Your Pillow Might Be Hiding a Dirty Little Secret

If your pillow could talk, it would likely tell you that it could (really) use a good cleaning. How long has it been since you washed it—we’re not talking about the case, but the actual pillow, itself?


You may want to sit down before letting this little piece of trivia sink in: A new pillow may weigh roughly 10 ounces, but after two years it can double in mass due to dust mite contamination.

Yeah, we winced after learning that fun fact, too. Ick factor aside, it’s important to recognize that, night after night, pesky dust mites and unwanted buildup from saliva, sweat, makeup and oil accumulate on your pillow. Even if you’re in the habit of washing your pillowcase once or twice a week, the pillow itself can harbor bacteria, mold and even fungi.

If you can’t recall the last time you placed your pillows in the washing machine—let alone purchased new ones—now’s the perfect time for a refresh. We’ll walk you through how to know when a replacement is needed, as well as the exact steps to take to keep your pillow clean.

Signs It’s Time to Toss It

Here's a quick test to know if it's time to buy a new pillow:

  • First check for any indication of odor, mold or mildew. Replace if any of these exist.
  • Next, fold your pillow in half and let go. When you release it, your pillow should regain its shape. Pillows that don't return to their original shape should be replaced.

Pillow Cleaning: What to Do and When to Do It

Whether your pillow is still in good shape or it’s brand new, start implementing some of these best practices to help create a clean, dust mite-free cushion to rest your head.

  • Each morning when you make your bed, give your pillow a good fluffing to help rid it of dust and restore its shape.
  • Every two weeks, put your pillow out in the hot sun to deodorize and kill off dust mites. During the colder months, toss it in your dryer for 10-15 minutes. (Be sure to read the care instructions on each pillow, especially any decorative ones, before placing it in the dryer.)
  • Twice a year, it’s time to give your pillow a good run through the washer and dryer. Launder it with a small amount of mild detergent on warm or delicate. (And again, always read the care instructions. While most down and feather pillows can be laundered, memory foam or latex pillow fills can only be spot-cleaned.) After the wash, getting your pillow completely dry is crucial because any leftover moisture can lead to mildew. Many pillows can stand moderate heat for about an hour’s spin in the dryer, but some down or feather pillows require a no-heat/air-dry setting, so plan on it taking quite some time to tumble.
  • Consider purchasing a zippered pillow protector, which provides a protective barrier from undesirable contaminants, while still allowing the fibers to breathe. If you're traveling, these are ideal for overnight stays away from home.

Personal Hygiene Do’s and Don’ts

Your bedroom should be a sleep sanctuary and not a health hazard. To keep things as clean as possible, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don't go to bed with wet hair. Doing so only adds to the moisture content of your pillow, creating a breeding ground for germs.
  • No matter how tired you are, remember what Mom always told you and wash that makeup off your face before bedtime. Your pillow (and your complexion) will thank you.
  • If you share a bed with a partner, don’t share your pillow. Each night, we exhale moisture into our pillow, and when we swap that pillow back and forth, we’re doubling the potential for breeding bacteria. So when it comes to pillows, keep it personal.

Even if your pillow-cleaning habits have been less than stellar in the past, this is your chance to start fresh for a healthier and more hygienic sleep. Still not convinced your pillow really needs a deep clean? May we suggest you go back and reread that fun trivia fact we referenced early on in this article.
We had a feeling that would do the trick.

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