Pillows collect a lot of dust, skin cells, and bacteria that need to be washed out. Fortunately a washing machine and dryer are all you need for most pillows.
Pillows are easily forgotten while cleaning the rest of the house. Just because you change the pillowcase doesn’t mean the pillow is clean. A pillow’s weight can actually double over the course of its lifetime, thanks to the dust, sweat, dead skin cells, mold, bacteria, and other allergens that accumulate. (Yuck!)
Here’s a quick test to see if your pillow is worth salvaging: Fold the pillow in half. If it doesn’t bounce back immediately, it’s probably best to pitch the pillow and buy a new one. If it springs back with a bit of life still in it, then toss it in the washing machine.
If a pillow is filled with feathers, down, or polyester, then you can put it in the washing machine. Wash two at a time, so as not to unbalance the machine. Squeeze out as much air as you can before putting it in the machine. Use hot water and a mild natural detergent. Add a cup of baking soda for smells or white vinegar for mold and mildew.
Dry on a low heat setting using at least two dryer balls. (You can make your own by tying a tennis ball in a sock, although there are some concerns about off-gassing when a tennis ball is heated. Alternatively, put a clean running shoe in a sock and let it bang around the dryer.) It’s crucial to make sure the pillow is completely dry when it comes out of the dryer. Bury your face deep into it to detect any residual moisture. You’ll likely need at least 2 or 3 cycles to dry thoroughly. Break up any clumps in between cycles by beating the pillow.
If a pillow is filled with silk, then you can wash it in the machine using the delicate cycle or by hand. Use cool or lukewarm water and a mild detergent. Put it in the dryer only if you have an air-dry setting – no added heat. If not, roll and squeeze gently in a towel, then spread out to dry, away from direct sunlight.
If you have a latex or memory foam pillow, do not put it in the washing machine. Foam pillows are not made to get wet and it’s almost impossible to dry a foam pillow thoroughly, which is an invitation for rampant mold growth. The agitation of a washing machine and dryer will destroy the foam. Instead, dab at surface spills or stains with a moist cloth and mild detergent, and leave in a well-ventilated area to dry. Deodorize by sprinkling baking soda on top or placing in the sunshine. The best preventive solution is to buy a waterproof pillow protector to use under a pillowcase.
It’s generally recommended to wash pillows 2-3 times per year and replacing them every 2 years. Using a pillow protector can prolong your pillow’s lifespan considerably.