Picture of what your bed might look like after a restless night of sleep aka messy

Can you wash bed pillows?

September 18, 2020

Author: Josie Sivigny

Night in and night out, through drool, sweat, and tears—plus dead skin particles, dust, dirt, oil, and more—your pillow has seen the best of times and the worst of times. And, while your pillowcase can play goalie to a limit, much of that grimy stuff will inevitably permeate the pillowcase and make its way into your pillow, especially if you don’t change the case very often.

It’s no secret just how gross your bedding can get, so those with sensitivities, allergies, or who simply want to keep their sleep quarters as clean as possible often wonder what is the best way to care for pillows. Which brings us to the reason you landed on this post in the first place. When you feel like changing your pillowcase isn’t enough to freshen up your nightly head rest… is it ok to wash your pillow?

The short answer is mostly yes, but not always. Learn more about how to wash pillows below.

Picture of a man pulling a pillow out of pillowcase

What kind of pillows can be washed?

All pillows come with tags attached by the manufacturer and often include care instructions. This should always be your first stop when trying to find out whether or not it’s cool to wash your pillow. If care instructions aren’t included on the pillow tag, see if the care information is available on the website of the place you purchased from.

Luckily, most pillows, such as those filled with cotton, feather, down, down alternative (faux down), and poly or fiberfill, can be washed in a washing machine. Latex and memory foam pillows, however, must be washed by hand and other foam pillows such as our T&N Original Foam Pillow are not meant to be washed at all. You can remove, machine wash, and hang dry the cover of our Original Foam Pillow, but the foam core is not washable.

If you’re super sensitive to dust and allergens but you have a pillow that cannot be washed, we recommend investing in a pillow protector. Pillow protectors are usually pretty inexpensive, are washable, and not only protect the pillow from dirt and grime, but can prolong the life of the pillow, as well.

Picture of the corner of Tuft and Needle original foam pillow

How to wash pillows

Considering the build up of junk that can get into your pillows, Good Housekeeping recommends washing your pillows two to four times a year. If you are a hot sleeper and/or happen to sweat during the night, you may want to err on washing more often.

Washing cotton, feather, down, down alternative, and polyfill pillows:

  1. Put the pillow(s) in the washing machine and select gentle cycle with warm water. Add an extra cold water rinse and spin cycle. This is to make sure there are no remnants of detergent left behind that can cause irritation or break down the filling over time.
  2. Add a small amount of detergent. We do not recommend using bleach on pillows.
  3. Tumble dry on low heat or air dry, fluffing every 15 minutes or so. To help keep your pillows from flattening out, toss in a few dryer balls if you have them. It may take longer for your pillow to dry than it would for a typical load of laundry, so don’t panic if a musty smell arises—especially if your pillow is down-filled. If the pillow starts to smell musty, put it outside to dry in the sun.

Washing latex or memory foam pillows:

  1. Remove the pillow cover or case, which is usually machine washable. Fill your bathtub, deep sink, or other container with warm water, enough to submerge the pillow completely. Add a tablespoon of detergent per pillow and mix it around in the water to make sure that it is evenly spread.
  2. Submerge the pillow. Knead and squeeze thoroughly to dislodge dirt buildup and allow the detergent to get through each layer.
  3. When you feel like you’ve washed it enough, drain the dirty water and refill with fresh cool water. Go through the knead-and-squeeze process again, draining and rinsing the tub as needed, depending how much detergent continues to come out of the pillow. You want to make sure that you get as much detergent as possible. Continue this process until the water no longer has suds in it.
  4. Towel dry as much water out of the pillow as you can and then let it dry in the sun. Be sure that the pillow is completely dry before using it.
Picture of two pillows on a bed against a brown wood paneled wall

When to replace your pillow

While clean pillowcases, pillow protectors, and periodically washing your pillows can help them last as long as possible, you will eventually need to buy a new pillow. If you notice your pillow is showing any of the following signs, it’s probably time to say goodbye.

  • Noticeable lumps in the foam or filler materials
  • Permanent stains from body sweat and oil
  • You start waking up with aches and pains in your neck and shoulders
  • You are sneezing or wheezing more often when in bed
  • You constantly have to fluff your pillow to get comfortable (feather pillows)
  • You fold the pillow in half and it stays that way instead of expanding back out (feather and cotton pillows)
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