When’s the Last Time You Cleaned Your Pillows? (2023)

If we asked when was the last time you washed your pillowcases, chances are you’d have a ready answer about your most recent laundry day, what washing machine cycle you selected and maybe even some opinions on which bedding material you prefer. Now, what if we asked when was the last time you washed the pillows themselves?

In my experience the response is uncomfortable silence, human imitations of the “mind blown” emoji, or a sputtering of “the pillows? But…how?” That’s why we turned to experts, including textile consultants and sleep doctors to find the answer.

Why we should all add ‘wash pillows’ to our routine

A clean pillow is more hygienic

The experts we consulted in the fields of sleep medicine and cleanliness agree that we should all be cleaning our pillows every three to six months. First, there are aesthetic and hygienic reasons for doing so. “​​Our bodies secrete oils and odors; we sweat and shed skin cells when we sleep, not to mention saliva, ear wax, dust mites, allergens, mildew, dandruff—the list goes on,” says Sarah McAllister, founder of GoCleanCo, a cleaning company based in Calgary, Canada, and its cleaning-focused blog. “This party of bacteria ends up on our pillowcases and in our pillows.”

When’s the Last Time You Cleaned Your Pillows? (1)


FluffBase Eucalyptus Pillow

You’ll save money

Then, there’s an economic benefit to regular pillow-washing. “Cleaning pillows can help refresh and redistribute the filling, which can extend the pillow’s lifespan,” points out Jessica Ek, the Washington, D.C.-based senior director of digital communications at the American Cleaning Institute, a trade and research organization of manufacturers of household cleaning products.

It’s better for the planet

Extending the longevity of your pillows is environmentally savvy as well. Pillows should last longer, insists Harrie P. Schoots, a Cleveland, Tenn.-based textile consultant and past president of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists. “There’s a lot of waste—and you as a consumer can do something” to extend the life of your pillows by caring for them properly, he says.

You may breathe easier and sleep better

Perhaps most important, there are medical reasons to wash your pillows. Michael Breus, Ph.D., DABSM, FAASM, warns that “letting your pillow accumulate too much dust and allergens can aggravate symptoms for those with breathing conditions” such as asthma and allergies. On the flip side: “Sleeping on a clean pillow and pillowcases can help promote healthy sleep and leave you feeling refreshed in the morning,” says Dr. Breus, who has run a sleep practice in Seattle for more than 20 years.

How often should you clean your pillows?

Wash sheets and pillowcases once a week, or, at the very least, every two weeks, and clean pillows one to four times a year (every three to six months). Dr. Breus recommends replacing old pillows with new ones at least every two years, and Schoots agrees: “I just can’t imagine keeping a pillow over two years,” he says. “Every single day, eight hours a day your head is sweating on this pillow—that’s 2,920 hours a year.”

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Experts suggest using a pillow protector to keep your pillow cleaner, longer—especially if you have asthma or allergies. You can also look for pillows, pillowcases and pillow protectors that are treated with antimicrobial technology, says Schoots, who has done consulting work for a company that makes antimicrobial technology used in textiles.To extend the timeline between pillow-washing (say, from every three months to every six months), McAllister suggests “showering before bed (and going to bed with dry, clean hair), washing your face before bed, changing your bedding once a week and purchasing a good quality pillow protector.”

What to know about hand washing vs. machine washing

How exactly does one clean a pillow? The short answer: Remove all pillowcases and pillow protectors (you’ve been washing those biweekly right?) and read the care tag attached to each one to decide how to proceed. Your cleaning method depends on what your particular model is made of: Foam pillows may lose their shape in a washing machine and down or feather versions can be prone to mold when wet, for example.

Once you’ve got the recommendations down, you’ll still want to use your best judgment. Even pillows that are labeled machine washable may be better off with a hand washing. “Pillows become very heavy when they are wet,” says McAllister. “It is important to recognize that washing them in the machine without a balanced load can be damaging to your appliance.”

You can minimize that risk by washing pillows two at a time to balance the weight in the washing machine, but if you’ve got a fragile machine, McAllister says, “it may be best to wash them in the bathtub with a small amount of laundry detergent. Drain and wring them out well before you put them in the dryer.” Schoots seconds that approach: “Always handwash, because you’re going to end up with a longer-lasting, not misshapen pillow.”

Whether you hand or machine wash, use a small amount of a mild detergent, ideally one labeled as enzyme-active, such as ECOS Plus, or Arm & Hammer BioEnzyme Power. The enzymes will “break down biomaterials like saliva and blood,” says Schoots, and adds, to all of our dismay: “And every pillow has saliva or blood on it.”

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Enzyme Laundry Detergent

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If the pillow is not dryer friendly (say it’s made of memory foam), “You can place pillows outside in the sun to sun bleach them,” McAllister says.

