How to wash pillows – washing feather, down and memory foam

We advise on how to wash pillows, from feather and down to foam and silk, in the washer and by hand

how to wash pillows: linen bedding from soak & sleep
(Image credit: Soak & Sleep)

Always wondered how to wash pillows? The good news is: you can wash most types of pillows without any problems, including feather and down ones. And even if you don't want to subject your expensive pillows to water, there are other ways to clean and disinfect them.

For more washing tips, head over to our guide on how to do laundry

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 washing pillows too often – or wrongly – will shorten their life, but plan to replace pillows every couple of years anyway. 

Housekeeping guru, Martha Stewart recommends, '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.'

So, without further ado, here's our guide to washing pillows.

  • If you think yours has bitten the dust, here's our guide to the best pillows to make purchasing a new one a cinch.

Aldi storage bed

(Image credit: Aldi )

How to wash feather and down pillows in the washer

Machine washing feather and down pillows should be fine, so long as you wash on a low temperature, and make sure as much of the moisture is removed from the pillow after washing as possible. 

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, 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.

Of course, before washing any pillow, it's a good idea to check the care instructions tag for specifics. 

  • Tip: use a higher spin speed. Use a mild detergent, such as a detergent for silk or wool, as the natural fibres of the feathers will respond better to it than to heavy duty detergent. 
Ecover Delicate Laundry Liquid, for wool and silk, Amazon

Ecover Delicate Laundry Liquid, for wool and silk, Amazon

Delicately remove stains and help maintain the strength of fibers with this plant based, biodegradable and eco detergent. Sensitive to skin, it has a subtle waterlily and honeydew fragrance. 

How to wash pillows - pillows on a bed with blue headboard and exposed brick - getty

(Image credit: Getty)

How to wash a memory foam or latex pillows

Our honest advice is: don't bother. Foam will almost certainly be destroyed in the washing machine, and hand washing is difficult, as the pillow will become extremely heavy and will be very hard to get dry. 

If you have a memory foam pillow, protect it with a pillow protector and wash that, not the pillow.

But if you do really need to clean it, simply use a vacuum attachment to remove any dust or debris. 

Here's another way to spot-clean your memory foam or latex pillow.

  • 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.

Furano Cotton Duvet Cover + 2 Pillowcases

(Image credit: Made)

How to wash synthetic pillows

Synthetic pillows are the easiest to wash and will often be marked 'easy clean'. 

You can wash most synthetic pillows in hotter temperatures than other types, unless it's a synthetic filling that imitates down, in which case stick to 40ºC. 

Lynsey Crombie, a.k.a. Queen of Clean recommends, 'If your pillows are made from polyester then these can go into the washing machine on a low heat using your usual detergent although DON’T use fabric conditioner.'

'I would advise that you do a double rinse to get as much of the suds out as possible. For the second rinse you can also add a capful of White Wine Vinegar which will help get rid of any nasty odours and those yellow patches.'

100% Mulberry Silk Luxury Pillow Case, Etsy

(Image credit: Etsy)

How to wash silk and wool pillows

Natural silk and wool filled pillows are best hand washed, because the filling is likely to clump after machine washing. 

Here's how to hand-wash silk and wool pillows:

  • Fill a bath with warm water and add mild detergent. 
  • Move around the pillow vigorously, then rinse. 
  • You make find you need to rinse a few times to get all the detergent out. 
  • Squeeze excess water and dry for two to three days, preferably in open air. 

How to clean a pillow (without washing)

Want to clean your pillow without water? It is possible. Many of our tips for cleaning a mattress will work, here, too – or why not tackle both at the same time?

Here's how to wash your pillows without water:

  • 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 and check there are no opening in the seams of the inner pillowcase – you don't want the contents spilling.
  • Take the pillows outside and carefully bang them together to get rid of any dust that you can. Repeat.
  • Vacuuming pillows will also get rid of supplementary dust before washing.

How to clean pillows with sunlight

No, cleaning bedding with sunlight is not just an old wives' tale: the ultraviolet rays from the sun do disinfect and freshen bedding, so leaving your pillow out in the sun is definitely an effective way of cleaning them. 

You might struggle to use this method in mid-winter (if you're in the UK, at least), because you do need a good few hours of direct sunlight for this way of cleaning pillows to really work. 

Also, bear in mind that you'll need to remove any stains from your pillow before you place it out in the sun; otherwise, the stain will become more embedded in the fabric. 

Anna Cottrell
Anna Cottrell

Anna is Consumer Editor across Future's home brands. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening.