After just a few months of use, pillows can become packed with dead skin, dust mites and their feces, and bacteria, some of it fecal. Pillows stuffed with synthetic fiberfill or feathers can be sanitized in the washing machine. You'll need to treat foam pillows by hand. Generally, you should replace pillows once they reach the five-year mark or when they smell like mildew.
Feather and Synthetic-Fill Pillows
Remove the pillowcases or slipcovers. Set them aside to wash with your regular laundry.
Put two pillows in the washing machine to keep it balanced.
Add a capful of liquid laundry detergent to the machine. Set the machine on the normal cycle with the warm water setting, or according to the pillow manufacturer's instructions.
Wait for the machine to fill with water, then push the pillows under the water to thoroughly soak them.
Pour 1 cup of white vinegar into the machine during the rinse cycle.
Remove the pillows when the machine stops. Squeeze out any excess water.
Put the pillows in the clothes dryer, then add a few dryer balls or tennis balls to prevent clumping so the pillows keep their shape.
Tumble-dry down or feather pillows on a moderate heat setting. Tumble-dry synthetic-fill pillows with high heat. Use the antibacterial setting when available.
Remove the pillows from the dryer partway through the cycle. Shake the pillows and fluff them up with your hands. Continue drying. Feather and down-filled pillows can take two hours or longer to dry. Fiberfill pillows dry faster.
Remove the pillowcase or slipcover and set it aside. Place the pillow on a flat surface, such as a table or desk.
Dampen a cloth with warm water and add a few drops of mild liquid soap. Squeeze out the excess water.
Wipe the pillow with the damp cloth to remove dust and debris. Moisten another clean cloth, then wipe the pillow again to rinse.
Fill a spray bottle with a solution of one part white vinegar and one part cool water. A solution of 1/4 cup household bleach and 1 gallon of cool water also makes an effective sanitizer. Alternatively, use a fabric-safe liquid disinfectant.
Mist one side of the pillow with the vinegar solution, diluted bleach or disinfectant. Apply the solution lightly; do not saturate the pillow.
Let the solution or disinfectant set for at least five minutes. Blot the pillow with a towel until it's dry.
Repeat this process for the other side of the pillow.
Put the pillow in the freezer overnight to kill dust mites. Vinegar and bleach eliminate germs, but they don't kill dust mites.