair. When you do that, you’re putting moisture into your pillow which can lead to mold.

Melissa fluffing a pillow

Neat Pillow Hack

On a recent Clean My Space YouTube video, we got a great comment from a viewer in the Caribbean. She said she likes to use two clips to hang her pillows off a balcony and let the sunshine on them. It’s perfect because that will not only deodorize the pillow but also lighten the fabric. Hey, if you have some sunshine, go for it.

Use Protection

Using a pillow protector is crucial. It is important because it will protect the pillow from all of that stuff I was telling you about earlier that absorbs into our pillows. Not only will it act as a moisture barrier, but also as a dust barrier.  When you launder your pillowcase, remove your pillow protector and wash that too. 

WATCH: How to Wash Pillows

My genuine hope is that the 52 percent of you who answered our community poll saying you never cleaned your pillows, are now fully equipped with the information needed to care for your pillows properly. 

ALSO READ: How to Clean, Deodorize, and Care for a Mattress

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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.



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