How to Wash and Care for Pillows Properly

Pillows without sheets stacked on each other on top of bed

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 10 mins - 12 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to 20

This article is part of our series, Sleep Week: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your Best Sleep Ever. Sleep Week is your destination for whole sleep happiness, curating our very best tips and product recommendations to help you create your coziest, most comfortable sleep environment yet.

A good night's sleep requires a clean, comfortable pillow. Pillows can be filled with feathers, down, fiberfill, or foam, and learning how to wash pillows is important to keep them in good shape. While there is no single perfect pillow for everyone, one thing is certain: Pillows should be cleaned regularly to remove odors and stains from sweat, body oils, and dust mites.

The methods for cleaning pillows are simple, but you must allow enough time for the filling to dry completely regardless of the filling. Read on for more details on how to wash pillows.

How Often Should You Wash Your Pillows?

Even if you protect your pillows with removable covers that you wash weekly, the pillow should be washed at least seasonally every 3 to 6 months. It is perfectly fine to wash pillows more often, especially if someone in the household is ill, but a good rule of thumb is to give them a wash at least twice a year.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washer or large bathtub
  • Dryer or drying rack
  • Dryer balls
  • Heavy cotton bath towels
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Vacuum
  • Soft, white cloth


  • High-efficiency, low-suds detergent
  • Enzyme-based stain remover
  • Baking soda (optional)


How to Wash Pillows
Detergent High-efficiency, low suds
Water Temperature  Cold or warm, depending on type of pillow
Cycle Type  Gentle
Drying Cycle Type Medium heat
Special Treatments  Use dryer balls to eliminate clumps
Iron Settings Do not iron
How Often to Wash Seasonally (for pillows), weekly (for pillow covers)
Materials and tools to wash all types of pillows

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Wash Feather, Down, and Polyester-Filled Pillows

Feather pillows and polyester fiberfill pillows can be machine-washed or washed by hand. Do not use an excessive amount of detergent and avoid harsh twisting and wringing.

  1. Pretreat Stains

    If there are visible stains on the pillow, use an enzyme-based stain remover or a tiny dab of detergent to pretreat the stain. Work the stain remover into the soiled area with a soft-bristled brush and allow it to sit for at least 10 minutes before washing the pillow.

    Feather filled pillow spot cleaned with enzyme-based stain remover

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

  2. Set and Load the Washer Correctly

    Feather pillows should be washed using the gentle cycle and cold water. Polyester-filled pillows can be washed in cold or warm water.

    Feather pillow placed in washing machine for cleaning

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

  3. Use the Right Detergent

    Residue from laundry products can cause feathers to clump. Use a high-efficiency, low suds detergent in a very small amount—only one to two teaspoons—when washing any type of pillow.

    High-efficiency detergent poured into cap for washing feather pillows

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

  4. Add a Second Rinse Cycle

    To make sure that all of the detergent is flushed away, add a second rinse cycle. If washing by hand, change the rinse water multiple times until you see absolutely no suds.

    Washing machine set to second rinse for washing feather pillows

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

  5. Fluff and Dry

    Fluff and smooth the pillows as you remove them from the washer. Place in a dryer set to medium heat and add some wool dryer balls to help break apart the clumps of wet feathers. Check the dryer every 15 minutes and re-fluff the pillows by hand during the drying process.

    Wool dryer balls added to feather pillows in drying machine

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

How to Wash Latex and Memory Foam Pillows

Solid foam pillows can only be hand-washed. Never put them in any type of washer, because the agitation during the wash and spin cycle can cause the foam to break. Plan to wash these pillows on a dry, breezy day with low humidity to ensure faster and thorough drying.


Because of the density, it can take up to 24 hours for a solid foam pillow to air-dry. Choose a warm, breezy day to help speed drying after a thorough washing (and have a spare pillow on-hand to sleep on while it dries, just in case).

  1. Choose Spot Cleaning

    If you don't have time to wash and dry the pillow, spot clean stains by mixing a few drops of detergent in 1 cup of warm water. Use a soft cloth to blot the mixture onto the stained area. Allow it to work for at least 10 minutes. (This same technique can be used to treat tough stains before a complete wash and dry cycle.)

