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Domestic Science: How to Wash the Pillows

Cocomat Narkissos Pillow

I admit, when it comes to pillows, I’m a bit of a princess and the pea. (Or is it Goldilocks?) After all, finding a pillow that’s not too soft or too hard, but just right, can be a challenge. So when I do, I make sure to prolong its life with proper care, including a regular wash.

N.B.: Featured photograph courtesy of Coco-Mat.

Basic pillow care (before you wash)

Treat your pillow to the perfect case. We love Rough Linen’s Orkney Pillow Shams; from $55. Photograph by Laurie Frankel.
Above: Treat your pillow to the perfect case. We love Rough Linen’s Orkney Pillow Shams; from $55. Photograph by Laurie Frankel.
Daily maintenance and regular care are essential to prolonging the life of your pillow.

  • Always use a pillow protector. Wash your pillow case weekly and your pillow protector (along with your mattress cover) once a month. This not only keeps it clean, it reduces allergens and dust mites.
  • Fluff your pillow daily as you make the bed to remove dust and dandruff and to help maintain the shape of your pillow.
  • Air your pillow outside in the sun for several hours, once a month, when the weather is warm. For colder climes you can also place in the dryer once a month.
  • Dry pillows immediately if they get wet.

How to machine wash your pillow

Miele Flat Panel Washer Dryer
Above: Pillows get a thorough cleaning in a Miele Decor 24-Inch Washer (W3039i).

The average adult spends 3,000 hours per year with their head on a pillow. To maintain your pillow, as well as a healthy sleeping environment, most experts recommend washing it twice a year. Most pillows, even down, can be machine washed.

  • Check the label to make sure the manufacture recommends machine washing.
  • Do not wash pillows with other items as these can wrap around them and compromise their shape.
  • Wash pillows two at a time, to balance the machine.
  • If you can, use a machine without an agitator, which can damage your pillow’s shape. If your machine has an agitator, place the pillows vertically in the drum and set machine on the delicate or hand-wash cycle.
  • Wash in warm water, using a mild detergent.
  • Do not bleach, as this compromises the material, especially down. If you are worried about dust mites, use a protective cover or wash with borax.
  • Do not use fabric softener, especially with down, as it can coat the feathers.

How to hand-wash your pillow

silk shell pillow
Above: The ultimate in pillow luxury: the Silk-Filled Pillow by Mari Ann Silk should only be washed by hand; $600.
Hand-washing a pillow is more labor intensive but also gentler on the fabric.

  • Check the manufacturer’s instructions to see if washing is recommended (for example, some memory foam pillows should never be submerged in water).
  • Fill basin or tub with warm water and a small amount of detergent.
  • Submerge the pillow in the water and kneed gently until it is saturated.
  • Rinse in cool water.
  • Gently squeeze out excess water by rolling, never wringing, the pillow.
  • Place in spin cycle of your washing machine.

Drying your pillow

how to wash dry pillow
Above: For a subtle scent, try adding calming essential oils, like lavender, to your dryer balls.

To avoid the three evil M’s: mildew, mold, and mites, it is important to thoroughly dry your pillow. This can take several hours or more.

  • Again, read all care instructions.
  • Place pillows in dryer with several dryer balls (you can also use a tennis ball or two).
  • Set heat on a medium to low setting.
  • 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.
  • Do not dry on auto setting as sensors will stop once the outside, not necessarily the inside, of the pillow is dry.

OR

  • Dry your pillow in the sun on a clothes line or on a drying rack.
  • Every hour or so, fluff the pillow to move the fibers around and encourage even drying.
  • Be sure to make sure the inside is completely dry.
sleeptek shredded rubber pillow
Above: Obasan’s antibacterial Shredded Rubber Pillow should never be exposed to any heat and can only be dried on a rack; $159.

Should you dry-clean your pillow?

Dry-cleaning is not recommended because most dry-cleaning solvents are toxic and these will be absorbed by your pillow.

When to replace your pillow

A clean, crisp bed made with Area Home sheets.
Above: A clean, crisp bed made with Area Home sheets.

If your pillow has unsightly stains and a malodorous scent that cannot be eradicated with proper cleaning, it is time to toss it. (See: 10 Easy Pieces: Organic Bed Pillows.) Another way to test if your pillow has reached the end of its life span: Fold it in half. If it springs back into shape, it still has a few good sleep cycles in it.

Moving on to the rest of the bedroom: Here are more tips that will help you rest easy at night:

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