How to Clean Your Pillow So You Can Rest Easier at Night

Because a dusty pillow is a nightmare

Amy Pawlukiewicz
Written by Amy Pawlukiewicz
Updated May 11, 2022
Young couple making bed in the morning
Photo: Tetra Images / DigitalVision / Getty Images


You've got this!

Time to complete

2 hours

Roughly 120 minutes (mostly waiting for the washer and dryer to finish)

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What you'll need:


  • A washer and dryer
  • A pair of white socks
  • Tennis balls (2 minimum)


  • Mild laundry detergent

You probably wash your sheets weekly, your duvet cover monthly, and your quilts every few months (give or take, right?). Maybe you even have a reminder somewhere to flip your mattress every six months. But what about your pillows? 

 Pillows collect hair, skin cells, drool, and sweat, and can be a breeding ground for bacteria, germs, and even dust mites. You lay your head on them every night, but are you cleaning them often enough? Or...ever?

As it turns out, you should wash your bed pillows at least twice a year to keep them fresh and germ-free. We’ll show you how.

  1. Check the Label

    First, you need to make sure that your pillows are machine washable. Most are, but down or synthetic feather pillows may have different washing instructions. If your pillows are old and don’t have a tag, err on the side of caution; the last thing you need is a washer full of cotton or feathers that can clog up your hoses.

  2. Spot Treat Any Visible Stains

    If your pillows have any stains, it’s best to spot treat with a stain remover before tossing them in the wash. Most store-bought spot treatment solutions involve wetting the stained area, applying the solution, rubbing it in, and letting it sit for a specified amount of time. 

    If you know the cause of the stain, such as lipstick or make-up, be sure to choose a spot treatment solution that will meet your specific needs. Be sure to read the directions on any spot treatment solution you purchase to avoid inadvertently damaging your pillows.

  3. Don’t Leave Your Pillows Lonely

    If you try to wash one pillow at a time, your load will be unbalanced, the detergent and water won’t work through evenly, and your spin cycle is likely to turn into a noisy disaster. Do your best to load at least two pillows into your washing machine at a time so everything stays balanced, and your pillows get as clean as possible.

  4. Wash Your Pillows (Gently)

    When washing your pillows, use a mild liquid detergent, as powdered detergent will leave a residue on your pillows. You can also save the fabric softener for your sheets as it’s not necessary for pillows. 

    If your washing machine has an agitator, make sure you run your pillows on the gentlest cycle so they will agitate for the shortest amount of time. Agitators can wreak havoc on your pillows, especially if the fabric is old. Another option is to take a trip to the laundromat to use a front loader without an agitator.

  5. Rinse, Repeat

    After the wash cycle, run a second rinse on your pillows to ensure that all the soap is rinsed out. Any leftover detergent will dry in your pillows and can cause allergic reactions and itchiness when you sleep on them.

  6. Dry Them Thoroughly

    Here’s where the tennis balls and socks enter the picture. Toss your pillows in the dryer with tennis balls wrapped in socks to fluff them back up. If you don’t have socks and tennis balls, throw in a couple of towels to help speed up the drying process. 

    Don’t use the auto-dry setting on your dryer for this cycle—you’ll need to run your pillows for at least an hour with moderate heat to get them fully dry. If you have a clothesline and the weather is mild, you can hang them out to dry.

  7. Double-Check Dryness

    If you don’t dry your pillows all the way through, they can grow mildew. Check your pillows thoroughly to make sure that they’re really dry all the way through.

  8. Make the Bed

    Bed with bright yellow pillows and headboard
    Photo: Inti St Clair / Getty Images

    Once your pillows are (thoroughly) dried, you can put them back on the bed. You may want to think about adding a pillow cover under your pillowcase for an added layer of protection. Just be sure to launder this once a week with your sheets.

  9. Know When It’s Time for Them to Go

    If, after laundering your pillows, you find that they just won’t get clean, it’s probably time to toss them and get new ones. Pillows that are seriously stained, won’t hold their shape, or have flattened out need to be replaced. Consider it a necessary luxury!

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