    Dip a clean cloth in fresh water and blot the treated area to "rinse" the foam. Allow the pillow to air dry before using it.

    White cloth dipped in water and detergent spot cleaning pillow

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    Choose a bathtub or large plastic tub so the pillow will not be crowded in the cleaning solution. Use lukewarm water and a small amount of gentle detergent. Add the detergent first to the water and stir well so it is evenly dispersed.

    Bathtub filled with water and cap full of detergent poured in for cleaning solution

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Add the Pillow

    Submerge the pillow in the soapy water and squeeze gently (NO wringing) to move the cleaning solution through the foam. Do not leave it to soak any longer than 10 minutes.

    Square pillow added to bathtub with cleaning solution

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. Rinse Repeatedly

    Drain the soapy water and refill the tub with clean, cool water. Squeeze the foam gently to help release the suds. Drain and refill the tub several times until no more suds appear. Never wring the foam!

    Memory foam pillow squeezed to release water and soap suds in bathtub

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  5. Absorb Excess Moisture and Dry

    Place the pillow between two heavy cotton bath towels and press to help absorb excess moisture. Change the towels several times to absorb as much water as possible.

    Put the pillow flat on a drying rack so that air will circulate evenly. Using a circulating fan can help speed up the drying process. Do NOT place the pillow in an automatic dryer.

    Foam pillow placed between two towels to absorb excess moisture

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Treating Stains on Pillows

Sweat and saliva can turn into yellow stains on your pillow. You can whiten pillows and remove yellow stains using oxygenated bleach. Avoid chlorine bleach because it can cause further yellowing rather than brightening the fabric. Treat minor yellow stains with stain remover and wash as usual. For bad stains, add a scoop of oxygenated bleach to a bucket or tub of hot water and let the pillow soak overnight, then wash and dry per instructions.

Care and Repairs

Always inspect the outer covering of a pillow before and after washing to make sure there are no holes or rips that will allow the filling to escape. Hand-sew any holes or rips in a pillow using matching color thread and needle. If the hole is large, use an old pillowcase or sheet to make a little patch to hand-stitch over the hole.

Storing Pillows

Always store pillows in breathable cotton bags or storage boxes. Put the containers in a well-ventilated area, like a closet, laundry room, under the bed, or in storage ottomans. Before storing a pillow, make certain it is clean and thoroughly dry to avoid attracting mold and mildew.

Tips for Washing Pillows

  • To freshen feather and fiberfill pillows and remove dust and hair between washings, place one or two pillows in an automatic dryer set on air dry for 10 minutes. Add a few dryer balls to fluff the filling.
  • To freshen solid foam pillows between washings, sprinkle the surface with baking soda and leave it for 30 minutes. Vacuum away the baking soda, flip the pillow over, and repeat the steps.
  • Never add fabric softener when washing pillows.
  • Wash pillows in pairs to help keep the washer in balance. If you have only one pillow to wash, add a couple of heavy cotton bath towels to balance the load. For top-loading washers, balance the items around the drum and agitator. For front-loading washers, stack two pillows in the drum or a towel on top of a pillow.
  • If you opt for a low-heat or tumble-dry setting for down or feather pillows, be prepared that it may take a few hours to fully dry them.
  • You can dry a down or feather pillow outdoors on a dry, sunny day with low humidity. lay it flat on a rack or hang from a clothesline. Finish drying it in a dryer if preferred.
  • Do not dry foam pillows outdoors in direct sunlight or you can damage the structure of the foam. Make sure foam pillows are not drying indoors near direct heat, either.
  • Is it okay to wash pillows in the washing machine?

    The best way to wash pillows (non-foam) in a washing machine is to protect the fibers by using the gentle cycle and cool or lukewarm water.

  • Can I put my pillows in the dryer?

    You can put pillows in the dryer made of feathers, down, or polyester. Do not put foam pillows in the dryer. Make absolutely certain your pillows are completely dry before using them again or you will run the risk of mold and mildew growth.

  • How do you wash pillows without ruining them?

    It is important to know what type of filling is in your pillows so you can clean them correctly without ruining them.