Do It Yourself » How to Clean and Whiten Yellowed Pillows

How to Clean and Whiten Yellowed Pillows

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We spend around 3,000 hours a year, or roughly four months, on our pillows. Moisture and everyday soil can turn pillows yellow, but you can easily clean and whiten them in a few simple steps.

Why do pillows turn yellow? The main culprit is moisture from sweat or wet hair. Lotions and night creams, leave-in conditioners, and skincare products all contribute to the discoloration of bed pillows. Machine wash pillows regularly to keep them white. Dry cleaning is not recommended.

When you consider how much time we spend sleeping, our pillows are getting a workout. But, unfortunately, sweat, natural oils in your skin and hair, and even skincare products can leave a host of germs and bacteria on our pillows.

Sweat and moisture can turn your pillows yellow, but there are more sinister forces at work. Pillows can also collect all manner of germs, dander, dead skin cells, and dust mites.

wash sheets

It is recommended we change our bedsheets once a week, and that certainly includes pillowcases. However, some might like to change the pillowslips even more often than that, especially if you have pets who love your bed or live in a warm climate.

Besides the yuck factor, dirty pillows can cause skin breakouts and prolong colds and flu. On the other hand, clean pillows are one of the simplest ways to ensure a good night’s sleep. Nothing feels better than fresh linen.
yellowing pillow stains 2

1Do Your Pillows Need to be Cleaned?
2How to Clean and Whiten Yellowed Pillows
3How to Whiten Yellowed Pillows in the Washing Machine
4How to Wash Pillows in High Efficiency Washer
5How to Clean Pillows in a Front Loading Washing Machine
6How to Whiten Yellowed Pillows by Hand
7How to Wash Foam Pillows
8How to Wash Gel Pillows
9How to Wash Pillows with Baking Soda
10How to wash Throw Pillows with baking soda
11How to Clean Old Feather Pillows
12Maintaining White Pillows
13How to Clean Severely Stained Pillows – Last Ditch Resort

Do Your Pillows Need to be Cleaned?

The answer is probably. We don’t think too much about our pillows even though we spend one-third of our lives on one. Most experts recommend that we wash our linens once a week.

That includes pillowcases, of course. If you use shams or pillow covers, you likely don’t have to wash your pillows as often, but you should wash the covers as often as your sheets.

Experts suggest you change your pillowcases every two days or so. It is estimated that our pillowslips have more bacteria than a toilet seat! That alone should surely inspire us to keep up with proper laundering.

dirty pillows linens
If your bed looks like this, you should DEFINITELY WASH IT. Photo Credit: CANVA

Clean pillows will ensure clear skin and fewer allergies. If you or your family members have a cold or the flu, you may wish to change daily to prevent reinfection or the spread of germs. Always wash your hands after handling soiled linens.

How to Clean and Whiten Yellowed Pillows

So, how do you clean and whiten your pillows? First, it would be best if you changed pillowcases once or twice a week. Doing so will help keep your pillows clean and fresh. Second, experts recommend that you wash pillows themselves a minimum of twice per year for the best hygiene.

Hair products, night creams, and lotions, even going to bed with wet hair can have an impact on the cleanliness of our pillows. Add in sweat and humidity or moisture in the air, and you have a recipe for dingy, yellow pillows. Here’s how to fix that.

  1. Wash your pillows as needed, especially if you notice discoloration or a bad smell.
  2. If your pet shares your bed, you will want to wash your pillows and covers more often, maybe as often as twice per month.
  3. It would help if you fluffed your pillow every morning, and avoid pulling the bedspread over the pillow. Doing so allows any moisture in the pillow to dry and helps prevent bacteria from growing.
  4. Consider hanging them outside in nice weather to air them out and keep them sweet-smelling.
  5. Treat any spots that you notice with a damp cloth.

How to Whiten Yellowed Pillows in the Washing Machine

If you’re wondering how to get yellow stains out of pillows, look no further. Most pillows are machine washable, but always read the label and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Wash pillows two at a time to help balance the load. If your washer has an agitator, slide pillows vertically opposite each other; otherwise, place them in the drum horizontally.

