How to Wash Pillows by Hand or in a Washing Machine?

Cleaning your pillows can be a hassle, especially if they are luxury pillows that require special care and protocols in order to maintain their shape. If you are not careful, you could risk destroying your expensive pillows by washing them incorrectly, so it is crucial to know exactly what you are doing.

Good and effective pillow care is key to maintaining the plushness, loft, firmness, comfort, and shape. So, whether you have synthetic cotton pillows, tempurpedic memory foam pillows, bamboo pillows or down pillows, we suggest doing a bit of research on how to properly get rid of stains and spills on your pillows.

Can You Wash Pillows?

Most varieties of pillows can be washed and properly cleaned. This includes pillows filled with feather, down, fiberfill, polyester clusters, or cotton. These can be washed in the machine depending on the manufacturer’s directions and instructions.

However, some pillows like latex or memory foam pillows should strictly be dry cleaned or spot cleaned as even the tiniest amount of moisture could potentially destroy the filling material. Water exposure could result in a flattened pillow and in some cases, you can expect gross growth of mildew and fungus inside the pillow. This is not just a waste of precious money but also a severe health hazard that could put you and your family at risk. So you should always follow the right washing technique for memory foam pillows and latex pillows.

While most pillows can be washed, it is crucial to always read instructions or tags that come with the pillows. Pillow labels clearly indicate the correct method of cleaning as well as substances you should avoid at all costs. Some labels say dry clean only, which means they should neither be hand washed nor washed in a machine.

Keep reading to learn how to wash pillows without clumping and destroying the fill.

wash and clean yellowed pillows

How to Wash Pillows by Hand

Some people prefer washing pillows by hand while in some cases, it’s the pillow material that can’t be washed in a washer. This is because certain types of pillows such as memory foam and latex pillows don’t react well to moisture and lose their firmness and shape permanently.

No matter what pillow type are you washing, here is how you can hand wash your pillows to get them neat and clean again.

Remove the Cover

First things first! Always remove any pillow cases or covers from your pillows before you begin the cleaning process. In most cases, you can usually toss the cover in a washing machine and wash the pillow insert as per provided instructions. However, some pillowcases may come with specific cleaning instructions and it is important to follow them precisely.

Depending on the material of the cover, you can wash and dry it easily. For some special luxury pillows, all you need to do is wash the zipper cover to clean it entirely. There is no need to wash the filling at all! In such cases, it will always be mentioned on any labels or tags provided with the pillow or the cover.

Get rid of dust and dirt

Your pillow can easily become a breeding ground for germs, bacteria, and mildew. Oily secretions from your scalp, dry shedding, cosmetic remnants, fine particles of dust and dead skin can soak inside your pillow filling and result in the growth of all kinds of impurities that may become health hazards.

After you have thoroughly washed and rinsed your pillow cover, it is now time to remove surface dust and particles from the pillow before you begin to soak it. Simply pat the filling or the cover with enough force to release dust and debris from the surface. Do this before washing your pillow as it will keep the rough particles from dissolving in the water mixture and sticking to the pillow.

You can also use a vacuum cleaner with the upholstery extension to such out any fine debris glues to the surface of the pillow. Try to pat your pillows clean as often as you can as it gets rid of most dust that may eventually dissolve in the pillow and result in hazardous bacteria growth. Wash your pillow protectors regularly to eliminate skin oils and other impurities from seeping inside.

Wash and Rinse

When hand washing your luxury pillows, it is important to use hot water unless the washing instructions on label say otherwise. For effective cleaning, the water temperature should be between 40 to 45 Celsius. Hot water eliminates germs, bacteria, and dust mites without the need to use harsh chemicals like bleach. You can also add a mild, low-suds detergent that will not disintegrate the tender filling.

Avoid adding aggressive bleaching liquids or strong scented chemicals that damage the pillow. Place your pillow in the sink or bucket filled with hot water and detergent and gently agitate the pillow with your hands. Your hands should keep a light hold of the pillow as you work your fingers carefully over the surface.

Do not twist, pull, or stretch aggressively as it may cause the filling to clump, disintegrate or lose its shape. You may leave your pillows soaked for ten to fifteen minutes and when it is time to pull them out, gently rinse several times to remove any excess water. You can use white terry cloth towels to soak water from the filling. Remember to never twist feather pillows as the filling might break completely.

If you are washing multiple pillows at the same time, make sure you are using a tub that is large enough to submerge and cover your pillows to the brink. It is also advised to wash your sink or bucket before using it to eliminate impurities. Once in the water, you can use a ladle or a clean stick to swirl the hot water and keep your hands from burning; though we advise against using water that is too hot.


