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Can You Wash Pillows in the Washing Machine? How?

A collage of pillow on washing machine.

We all want to make life easier while still keeping up with chores.  In addition to everyday wear, we throw our cloth tennis shoes in the washer and use dry clean bags to circumvent a trip to the dry cleaners. 

Though it may surprise some people because they’re an odd item and very different from clothing, you can wash most pillows in the washing machine as well, which makes a thorough cleaning of your bedding much more convenient. 

You just have to check the type of stuffing used in your pillows to be sure it’s compatible.

So Let’s Get To It!  How Do I Wash My Pillows in the Washing Machine?

Before Anything Else, Read the Instructions

Pillows on bed.

The makers of your pillow likely did all the investigating and trial runs, so they’ll know best what cleaning methods should be avoided. 

You’ll get the best results by deferring to the instructions specific to your pillow.  Generally, you can expect to find that pillows stuffed with standard cotton or fiber can go into the machine with no problem. 

Some manuals advise against using it for feather or down stuffed pillows, but users have reported successful results if you set your washer on the gentle cycle and/or add clean tennis balls or balls specially designed for washing machine use. 

In case the level of agitation causes feathers to clump together, some type of washer balls should help prevent this from happening.  Foam pillows normally should not be cleaned in a washing machine because even gentle cycles may be enough to break the grain of the foam apart. 

The foam also cannot withstand high temperatures as it will break down the material, but even on a cold cycle, the level of agitation will likely be too damaging.

It also helps to keep the drum balanced within the machine during the wash cycle.  Wash two pillows at a time, or add your pillow to a half-load of lightly-soiled laundry.  On the other hand, you don’t want to make your pillow part of a bulging load that packs the washer full. 

It’s not wise to do this with any type of laundry.  This will prevent water and soap from soaking through all areas of the load. 

Check Your Equipment And Your Timetable

A pillow on washing machine.

If you have a pillow stuffed with material other than foam, it will likely be fine for washing via a machine at home.  Machines with an agitator run a greater risk of beating your pillow to death, i.e., beating it into a state of lumpy, clumpy stuffing instead of soft and smooth. 

That doesn’t have to be the case, though.  Gentle or delicate cycles will let soapy water permeate throughout all the layers of stuffing without a lot of harsh motion.  Placing pillows vertically if you have a top-loader machine also lessens pillow trauma.

When you pick your day to launder pillows and/or the rest of your bedding, you’ll need to start early unless you have a separate set of everything.  Putting off your bedtime until your pillow gets dry the night before a work day can be avoided with a little planning.

Set It And (Mostly) Forget It

Well, compared to our great-grandmothers who rubbed their knuckles raw on washboards in order to do laundry, we certainly have it easy.  Choose conservatively with your wash settings, usually the most gentle cycle the machine offers and the lowest temperature, unless your pillow’s tag directs otherwise. 

If you’re laundering your pillows for the first time, you could opt for these safe settings even if your pillow says it can stand up to more, just to be sure. 

Do I Really Need To Wash My Pillows?

White pillows on washing machine.

Well, it’s your home, so the care of the many creatures comforts, large and small, that make it your home is under your control.  That said, for my own home, I strive to make it a refuge, a restful haven that offers a soothing air of welcome after an active day. 

I want to make it a place I would willingly choose to spend time.  Keeping my house clean goes far beyond wanting to please fastidious parents or judgmental friends who come to visit.

General upkeep contributes to and encourages an organized and user-friendly house, where I habitually put things back after use, and I know where to quickly and easily find them, especially when pressed for time. 

Polished, shiny surfaces and unsullied, touchable textures promote true relaxation and an uncluttered mental state, and the reverse is not merely alarmist lore–studies show that a dirty home can cause anxiety and depression. 

Perhaps most noticeably, letting dust and dirt build-up (as we all know it very quickly does) leads to respiratory irritation, allergies, the transmission of viruses, and more health issues from there.

While you sleep, your pillow cushions your head, neck, and upper spine.  No matter which way you turn your head, you’re breathing in and out very close to or directly on your pillow. 

Used nightly, pillows collect flakes of dead skin, dirt from your skin or caught in your hair during the day, natural oils from hair and skin, and dust particles as well as the dust mites they attract. 

In my case, living in a tropical climate means a thriving population of insects I’m constantly trying to keep out of my home, and during 8 hours of unconsciousness, I won’t be able to defend my pillow against whatever else might land on it besides the natural detritus listed above. 

Keeping the surfaces and the air in my home clean will help ward off illness, asthma attacks, and the feeling that endless household chores merely add to a lengthy to-do list. 

The well-trafficked areas are the most important spots to hit and should get priority, so during a busy week, I’ll still make time for those. 

Depending on how much time you spend outside your home during daylight hours, your bed might be the place in your house where you spend the most time, so investing time in keeping it clean just makes sense.

How Often Should I Wash Pillows?

White pillow on washing machine.

With the frequency of use, your pillow gets, those in the know recommend washing your pillow a minimum of every six months.  Of course, the rest of your bedding should be washed much more frequently than that, which you probably already do just to keep yourself comfortable. 

If you’re having a laundry day anyway, you might as well throw your pillow in every once in a while.  Ultimately a good frequency to strive for is about every three to four months.

Worst-Case Scenario—What Damage Might a Washing Machine Do To Pillows?

The reason foam and memory foam can’t go in your washing machine has to do with the level of agitation pulling the airy foam apart.  Your foam pillow probably won’t come out in one smooth shape afterward and will be unusable. 

For other types of pillows, a more active cycle or water that is too hot might wad the stuffing into uneven balls within the pillow, which won’t provide your head with a smooth cushion you can sink into.