Use your regular detergent, but avoid fabric softeners and chlorine bleach as it can break down synthetic fillers. Instead, use the gentle cycle in the warmest water your pillow can tolerate—fluff when you take it out and dry on low heat for at least an hour.

For best results, do not use your dryer’s automatic setting because it will only dry the outside of your pillow and not the inner filling. Allow the pillow to cool and check to see if it is still damp. You may have to dry it for several cycles to be sure it is thoroughly dried.

Or you can hang it on the clothesline for the whitening power of the sun and that great scent of air-dried clothing. Then, if the pillows are still damp at the end of the day, toss them into the dryer for a few more minutes.

How to Wash Pillows in High Efficiency Washer

You will need to adjust the washing process accordingly for those of you who have high efficiency washers that use much less water.

You may be able to wash two pillows in a large load if they are the same size; just be sure they are appropriately balanced. If not, do them separately and add an extra rinse cycle at the very end to remove any detergent residue.

High efficiency washers also use less water, so you don’t want too much soap in the pillows. When using your high efficiency washing machine, be sure not to overload it with pillows.

If you have small children or a spouse that requires two pillows for sleeping comfort, you may need a second machine to wash them. At this point, it might be worth visiting a laundromat rather than attempting to clean them at home.

For best results in high efficiency machines, use the delicate cycle and cold water. Wash pillows separately. Do not overfill the drum with pillows, and be sure they are even on both sides when you place them in the washer. Also, add a capful of detergent for extra cleaning power. It is not recommended to use chlorine bleach or fabric softeners.

For a high efficiency washer, allow the cycle to complete and remove pillows from the washer immediately. If they are still wet, place them in the dryer for at least an hour with two clean tennis balls to help fluff them up; this can make all the difference in the quality of your pillows.

How to Clean Pillows in a Front Loading Washing Machine

Machine washing pillows can be tricky, so here’s how you do it right. First of all, don’t overload the washing machine with pillows; try adding one at a time until they reach capacity but not much more than that.

Second, add a capful of detergent for extra cleaning power. Don’t use chlorine bleach or fabric softeners—only use the delicate cycle. Add an extra rinse cycle at the end to remove all of the detergent residues. If your pillow is still damp when you take it out, then toss them into the dryer with two clean tennis balls. This will help fluff them up and make the pillows look like new again in no time.

How to Wash Foam Pillows

Your beloved pillow is full of dust mites and their waste. Gross, right? But don’t fret; we’ll show you how to wash foam pillows properly.

First, you might be wondering, When Should You Wash Foam Pillows?

A simple rule of thumb: if your pillow smells more than an unpleasant whiff, it’s time for a deep clean. Other signs it’s time to wash your pillow include the formation of mold or mildew, or if you recently purchased one and its smell hasn’t dissipated after two weeks.

Keep in mind that some pillows are machine washable, and others should only be spot washed. Use the following tips for both types of pillows.

Check that your pillow is machine washable before you start! Care instructions are usually located on a zipper tag inside the pillowcase or printed on an attached care label. If the pillow is not machine washable, spot clean using either warm water and liquid dish soap or hydrogen peroxide.

  1. If you’re washing machine-washable pillows, start by taking the case off and putting it in your usual laundry load on a cold, gentle cycle.
  2. When the washing cycle with the pillow completes, put the case back on and dry it on low heat. Make sure to check your drying instructions for specific instructions related to your newly washed foam pillow.

    You may need to heat dry, or air dry the pillow for a few hours before replacing it on your bed.

  3. Check that your pillow is machine washable before you start! Care instructions are usually located on a zipper tag inside the pillow case or printed on an attached care label.

    If the pillow is not machine washable, spot clean using either warm water and liquid dish soap or hydrogen peroxide.

  4. If you’re washing machine washable pillows, start by taking the case off and putting it in your usual laundry load on a cold, gentle cycle.
  5. When the pillow finishes the washing cycle, put the case back on and dry it on low heat. Make sure to check your drying instructions for specific instructions related to your newly washed foam pillow.