Below, you’ll find expert recommendations for washing different types of pillows—provided you’re taking into account those manufacturer’s tag instructions.

Down or feather: Sidestep mold and misshaping

Down is the soft, fluffy layer coating the bellies of ducks, while feathers come from their wings or backs. Both are traditional, natural pillow fillings that require a little extra care. Some feather and down pillows say “dry clean only.” If that’s the case, believe them. The trick with down and feathers is that both contain natural oils, which harsh cleaning chemicals and high temperatures will break down, leaving the pillows lumpy, misshapen and difficult to fluff. For that reason, Schoots says (if your pillow doesn’t have a dry clean only tag) you’ll want to hand wash them with warm (not hot) water and throw in a half-cup of vinegar to freshen the pillows. ​​The warm water will increase the acidic vinegar’s ability to protect the fibers in the pillow from mildew or bacteria.

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Boll & Branch

Down Chamber Pillow

Other down or feather pillows are labeled “machine washable,” in which case you can wash them as you would fiberfill or any machine-washable pillows, says Katie Dills, a Baltimore County, Md.-based senior vice president of The Cleaning Authority, a nationwide company devoted to ecologically friendly housecleaning. Her recommendations are to wash at least two pillows at a time (to keep the load balanced), and if you have a top-loading washer, stand them vertically in your washing machine (to avoid the pillows getting bunched up and misshapen by the agitator in the center of the basin), then, add a small amount of mild detergent.

Dills likes to make her own liquid detergent out of a cup of Borax powder, a cup of washing soda, a cup of Castile soap, 10 to 15 drops of essential oil of your choice, and 17 cups of water. If that sounds like too much prep work for you, know that McAllister swears by Tide Original powder, saying, “The enzymes and surfactants can’t be beat.” Wash on the delicate or gentle cycle using cool or warm water—never hot, to avoid shrinking. If any soapy bubbles remain, run an extra rinse and spin cycle.

When’s the Last Time You Cleaned Your Pillows? (5)


Original Powder

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The real challenge is drying these pillows. McAllister believes you should never wet feather pillows “as the feathers can take ages to dry, and long periods of dampness can foster a perfect environment for mold growth.” She recommends spot-cleaning feather pillows, then air drying. Schoots advocates hand washing, then pressing dry between towels “to get out as much water as you can” before air drying.

If you do machine-wash a down pillow labeled as machine-washable, both Dr. Breus and Dills recommend drying it on low for multiple cycles until you’re sure it’s completely dry, and taking it out in between to fluff with your hands and distribute any clumps to ensure it dries evenly. (A higher heat cycle would break down those natural oils, causing clumping, and could even start a fire.)

For a less hands-on option, toss a few wool dryer balls (or clean tennis balls) into the drum to help pillows dry faster, emerge fluffier and retain their shape better. “In the textile industry, we refer to those as ballast—which is really just something to create mechanical action,” says Schoots. Without ballast, the feathers will follow the direction the water goes during drying, which, Schoots says “will pull the physical feathers and the fibers with it, and so the pillow will be mashed on one side.” The wool dryer balls or tennis balls will prevent that from happening.

Foam: Skip the washer-dryer

It’s unanimous: You would not, should not put these pillows in a washer and dryer. Either machine would flatten a foam pillow’s buoyancy, degrade the material and mess with their shape. In other words, such treatment would wipe the memory of this foam. “Foam pillows cannot be machine washed because the agitation may break up the padding,” Ek says.

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Graphite Memory Foam Pillow

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Foam is actually polyurethane, Schoots explains, which is “not evenly dispersed, and the areas that are less dense are weaker, so when they fill with water, the pillow will fold at the places where there’s more air and less polyurethane; a whole chunk could fall off,” he says. “You have to spot wash them by hand, then pat dry and air dry.”

Luckily, most foam pillows come with a removable fabric cover that can be washed according to instructions. As for the inside, it’s time for an old-school handwashing session. Dills says, “Start by using a vacuum attachment to vacuum any dust or other items off the pillow.” (She likes a lint-roller for removing pet hair in between washes.) “Then, fill a tub or sink with warm water and add a bit of mild detergent,” she continues. “Submerge the pillow in the water and massage it, then remove the pillow from the water and squeeze it out,” she advises. “Repeat a few times. Drain the tub or sink and refill it with clean water. Resubmerge the pillow in the water, remove and squeeze the water out.” Finally, air dry the pillow on a drying rack—you could even bring them outside to dry them en plein air.

Fiberfill: Throw ’em in the wash, but carefully

Stuffed with synthetic, polyester fibers, these fiberfill pillows are the easiest to toss into the washer and dryer. You’ll still want to take care to place them vertically in the dryer, wash at least two at a time (to balance out the load) and wash on a gentle cycle with cold or warm water. “You can also add half a cup of white vinegar to the load for an extra boost of freshness,” says Dills. McAllister suggests a second rinse cycle, “as this will help with any leftover detergent or soap residue that can be irritating to your face.”

