How to clean bed pillows

Our bed pillows get a lot of use. They are what we lay our head on at night, sometimes we use them to prop up in bed to watch television or read a book, and some times they get used as lap trays for breakfast in bed. Naturally, our bedding gets cleaned regularly enough, but what about the bed pillows themselves?

Pillows are made of a few different products. The traditional fillings are feathers and polyester, with memory foam being a more recent addition to the family. How do we go about ensuring these textiles get a regular, necessary cleaning? Many people are intimidated by the process, while others have tried and their pillows have come out lumpy or just not as clean as they expected. I am hoping to put your struggles to rest (pun intended).

bed pillows can last for years if well cared for

Lets start by breaking up the types of fillings into separate sections:

  • Polyester filled bed pillows
  • Down feather bed pillows
  • Memory foam bed pillows

First, polyester fill. This is the easiest to wash and the hardest one to get right. I recommend to wash these types of pillows in two’s, spreading them evenly in the washing machine on a warm water setting. Add your detergent, followed by a quarter cup baking soda and a quarter cup lemon juice. This will brighten and whiten the pillows that are stained from perspiration and use. Add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle to soften them up and they will be nice and clean.

The trickiest part of cleaning polyester filled pillows is in the drying process. I have dried them a few different ways with differing results. My favorite method is to remove them from the wash and reposition the filling the best you can, and let them air dry until just damp. At that point, I put them in a dryer on the air fluff cycle with a few wool dryer balls (sprayed with essential oils) or tennis balls. This will redistribute the filling and fluff them up a bit. Some lumpiness will occur, but with some diligence in spreading out the filling after the wash and plenty of tumbling time with the dryer balls, this should be kept to a minimum.

Down feather pillows take a little different care, but the process is pretty much the same. They can be washed in the same method as the polyester filled ones, but more care should be taken in the placement in the washing machine. When the feathers get wet, they will get heavy and will possibly put your machine into tilt on the spin cycle. Just be watchful.

Cleaning memory foam pillows is not really ideal. They will get super heavy in the washing machine, probably causing it to not spin/extract completely and will most likely cause the drum to be out of balance during the wash cycle unless you are doing more than one at a time ( I wouldn’t recommend washing more than two at a time with any of the bed pillows mentioned here). Drying will take quite a long time as well. I would air dry memory foam because of the potential of crumbling in a dryer with heat or no heat.

When it comes to drying down pillows, pack your patience. The best method for drying these pillows is to put them in the dryer. A warm setting is fine, and the dryer balls or a few clean tennis balls are necessary. The balls will ensure that the feathers get spread out to all corners of the pillows and the dry time will be shortened by tossing the pillows around pretty vigorously, but the time needed will be at least a few hours.

Caution though, washing and drying down pillows too often will breakdown the feathers faster than professional cleaning and the pillows will get flat sooner. Professional cleaning will run you about $25 for each standard size pillows, so you can decide if the cost is worth it to you to simply wash a few times and replace or clean professionally over many years.

Last but not least, the foam variety of bed pillows. Whether they are one solid foam or chunks and pieces in a ticking washing is the best option. This time though, tepid water is the best choice. The combination of detergent and white vinegar should take care of any lingering odors trapped in the foam. Add the white vinegar to the wash cycle for best results. This time however, I recommend just laying these pillows to dry on a flat surface. It will take a few days to fully dry, so I hope you have a few back up pillows you can use in the mean time.