    You may need to heat dry, or air dry the pillow for a few hours before replacing it on your bed.

cleaning a foam pillow

How to Wash Gel Pillows

Gel pillows, although much smaller than traditional memory foam, are very similar. However, they have to be broken in and require a decent amount of time to expand fully.

In addition, the gel reacts quickly to body heat and does not offer the same moldability as its memory foam cousin. However, it is very durable and usually quite affordable.

You can find gel pillows in neck rolls, contour shapes, and the increasingly popular buckwheat hull designs. They are usually filled with polyethylene or vinyl beads for a squishy feel.

These pillows can retain their shape well, but you should fluff them regularly to maintain their loft because the gel does not compress like a traditional pillow. Here is how you can maintain your gel pillow.

1 Like with traditional pillows, the first step is to remove all of the coverings and wash them according to the care instructions. Gel pillows often come with a removable zip-off outer case that can be machine washed on cold or warm (not hot).

It is best to use a front-loading machine if you have one. If there is a drawstring in the outer case, tie it up so that the beads do not spill out during the wash cycle.

It is also best to hang dry these covers; however, you can put them into a dryer on low heat or air dried as well.

You should never put gel pillows into a dryer. Instead, after the covers are cleaned, place them in the dryer on low heat for 10-15 minutes to fluff up any flattened gel beads.

2 With the cover removed, you will have access to the pillow itself. The first step is to check it for damage and clean off any spills. Gel pillows will not go through the fluffing process that memory foam does, but they do have a lifespan.

After several months of use, the gel may begin to break down and deteriorate, causing uneven firmness or lumpy spots. If you feel any irregularities in the gel, it is best to replace the pillow because there will never be smooth sailing once there are lumps.

Gel pillows are more delicate than memory foam and hard to damage (unless you have a dog that likes chewing things). If your pillow has any tears or punctures, it is important to fix them immediately.

Over time the gel may begin to leak out of these holes rendering the pillow useless. To fix tears, place a piece of clear cellophane tape over the tear and rub it back and forth. The gel will re-adhere to itself under the pressure of your hand.

3 If you have any exposed beads, wrap them in a ziplock baggie until you can get to a craft store to buy some netting or mesh fabric to cover the hole.

When it comes to washing gel pillows, it is not like the old days when you had to throw them in an old pillowcase and send them out for a wash down.

Gel beads are sensitive to temperature fluctuations and any dramatic change can damage them. The best way to clean your gel pillow is with a standard home vacuum.

4 Your options are to either use the hose or the upholstery attachment (garden hose option for outdoors cleaning).

If you choose to use the hose, be sure to take your time and gently remove as many beads as possible with the vacuum nozzle.

You will need to do this step outside because it creates a mess of gel particles that can be harmful to breathe. Once you have removed the majority of the beads, turn off the vacuum and either shake or sweep the remaining particles out of your pillow.

5 For stubborn stains, you can apply a small amount of dishwashing soap or super laundry sauce onto the affected area and gently rub it with your fingers.

Let it sit for 20-30 minutes, then wash with cold water and let air dry.

6 Once the gel is dry, you can use your vacuum to clean up any leftover beads.

7 Now that your pillow is all nice and clean, it’s time to fluff! When you first took the cover off, you noticed two sections with different amounts of beads (or one area had a higher bead count than the other).

The larger section is for your head, and the smaller, more dense section supports your neck. On your smaller pillow section, grab both ends of the pillow and give it a good shake until all of the beads are evenly distributed. It should feel nice and full once you are finished.

Once you have kept up with regular cleaning, your gel pillow should last for years. It is important to note that there are no refunds on pillows due to hygiene reasons if you’re attempting to return a pillow that didn’t last as long as you expected!

How to Wash Pillows with Baking Soda

Pillows are a tough cleaning challenge, since their large size makes them unwieldy for home washing machines. Use baking soda to clean them instead—it’s a natural deodorizer and air freshener that you can also use around the house. It removes odors including body oils, hair products, cigarette smoke, and more from your pillows.