Once your pillows have been washed and rinsed carefully, it is now time to dry out any moisture in the filling. If you do not dry your pillows thoroughly, the remaining moisture may damage the filling and result in mold growth.

Most pillows including feather, down, and synthetic pillows can be air dried naturally. It is important to note that air drying your feather and down pillows may save on the energy bills, but it may not always be the best method of drying. Feather and down pillows should ideally be tumble dried, but if you do not own a dryer, you can stick to air drying and fluffing your pillows by hand instead.

For some varieties such as memory foam or latex pillows, it is essential to air dry them. They come with labels that specifically warn against using tumble dryers and this is because the aggressive and repetitive spinning coupled with excessive heat can cause the filling to crush and crumble entirely.

Pick a clean spot on your terrace or in the backyard where your pillows can face the sun directly. Leave them out for a few hours until all moisture is dried up and any remaining odors are eliminated. The fresh air and the natural sunlight help regain their freshness without compromising on the loft and shape.

However, if you just cannot find an outdoor spot for your pillows, or if it is a rainy day then you can even place your clean pillows on a clothes drying rack under a fan or in a well-ventilated room.

Flip the pillows after every hour to ensure that all sides are dry and moisture free. Never hang your pillows on a drying line as it will cause the filling material to clump and gather to one side unevenly.

How to Wash Pillows in a Washing Machine

Machine washing is recommended for cotton, fiberfill, down and feather pillows. While it takes less time and effort as compared to hand washing, it’s important that you use the right machine, detergent and heat settings to keep your pillows from getting damaged.

Here are the step by step instructions on how you can wash your pillows in a washing machine and get the best results:

Remove the cover

You already know this and it isn’t rocket science either; wash your pillow cover separately.

Always begin by removing the covers or extra pillowcases and when washing them in the machine, use a light detergent that does not use chemically aggressive agents. Your pillow cover absorbs most of the impurities as it is on the surface of the pillow and blocks dust and debris to seep inside the filling.

From makeup remains, moisturizers, oils, to dead skin cells, etc., the pillowcase may have layers of grime and germs sticking to it. If your pillow covers are machine washable, we recommend washing them regularly rather than washing your pillow inserts so frequently. This will keep the bacteria and debris from sinking into the filling and you will have a fresh smelling cover and a clean pillow inside.

Add water and detergent

cleaning pillows in washing machine

Now that the pillow cover is off, your pillow is ready to be put in the washer. Make sure to use cold or lukewarm water with only a small amount of detergent. Avoid adding too much of detergent as it can result in soap residue build up.

You should ideally use low-suds, gentle detergent that avoid harsh chemicals or bleaching agents from dissolving in the filling and permanently damaging it. If laundry detergent is not available, you can also use dishwasher detergent.

Wash and Rinse

If you can, use the front-loading washing machine without the agitator. The agitator is the spindle shaped device in the center of the machine which can be a bit harsh on the pillow with tender filling like feather or down pillows.

However, this does not mean that you cannot use a top-loading machine. Simply place two pillows at a time and arrange them inside vertically to maintain balance. This avoids any damage and agitates the pillows only once or twice on a gentle cycle. You should always time the wash cycle from ten to fifteen minutes and make sure that the setting is gentle.

Once you have washed your pillows, go ahead and run an extra rinse cycle without soap to ensure that the detergent has been cleaned out. For this, you can use the spin dry feature in your washer once or twice to squeeze out remaining moisture. When setting the temperature for your pillows, refer to the label and check for any instructions. Otherwise, cold, or lukewarm water is suitable for most varieties of pillows.

Tumble Dry

Drying your pillows properly is crucial. Any remaining moisture can lead to bacteria growth and even mold in the crevices of your pillow filling. To avoid this, make sure that all sides and corners of your pillow are dried. You should also dry the pillow cover thoroughly before slipping it back on.

Once the washing cycle has been completed, check for the labels again to see any specific drying instructions. Machine washable pillows are usually safe to place in your tumble dryer. Always ensure that the setting of the dryer is on low heat.

Excessive heat can destroy tender filling such as down or feather. Bamboo filling can also break away if exposed to high heat levels, whereas a foam pillow should never be tumble dried as the heat and aggressive spinning may crush the filling.

When tumble drying your pillows, you should ideally turn and fluff them in between the cycle. This will help keep your pillows remain plump, light, and airy. Put in two dryer or tennis balls for a gentle kneading of the pillows that will help with fluffing.

Run a quick drying cycle in your dryer and once they are out, place them in an airing cupboard, or on a drying rack inside a well-ventilated room to ensure fresh air to flow in and out. This dries any traces of remaining moisture. You can even place it outside under the sun on a clean surface to let it completely dry.

