Interior Design

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 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.'

 

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.

Below, we explain a little more how to wash memory foam pillows

How do you wash pillows in the washing machine?

Those pillows that can be washed in the washing machine should be washed on 'a 100ºF/40ºC wash using a non-bio (enzyme-free) detergent – using about a third of the usual amount,' advise Jonathan and Emily Attwood, Founders, scooms.

To protect your washing machine, wash two pillows at once – this will keep the washer balanced since wet pillows are very heavy when spinning. 

1. Remove the pillowcase/sham/pillow protectors – you can put these into the washing machine at the same time as the pillows if you wish.

2. Add detergent then program in a gentle, warm wash cycle. If possible, set your washer to a second rinse cycle. Otherwise, wait for the program to finish and run a second rinse and spin cycle. 

3. After the spin cycle has finished, check how wet the pillows are. If they are still heavy with water, spin them again. The aim is for them to be damp rather than wet and dripping. 

How to dry pillows after washing

Most pillows can be air-dried or put in the dryer on a low-heat setting – double check the care label so that you don't tumble dry a pillow that shouldn't be. Don't risk putting foam pillows in a dryer – they can set alight if they get too hot.

1. To improve the pillow's 'loft' (fluffiness), put dryer balls or even two or three tennis balls in the dryer with your pillows. Failing that, stop the dryer every now and then, take out the pillows and fluff them. 'This stops the pillows' stuffing from clumping and will ensure they dry all the way through,' says Homes & Gardens' Digital Editor Jennifer Ebert.

2. 'Wool dryer balls can help dry your bedding more quickly and efficiently, too, by creating air gaps to allow more air to circulate around your laundry. They also agitate the fibers in your bed sheets, making them feel softer and cozier,' add Jonathan and Emily Attwood, of scooms.

3. If you want to freshen the smell of your pillows, a scented softener sheet can go in the dryer with them. 

4. Press your hands and face into the pillows to check they are fully dry, right through to the center. If not, repeat the drying cycle until they are.

How to wash memory foam pillows

You cannot wash memory foam pillows in a washing machine – so what are your options for cleaning them? If the label doesn't advise dry-cleaning only, you may be able to hand wash yours.

1. First, remove the covers/shams/protectors and put these in the washing machine on a medium to hot wash.

2. Start with vacuuming and spot cleaning your memory foam pillow with a damp cloth dipped in a solution of warm water and washing detergent.

3. Repeat if necessary.

4. If this doesn't work, fill your laundry room sink – or bathtub – with a few inches of warm water (just enough to cover the depth of your pillows), adding liquid detergent as you run the faucets, so that you have a shallow bubble bath for the pillow. 

5. Immerse the memory foam pillow into the water, moving it about and gently squeezing and massaging it to work the water and detergent through it.

6. Let the water out of the sink/bathtub and run the clean warm water over the soapy pillow, squeezing it until the water runs clear. 

7. Memory foam pillows need drying gently – flat on a dry towel, in fresh air, preferably sunshine, but not in a dryer. 

8. Expect drying to be slow – and only put the pillowcases/shams back on yours when they are fully dry.

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

My first job was writing a DIY column for a magazine for the over 50s (which seemed a long way off back then). I then moved to a DIY magazine as deputy ed, then freelanced my way around the homes departments of most women's magazines on the market before working on Your Home and Family Circle magazines as homes editor. From there, I went to Ideal Home magazine as associate editor, then launched 4Homes magazine for Channel 4, then the Channel 4 4Homes website before going back to freelancing and running a social media business (you can see where I had kids from the freelancing gaps!). I was tempted back to the world of big business by the chance to work with the great team at Realhomes.com, where I was Global Editor-in-Chief for two and a half years, taking it from a small website to a global entity. I've now handed the reins of the website to our American managing editor, while I take on a new challenge as Editor-in-Chief of Homes & Gardens.