They're an essential element of a comfortable bed, so keep yours fresh and in their best shape ever with these expert-approved tips.

By Stephanie Lovelle
November 04, 2019

When it comes to bedding, you're probably meticulous about cleaning your sheets and comforter, but can the same be said for your pillows? Because pillows can house a mix of bugs, dead skin, and dust mites and their droppings, it's important to make sure they receive just as much attention as anything else on your bed. To ensure your pillows are fresh and clean, we asked Brian Sansoni, senior vice president of communications, outreach, and membership at the American Cleaning Institute, for his best tips on cleaning and caring for this essential element of the bed.

Related: How to Care for Your Sheets

How to Wash Pillows

Most pillows, including those filled with cotton, feather, down, and fiberfill, can be cleaned in a washing machine using warm water on the gentle cycle, explains Sansoni, but it's always a good idea to read the label for cleaning instructions first. "Your pillow may be one of the rare kinds that need dry-cleaning," he says. Foam pillows are one common type that shouldn't go into the washing machine because the agitation is too harsh and likely to break up the padding. Despite this, foam pillows can be cleaned at home using another method. "You can wash the removable cover (if there is one) according to the cleaning instructions on the label," says Sansoni. To clean the foam, use a vacuum attachment to remove any dirt or dust that's in the pillow.

How Often Should You Wash Pillows?

While you'll want to wash the rest of your bedding regularly, pillows have a bit more of a grace period. At the very least, pillows should undergo a good wash every six months. To ensure that your pillows are consistently in their best, consider washing them "at least every three months—or four times a year," says Sansoni. As for pillowcases, wash them with your bedding, which should be a weekly cleaning routine.

While washing your pillows regularly is important, it's also good to know when to replace them. Sansoni suggests changing your pillows every one to two years. This timeframe is further backed by the National Sleep Foundation, although it's important to note that certain types of pillows can last even longer.

Does the Type of Washing Machine Matter?

A front- or top-loading machine without an agitator—which is the spindle in the center of the washing machine—is preferred for cleaning pillows. However, that doesn't mean you can't use a top-loading machine with an agitator to clean pillows; Sansoni simply recommends placing the pillows in vertically so they're less likely to get damaged and agitating only one or two minutes on the gentle cycle. "After rinsing, use the spin dry feature of your washer at least twice to get as much moisture out of the pillows as possible," he adds.

Related: Seven Things You Didn't Know Could Be Cleaned in Your Washing Machine

How to Spot-Treat Pillows

As with washing, there's a difference in how you should approach spot-treating your pillows based on type. For foam pillow, Sansoni recommends spot cleaning any soiled areas with a cloth dipped in a mild soap solution. For other pillow types, if the pillow has stains from substances such as blood or saliva, you may want to pre-treat the stains to help get them out. Digestants (enzyme-containing detergents) should do the trick.

How to Dry Pillows

It's perfectly fine to allow your pillows to air-dry. You can also give them some time in the dryer depending on what the cleaning instructions on the label say. (Foam pillows, for example, pose the risk of catching fire when coming into contact with heat.) In the case that you can use your dryer, Sansoni recommends running for several cycles to ensure the pillow's dry all the way through. "When drying, remove pillows and fluff them periodically to prevent clumping and promote even drying," says Sansoni. "Tossing a few tennis or dryer balls in the dryer with the pillows will also help prevent clumping."

Caring for Down Pillows

While your down pillows may seem like they need expert care, they can actually be washed at home. Of course, you'd want to check the fabric care label, but washing on a delicate setting in cool water is often sufficient for cleaning. "Launder two of them at the same time in order to help keep your washing machine balanced during the spin cycle," says Sansoni.

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