Baking soda is mild enough for daily use on most types of bedding but avoid using it on silk or other delicate fabrics. You should also avoid over-washing your pillow as this will shorten its life expectancy. Once every few months is often enough unless you’re experiencing an unusually high amount of dirt or oil in your sleep area, pets, children, or smoking in your home.

This method may damage pillows that have zippers.

Pillow covers don’t require washing unless they’re visibly dirty. This is because the removable pillow cover can be washed while the pillow itself remains free of grime and allergens.
clean badly stained pillows

If you do choose to wash your entire pillow, remove the cover before adding it to a washer or sink full of water with 1 cup baking soda added (obviously, useless if you’re doing a smaller load).

A mesh bag will prevent your pillows from getting damaged by agitating in a washing machine, but pillows without zippers are often too bulky for this small laundry bag.

Do not add bleach during any step as the combination could result in toxic fumes. The following are the steps to washing pillows. You’ll need a large washtub, rubber gloves, and one cup of baking soda.

  1. Wet your pillow with warm water
  2. Add 1 cup or more of baking soda (depending on how large your load is)
  3. Let it soak for 30 – 60 minutes
  4. Drain the soapy water and run fresh, cold tap water through your pillow
  5. Rinse two full times with clean water.
  6. Remove from the tub and let it dry naturally
  7. Once dried, put the cover back on if you have one
  8. Refresh any previously washed pillows by beating them well on a sunny day
  9. Lay them out in the sun to dry completely
  10. Ideally, you should do this at least once a year but no more than twice

Caution: Never put your pillows in the dryer because you run the risk of shrinking them and making them lumpy. It’s not worth it, and they’d be much worse off than if you had just air dried them instead.

How to wash throw pillows with baking soda

  1. Toss the pillow into a washtub large enough for it and fill it with warm water.
  2. Add about 1/2 cup of baking soda.
  3. Let soak for 30 minutes, then dump out the sudsy water.
  4. Fill up again with fresh, clean water rinsing two times.
  5. You can rinse a third as long as you use cold water.
  6. After rinsing, let the pillow sit for another 30 minutes and dump the water out.
  7. You can ring it out a bit but don’t twist or wring
  8. Let dry completely before you use it again.

How to Clean Old Feather Pillows

Goose Down pillows can and should be washed as often as synthetic materials. Not only is it good for your skin and hair, but it also extends the pillow’s life. Of course, you may prefer to hand wash down pillows, and that is fine, too.

Avoid wringing feather pillows and just roll the pillow to squeeze excess water out of them. Use a bath towel and roll them up together to remove even more water and help them dry faster. Then hang outside or on a clothes rack until completely dry.

Washing feather pillows in the machine is not advisable, or it may come out looking like this:
wash feather pillow

How to Whiten Yellowed Pillows by Hand

Some types of pillows must be washed by hand to prevent them from breaking down. For example, memory foam pillows should always be washed by hand, as should gel pillows.

  1. Fill the bathtub or a plastic container large enough to hold the pillow.
  2. Fill about three-quarters full of warm water and a minimal amount of Woolite™ or any detergent for delicate laundry.
  3. Place the pillow into the water until completely submerged.
  4. Agitate gently, then dump the water and fill the tub with clean rinse water.
  5. Rinse well and squeeze dry but don’t wring.
  6. Line dry, don’t put them in the dryer.
  7. Be careful not to use too much detergent to avoid excess bubbles and suds.
  8. The addition of too much soap will make it harder to rinse your memory foam pillows.

How to Clean Severely Stained Pillows

Now that I’ve explained the proper and recommended ways of cleaning your filthy pillows, I’m going to get blunt and honest with you. Some of us neglect our pillows. We forget they need to be washed. Oh, we wash the pillowcases, but we don’t even glance at the pillow itself, until one day… bam! It’s right there in front of you, ugly stains galore.
old dirty pillows

Now, if you tried the above ideas and you’re about ready to toss that nasty pillow, don’t. Here’s my simple miracle pillow whitener and stain remover that not only works, but it’s cheap too.

