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Taking Care Of Your Pillows

Author imageThe Mattress Warehouse

A bed without a pillow doesn’t feel like a bed. But, if you have a pillow, almost anything can be a bed. Pillows are wonderful things. There are not many things in this world that are so universally loved. Similarly to the popularity of ice cream, for example, there are very few people who do not love their pillows.

We regularly wash our sheets, but how often does your pillow spin in the washer?

Most people wash their sheets, duvet covers and pillowcases regularly. However, the pillows inside usually enjoy much less attention. People often neglect to take proper care of their pillows. Doing this can shorten the lifespan of your pillow and potentially lead to health problems.

If you want to get the most out of your pillows, you need to take proper care of them.

When in use, pillows have two basic problems:

  • They pick up unwanted passengers.
  • They lose their structural integrity.

Let’s get straight to the difficult parts – the info we’d rather avoid.

Unwanted Passengers A: The Human Bits

Most of us spend about a third of our lives asleep, with our heads or faces on a pillow. During the course of a good night’s rest, we leave some traces behind:

  • Skin flakes
  • Hair
  • Oils – moisturiser or natural skin oils
  • Sweat
  • Saliva

It is no wonder that, with the added help of dust mites, pillows actually increase in weight as they age.

Unwanted Passengers B: It’s Alive!

A few nasty lifeforms may be lurking in your pillow:

Dust Mites

They are tiny semi-arachnids that live on dead skin cells, mostly invisible to the human eye. Since humans continuously shed little bits of skin, dust mites love to be near us. They are especially fond of pillows. Here they can get enough food, and it is cosy and humid. Some of them even live on the fungi that may be found in/on our pillows. Dust mites’ faecal particles contain chemicals that trigger intense allergic reactions in some people.


This one almost caught me by surprise, I must admit. Apparently different types of fungi thrive on our pillows. Surprisingly, synthetic (polyester) pillows harbour the most and widest variety of fungi.

Do you have fungi growing in your pillow?

Some experts are not too worried about pillow fungi. “We don’t have enough evidence at the moment to throw all our bedding out”, says William Beckett of the University of Rochester in New York. Other research points towards it being potentially harmful, linked to Aspergillosis.


Most internet sources are a bit vague when it comes to harmful bacteria invading your pillow. Which ones are really harmful? What we can assume with certainty is that, given the ideal micro-climate that exist in and on pillows, is that bacteria will thrive there. Some information in this regard is downright scary.

Don’t Panic

When warning people about unsanitary things close to them, it can easily descend into scaremongering. For example, when marketing antiseptics, people have to be convinced that there is a perpetual army of tiny creatures ready to wreck your life.

However, dear reader, the purpose of this article is not to render you paranoid or to spoil your good night’s rest. In fact, this article is meant to do the opposite. By properly taking care of your pillows, one can bypass all this distress and paranoia and ultimately sleep better.

Pillow Maintenance 101: Wash It!

It’s that simple. Properly washing your pillows can get rid of unwanted passengers and help to preserve the structural integrity of your pillows.

Unwanted passengers will either dissolve, become dislodged, or drown. Tumble drying will give your pillows a good fluffing, which is essential in preserving its “bounce” and softness.

Wash your pillows with in appropriate detergent and washing machine settings.

Solid foam pillows – made of latex or memory foam – are in a category of their own, and should not be cleaned or washed like other pillows. For starters, keep them away from a washing machine or tumble dryer completely. Some of them can become waterlogged and have fungi growing deep inside. It is best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. As some pillows are hypoallergenic, they’ll require a mere wipe-down and be good to go.

When washing feather (down) or polyester pillows, keep the following basics in mind:

  • Use a light liquid detergent that rinses easily.
  • Avoid fabric softeners.
  • Take the cover or protector off the pillow.
  • Wash pillows in pairs to balance the load.
  • Choose a warm (up to 70 degrees Celcius) and gentle washing cycle.
  • Submerge the pillow for at least 30- 45 minutes long to get rid of dust mites.
  • Rinse and rinse again.
  • Tumble dry on low speed and heat.
  • Air drying takes longer but is also ideal, and kinder to your pillow than tumble drying.
  • Add a little antiseptic liquid to one of the rinses to eliminate bacteria.
  • Never wring your pillow if you’re washing by hand.

Let’s move slightly beyond the basics:

Polyester pillows

Think twice before subjecting them to too much dry heat and physical knocking about. This typically happens in a tumble dryer with the wrong settings. Polyester pillows tend to “deflate” under these circumstances. You might end up with a flat pillow that feels like a slab of putty. That said, they are more forgiving than feather pillows when it comes to detergents.

Make sure they are completely dry before slipping them back into their cases or covers. Putting a damp pillow back inside its cover, and using it, would defeat the purpose of cleaning it. The firmer (and usually more expensive) polyester pillows tend to take longer to dry completely.

Feather (down) pillows

Generally, feather pillows are more delicate than polyester pillows and can take less abuse. When tumble drying them, for example, you should go easy on the speed and temperature. Feathers start to smell strange if you subject them to high temperatures. If you have the time, air-dry your feather pillows in the sun – it is still the superior way.

Choosing the right detergent is crucial. Some detergent concoctions will cling to the feathers and leave a sticky residue. The feathers then clump together, and you will have a lumpy, uncomfortable pillow. There are detergents specifically made for feathers, a type of “feather shampoo”. They give the best results by far, eliminating clumping.

Give Your Pillows A Place In The Sun

You should give your pillows a good sunning in between washes. This is a traditional and very effective use of sunlight as disinfectant and bactericide. The ultraviolet ray-component in sunlight gives it these properties.

Regularly hang your pillows out in the sun, a natural disinfectant.

It will not only kill the bacteria and fungi but the dust mites too. Besides, by sunning your pillows you can get rid of any traces of moisture in them. This will make it impossible for bacteria and fungi to get a foothold. An added bonus is that your pillows will smell nice and fresh.

Fluff Your Pillows

Think about it: you spend about eight hours at a time with your head on a pillow. Any relatively soft material will eventually begin to compress or sag under such pressure. This happens especially when the stuffing stays static. By fluffing your pillows often, you will prevent this sad state of affairs. Moreover, getting some air and movement into the stuffing makes it difficult for dust mites to settle in.

You can also try mechanical fluffing. Put your pillows in the tumble dryer and add a few tennis balls. Tumble for a few minutes at a low speed, with no heat. Your pillows should fluff up nicely. Be careful not to overdo this, as it can have the opposite effect.

Get A Pillow Protector

One way to circumvent many of the problems with ageing pillows is to use a pillow protector. It will solve most of these problems in an instant. It seals off your pillow in a way, preventing unwanted passengers from reaching the pillow in the first place. Additionally, it will increase the lifespan of your pillow dramatically. Opinions differ about their comfort level, but it is definitely worth a try.

You can also avoid pillows altogether, and get something different, like the African neck rest. It will do away with all these maintenance and health issues associated with pillows. Perhaps I will try one. But I must admit, I think I will really miss my pillows.

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