If you notice any musty smell coming out of your pillows, allow the pillow to be in the sunlight for five to six hours to get rid of the stench.

Can You Put Pillows in the Dryer?

Most pillows including cotton, polyester, down and feather, or bamboo pillows can be dried in the dryer on a low heat, gentle setting. However, before you do this, it is crucial to know that different pillow materials can have different washing and drying requirements, so it is advised to always check the label for before you put them in the dryer.

Latex pillows and memory foam pillows on the other hand may be completely ruined when placed in the dryer. Some foam pillows may even catch fire inside tumble dryers so checking tags and labels is paramount.

For pillows where you can safely use a tumble dryer, it is better to run three to four cycles to ensure that your pillow is dried all the way through. Fluff them mid cycle occasionally to prevent clumping and letting the air pass through. Tossing in two dryer balls helps with this and keeps your pillows airy and fluffed.

For feather pillows, you can use the air, fluff, or no heat option, unless the instructions say otherwise. Synthetic pillows can be dried using a low heat setting.

How to Clean Pillows Without Washing Them?

Some varieties of pillow prohibit washing or moisture exposure at all as the filling may crumble and flatten completely. Tempurpedic pillows are one example of this type. Cleaning tempurpedic pillows requires special care and spot cleaning is recommended for any kind of foam pillows.

Firstly, you should always use a pillow protector with such products. This makes cleaning your pillows a lot easier as all you have to do is wash the pillow cover rather than the pillow insert.

In case of any spills or spots on your delicate pillows, you can use a terry white towel, paper towel or clean white cloth to dab repeatedly until the stain is transferred to it. Some stains like from blood or saliva should be preheated to help clean them out. Digestants such as enzyme-containing detergents can do the trick!

Once done, you can dip a clean paper towel in a mild soap mixture and gently press against the stained spot and use circular motions, outward to inward. This keeps the liquid from spreading on other parts of the pillow. Finally, dab a clean white cloth or towel on the same spot to soak up the excess liquid and air dry your pillow to dry it completely.

It’s recommended that you spot treat the stains as soon as they are discovered. The more you delay, the hard it gets to get rid of the stains.

If you want to learn more about this process, check out this guide to spot cleaning your pillow.

How Often Should You Wash Your Pillows?

Pillows should be washed at-least two to four times a year to ensure healthy good night’s sleep. Washing your bed pillows too often may reduce their life and comfort. In order to avoid frequent washing, we recommend investing in a good quality pillowcase. This way, you can keep the pillow from getting stains and wash your pillow cover once or twice a month to keep your pillow clean and hygienic.

Most pillows can be machine washed unless the label instructs otherwise. There are some pillows that can only be dry-cleaned, or spot cleaned. Some strictly advise using front-loading washing machines for washing and others demand air drying only. The best way to work around this is to refer to the care tag.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to dry a pillow?

It can take approximately one hour for a pillow to dry in a tumble dryer. If you are air drying your pillow, it may take up to four to six hours to properly dry all the way through. Regardless of the method of drying, you should always keep your pillow out for drying for at least four hours to ensure that all moisture has been eliminated from the inside.

Damp pillows can leave a musty odor that becomes worse with time and encourages mold and mildew to lace the insides.

What temperature should you wash pillows at?

Washing your pillows between 45 to 55 Celsius will kill most bacteria and dust mites, but you should always read the care label for any specific temperature instructions first. Try and wash two pillows together to maintain support for the pillows.

When drying, put the setting on the lowest heat and fluff them occasionally between cycles. Excessive heat may flatten the filling or cause it to burn and disintegrate.

How can I remove sweat odor from a pillow?

Musty sweat odors can be eliminated by keeping your pillow out in the sun for four to six hours. The fresh air passes through the filling, eliminating bacteria and mold that have grown as a result of sweaty moisture.

You can also try and sprinkle a moderate dusting of baking soda over your pillow and vacuum the excess powder using an upholstery attachment. This will remove the odor and the dry spores. A light mixture of vinegar and water can also be sprayed and wiped off the pillow using a mild dish soap solution. If you use this technique, be sure to air dry your pillow or keep it out in the sun for a few hours to eliminate any traces of the liquid solution left behind.

If there are any visible sweat stains, you can refer to this guide to whiten your yellowed pillows.

Can I wash bamboo pillows?

You can easily wash bamboo pillows in the washing machine or by hand. Just be sure to always use warm water and a soft, low-suds detergent that does not contain any bleach. Use a gentle cycle and place two pillows vertically at the same time inside the washer. You can follow this guide to fluff your bamboo pillows once you’re done washing.

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