How To Clean A Dirty Pillow?

Cleaning a dirty pillow may seem daunting, but it is actually a straightforward process that can be accomplished with a few simple steps. Begin with removing the pillowcase and any protector that it might be encased in. Generally, most pillows made from materials such as down, feather, or synthetic fibers can be washed in your home washing machine using warm water on a gentle cycle. Use a small amount of mild liquid detergent and avoid fabric softeners. Once the wash cycle is complete, tumble-dry the pillows on low heat with a couple of clean tennis balls or dryer balls to help fluff them back up. Always ensure the pillow is completely dry before using it again to prevent mold and mildew growth.

Understanding Different Pillow Materials

Before you clean your pillow, it’s vital to understand the type of pillow you have because the material inside your pillow dictates how you should clean it. Let’s look at the four common types:

Memory Foam and Latex Pillows

Memory foam and latex pillows should not be thrown in the washing machine. These materials can break down when exposed to water and agitation. Instead, spot clean any stains with a mild detergent and let them air dry.

Down and Feather Pillows

Down and feather pillows are usually machine washable, but it’s best to use a front-loading washing machine or a top loader without an agitator to avoid damage. Use a gentle, non-bleach detergent and ensure thorough rinsing to remove all soap residues.

Synthetic Pillows

Synthetic fill pillows, such as polyester, are the most straightforward to clean. They can handle machine washing and drying well, but always follow the care label instructions to avoid damaging the fill.

Natural Fiber Pillows

Pillows filled with natural fibers like cotton, wool, or bamboo often have specific care instructions. Some may be machine washable, while others require hand washing or dry cleaning.

Spot Cleaning Your Pillow

Sometimes, you can’t wash the entire pillow, or it only has a few spots that need attention. Here’s how you can tackle those:

Prepping the Pillow

Remove the pillow cover if possible. Vacuum any debris from the pillow’s surface using an upholstery attachment to avoid pushing the dirt deeper into the fabric.

Preparing a Cleaning Solution

Mix a small amount of mild detergent with warm water to form suds. Use a clean white cloth and dip it into the suds, avoiding colored cloth to prevent dye transfer onto your pillow.

Cleaning the Stain

Gently blot the stain with the sudsy cloth. Avoid rubbing, which can work the stain deeper into the pillow. Continue until the stain lifts.

Rinsing and Drying

Remove the soap by dabbing the area with a clean cloth dipped in clean water. Make sure the pillow is completely dry before using it again, which could be several hours or more depending on the material and weather conditions.

Machine Washing Your Pillow

If your pillow is machine washable, here is a step-by-step process to ensure thorough cleaning and maintenance of the pillow’s integrity.

Pre-Wash Preparations

Check the care label and follow any specific instructions. Pre-treat any stains on your pillow by gently applying a stain remover, and allow it to sit for the recommended time before washing.

Choosing the Right Detergent and Settings

Use a mild liquid detergent and avoid using powder detergents or bleach. Set your machine to a delicate or gentle cycle with warm water and an extra rinse cycle to ensure all soap is washed out.

Washing Multiple Pillows

If possible, wash two pillows at the same time to keep your washing machine balanced. This contributes to more effective washing and helps maintain the shape of your pillows.

Top 5 Pillows Recommended By

Drying Your Pillows

Tumble dry pillows on a low heat setting. Add a couple of clean tennis balls or dryer balls to break any clumps and fluff the pillows as they dry. Check periodically and remove the pillows once they are fully dry to prevent over-drying, which can damage the material.

Hand Washing Your Pillow

Some pillows can’t withstand the rigors of a washing machine and are best cleaned by hand.

Filling a Basin or Tub

Fill a large basin or tub with lukewarm water and a small amount of gentle detergent. Submerge the pillow and squeeze it gently to allow the cleaning mixture to penetrate the pillow.

Gentle Agitation

Swirl the pillow around in the water for a few minutes, then press it repeatedly to help dislodge dirt. Avoid wringing or twisting memory foam or latex pillows, as this can damage the structure.


Empty the tub and refill it with clean water to rinse the pillow. You may need to repeat this process several times to ensure all the soap is removed.


After rinsing, press out the excess water carefully. Lay the pillow flat on a clean towel in a well-ventilated area, flipping it periodically to ensure even drying. It may take a day or two for the pillow to dry completely.

Maintenance Tips for Keeping Your Pillow Clean

Maintaining a clean pillow is easier with regular upkeep.

Using Pillow Protectors

Invest in a pillow protector in addition to your pillowcase. Protectors can be easily removed and washed frequently, keeping your pillow cleaner for longer periods.

Regular Fluffing

Daily fluffing helps maintain the shape of your pillow and removes dust and allergens.

Sun and Fresh Air

Periodically airing your pillow can help eliminate moisture and keep it fresh. Just keep in mind that direct, prolonged sunlight exposure may damage some materials.


Gently vacuum your pillow with an upholstery attachment once a month to remove dust and mites.

When to Replace Your Pillow

Pillows don’t last forever and should be replaced every 1-2 years for hygiene reasons and to ensure proper neck support. Here are some signs that it’s time for a new pillow:

– Persistent bad smell even after cleaning
– Lumpy or flat and cannot be fluffed back into shape
– Noticeable stains and discoloration
– Waking up with neck pain or allergies

Finishing Thoughts

Keeping your pillows clean is crucial for a healthy sleeping environment and contributes to the longevity of your sleep products. Always follow the manufacturer’s advice and washing instructions to preserve the life and performance of your pillow. Regular maintenance, such as using protectors, fluffing, and airing out your pillow, can greatly extend its usability. Remember, if your pillow shows signs of wear or it’s been a couple of years since you purchased it, it’s probably time for a replacement. Sweet dreams and a clean sleep environment go hand in hand.


  • Ashton Roberts

    I love learning and sharing everything about sleep. I am one of the energetic editors here at GoodSleepHub, where I talk about how to get a better night's sleep. When I'm not writing, I'm probably walking my dog Luna or trying out new sleeping gadgets. My goal is to help you sleep easier and better. Join me, and let's find simple ways to enjoy great sleep every night!

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