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How to Wash Your Pillowcases Properly

A collage of how to wash your pillowcases properly.

Pillowcases are the first thing our face hits when we go to bed. Because pillowcases come in direct contact with our skin, they can be subject to the natural oils, sweat, and bacteria produced by the skin.

Because of this, our pillowcases can get very dirty pretty quickly. It’s important to clean your pillowcases often, and thoroughly. For tips on how to deep clean your pillows so they look and feel brand new again, keep reading! 

Man in white shirt putting a white pillow case on a pillow

Why you should wash your pillowcases

It’s inevitable that our skin will shed dead skin cells, and secrete oils and sweat. This is not something we can control. Environmental pollution from the world around us also collects on our skin and hair, and all of this is transferred to our pillow every night when we sleep.

Not to mention, sometimes saliva can make its way to our pillows as well. Even if you keep your skin and hair clean, the shedding of dead skin cells still plays a part.

Dead skin cells are the primary component of dust. Tiny creatures called dust mites even feed off these dead skin cells, making your pillowcase somewhat of a buffet. Dust mites don’t bite like bed bugs or other pests, but they do come with their own set of issues.

For one, they carry bacteria, and two, “dust mites are one of the major indoor triggers for people with allergies and asthma”[1]. Dust mites can worsen allergies and even cause asthma attacks in those afflicted with asthma. 

Dust mites aside, the number of bacteria in your pillowcases alone could cause nightmares. The oils, sweat, and saliva we produce when we sleep are all absorbed by our pillowcases. These can then begin to grow bacteria. This bacteria when it comes in contact with your skin can cause acne and pimples, and exacerbate other skin conditions like eczema.

In fact, “the average daily human output is 1 liter of sweat, 10 grams of salt, 40 grams of grease/sebum, and 2 billion dead skin cells”[3]. So even if you’re scrubbing your hair and face before bed with soap, you will still produce a significant amount of bacteria causing sweat, sebum, and dead skin cells as you sleep. 

Top view of white pillow on white bedding

How often should you wash your pillowcases?

As we sleep our skin secretes oils and sweat which are then transferred to our pillowcase. Because of this, our pillowcases can begin to grow bacteria which then come in direct contact with our skin. This bacteria can exacerbate skin conditions like eczema and acne.

Our pillows can also house microscopic dust mites which can cause asthma attacks and other allergic reactions in allergy sufferers. Because of this, it’s important to wash your pillowcases often

Depending on your lifestyle this can be anywhere between once a week to once every two days. If you suffer from skin conditions like acne or produce a lot of sweat you should consider swapping your pillowcases more frequently.

If you have clear skin and don’t sweat very much, you should still change or wash your pillowcases at least once a week. Even if you think your skin is clean, it still produces natural oils which can become embedded in your pillowcase. To be on the safe side, change or wash your pillowcases once a week

Our pillowcases act as a barrier between our skin and our pillow, but they can only do so much. If your pillows are significantly soiled, a pillowcase will protect you from most but not all of the bad stuff. It’s important to keep your pillows clean as well, but can be done less often as long as you are washing your pillowcases regularly. 

How often should you deep clean your pillows?

The softer fibers of pillows can trap oil, bacteria, sweat, dirt, and dust mites. While our pillowcases create a barrier, some of this grime can still transfer through to your skin. Give your pillows a deep clean at least twice a year.

Always check your pillows from cleaning instructions first before taking this task on. You can wash them in your washing machine, leave them in the hot sun to kill bacteria or have them professionally cleaned. 

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How to properly wash your pillowcases

Washing pillowcases can be quite simple, as long as your keep up with regular washes. However, if our pillowcases are neglected too long they can begin to develop greasy marks and yellow stains from sweat and body oil buildup. Follow these washing steps to get your pillowcases to look brand new again.

If your pillowcase needs a general washing:

If your pillowcases just need a general cleaning you can easily do this in the washing machine. Always check the washing instructions for your pillowcases and follow the recommended steps for cleaning. Strip your pillows and throw your pillowcases in the washing machine.

Run a hot wash cycle with like colors. The hot water will kill dust mites and kill more bacteria than cold water. If you can only wash your pillowcases with cold water, “put the items in the dryer for at least 15 minutes at a temperature above 130 F (54.4 C) to kill the mites”[4] and bacteria.

If your pillowcases have light staining:

If your pillowcases have spot stains from things like coffee or other spills, you can use a spot treating solution before washing.

You can use a store-bought stain spot treatment and allow it to sit on the pillowcase before washing, or you can use a bit of laundry detergent and an agitator to rub out the stain. You can use an old toothbrush or a rag to agitate the stain and then wash it as normal. 

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If your pillowcases desperately need a deep clean:

If your pillowcases are dingy with yellow staining and greasy spots you might need to use a bit more elbow grease. 

Step 1: Mix your cleaning product

In your sink put 1/4 cup of dawn dish detergent [2], and 1 cup of baking soda, and fill your sink with hot water. Stir the mixture and add your pillowcases fully submerging them. 

Step 2: Agitate the fabric

Rub your pillowcases against themselves and agitate the cleaning solution. Continue doing this until you have agitated every surface of the pillowcase. Rubbing the same fabric against itself is very effective at removing staining.  

Step 3: Soak your pillowcases

After you’ve sufficiently scrubbed your pillowcases, drain your sink. Then refill your sink again with hot water and a few drops of dish soap. Dish soap works great to cut through grease.

Let your pillowcases soak in the hot soapy water for a few hours, or as long as you can. After they’ve soaked you can rinse them in hot water until your water runs clear[2].

Step 4: Put them in the wash

Now your washing machine can do the rest of the work. Put your pillowcases in a hot wash cycle with laundry detergent and 2 cups of white vinegar[2]. Vinegar is a natural disinfectant and can melt away any soap residue, oil, and odors. Run a rinse cycle to finish up the job, pop them in the dryer, and voila! 

Keep your pillowcases clean for a better sleep

Hopefully, now that your pillowcases have had a good deep clean you can worry less about causing any damage to your skin while you sleep.

By washing your pillowcases clean you can save yourself the grief of breakouts and problem-causing bacteria on your skin. Now after your big day of cleaning jump into your clean bed and enjoy! 


  1. American Lung Association. “Dust and Dust Mites
  2. Housewife How-To’s. “How To Clean Grimy Pillowcases
  3. Huffpost. “You Should REALLY Wash Your Pillowcases Every Week. Here’s Why
  4. Mayo Clinic. “Dust mite allergy