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How to wash a pillow

Don't lose sleep over a gross pillow! Here's how to keep yours clean and fresh.

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Last updated: 25 May 2022
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When was the last time you cleaned your pillow? Come on, be honest. No, not the pillow case – we hope you're at least chucking that in the washing machine quite regularly. But how often do you wash your actual pillow? 

A clean, fresh pillow is an important factor in getting a great night's sleep. But there are some other very compelling reasons to clean your pillow that are more related to hygiene.

Why you should clean your pillow

It's not pleasant to think about, but when you sleep on a pillow, the oils from your skin and hair combine with sweat and drool into one icky mess that's absorbed into the material of your pillow. 

It can create unsightly yellow stains or discolouration – all of which you're resting your head on each night to catch some ZZs. Even if it's covered up by a lovely floral pillowcase, it's still there and could be breeding bacteria and mould or housing allergens. 

Asthma Australia says that regularly 'fluffing up' your pillows and washing them monthly, or even replacing them when they're getting a little worse for the wear, can help reduce the risk of exposure to the dust and dust mites that are regularly found in bedding and which can be irritants to sensitive airways. 

(By the way, dust mites are found in your bedding because they like to feed on flakes of dead human skin, which is another great reason to wash pillows regularly. Are you headed to the laundry yet?)

Before you bust out the bleach though, it's important you follow our 3-step guide to make sure you don't ruin your pillow. 

1. Find the correct cleaning method for your type of pillow

Washing your pillowcase regularly and your actual pillow every 4–6 months is a good idea. Always check the label on the pillow and the manufacturer's instructions to determine the best way to wash it. 

We've compared washing instructions on the labels of products we've tested and most instructions adhere to the following:

 Pillow type  How to wash
 Memory foam or polyurethane foam  Spot clean with damp cloth
 Latex  Handwash only
 Polyester, cotton and microfibre  Warm machine wash on gentle cycle
 Goose down or goose feather  Handwash or dry clean

2. Follow washing instructions correctly

How to machine-wash and dry your pillow

Machine-washing your pillow is usually suitable for polyester, cotton and microfibre pillows.

  • First, remove the cover and all pieces
  • Use a mild detergent
  • Use a gentle cycle in the washing machine up to 60°C
  • Lay flat to dry.

How to handwash your pillow 

(Usually suitable for latex, memory foam, polyester, cotton and microfibre pillows.)

Many pillows that are machine-washable are also fine to wash by hand, however some, such as latex pillows, might be handwash only. Use warm water and a gentle detergent and make sure you rinse well in clear water. 

Some memory foam pillows we tested specified "Do not wash", while others stated you could "Spot clean with a damp cloth". 

You should never put a memory foam, or polyurethane pillow in the washing machine as it will damage the padding. 

As the foam in a memory foam pillow is quite dense, it's naturally designed to inhibit the growth of dust mites and bacteria, however it will still get dirty and stained on the surface. 

Use a pillow cover that you can remove and wash separately, and treat any stains using a mild detergent and a damp cloth.

3. Dry your pillow thoroughly

Whenever cleaning any type of pillow, it's very important that you leave it to dry thoroughly on the inside to avoid mould and mildew. 

Lying flat to dry in direct sunlight is the best option – the sun can even act as an extra antibacterial agent to keep your pillows fresh. Check for moisture before you put it back on the bed. 

Can I put my pillow in the dryer?

Some pillow materials can be dried in a clothes dryer, but check the manufacturer's instructions before you attempt this. 

You should never put a memory foam pillow in the dryer as this will damage the material.

If the instructions for your type of pillow say you can put it in the dryer, use a low-heat setting and consider drying only a couple at once so they don't clump together.

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