You probably change your sheets and pillowcases regularly (and maybe even clean your mattress or wash your comforter), but don’t neglect where you rest your head! Over time, your bed pillows will collect, well, some icky stuff such as body oils, saliva, face cream, and dust mites. “It’s personal preference as to how often you should wash pillows, but you’ll keep them fresh by washing them at least twice a year,” says Mike Roberts, CEO of WaveMAX Laundry. “Always be sure to read the care label before laundering. Generally, polyester-fill, down, or feather can be washed in a machine, but memory foam or latex cannot be washed.” If you’re not sure what kind of fill you have (or you yanked off the label), it’s best to err on the side of caution and do it the old-fashioned way: Take your pillows outside on a sunny day, beat them with a clean broom handle (or an old-timey rug paddle like your great-grandma may have used!), then let them air out in the sunshine and fresh air for a few hours. You also can vacuum foam pillows with the upholstery attachment brush.
Here’s what else you can do to keep your pillows fresh and make them last longer:
Use a pillow protector.
Cover pillows with pillow protectors before you put on pillowcases. Then wash these every week when you wash your sheets. In between washes, fluff up your pillows when you make the bed each day. This helps keep them plumped up and redistributes the filling evenly to restore their shape, says Roberts.
Wash pillows on the gentle cycle.
If your washing machine is large enough, you can wash small pillows in it. But if you have queen or king-sized pillows, it’s better to make a trip to the laundromat to use its extra-large front-loaders. “It’s not the water that cleans, it’s the agitation and tumbling movement of the items inside the washer,” says Roberts. “If you have your pillows stuffed in your machine, they get wet but not tumbled.” Use the gentle setting, as agitating too intensely may break apart the fill.
Don’t wash pillows in hot water.
Use cold or warm water, not hot, which can break down the filament in your pillows. Reduce the amount of laundry detergent you usually use; say, ¼ capful if you use one full cap during regular loads (too much is harder to rinse out). Don’t use fabric softener, which can collect on pillows and cause a sheen which attracts more dirt and oils. If possible, choose a second rinse to completely flush out any residues.
Dry pillows on low heat.
Place the pillows in the dryer on low heat. Add a couple of dryer balls or clean tennis balls to prevent filling from clumping. Down may take longer to dry, but that’s completely normal, says Roberts. If you like, a dryer sheet is fine to reduce static. Make sure they’re totally dry (so they don’t get mildew!) before making the bed.
Have a few extras on hand.
If you find a pillow type you absolutely love, buy a couple more and stash them in the closet, suggests Roberts. That way, when your favorite pillow has seen better days— it’s lumpy and doesn’t support your head and neck like it used to— you can replace it with the same type.
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