How to clean a pillow

We spend a good eight hours a night with our sweaty heads pinned to our pillows, so it stands to reason they'll need cleaning before they need replacing. Here's how to clean a pillow

White Bedding with White Waffle Bedspread
(Image credit: White and Green Home)

Keeping your pillows in good condition with regular cleaning – and preventative measures – will ensure you get not just longevity out of them, but a hygienic, comfortable place to lie your head every night. Not all pillows can be cleaned in the same way, some not at all, and most will benefit more from professional cleaning to ensure a long lifespan. Have a read of our guide to cleaning pillows to find out how to care for yours.

Need new pillows? Find out how to choose a pillow (it's a must-read if comfort's a priority), and shop for the best pillows in our buyer's guide.

How to clean a pillow

When to clean your pillow? When it becomes stained and smelly – or once a month if in doubt. You can leave it longer if you use protector pillowcases. Bear in mind that cleaning pillows too often – or wrongly – will shorten their life, but plan to replace pillows every couple of years anyway.

First things first, check the care label on your pillow. Usually, it will tell you exactly what you can or can't do. Strip off all the outer pillowcases (to wash on a hot cycle separately) and check there are no opening in the seams of the inner pillowcase – you don't want the contents spilling into the washing machine during the wash. 

Next, take the pillows outside and carefully bang them together to get rid of any dust that you can. Repeat this once they're dry. Vacuuming pillows will also get rid of supplementary dust before washing.

Many of our tips for cleaning a mattress will work, here, too – or why not tackle both at the same time?

How to clean down, feather, latex and fibre pillows

Down and feather pillows can be put in the washing machine. Putting two rather than one in will help the washer cope with a more even spread of weight.

Unless the label advises otherwise (or you cut it off), choose a warm, delicate wash (40ºC), use a small amount of washing powder, choose an extra rinse and an extra spin cycle, too. 

Ideally, dry feather and down pillows on a low heat setting in a tumble dryer – this will restore the fluffiness you loved when you bought it. Putting rubber drying balls – or tennis balls in a couple of socks – in the tumble dryer isn't a must, but they'll help the pillow filling spread evenly, as will removing them regularly and plumping them by hand. 

If you don't have a tumble dryer, or if you're cleaning latex or fibre pillows, choose a hot day and dry them in the sunshine. Use the plumping method if you are air-drying pillows, too. 

Ensure the pillows are thoroughly dry before returning them to the bed, otherwise they will soon smell musty.

How to clean memory foam pillows

Memory foam pillows can't go in a washing machine, despite what you might read elsewhere on the internet, although some can be hand-washed (following the manufacturer's advice). 

Instead of taking this labour-intensive route, remove the covers and put them on a hot (60ºC) wash (following the advice on the care label), then vacuum both sides with the upholstery tool – a vac with a HEPA filter will help you deal carefully with dust mites – a must if you suffer from allergies. 

Spot clean any stains with a damp cloth wet with soapy water (use a washing powder rather than a washing up liquid). Ensure you rinse the soapy deposits off before you allow it to air dry. While the pillow is drying, sprinkle it with bicarbonate of soda; leave for an hour then vacuum it off. Turn the pillow over and repeat the process. This will remove any smells your pillow might be harbouring.

Only once it is fully dry should you return it to the bed. Returning it damp might allow mould and mildew to form.

Remove stains and mould from pillows with our guides: