Every time after washing bedsheets, I wonder if it’s a time to clean the pillows as well. In this post, I will focus on everything related to sanitizing bed pillows: when, how, and why to do it.
So, how to sanitize bed pillows? Depending on the type of bed pillows, the sanitization process will vary. For instance, feather and down pillows can be machine washed. Same applies to pillows made from polyester. On the other hand, washer and dryer are detrimental to memory foam pillows. In the case of foam pillows, it’s better to use baking soda to get rid of odor and bacteria.
How often to clean the bed pillows?
Most people know that over time, the weight of pillows increases. Some scientists claim that in a span of two years, the size of the bed pillow will increase by a third. The increase is because pillows accumulate dead skin, hair, dead dust mites, and their feces.
While it is best to wash pillowcases every two weeks or so, pillows do not need to be washed that often. It’s ok to clean then once in 3-4 months.
However, if the pillow smells terrible, e.g., it smells vinegar, you might need to wash it more often.
If the pillow has a tag with washing instructions, then you need to follow the directions. Pay special attention to those marked as “dry clean only”: you don’t want to machine wash them.
Cleaning feather and down pillows
For a long time, I thought that feather pillows could not be washed. It’s what my mom taught me. So this is what we used to do in our family when a feather pillow become stinky.
We would wait for a hot sunny day. Then spray bleach water on the pillow and leave it on the sun to dry. Bleach and sun are the best things to kill all bacteria, and they would sanitize anything thoroughly.
After some time, I found out that it is fine to machine wash feather pillows.
Here’s what you do:
- Remove the pillow from the cover. You can wash covers and pillows together.
- Check for any rips in the pillow. The last thing you want all the contents to come out and make a mess in the washer. If you find any holes do not use the machine.
- Put the pillows into the washer. If you have a top-loading machine, then it’s better to wash two pillows at the time, no more, no less. Having two pillows will balance the washer. If the appliance has an agitator (a large vertical spindle in the middle of the machine), then place pillows vertically on two sides of it. If you need to wash only one pillow, then throw in a couple of towels to make a balanced load. In the case of a front loading machine, you can wash one pillow without any issues.
- Use gentle scent-free detergent such as Tide Free and Gentle HE Laundry Detergent Liquid (Amazon). Or if you prefer pods, then you can use Tide PODS. The reason you want to have a scent-free detergent is that you plan to sleep on the pillow all night and breathing a heavy smell may not be a good thing. Do not use a laundry detergent which contains bleach or enzymes.
- If the pillow smells bad or if there any stains then you can also add washing soda. You can buy washing soda from Amazon or make it yourself from baking soda.
- If the pillow has a smell of mold or mildew, then add some vinegar. Vinegar kills mold.
- Some people add Lavender Essential Oils (Amazon) to the load. The lavender is known for its disinfectant properties, and it’s an excellent essential oil to help you relax. In this case, choosing a scent-free detergent is even more critical to avoid a mixture of smells.
- Use the delicate cycle and cold or lukewarm water.
- To make sure that the detergent residue has been fully removed from pillows, run them through two rinse cycles.
- Run two spin cycles to squeeze out as much dampness as possible and eliminate excess moisture. Removing excess moisture will reduce mold growth, and any unpleasant odors left after washing.
Moisture is the worst enemy of any pillow. If you do not adequately dry it, then it will quickly develop mold.
There are two ways to dry pillows: air dry and in the dryer. If you go with air drying, consider doing it in the sunny and windy morning, so the pillow has enough time to get fully dry. If outside weather does not permit then consider drying inside on a rack. You can use a fan to speed up the process.
Drying feather and down pillows in a dryer
Use the low or no heat setting when drying pillows. Throw in several tennis balls. They will beat out excessive moisture and keep the filling from clumping as they bounce inside the dryer.
Some people suggest placing tennis balls inside white socks. The socks will make sure that tennis ball colors do not get on pillows. Personally, I use dryer balls. You can buy them on Amazon for very cheap.
Do not use auto setting because the machine only detects if there is moisture on the surface. It does not detect dampness inside pillows. So run it for a full cycle (about 60 minutes).
After the cycle, check if the pillow is thoroughly dry. If not, then run another cycle.
If you don’t want to wash the down pillows, you can opt for a quick refresh. Put the pillows in the dryer. Set the heat to low and run it for about 10 minutes to freshen them up and remove dust and dampness.
Cleaning Synthetic Pillows
The process of cleaning synthetic pillows is similar to feather and down pillows.
First check for any holes and rips. Then place two pillows or one pillow in combination with towels for a balanced load.
If the washer has a Sanitize option, then use it. If not, set the hottest temperature. Did you know that dust mites and bed bugs survive in a temperature lower than 130°F (54.4°C)? So using hot temperature is the best way to get rid of them.
After washing set to the fastest spin cycle to make sure that the pillows are as dry as possible before putting them into the dryer.
Use tennis balls or dryer balls to avoid clumps when drying.
Use either Sanitize or the hottest option. Run the full cycle, do not use the auto setting. Don’t be afraid to run through another drying cycle if you feel that pillow is still damp. Overdrying does not damage pillows.
Memory foam pillows
Remember one thing about memory foam pillows: do not wash them in the washer. Washers might break down or crack memory foam pillows.
Sanitizing memory foam pillows
The best way to get rid of the odor and freshen memory foam pillows is by using baking soda. The steps are the following:
- Sprinkle baking soda all over the pillow. Cover the entire surface. Baking soda absorbs odor.
- Place it in the sun for 2-3 hours. The sun is the best thing to kill bacteria.
- Use the upholstery attachment to vacuum the pillow. If possible, lower down the suction power so that it sucks up the soda and not the pillow.
- Turn over the pillow and repeat the steps again on another side.
Spot cleaning memory foam pillows
If you found stains on the memory foam pillow, you can use a towel dampened with the gentle detergent. Gently clean the stain outward from the center. Blot dry the pillow. Place the pillow in the dryer for about 20 minutes on no heat setting. Alternatively, let it dry outside in the sun.
Washing memory foam pillows
Although memory foam absorbs liquids like a sponge, water does not damage them. So you can wash the memory foam pillows if needed.
Again, do not machine wash them. Instead, put them in a laundry bag or bathtub filled with warm water and a little detergent.
Soak the pillow entirely and gently squeeze it. Remember, wet foam is heavy and tears easily, so be careful. Rinse your pillow multiple times until it’s clear of detergent. Squeeze as much water as possible. Wrap it up in dry towels.
Air-dry the pillow outside in the shade. It may require 24 hours for your pillow to be completely dry, depending on how thick the foam is.
Cleaning Shredded Memory Foam Pillows
In general, avoid cleaning shredded memory foam pillows. If you absolutely, positively need to wash them use the same procedure as with washing solid memory foam pillows. Soak in the water and let it air dry. Do not use either a washer or dryer.
Ways to keep the pillow clean
If you want to avoid washing pillows, consider buying a pillow protector. For instance, this pillow protector is waterproof and hypoallergenic. It will protect your pillow from stains, oils, face creams, etc. So, instead of washing the pillow, all you need is to clean the pillow protector. Wash it every two weeks or so.
Time to replace pillow
And finally, sometimes it’s better to replace the pillow instead of keeping it. Some people suggest replacing pillows every two years because old pillows do not offer enough support when sleeping.
There is a simple way to know when it’s time to replace. Simply fold the pillow. If pillow springs back then it still can serve you. If the pillow stays folded, then it’s time for shopping!
Image credit: Pixabay
Next article: How to Dry Pillows Without a Dryer
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