How to Wash And Dry a Cotton Pillow: Step by Step – The Bedding Planet

How to Wash And Dry a Cotton Pillow: Step by Step

This post is part of the complete cotton pillow buyers guide

When you want to clean your beddings, you will most likely grab your bed sheets, pillowcases and head out to the laundry room.

The pillow is usually forgotten, yet it is the one that arguably needs the most cleaning. It is advisable to deep clean your pillow at least twice a year to keep it safe from bacteria.

Every time you use your pillow, it absorbs sweat, body oil, and makeup from your skin. If it stays in the same condition throughout, you will have to deal with skin breakouts, allergies, and many other conditions that would have been prevented by cleaning your pillow.

Sometimes people keep dirty pillows because they are not aware they need to be washed. Cleaning your pillow is not about keeping you healthy but also prolonging your pillow’s life.

Therefore, you must understand how to clean your cotton pillow and keep it in good condition. If you are ready to learn about ways to wash and dry your cotton pillow, you are in the right place.

Before Washing The Cotton Pillow

Most cotton pillows in the market today are machine washable, but some are quite delicate and need utmost attention. The first thing you should do before washing your pillow is read the tag for instructions on cleaning it.

Here are a few things to note about cleaning instructions;

Dry clean only

If your pillow tag bears these instructions, you should take it to a professional dry cleaner to wash it. ‘Dry clean only’ means submerging the pillow in water will affect the cover and the cotton fills.

This also applies to tags with the instructions ‘DO NOT WASH.’

Spot clean only

Such instructions indicate that you should only clean out stains and spots on the pillow surface. Do not be tempted to wash the entire pillow because you will be damaging it.

Hand wash

If you see these words on the pillow tag, then it is safe to wash them by hand. It means that the pillow is safe to submerge in water without affecting or degrading the cover and cotton material. However, it would help if you did not try washing it in the machine because the spin cycle may displace the cotton fibers making your pillow lose its shape.

Machine washable

Any pillow with a tag that says ‘MACHINE WASHABLE’ can be washed and dried in the machine. Users need to be keen on the additional instructions to ensure they follow all the necessary guidelines to keep the pillow safe.

Reading the additional instructions will let you know about the best spin cycle, whether you need to use bleach, and the amount of detergent to use.

How to Wash a Cotton Pillow by Hand

Once you determine that your pillow is washable by hand, you must assemble the necessary cleaning tools. You will need water, detergent, and soap.

Step 1: Take out the pillow from the pillowcase

If you have a pillowcase over your pillow, you need to unzip it and take out your pillow because they need to be washed separately. If possible, you can wash the pillowcase by hand or toss it into the washing machine.

Pre-treat your pillowcase if it has any stains on it before you toss it into the water.

Step 2: Fill the bathtub or sink with hot water

If you are washing in a tub or sink, be sure that it is spacious enough to accommodate the pillow. Plugin the bathtub or sink before running the hot water. Once the sink is half full, please turn off the water and ensure it is not flowing out.

You are advised to use hot water to kill dust mites and other organisms living in the pillow.

Step 3: Add some laundry detergent

Even when washing your cotton pillow by hand, you can still add some standard laundry detergent. Add 15 ml (1 tablespoon) of detergent into the bathtub and double the amount when washing two pillows. Swirl the hot water using your hands until it becomes bubbly. Laundry agents with low suds are much better because it is easier to rinse the pillows.

Step 4: Insert the whole pillow in water and squeeze for some minutes

Pick the pillow on both ends and push it down the soapy water until it completely submerges. The pillow should absorb all the water, and once it is all soaked up, squeeze the pillow and massage it to reach all ends of the fillings. Do this for 10 minutes to ensure all filings are reached by soapy water. If the water is too hot for your hands or the soap becomes too irritating, get yourself a pair of gloves.

Step 5: Rinse the pillow until it runs clear water

Remove the pillow from the sink or bathtub and squeeze out the soapy water until it stops feeling soggy. Drain out the dirty water and run clean water on the pillow using a faucet. Hold the faucet over the pillow until it feels soaked. Squeeze the soapy water out again until it you get clear water.

