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How to Clean Your Pillows: Two Guides, 1 Fantastic Result!

white pillows on a bed that has been madeYou often hear about the importance of cleaning your mattress to get rid of bacteria and dust mites, but did you ever stop to think about the condition of your pillows, and how they are affecting your health? Well, just like a dirty mattress, pillows that haven’t been cleaned in a long time (or ever) accumulate body oils, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Even worse, your dirty pillows could be harbouring bed bugs and dust mites that leave you itching all night! Of course, these nasty effects of a dirty pillow can easily be avoided by simply washing your pillows to keep them clean and sanitary. 

Now, the only thing left to do is learn how to clean pillows safely and successfully! There are two ways to do this; by hand, or in a washing machine. Both pillow cleaning methods come with their own set of do’s and don’ts in order to banish dirt and bacteria without damaging the material. It’s also important to know what type of stuffing the pillow has so that a safe and effective cleaning method can be applied.

With that, let’s get right to the two pillow cleaning guides that are guaranteed to provide one fantastic result!

How to Clean Pillows in a Washing Machine

white pillow on a blue backdrop

Not all pillows are machine-washable; therefore, you must check the label for washing instructions or laundry symbols before attempting any cleaning method. Generally, cotton, down, and synthetic pillows can be washed in a washing machine but it is still advisable to check the label to be sure.

Follow the steps below to safely wash your pillows in the washer.

Step One: Inspect and Prepare the Pillows for a Wash

Before you throw your pillows in the washing machine, take off the pillowcases, remove any hair or loose debris, and inspect the material. If there are rips/tears/holes in the outer fabric, or even if the material is fraying, a tumble wash will most likely cause further damage. Ideally, you should replace pillows in such condition, however, if the damage is minor, consider hand washing the pillow instead. 

Step Two: Fill Up the Tub and Add in the Cleaning Agents

Don’t put the pillows in until the tub has filled up. Adjust the load setting to full or half depending on the number of pillows you are washing in a single cycle. If the symbols/instructions on the label permit, use hot water because high temperatures do a much better job at killing bacteria, bed bugs, and mites. Once filled, add in ½ cup of regular laundry detergent and ½ cup of hydrogen peroxide. For a small load, stick to the same ratio only using half the amounts of each cleaning agent.

Finally, place the pillows inside.

Step Three: Begin the Cycle

To extract dirt from the pillows and kill bacteria, a long, hot water cycle is recommended. This is especially necessary for pillows with dense stuffing as they require a deep clean which can only be achieved with a long enough wash. If your washer does not automatically perform two rinses in a single cycle, refill the tub, and manually start a second cycle. 

NOTE: Rotate/flip the pillows between washes for a thorough deep clean.

Step Four: Remove Excess Water from the Pillows

High heat when drying in a clothes dryer is not recommended for all types of materials. Therefore, to safely dry your washed pillows, set the dryer to a short ‘air’ dry cycle; this is intended to remove as much water from the pillows without drying them completely. They will likely come out of the dryer damp, and will need to be air dried out in the sun or in a well-ventilated room. 

How to Clean Pillows by Hand

two white plush pillows on top of each other

For pillows that require a delicate approach to deep cleaning, washing them by hand is the only alternative. These include pillows made from memory foam or other materials that cannot be tumble-washed as they become lumpy when tossed around in the washer/dryer. 

Nevertheless, you can clean and sterilise your pillows effectively by hand using the step-by-step guide below.

Step One: Remove Debris and Soak

After you remove the pillowcase, pull off hair and dust the pillows to get rid of loose debris (you might want to do this outside and wear a mask while you’re at it). The goal is to remove as much surface dirt as possible to limit the amount of debris that gets mixed in with the cleaning solution.

You will need a large enough tub to submerge and soak the pillows in. A bathtub may be used for this, however, it must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitised prior to soaking the pillows in it. For the cleaning solution, fill up the tub with enough hot water to soak the pillows. If you are cleaning two standard-size pillows at one time, mix in 1 ½ caps of liquid laundry detergent and 2-3 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide. Use a long ladle or serving spoon to stir the water so that the cleaning agents dissolve and create suds. 

Place the pillows inside and leave them to soak until the water becomes cool to touch (or lukewarm).

Step Two: Hand Wash the Pillows

Before you can apply the hand techniques required to safely and effectively hand wash your pillows, drain out the dirty water and refill the tub with fresh water. 

While the pillows are submerged in the clean water, use the following techniques to extract dirt from the material:

  1. Gently press down on the material using your hands; avoid squeezing or twisting the pillow. Do this all over the pillow before flipping it over and repeating on the other side. You might find the water getting discoloured which is caused by the dirt that is being removed from within the stuffing. As and when this happens, drain out the water and replace it with clean water.
  2. Use a gentle kneading technique to work the cleaning solution into the pillow’s stuffing. Do this all over the pillow for a minute or two (on both sides).
  3. Go back and forth over the pillow with a rolling pin using minimal pressure. This is an effective way to deep clean your pillows manually.
  4. While the techniques above help extract dirt from deep within the pillow, they also push dirt towards the corners of the material which must be manually stimulated to force out. Do this by gently kneading and squeezing the corners until you find that there is no more dirt coming out into the water.

Step Three: Rinse the Pillows

If the cleaning agents are not rinsed off thoroughly, the material will feel hard/stiff while the residue may cause skin irritation when using the pillows. To make sure that this does not happen, rinse the pillows under running water, place them flat down in the tub, and gently press down on the material to remove excess water. Repeat this process as many times as needed until you can no longer feel a soapy residue coming out of the pillows. 

Step Four: Leave the Pillows to Air Dry

After you have pushed out as much excess water as possible, the last thing you need to do is dry the pillows. Again, the best method for this is to leave the pillows to air dry on a rack outside or under a running ceiling fan. Be sure to flip the pillows every 2-3 hours to ensure that both sides dry up completely. 

Regardless of the type of material or stuffing your pillows have, these tried and tested guides to clean your pillows by hand and in a washer are surefire ways to make pillows as good as new again!

Adriana Aziz is the operations manager at MaidForYou. With over 6 years of experience managing cleaning operations, she knows all the best hacks when it comes to cleaning residential and commercial buildings. With expert experience in managing house cleaning operations, interior design and logistics. She spends her free time with her family and as a freelance food critic.

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