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Sobel Westex

Hotel Sobella Supremo Pillow

Then, tumble on a low setting until the pillow is completely dry. Dr. Breus recommends adding a few dry towels to the machine to soak up some of the moisture. And don’t forget the tennis balls for fluff! In some cases, the fiberfill inside the pillow is coated in silicone, making it dry extra quickly, says Schoots. To find those, he suggests: “Look for pillows with packaging that says they will stay fluffy or won’t clump.” Finally, adds McAllister, “Once your pillow is clean and dry, put on a pillow protector” to keep it fresh between washes.

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How to treat those yellow stains

First, know that you’ve done nothing wrong: “Yellowing occurs naturally in certain natural fibers because of metallic interaction with the oils and metals that are coming out of your skin,” explains Schoots. “Everyone’s perspiration is different—some people will never have yellow spots and others will; it’s the same with underarms and white T-shirts.”

If there are troublesome stains on a non-machine-washable pillow—or before you toss a machine-friendly one in the wash—“You can spot-treat with a mild soap like Dawn dish soap, to help cut any grease or stains and dab it with some water to rinse away any residue,” says McAllister.

An enzyme-active detergent in the wash can help treat blood and saliva stains, too. Also know that some yellow stains are almost impossible to eradicate. If you’re prone to yellow spots that no amount of cleaning can remove, simply cover a clean, dry pillow with a fresh pillow protector and pillowcase, and consider it out of sight, out of mind until it’s time to replace the pillow.


How often should you clean your pillow? ›

If your pillow can be washed, it should be washed at least twice a year. If you eat in bed, have pets, or sweat a lot, you should wash pillows quarterly. Special pillows like body pillows or throw pillows should be cleaned every 3 to 6 months.

When should you throw out pillows? ›

Most experts recommend replacing pillows every 1 to 2 years. Doing so helps to ensure that you're using pillows that are supportive, clean, and free of allergens. It is also important to care for the pillows you use to ensure their longevity. Generally, you'll be able to tell when it's time to replace your pillows.

What happens when you don't wash your pillow? ›

Why wash your pillows. While you sleep, your body sheds thousands of dead skin cells. They in turn attract dust mites, which, although harmless, do produce droppings that contain allergens. Letting these build up can trigger anything from asthma and rhinitis to itchy eyes.

Do pillows need to be cleaned? ›

In addition to regularly cleaning your sheets and comforter, you should also be caring for your pillows, mattress, and mattress topper. Pillows, especially, should be washed at least two to four times a year (say, every four months) to help them last longer.

Why do pillows turn yellow? ›

Pillows start to turn yellow due to a variety of factors, most of which involve the accumulation of moisture. Sweat, drool, wet hair, and even skincare products can contribute to yellow stains on a pillow.

How often do you change pillows for dust mites? ›

“They are certainly not the only solution but they can be a contributing factor to helping to reduce allergens,” he said. Farber adds his group advises those with asthma and dust mite allergies to replace their pillow every five years and their mattresses every 10 years, and use air purifiers where they can.

How often should you wash bedsheets? ›

How Often You Should Wash Your Sheets (And How to Get Them Really Clean) Experts recommend washing or changing sheets once a week.

Can you sanitize pillows in the dryer? ›

The best disinfectant may not be the wash, but the drying process. Tumble-drying laundry, including pillows, on high heat for at least 30 minutes is sufficient for killing most influenza germs. Don't hesitate to tumble dry for longer, however.

Can pillows expire? ›

Pillows usually last between 18 months – three years, with poor quality pillows often having an even shorter lifespan.

Should I wash pillows or buy new ones? ›

Yes, you should wash a new pillow before using it. New pillows can pick up dirt, dust, allergens, and chemicals from the manufacturing factory that can irritate your eyes, nose, and skin. Washing a pillow before you use it can reduce your exposure to allergens and irritants so you can sleep better.

How often should you replace bed sheets? ›

Your bed is one of the most important pieces of furniture you own, and your bed sheets are the most important accessories. So, how often should you buy new sheets for optimal comfort? With this in mind, most experts recommend buying new sheets every two to three years if you're buying sheets of standard quality.

Is it safe to wash pillows in the washing machine? ›

Down or feather: Most down pillows can be put in the washing machine. But use cool water and a mild detergent, then dry on low heat. (High temperatures can damage the down.) Memory foam or latex: Washer agitation can break up foam, so these pillows will probably need to be hand-washed.

Do you sleep better without a pillow? ›

While research is limited, anecdotal reports show that sleeping without a pillow can help reduce neck and back pain for some sleepers. Stomach sleepers are generally best suited for going pillowless, because the lower angle of the neck encourages better spinal alignment in this position.