You will Need:
1/2 cup powdered dishwasher detergent
1/2 cup powdered laundry detergent (or 2 tablespoons of Super Laundry Sauce)
1 cup of bleach
1/2 cup of Borax
miracle pillow whitener ingredients
Place the pillows into the machine, tucking them down in. If you have king size pillows, as I am washing here, you’ll only be able to fit two pillows in the machine. If you have standard size pillows, you can fit three into the machine.
tuck pillows in machine

Start filling the machine with HOT water. This is a bit of a misnomer because by federal regulation, the hottest temperature water a washing machine can output is 115°F. The temperature is regulated by a thermostat in the machine.
fill the machine hot water
I generally run a pot of water through my coffee pot and add a pot of super hot water to the machine as well. This is optional, but makes a huge difference in removing major stains.

Once the machine is full of hot water, add the dish detergent, laundry detergent, Borax powder, and bleach. Normally you’d add these first, but there’s no decent way to add pillows AFTER filling the machine with water, in fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s damn near impossible to do.

Let the items soak for at least 1 hour. Then, once the time is up, run the machine through the heavy duty setting to wash the pillows. Once they’re done, you can toss them into the dryer with a couple of clean tennis balls. The tennis balls help fluff the pillow as it dries.
dry pillows in dryer
The washing instructions for the pillow on left state to wash the pillow in cold water, gently cycle only. The pillow on the right stated not to wash the pillow at all. Clearly, I ignored the cleaning instructions for both, but they came out great and I was able to save two pillows that I likely would have tossed out and replaced altogether.
finished pillows using homemade miracle pillow whitener

Maintaining White Pillows

The most important aspect of keeping your pillows in like-new condition is to keep them dry. If you must go to bed with wet hair, lay a hand towel over your pillow to absorb any moisture.

Don’t overdo it with the night creams and skincare products. Clean hair will keep your pillows clean. Avoid leave-in conditioners, or wear a sleep cap.

Similar to the old-fashioned bonnets our grandmothers wore to bed, modern sleep caps protect your curls from frizz and reduce friction on your hair while you sleep while also keeping your pillow clean. Sleep caps are widely available online.

Your pillows will stay whiter and cleaner with regular attention. Wash often; hang in the sun if you can. Change your pillowcases as frequently as possible. Wash your face before bed and avoid heavy lotions

More Pillow Talk

How long do pillows last, and when should they be replaced? Depending on the filling material in the pillow, the answer could be as short as two years or as long as ten years.

Most synthetic pillows will need to be replaced every 18 months or so. A quick test is to fold your pillow in half. If the pillow springs back to its normal shape, it is still suitable for a few more trips to dreamland. On the other hand, if it stays folded over, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a new one.

Pillows range in price from ten dollars for a basic fiberfill pillow to well over a hundred dollars each for a hotel-grade pillow. Hotels use a comfortable gel filling for all sleeping positions: side sleepers, face down, or on your back. Queen and king-sized pillows cost more since they are much bigger than regular pillows. They also require larger pillowcases and shams.

You can spend as much or as little as you want on your pillows, but consider that you will be spending a lot of time together and treat yourself to as nice a one as you can afford. The price of pillows varies greatly, depending on the brand and size, for starters.

Coverings can be polyester, cotton, or silk. The filling can range from synthetic materials to foam to feathers of all types. Down is made from the soft feathers from the chest and underbelly, while feather pillows contain quills from the back and wings of the goose.

The most exclusive pillow has hand-collected eiderdown from abandoned nests in Iceland and Scandinavia and costs more than $2,000. The covering is silk. This pillow is the utmost in luxury and probably out of reach for most of us, but it would be a fantasy come true.

The popular pillows found online are said to be the most comfortable pillows you will ever own. The company advertises that they will last ten years! Easily laundered, they wash well and dry like a dream. They are shipped in tight little rolls that puff up when you unwrap them.

So do yourself a favor, change your pillowcases and wash your pillows on the next laundry day. You will rest easy knowing that your pillows are fresh and clean.

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1 thought on “How to Clean and Whiten Yellowed Pillows”

  1. Thank you for this helpful information, I didn’t realize that I could put pillows in the washing machine. Also, I hope I’m not the only one who’s disturbed by the study on how infrequently people change their bedding! That’s beyond gross!


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