How to wash a pillow – so it’s fresh, comfortable and supportive

Wondering how to wash pillows to keep them hygienic and fluffy? Find out from the experts

How to wash pillows – bed with patterned headboard and white and blue patterned pillows
(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd Photograph: Brent Darby)

Knowing how to wash pillows is essential to keep every bed in your home hygienic. While it’s, of course, vital to wash the pillowcases that cover them, the pillows inside also need washing a few times each year for optimum freshness.

Pillows aren’t as straightforward to wash as pillowcases and sheets, though, and care needs differ according to their type. Also complicating things is their bulk and heaviness when wet.

But great laundry room ideas will create the facilities to keep them in optimum condition, and this expert guide has all the details you need on how to wash a pillow.

How to wash pillows

If you’ve invested in the best pillows, you’ll want to prolong their lives, so always check the laundry symbols on the tag and build the task into your routine when you clean a bedroom.  

As a rule, though, the answer to how to wash pillows will depend on what they’re filled with. ‘Always check with the manufacturer’s instructions before washing a pillow,’ says Drew Miller, a VP at Sit ’n Sleep. ‘Most can be machine washed, but some may need to be dry cleaned.’

Cleaning tips for those that can go into a machine? You might be surprised by the answer if you’ve been asking can you wash a feather pillow? ‘Pillows filled with feather, down, cotton, and fiberfill can be cleaned in a washing machine using warm water on a gentle cycle,’ says Roman Peysakhovich, CEO of national cleaning company Onedesk.

‘Foam pillows are a common type that you shouldn’t put in the washing machine since the agitation is too harsh and will likely break up the pillow’s padding,’ he says.

How to wash pillows in the washing machine

Can you wash pillows in a washing machine? The answer is: not always. 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. 

‘The agitators in top-loading machines can be rough on pillows and shorten the lifetime value of the pillow, so set the machine on its “gentle” cycle for the shortest possible time,’ says Drew Miller. ‘As an alternative, consider taking the pillows to a laundromat and use their front-loading equipment when they need laundering.’

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 wash memory foam pillows

Asking the question can you wash memory foam pillows? You cannot wash memory foam pillows in a washing machine, but there are other 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.

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. 

The exception is down or feather pillows. ‘Although it will take longer, use the dryer's no-heat setting to avoid the feathers being singed and leaving the pillow with an unpleasant odor,’ says Drew Miller.

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.

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 often should I wash my pillows?

Pillows don’t need washing anything like as regularly as you’d carry out tasks such as washing bed sheets, washing a silk pillowcase and those made from other fabrics, and washing duvet covers. ‘Pillows should be washed roughly twice a year if protected properly,’ says Karin Sun, bedding and textile expert and the founder of Crane & Canopy.

Good protection for a pillow is a two layer covering. ‘I recommend using an anti-microbial and waterproof protective pillow cover along with your regular pillowcase to keep your pillow clean and fresh,’ Karin says. ‘This can be laundered frequently (weekly or at least every two weeks) with the rest of your bedding and can greatly help extend the life of your pillows.’

For good hygiene make sure you also build cleaning a mattress into your schedule, as well as washing a mattress cover.

Why do pillows turn yellow?

The reason pillows turn yellow? We’re not going to sugarcoat it. The answer is that it’s mostly from sweat and drool, along with other moisture which might be from hair products and skin lotions.

The way to keep your pillow its orginal pristine shade is to use a pillow protector, and wash it on schedule, too.

Sarah Warwick
Contributing Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.