What happens if you don't wash your sheets for a year? ›

Not washing your sheets regularly exposes you to the fungi, bacteria, pollen, and animal dander that are commonly found on sheets and other bedding. Other things found on sheets include bodily secretions, sweat, and skin cells. This won't necessarily make you sick. But in theory, it can.

Is it OK to sleep on a yellow pillow? ›

As a rule of thumb, if your pillow has a few yellow stains it is probably okay to keep sleeping on it. But if your pillow has turned completely yellow, or has developed some brown stains, it is probably time for a replacement.

Why is my husband's side of the bed yellow? ›

Yellowing sheets are primarily due to body sweat and oils, including lotions we put on to rejuvenate our skin overnight, according to textile engineer Vikki Martin, vice president of fiber competition for Cotton Incorporated.

Why do pillows expire? ›

Over time, all pillows slowly become packed with dust mites, dead skin cells, and mold. You can use a pillow protector to extend your pillow's life. However, you should replace older pillows at least every 18 months to keep your bedroom clean and healthy.

What kills dust mites in pillows? ›

Wash all sheets, blankets, pillowcases and bedcovers in hot water that is at least 130 F (54.4 C) to kill dust mites and remove allergens. If bedding can't be washed hot, put the items in the dryer for at least 15 minutes at a temperature above 130 F (54.4 C) to kill the mites.

What are the symptoms of pillow mites? ›

When a person who is sensitive to the dust mite breathes in these particles, they can cause allergy symptoms, including sneezing, coughing, runny nose, congestion and itchy, watery eyes. Dust mites can also cause asthma symptoms, such as coughing or wheezing.

What time of year is worse for dust mites? ›

Allergen levels are at their highest between May and October, the peak breeding season of house dust mites. Most of the mites die during the winter, but the allergen-containing dust is stirred up by heating systems. This often causes the symptoms experienced by affected patients year-round to worsen during the winter.

Should pillows be washed or dry cleaned? ›

Although some experts recommend professional dry-cleaning for down and other fluffy bedding items, it is generally safe to wash them, either in the machine on a gentle setting or by hand. Here are some other great tips on how to keep your pillows and comforters looking like new.

Can I put pillows in the dryer? ›

Make sure to dry pillows completely, as lingering dampness could reintroduce the mildew, bacteria, and dust mites you're trying to avoid. Dry pillows in your dryer on a low heat setting, checking them every 20 to 30 minutes to ensure even drying.

Can I sanitize pillows in the dryer? ›

The best disinfectant may not be the wash, but the drying process. Tumble-drying laundry, including pillows, on high heat for at least 30 minutes is sufficient for killing most influenza germs. Don't hesitate to tumble dry for longer, however.

Can you wash pillows in the dryer? ›

Set and Run the Dryer

If your dryer has a delicate setting, choose that one. Run the dryer through one cycle and then check the pillows. Repeat the drying process. In most cases, it will take two to three cycles to get the pillows completely dry.

Can you put pillows in the dryer to fluff? ›

Putting your pillow through a dryer cycle is another easy way to restore its shape. To help knead the pillow more effectively, try adding in a dryer ball or tennis ball with it. To get it as fluffy as possible, make sure your pillow is fully dry before using this method.

Should I wash my pillows in cold or hot water? ›

Many will tell you to wash them on a gentle cycle with cold water, but it's always good to double check. While warm or even hot water can be used, sometimes it can shrink the fabric, especially down pillows, so cold water will always be a safe bet, especially when you're washing a new pillow.

How long does a washed pillow take to dry? ›

Time dry for at least one hour. Allow pillow to cool, then check to see if the inside is dry. If the pillow feels at all damp, return it to the dryer for another hour. I found synthetic fiber pillows took 60 minutes, while down took several hours.

How long to dry my pillow after washing? ›

Place your MyPillow inside your dryer and set it to a high heat setting, which will make sure it's dry inside and out and won't develop mildew. Set your dryer to a standard or normal setting, which is usually between 40-60 minutes. Once the cycle is done, take your pillow out and feel for any damp spots.

How often should I change my towel? ›

Dead skin cells, bacteria, and even sweat can accumulate quickly on your towels, so using a fresh one about every three days is a simple rule of thumb—for all kinds of towels. You can of course change them more often.

What happens if you don't wash your bedsheets for a month? ›

Dead skin cells, sweat, saliva, and more can turn your comfy bed into a petri dish for germs to grow. For instance, lab tests found that swabs from pillowcases unwashed for a week harbored 17,000 times more colonies of bacteria than samples taken from a toilet seat.

Is it OK to change bed sheets once a month? ›

Is it okay to change your bed sheets once a month? While your specific sheet changing habits might vary a little bit depending on your lifestyle, your body, and your preferences, most experts agree you should change your sheets every week or every two weeks.


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