When you leave soap residue on your pillow, it will stain and take time to dry.

Step 6: Drain excess water with a dry towel

Once you have taken your pillow out of the water, proceed to squeeze it with your hands. Place a dry towel over the wet pillow and fold the towel to remove any water residue. You can also twist the pillow to get most of the water out.

How to Wash a Cotton Pillow in a Washing Machine


Experts have recently advised pillow owners to use top- or front-loading washing machines without an agitator—the spinning center that rotates the clothes.

However, this is not the standard procedure; hence you can proceed to wash your pillows in any machine of your liking.

Step 1: Remove the pillowcase

If you placed a pillowcase over your pillow, you need to remove it. If your pillow cover has a zipper on the side, take out the cover and wash the insert separately.

Step 2: Place your pillows in the washing machine

When loading your washing machine to clean cotton pillows, you should place two of them at once to balance the load. This step aims at preventing the pillows from being thrown around and getting damaged.

The pillows should be placed vertically to prevent damage and only agitate once or twice on the gentle cycle.

Step 3:  Add some detergent

Add a scoop of detergent to your washing machine for more detailed cleaning. If you want your pillows to maintain their whiteness, you can add a small amount of bleach. You should not use too much detergent because it can damage your cotton fibers.

Step 4: Start the wash

Set your washing machine to run hot water and on a two-cycle rinse. Set it to the bulky/large cycle if your washer has the options. Press start and let the machine do the work, and check on your pillows after 10 minutes so that you can take them out to dry.

How to Wash Your Cotton Pillow to Remove Odors, Stains, and Mildew

Step 1: Add baking soda to the washing machine to eradicate bad smells

Washing your pillow can eradicate bad smells, but if you need to do away with the stink completely, you should add ½ cup baking soda to the water. Wash your pillow and rinse completely until there is no odor. Baking soda naturally deodorizes fabric, and you can use it for other laundry purposes.

Step 2: Add a few drops of essential oil when rinsing the pillow

Adding 2 to 3 drops of essential oil to your laundry water while rinsing can give your pillow a nice scent. This solution will also cover some foul smells that make your pillow uncomfortable to sleep on.

Some of these essential oils are;

  • Lavender
  • Citrus
  • Rose
  • Rosemary

How to Dry a Cotton Pillow

If you want to sleep better at night, you need to ensure that your pillow is in good condition, clean, and dry.

After washing your pillows, you should dry them immediately to prevent them from clamping and having bad odors. You can dry them in the sun or use a dryer to drive out moisture.

Using a Dryer

Step 1: Throw the pillow into a dryer

After you have washed your pillows, squeeze out the excess water to make your pillow lighter. Throw the pillows in the dryer without overloading. Your pillow will expand when they dry; thus, you need more space for rotation.

Step 2: Set the dryer to low heat

When you set your dryer to high temperatures, it can easily break down the cotton fibers in your pillow. Set your drying machine to low heat or air drying for a dryer cycle that maintains your pillows’ firmness.

Step 3: Add tennis balls, dryer balls, or stuffed dolls

These balls will bounce around in the dryer to bump on the pillows and prevent the fillings from clumping. This process also helps to fluff your pillows once they become dry, making the cotton fibers detangle faster as they dry.

If you prefer tennis balls, place them in clean socks to prevent tennis ball lint from sticking on your cotton pillows.

Step 4: Leave them in the drier for 45-60 minutes

When you set your dryer on low heat, it may take longer to dry your pillows. Cotton fibers are pretty thin and can hold some moisture that will need you to place the pillows through more than two cycles before they completely dry out.

After every 45 minute cycle, take the pillows out of the dryer and shake them well to give them a good fluff.

Step 5: Take your pillows out of the dryer

After taking your pillow out of the dryer, squeeze it on all sides to ensure they are perfectly dry, specifically the corners. Sniff your pillow to ensure all bad odors are eradicated—if you notice any smells, then you need to pass it through an extra drying cycle.

