Here's Exactly How to Disinfect Pillows and Wash Them Properly

Learn how to clean pillows so you’ll have a fresh place to lay your head that is free from the dirt, dust, sweat, and bacteria that build up over time.

On sofas and beds, pillows can quickly gather buildup from daily use. Dirt, dust, sweat, saliva, bacteria, and even mold or mildew can accumulate inside pillows over time, causing unpleasant odors and breaking down their support. It's important to know how to disinfect pillows and clean them every few months to ensure they stay fresh and germ-free.

Although they might seem big, bulky, and unfamiliar to launder, washing and drying pillows is simpler than it seems. Use our guide to learn how to wash pillows, how to keep them clean, and when to replace them. These tips will help make sure your pillows are washed, dried, and fluffed to perfection.

How to Wash Pillows

Bed with plaid throw blanket and pillows
Kim Cornelison

Before washing pillows, remove any covers or pillowcases, and check the manufacturer's instructions for washing. Unless the pillow is marked dry-clean only, follow these instructions for washing and drying pillows.

1. Wash Pillows in the Washing Machine

Most down and synthetic pillows can be machine-washed and dried on low heat. Note that water needs to be 140°F or higher to kill dust mites, so make sure your water heater isn't set too low. Also, consider an extra spin cycle to squeeze out as much dampness as possible.

2. Choose Laundry Detergent Wisely

The best type of laundry detergent for washing pillows is a fragrance-free soap, says cleaning expert Leslie Reichert. She recommends Better Life's natural laundry detergent ($16, Bed Bath & Beyond), Charlie's Soap laundry powder, or her great-grandma's homemade laundry soap recipe: 2 cups soap flakes and 1 cup each baking soda, washing soda, and borax. It's also important to use the manufacturer's detergent recommendation about washing pillows. Excess detergent that isn't rinsed out can leave a sticky residue that causes clumping.

3. Dry Pillows Well

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. To make them even fluffier, dry pillows with dryer balls ($9, Target) or a tennis ball in a sock.

4. Don't Overload the Machine

You'll want to wash and dry at least two pillows simultaneously to keep your machine balanced. However, take care not to stuff too many in at once. Pillows need plenty of water to get thoroughly clean and plenty of space to get thoroughly dry.

How to Keep Pillows Clean

Bed with colorful pillows and wall artwork
Jay Wilde

Use these upkeep tips to keep your pillows fresh and clean.

1. Fluff Pillows Daily

Regular fluffing helps keep pillows in good condition. Take a few minutes every day to fluff your bed and sofa pillows to remove dust and restore their shape.

2. Vacuum Foam Pillows

Foam pillows shouldn't be washed, Reichert says. Instead, she recommends sprinkling them with cornstarch, letting them sit for an hour or longer, then vacuuming both sides thoroughly.

3. Freshen Pillows in the Dryer

Put your pillows in the dryer on "air fluff" every few months to eliminate much of the dust. Include a vinegar-dampened washcloth, suggests Mary Findley of, to help kill mold and mildew.

4. Use Pillow Protectors

Removable pillow protectors ($5 for two, Target) buy you more time between full-on pillow cleaning. Remove and machine-wash protectors in hot water once a month.

5. Replace Pillows After Two Years

While regular cleaning can prolong their lifespan, pillows should be replaced every two years. You'll know when it's time to replace your pillow when it no longer provides enough support, feels lumpy and uncomfortable, or develops odors or stains that can't be removed.

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