Since you rest your head on your pillow every night, you want to make sure that it’s as clean and germ-free as possible. And no, we’re not just talking about the pillowcase itself. In addition to regularly cleaning your sheets and comforter, you should also be caring for your pillows, mattress, and mattress topper. Pillows, especially, should be washed at least two to four times a year (say, every four months) to help them last longer. But not all types of pillows — down, fiberfill, and solid foam — should be treated in the same way.
While most styles are machine washable, some are dry-clean only, have front-loading washing machine restrictions or advise only spot-treating. And the last thing you want is one that’s a hassle to keep clean. The content and care tag on the pillow is the best place to start, but if you can’t find step-by-step instructions or need further guidance, follow this guide by Carolyn Forte, Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab, how to wash pillows, no matter the size, shape, or fill.
How to Wash Down and Fiberfill Pillows in the Washer
You’re in luck: Most down and fiberfill pillows are machine-friendly, which means you can just toss them in the washing machine for a refresh. Be sure to wash two pillows at a time to keep the washer balanced, ensuring an all-around clean. While any washing machine will do, front- or top-loading machines without an agitator (a.k.a. the large spindle in the middle of some machines) is your best bet. If an agitator-style top loader is your only option, place the pillows in the tub vertically to lessen the chance of them getting damaged by the agitator.
It goes without saying that you should always read your pillow’s care label and follow the directions accordingly. If you clipped off the tag or can’t find the instructions, use this step-by-step as your guide:
- Select the gentle cycle and use warm water, then add on an extra cold water rinse and spin cycle.
- Add a small amount of detergent, such as Good Housekeeping Seal star Tide.
- Tumble the pillows dry on low heat, fluffing and turning them often. To help keep pillows plump, toss in a few dryer balls from Nellie’s. Stop the dryer a few times throughout the cycle to fluff them and break up lumps by hand.
How to Wash Solid Foam Pillows
Unfortunately, you can’t put your latex or memory foam pillows straight in the washing machine. While foam pillows are resistant to dust mites, it’s still important to clean them on a regular basis. As always, you should check the washing instructions on the pillow’s tag, or follow Forte’s cleaning method outlined here:
- Remove pillow covers or pillowcases and wash according to the care tag. If you cut off the care tag, stick the pillowcases and covers in the washing machine, select the normal or casual cycle, and wash in warm or hot water. Add detergent, such as Good Housekeeping Seal star Tide.
- To get rid of dust or dirt on the pillow, vacuum both sides, or tumble in the dryer on the no-heat or air-only cycle for 20 minutes.
- Spot clean any soiled areas with a cloth dipped in a mild sudsy soap solution. Lightly rinse with a damp cloth. (FYI, wet foam tears easily, so be gentle with the water and soap solution.)
- Allow the pillow to air dry completely before putting it back on the bed or couch.
How to Know When You Should Replace Your Pillows
No matter how diligent you are about cleaning your pillows, you’ll need to buy new ones eventually. The foolproof way to know when to toss ’em: “If you fold the pillow in half, and it doesn’t spring back into shape, plan for a shopping trip,” Forte explains. If your pillows have a funny odor even after you give them a good wash, it’s also a good idea to replace them. To help lengthen your pillow’s life, use liners under your pillowcases and wash pillows every four to six months.
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