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.
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.
For more washing tips, read our guide on how to do laundry.
- Best pillows: use our buyer's guide reviews to find the perfect place to lay your head
- How to choose a pillow: yup, there's an art to finding the right one
How to wash pillows: feather and down
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. 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.
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.
How to wash pillows: synthetic
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.
How to wash pillows: foam and latex
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 it, not the 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.
How to wash pillows: silk and wool
Natural silk and wool filled pillows are best hand washed, because the filling is likely to clump after machine washing. 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. 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 and check there are no opening in the seams of the inner pillowcase – you don't want the contents spilling.
Next, 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.
Many of our tips for cleaning a mattress will work, here, too – or why not tackle both at the same time?
*Lead image: linen bedlinen from Soak & Sleep
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.