How to clean your pillows, because they're full of dead bugs
Dust mites, dead skin, poop? Yeah, it's time to wash those things.
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You probably wash your bed sheets and pillowcases about once a week—on a rare occasion, maybe every two weeks. (If it’s any longer than that, we need to talk—especially if your pets sleep in the bed.) But has it ever occurred to you to wash your pillows?
Perhaps this tidbit will be the bit of encouragement you need: They’re grosser than you could possibly imagine. To put a finer point on it, they’re ideal breeding grounds for everything from dust mites to the flu.
One British study found that after two years, approximately one-third of a pillow’s weight contains dead skin, dust mites (which eat the dead skin), and droppings (poop from all those mites). Not to mention, it’s suspected that dust mites affect the majority of allergy sufferers—yikes!
It's not exactly a financially sound decision to buy new pillows every week. But take a look at a pillow’s care label and you might find some welcome news: While you can hand wash your pillows, you can likely throw them in the washing machine, too.
Experts recommend washing your pillows every six months to prolong the lifespan. Here's what you need to know:
How to wash pillows
First, check the wash instructions on your pillows’ tags to make sure they can be tossed in the washing machine. This will vary based on the material and even the manufacturer. (For instance, the Slumber Cloud down alternative pillow is A-OK in the washer, but the Brooklinen down alternative pillow is spot- or dry clean only, per the brand’s recommendation.)
Remove the pillowcase. (Ditto for the pillow protector that we hope you’re already using.)
Put your pillows in the washing machine. If you’ve got a top-loading machine, the trick is to wash at least two pillows at a time to keep the washer balanced.
Tumble dry on low heat. Wait till the pillows are completely dry before remaking your bed.
How to wash memory foam pillows
If you own a memory foam pillow, chances are you’ll have to stick to spot-cleaning. The process will be similar to cleaning a memory foam mattress.
Remove your memory foam pillow from the pillowcase.
Use a handheld vacuum to remove dust and other debris.
Tackle any stains with a lint-free cloth and gentle cleaning agent, such as baking soda or a diluted laundry soap solution.
Let the pillow air dry, checking that it’s not wet before placing it back on your bed. The material can trap moisture, which can lead to mold.
When is it time to buy new bed pillows?
No pillow is meant to last forever. Some stains won't wash out, and maybe your aching neck or sore back demands a change. Sleep experts suggest replacing a pillow every few years, however, this list of questions may be helpful in deciding when to upgrade:
Did you purchase your pillow more than two years ago?
Do your head and neck feel unsupported?
Do you wake up sneezing or congested every day?
Is the pillow losing its shape or lumpy?
Does your pillow have to be fluffed up for support?
If you fold the pillow in half, does it stay folded?
These are all signs to replace a pillow—and we've got several recommendations. Of course, your purchase will depend on your sleep position—for example, the best pillow for side sleepers isn’t necessarily the best pillow for stomach sleepers. Your budget and the material you’re after will factor in, too. But here are some of the best pillows we’ve tested.
We can’t say enough great things about the Coop Home Goods Original pillow. It’s overstuffed with a blended fill (shredded memory foam and microfiber), so you can tinker with the amount to find your ideal height. We also like that the brand says every part can be tossed in the washing machine. Coop recommends avoiding fabric softener and bleach, as well as fastening the zipper with a safety pin to contain the filling.
If you’re a back sleeper, we’d steer you toward the Leesa premium foam pillow. It’s lightweight yet firm and sinks in just a bit when you plop your head down at night. The cashmere-soft cover is machine-washable, though you’ll have to stick to spot-cleaning the actual foam pillow.
The Brooklinen down pillow comes in three firmness levels to accommodate different sleep positions. Spot-clean as needed, or take it to the dry cleaner. We’re also fans of Brooklinen’s 365-day return policy.
If you’re investing in a new pillow, pick up a pillow protector, too. It’ll help keep out sweat and drool—a good thing, as moisture can lead to various fungi. Our favorite is the Brooklinen pillow protector. It’s got a silky texture and, best of all, our tester didn’t even notice it under her pillowcase.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.