Pillows harbor dirt, dust, sweat, and plenty of other things you'd rather not think about, let alone sleep on. Learn how to clean pillows so you can rest assured you've a fresh place to lie your head.

By Berit Thorkelson

Whether you're swapping pillows out with every season or you find a style you like and stick to it, we all have pillows to clean. With kids, pets, and guests, just think of all the germs your pillows are harboring! They might be big, bulky, and unfamiliar to wash, but don't be intimidated. With our how-to guide for how to clean pillows, you'll know all the tips to make sure your pillows are washed, dried, and fluffed to perfection.

Machine Wash Your Pillows

Most down and synthetic pillows can be machine washed and dried on low heat, says Donna Smallin Kuper of Unclutter.com and author of Cleaning Plain and Simple. Check the label to be sure. Note that water needs to be 140 degrees or higher to kill dust mites, so make sure your water heater isn't set too low. Consider an extra spin cycle to squeeze out as much dampness as possible.

Choose Laundry Soap Wisely

You want something that's fragrance-free and will rinse clean, says Leslie Reichert, aka The Cleaning Coach. She recommends Better Life's Spin Credible, Charlie's, Rockin' Green, or her great-grandma's homemade laundry soap recipe: 2 cups soap flakes and 1 cup each baking soda, washing soda, and borax.

Dry Pillows Well

Make sure you dry pillows completely, as lingering dampness could reintroduce the very mildew, bacteria, and dust mites you're trying to avoid. Dry on low, checking them every 20 to 30 minutes to ensure even drying. For extra fluff, dry with dryer balls or a tennis ball in a sock.

Don't Overload the Machine

You'll want to wash and dry at least two pillows at a time to keep your machine balanced, but 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.

Vacuum Foam Pillows

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

Freshen Pillows in the Dryer

Put your pillows in the dryer on "air fluff" every few months, to get rid of much of the dust. Include a vinegar-dampened washcloth, says Mary Findley of GoClean.com, a former pro cleaner and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Cleaning, since vinegar is so good at killing mold and mildew.

Use Pillow Protectors

Removable pillow protectors buy you more time between full-on pillow cleaning. "I remove and machine-wash my protectors in hot water once a month," Smallin Kuper says.

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