How to wash pillows without ruining them

Give your pillows the refresh they deserve with our easy how to

White pillows layered on bed in neutral bedroom
(Image credit: Future PLC )

Though we know that fresh, comfortable bedding is the key to a good night's sleep, we often neglect discovering how to wash pillows, and stick to just refreshing the pillowcases instead. 

But knowing how to tackle this important piece of bedding is important - and not just for hygeine. When done correctly, it will give the best pillows a new lease of life and help them last much longer.

'Pillows should be washed every three months as, similar to bedding, they contain a build-up of sweat and dead skin', says Lucy Ackroyd, Head of Design, Christy

What's key here is learning how to wash pillows without ruining them. The last thing you want is to end up with a mishappen pillow that's only half as comfortable to lie on as before.

White pillows layered on bed in neutral bedroom

(Image credit: Scooms)

How to wash pillows

We've asked the experts to share their tips on how to wash pillows, so that you can give yours a well-deserved refresh and rid them of any bacteria build-up. Keep reading to find out the best way to wash pillows without ruining them.

How to wash pillows in the washing machine

Warm brown pillows and bed

(Image credit: Piglet in Bed)

'Most good quality pillows will be able to endure several washes without going lumpy, but be sure to check the care label', says Lucy from Christy. 'Synthetic and feather pillows should be washed at slightly different temperatures.'

If your pillow's care label indicates that it's washing machine friendly, Lucy recommends adding around 200ml of distilled vinegar in alongside your regular detergent. 'This will help to disinfect your pillows', she explains. 

'Add your favourite essential oils to prevent your pillows from holding on to the smell of the vinegar. Lemon is great for whitening, whereas lavender is the perfect soothing scent to help you relax at night.'

It's best to stick to cold wash cycles as high temperatures risk damaging the pillows. Once the washing machine cycle is finished, check the care label again to see if it can go in the tumble dryer. If it can, keep this on a low heat setting too. 

How to hand wash pillows

White pillows on low wooden table

(Image credit: Scooms)

If you have a memory foam pillow, it's better to hand wash these, as the foam may be broken down in the washing machine. You may also prefer to hand wash pillows if your washing machine drum isn't big enough to wash more than one pillow at once or if you're concerned about how much it costs to run a washing machine. Always hand wash if the pillow's care label doesn't recommend machine washing.

'Submerge the pillow in warm water, add a capful of detergent and wash the pillow by evenly distributing the detergent while massaging all the dirt out', says Lucy. 'When finished, make sure you rinse out all the dirt properly. Since memory foam pillows can’t withstand heat from the dryer, leave the pillows out on a towel to dry.'

We recommend hand washing pillows in the bathtub, so that they can be fully submerged and you have enough space to spot clean any parts showing stains or signs of dirt. 

How to wash pillows outside

Another way to learn how to wash pillows is to let them disinfect naturally in the sunlight, rather than wetting them. You may prefer this method if you don't want to risk shrinking or ruining your pillows in the washing machine and tumble dryer, or if you're a bit pressed for time; waiting for the pillows to dry after hand washing them can take a while, and no one wants to go to sleep on a soggy pillow. 

'Take off the pillow case and lie it on a flat surface', says Carl Walsh, Sleep Specialist and Owner, Bed Guru. 'Sprinkle baking soda over your pillow before leaving it in direct sunlight for around 2-3 hours. Then vacuum off the baking soda thoroughly. It should be left smelling good as new.' 

The baking soda will naturally break down any bacteria nestling in your pillow, so is ideal for giving it a deep clean. You can also simply leave the pillow in the sunshine as it is, which will help to give it a refresh.

How do you wash pillows without ruining them?

Crimson red pillows on white and grey bed

(Image credit: Piglet in Bed)

'The best way to keep pillows clean, fresh, bacteria and toxin-free and to ensure they last, is to air them in the sunshine on the washing line at least 4 times a year, preferably at the start of each season', says Rhiannon Johns, Interior Designer and Head of Brand, Piglet in Bed. 'The sunshine sterilises the wool and the cotton and the warmth of the sun will encourage any moisture trapped within the wool to be wicked away.'

Letting the pillows deodorise in the sun will mean they keep their firmness and shape, as the fibres of the wool expand back out naturally. This is the best method for pillows made from delicate material, like feathers and memory foam. Alternatively you could go for a gentle hand wash on these kinds of pillows, if you feel they're in need of a more thorough clean. 

If your pillow's care label does give you the go ahead to put it in the washing machine and tumble dryer, stick to the low temperature settings. Avoid putting them in the washing machine frequently; every 4-6 months is best.

'Despite regular cleaning, bacteria will build up regardless so it’s important to replace your pillow every three years', says Thomas Høegh Reisenhus, Sleep Specialist and Sleep Counsellor, TEMPUR®. 'Not only will this mean you get to enjoy a clean and fresh pillow, but you’ll likely find it much more comfortable as well.'

Katie Sims

Katie Sims has been writing for Ideal Homes since spring 2022. She qualified from her Master’s in Media and Journalism in 2021 and has been writing freelance since. She has worked on Ideal Home’s ecommerce team where she researched the best home products on the market, and on the news team, researching the latest trends for feature pieces.