Washing pillows is a controversial topic, with conflicting opinions on whether it should be done routinely or avoided altogether. In this article, we’ll examine the key considerations around washing pillows and help you decide if it’s the right choice for your pillow care and health.
What happens when you wash pillows?
Washing pillows in a household washing machine or taking them to a dry cleaner can have several effects:
- It removes oils, sweat, dead skin cells, dust mites, and other allergens that accumulate in pillows over time.
- The water and detergent/solvents used can strip away some of the natural oils in down, feather, or wool pillows, affecting their softness and loft.
- Excessive agitation and heat from washing can damage the fill material, clump fibers together, reduce insulation properties, and shorten the pillow’s lifespan.
- If not dried thoroughly, washing introduces moisture that can create an environment for mold, mildew, and dust mites to flourish.
The effects really depend on the pillow material, washing method, detergents used, and how carefully it’s dried afterward. Overall, washing does refresh and sanitize pillows initially but it can reduce longevity if done too frequently or harshly.
Why you may want to avoid washing pillows
Here are some of the main reasons many experts recommend against regularly washing pillows:
It can damage the fill material
The agitation of a washing machine combined with water and detergents can break down pillow fibers and coatings over time. This is especially true for natural materials like down and feathers. The fibers can clump together, lose their loft and softness, and become less effective at insulation and cushioning. Synthetic fills like polyester can become matted and flattened as well.
Voids manufacturers warranties
Most pillow warranties specifically state that washing and drying the pillow will void any guarantees on longevity, quality, etc. Unless the care instructions specifically allow machine washing, it’s best to refer to other cleaning methods to avoid invalidating a warranty.
Can introduce allergens like mold and irritate allergies
If pillows aren’t fully dried after washing, the residual moisture creates the perfect environment for mold, mildew, and dust mites to grow. This introduces new allergens and irritants that can aggravate allergies and health issues linked to these biological contaminants.
Causes shrinkage and misshaping
Exposing pillows to high heat and agitation frequently can cause the fill to compress and the pillow to lose its original dimensions. This is especially a problem with foam and fiberfill pillows. You may end up with flat, misshapen pillows that don’t support you as well.
Reduces effectiveness of flame retardant treatments
Pillows are typically treated with flame retardant chemicals to meet flammability standards. Washing frequently can reduce the effectiveness of these applied treatments over time.
When is it okay to wash pillows?
There are some instances where washing pillows may be advised or necessary:
- New pillows: Washing brand new pillows before first use can rinse away excess dyes, chemicals, or production oils.
- Heavily soiled: If pillows get heavily stained or contaminated with body fluids like sweat, blood, etc. washing may be the only way to properly disinfect them.
- Dust mite allergies: Those with dust mite allergies may need to periodically wash pillows to remove accumulated allergens.
- Synthetic pillows: Manmade fills like polyester and latex foam can typically handle occasional washing better than natural down and feathers.
How to minimize damage when washing pillows
If you need to wash your pillows, these tips can help reduce wear and tear:
- Check the care label and follow any washing instructions.
- Use a mild detergent without harsh chemicals or bleach.
- Wash on a gentle cycle using cold water.
- Use an extra spin cycle to remove more moisture.
- Dry thoroughly on low heat until completely dry.
- Fluff and reshape pillows after washing.
- Allow 24-48 hours drying time for down or feather pillows.
- Use tennis balls in the dryer to break up clumping in down or fiberfill.
- Wash pillows individually and not with other items.
How often should you wash pillows?
Most experts recommend washing pillows no more than 2-3 times per year at most. Specific guidelines depend on pillow material:
|Pillow Fill Material||Recommended Washing Frequency|
|Down||Once a year or less|
|Feather||Once a year or less|
|Polyester||1-2 times per year|
|Latex Foam||1-2 times per year|
|Wool||Once a year or less|
|Microfiber||2-3 times per year|
|Cotton||2-3 times per year|
However, spot clean stains when possible instead of full washing to maximize pillow lifespan.
What are the best alternatives to washing pillows?
Here are some effective cleaning options that help keep pillows fresh between occasional washings:
Use a handheld vacuum with an upholstery attachment to regularly vacuum both sides of the pillow. This removes surface-level dust, dirt, dead skin cells, pet hair, and other debris.
Mix a mild soap with warm water and use a sponge or clean cloth to spot treat stains and soiled areas. Avoid rubbing too harshly. Let air dry away from direct sun.
Place pillows in the freezer for 24-48 hours. The extremely cold temperatures kill dust mites and their eggs. Just be sure pillows are completely dry first.
On a dry, sunny day, place pillows outside on a balcony, deck, or clothesline. The sun naturally deodorizes and freshens. Just be sure to bring indoor before nightfall.
Natural fill refreshers
Use a natural pillow spray made with ingredients like lavender or mint oil to lightly mist and freshen down or feather pillows as needed between washings.
Encasing pillows in cotton, bamboo, polyester, or other breathable protective covers helps keep them cleaner longer between cleanings.
When is it time to replace pillows?
Here are signs that it’s time to retire an old pillow and purchase a replacement:
- Visible yellowing or browning stains
- Musty, sour odor that doesn’t improve with cleaning
- Lumpy, compressed, or misshapen appearance
- Loss of comfort and inadequate support for your sleep position
- Causing or worsening allergy symptoms like sniffling and sneezing
- Causing neck or shoulder pain
As a general guideline, most pillows should be replaced every 1-2 years for best support and hygiene.
Washing pillows helps remove allergens but risks damaging the fill and shortening longevity. Spot clean when possible and wash only periodically according to the manufacturer’s care instructions. Proper drying is also key to prevent mold growth. With occasional washing plus vacuuming, spot cleaning, and other freshening methods, you can keep pillows clean for years before needing to replace them.