How to Clean Pillows so they Look Like New

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Everything you need to know about how to clean and whiten pillows so they look like new using just two ingredients! Plus FAQ about how to wash pillows in the washing machine and instructions for drying them the right way.

For more cleaning hacks, check out these DIY Toilet Scrubbing Fizzies and these free printable homemade cleaning labels that will make all your DIY cleaners look gorgeous enough to keep on the countertop.

how to make pillows look like new

Today I’m exposing a part of myself I never thought I’d share online. Wait, let me rephrase that before I get bad traffic to my little lifestyle blog. 😉 I’m exposing a part of my HOUSEKEEPING I never thought I’d share online… my dirty, yellow pillows, that is.

As a friend so aptly suggested, her method of treating yellowed pillows was to make sure the pillowcases went on them before guests arrived. In case you want to go deeper and clean pillows as part of your spring cleaning routine or post-illness scrubdown, I have good news… you can ignore most of the advice online and do this in two easy steps. Cleaning and whitening pillows is so stinkin’ easy, you don’t have to jump through hoops or buy a dozen ingredients to make it happen.

When I first started researching this, I found post after post for ‘pillow cleaning recipes’ with 5 or more ingredients and multiple steps. Lazy (ahem, I mean efficient) as I am, I decided to throw caution to the wind and try my favorite cleaning product ever instead. Hello, vinegar!

As you know, vinegar is amazing when it comes to cleaning grout and I use it for just about everything. So why not put it to the test with my dirty, yucky pillows?

yellowed pillows

Not only did it work, it pretty much performed miracles. Keep reading for tips and tricks for cleaning and whitening your pillows, with a step-by-step tutorial towards the bottom!

Why it’s important to clean pillows

Why is it important to clean pillows? I won’t go into too much detail, but needless to say pillows are hotbeds of junk collected in the 6-8 hours you spent on them every. single. night. Multiply that by how many nights you’ve slept on them and… yeah. Body oils, hair product residue, sweat, drool, dust mites, exfoliated skin… clean ‘dat pillow!

Not naming names, but yup, we have a drooler.

dirty pillows in a pile

How often should you clean and wash pillows?

Aim to wash your pillows about twice a year. To make it easy to remember when you last washed your pillows, wash them when you move clocks forward and back during Daylight Saving Time. That way, you know you’re washing them twice a year.

Can you clean pillows in the washing machine?

For most pillows, YES! Check the label on your pillow to double check before laundering and for specific washing instructions. For example, down pillows can be laundered in the washing machine but memory foam can not. Keep scrolling for the general pillow laundering instructions that I use to keep our pillows fresh, white and clean, but always follow your specific pillow’s instructions.

What do you need to clean pillows?

Believe it or not, you just need two ‘ingredients’. The two ingredients I use are ALL Free and Clear and white vinegar. Yes, that’s it! And NO, this is not a sponsored post for ALL, we are just huge fans and have used it for years as it doesn’t irritate our sensitive skin or contain dyes or perfumes. I’m sure you could whatever detergent you have on hand as well.

If you have major stains on the pillows, use a whitening spot treater such as OxyClean Maxforce Stain Remover.

It’s also helpful to have wool dryer balls for the dryer to fluff your pillows while drying.

It sounds more complicated than it is, honestly once I tried it and saw how easy it was I cleaned a household full of pillows in a weekend with minimal effort!

organized laundry room

Tips for Washing Pillows in the Washing Machine

  • Use two pillows at a time to balance the load
  • Don’t use too much detergent; just a little is all that’s needed
  • Use the warmest water suggested on the label and run it on the gentle cycle
  • Use the second rinse cycle setting (or run a gentle cycle again with NO detergent) to make sure all detergent is cleaned from the pillow
  • Use the spin cycle to get most of the water out of your pillow; I tend to put it on a higher spin setting to ensure most of the water is out before placing in the dryer
two pillows in washing machine

How do you dry pillows?

You can dry most pillows right in your dryer with a few key things to keep in mind:

  • Do not put foam pillows in the dryer; they run the risk of melting
  • Check the label on your pillows as instructions will vary according to the filling
  • Most pillows use a low heat setting; down or feather filled pillows should use air-dry (no heat) setting
  • Use wool dryer balls in the dryer to keep the filling from bunching up inside the pillow
  • Make sure your pillows are completely dry before removing to prevent mildew and odors

How to Clean and Whiten Pillows in the Washing Machine

Here’s your step-by-step tutorial for how to clean pillows in the washing machine from start to finish:

Step 1. Check the label  to make sure it can be laundered in the washing machine (some pillows, like memory foam pillows, can not.) Remove all pillow cases and covers. Add pillows, two in each load, to your washing machine. This balances out the load.

Step 2. Add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of vinegar to the washing machine. This will vary according to your machine! For my machine, I add it to the fabric softener area. For some, you may wish to let it fill with water then add it in during soaking. Add in detergent (not too much!) before starting the load.

Tip: Be cautious with vinegar, as it is caustic and may erode tubing if you use it often. I’ve never had a problem and I’ve used it for years, in my old machine if I used vinegar in the fabric softener area I would add a cup of water in the next load to flush it out. My current machine dumps it in, no tubing needed, so there’s no issues there.

Looking to clean your home with more natural ingredients? 

Click the image below to get a free ebook for cleaning your home with vinegar: 

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fabric softener section in washing machine

Step 3: Again, this will vary with your machine but I used the ‘Brightest Whites’ load as it contains a soaking period to let the vinegar work it’s magic.

Step 4: Once the pillows have been washed, check to see if they need to be run through the spin cycle again to remove excess moisture. If so, go ahead and run it again JUST on the spin cycle. Also check to make sure the pillows look clean, white and stain free. If not, you way wish to spray with a stain spray or soak in Oxiclean (some sites recommend bleach, I’d only do this if absolutely necessary because bleach can cause skin and respiratory irritation) and then run through the washing machine again. As dirty and drooly as my pillows were, I didn’t need to run ANY of them through a second time, the vinegar/All combo worked like magic!

Step 5: Transfer the pillows to the dryer, add in your wool dryer balls, and dry according to the instructions on the label. Use a low-heat setting for most, or an air-dry setting for down and feathers. DO NOT PUT FOAM PILLOWS IN THE DRYER. Set the timer and check and rebalance every 30 minutes to make sure they’re drying evenly. Make sure they are absolutely bone dry to the touch when cool. You can also put them outside on a sunny day to naturally whiten and zap germs in the sunshine.

Now your pillows will be gorgeous and ready to show off!

text with how to clean pillows
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Shop all the ingredients needed to clean and whiten pillows in one easy spot.

Hopefully this post helped answer all your questions about cleaning and whitening pillows using a washing machine.

Be sure to pin this post so you have it saved whenever you want to remember how to wash your pillows the easy way!

how to clean pillows the easy way

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4 Comments

  1. WOW! WOW! WOW! I had no idea you could machine wash your pillows. I followed your perfect instructions today and even my husband is amazed and impressed by the outcome! Everyone needs to do this! Thank you!

  2. Have you tried this method on white sheets? I cannot seem to keep my white sheets looking white!!

  3. This does sound easy. Thanks for the tips. Yes, I saved it on Pinterest, so I can get back to it easily. My way to remember seldom, but necessary tasks, is to make an appointment in my phone. I can make it far in advance, and I always have the phone near by. Have a great day!

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