Step 6: Place the pillow out in the sun

Your dryer will do a good job driving moisture out of your pillow, but remember to place it out in the sun to cool off. The sun can remove all mustiness and moisture to keep it completely dry.

Step 7: Confirm whether the pillow is fully dry

Your pillow will feel hot after placing it in the sun, but you should place it back in the pillowcase yet. Touch all corners and try folding it to ensure all corners and seams are dry. Pat the pillow on all sides to feel any dampness or lumps.

If it feels damp, you can place it in the dryer to completely dry it.

Drying in The Sun

Step 1: Dry your pillow on a sunny and dry day

After washing your pillows, you can dry them indoors or outdoors. Your pillow should get as much sunlight as possible. If you are drying indoors, put your pillows where they can get light, especially on the window.

Step 2: Hang them on a clothesline to dry

Pillows dry faster when they get sufficient airflow out in the sun. Hang the pillow strategically on the clothesline to expose it to the sun and air.

If you place your pillow on a flat surface outside, you will have to check on it frequently to break any lumps forming during the drying process.

Step 3: Turn and fluff your pillow hourly

The cotton fillings cling onto themselves when your pillow is out in the sun. Check on your pillow hourly and massage, squeeze or shake it to prevent the formation of lumps when the fillings stick together. Your pillow must be completely dry and comfortable when your lay on it.

How Often Should You Wash Cotton Pillows?

Although other bedding like bed sheets and pillowcases should be washed regularly, your pillows can hold for a while before getting dipped into the water. The longest you can go without washing your pillow should be six months.

You should wash your pillow every four months to get rid of body fluids, bacteria, and dust that can harbor dust mites. If you want to keep your pillows clean, you should place them inside a pillowcase to protect the pillow covers from getting stained.

As you wash your pillows, you must understand that you are cleaning them to maintain their quality and not use them forever. Your favorite cotton pillow has an expiry date, and you need to keep track of the replacement time. Cotton pillows should be replaced after every two years, but with proper care, you can enjoy them for an extra year or two.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you wash cotton pillows on any washing machine?

Yes. Even with an agitator, there is no difference between washing in a front- or top-loading machine. The reason why front-loading machines are recommended is that they lack agitators.

The agitator in a top-loading machine can easily damage your pillows as they rotate.

Can you use a dryer’s auto-dry setting to dry cotton pillows?

No. Using the auto-dry setting is risky because it will stop operating when it senses dry fabric. This means you will have wet fills that may need more drying cycles. Keep checking your pillow when drying to ensure no moisture is left within.


You should wash and dry your cotton pillows to maintain proper hygiene, reduce allergens, and ensure they are supportive enough.

Even though all cotton pillows use the same fill material, you should understand that manufacturers give different instructions for maintaining their products.

If the pillow tag tells you not to machine-wash your pillow, then you need to wash it with your hands. If the pillow instructs you not to machine dry, you should leave it to dry out in the sun.

Another way to ruin your pillow is to put it back on your bed before it completely dries. Keep checking, turning, and fluffing your pillow until you are sure you got all the angles. A clean and dry pillow equates to a night of good sleep, so make it happen.

Cotton Pillows: A Complete Buyers Guide – Parts:

1. Why Use a Cotton Pillow? The Benefits & Drawbacks
2. Cotton vs. Microfiber Pillows: Differences, And is One Better?
3. How Long do Cotton Pillows Last? This is The Replacement Time
4. Why Do Cotton Pillows Get Lumpy? How to “Unlump” Your Pillow
5. Do Cotton Pillows Flatten Over Time? How to Fluff a Pillow
6. Best Cotton Pillows of 2022 – Complete Review
7. How to Wash And Dry a Cotton Pillow: Step by Step

Niklas Lampi

My name is Niklas and I'm the author and content operator at The Bedding Planet. I've always had a big interest in bedding and more specifically sleep. If I find something that makes me sleep better, whether that's a lifestyle change or a better bedding environment, I'm ready to share it with the world!

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