Bedrooms

Can you wash pillows in the washing machine?

Pillows need cleaning just as much as sheets – but can you wash pillows in the washing machine? Our experts offer their advice

pillows
(Image credit: Future)

Can you wash pillows in the washing machine – really, without damaging them? The fact is that pillows do need washing regularly to stay fresh – just as your bedlinen and comforter does – but whether pillows can be washed in a washing machine can really only be answered: 'it depends'. 

Luckily, we at Homes & Gardens are big fans of owning and caring for the best pillow possible – so we have all the answers about how to wash pillows and whether you can wash pillows, in a machine or not. 

Can you wash pillows in the washing machine?  

'Pillows should be washed every few months – or at least three times a year,' advises Homes & Gardens' Editor in Chief Lucy Searle. 'However, not all pillows can be washed in a washing machine.'

Below we tell you everything you need to know about washing pillows in a washing machine so that you can tackle this task when you clean a bedroom thoroughly.

Which pillows can be washed in the washing machine?

'The best advice is to check each pillow's care instructions before you put it in the washer,' continues Lucy Searle. 'However, it's safe to assume that most fiberfill, cotton, feather or down pillows can be washed in a washing machine, though I would advise a warm wash on a gentle cycle, and half the usual detergent, since too much can make feather and down clump.'

Which pillows can't be washed in the washing machine?

Again, check your pillow's label for care instructions, but if you can't see any clear cleaning tips on it, following the rule that latex or memory foam pillows can't be washed in the washing machine. Instead, these will need to be spot-cleaned with a clean cloth dipped in a weak soapy solution – or dry-cleaned. You can also vacuum these pillows to help remove dust, though their materials are generally dust mite resistant.

Why wash pillows?

Why wash pillows? Quite simply, not doing so is unhygienic. Like other bedding, pillows come in contact with your skin, meaning they are prone to absorbing sweat and dead skin, the latter of which tends to attract dust mites, with many of us allergic to their droppings. If your pillow smells a little dank, that aroma signifies the presence of bacteria. All these should be good enough reasons to wash pillows regularly.

Can you damage pillows by washing them in the machine?

Yes, you can damage pillows by washing them in the machine, which is why you should always check the care label first. Be sure, too, not to wash memory foam pillows in a machine at all.

Most damage that can occur to a pillow in a washing machine with an agitator (the central spindle particularly prevalent in top-load washers. However, you can minimize the risk with this type of washing machine by placing your two pillows into the drum vertically, and now allowing the spin cycle to go on for too long. 

How to cut down on washing pillows

Pillow protectors are an excellent buy – they help flaccid pillows be a little firmer, help pillows hold their shape and can be removed along with pillowcases to be washed every week. Some come with dust mite resistance, which will help protect the pillow beneath.

When is it time to replace pillows?

Though washing pillows – in a washing machine or by hand – can help extend their life, there comes a time when they will need replacing. There is no fixed time for this, though Tobin James, VP of TEMPUR® says 'Despite regular cleaning, bacteria will build up regardless so it’s important to replace your pillow every three years. Not only will this mean you get to enjoy a clean and fresh pillow, but you’ll likely find it much more comfortable as well.'

If you are not sure whether your pillow needs replacing or not, you can try the fold test: simply fold your pillow in half; if it bounces back flat, it's likely still in good shape; if it stays folded, it needs replacing. Plus if it's irreparably bumpy and lumpy, it can't be giving you good support.

The experts and scooms advise replacing pillows more often: 'Replace your pillows every one to two years for peak support, and your duvet every five years to ensure you get the best sleep. The more you love your bedding, the more your bedding will love you.'

'While washing your pillow may solve the allergen (and ick-factor) problem, it doesn’t help your pillow stay supportive,' say the experts at the National Sleep Foundation. 'After nightly use, a pillow will lose its fluff and start to resemble a pancake. While some pillows might last a little longer (for example, down and natural feather pillows are more durable than those with polyester filling), they all will ultimately lose their shape.'

Lucy Searle
Lucy Searle

Lucy Searle has written about interiors, property and gardens since 1990, working her way around the interiors departments of women's magazines before switching to interiors-only titles in the mid-nineties. She was Associate Editor on Ideal Home, and Launch Editor of 4Homes magazine, before moving into digital in 2007, launching Channel 4's flagship website, Channel4.com/4homes. In 2018, Lucy took on the role of Global Editor in Chief for Realhomes.com, taking the site from a small magazine add-on to a global success. She was asked to repeat that success at Homes & Gardens, where she has also taken on the editorship of the magazine.