A smelly feather pillow is probably the last thing you want to rest your head upon when you lie down at night. Instead of dealing with the foul odor or tossing the pillow off the bed, freshen it up by exposing it to fresh air and sunlight. If it is machine washable, washing the pillow helps remove embedded odors as well, but be sure to dry it thoroughly to completely rid the pillow of moisture-based odors and to keep the pillow in good shape.

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Causes of Foul -- or Fowl -- Odors

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Even a brand-new feather or down pillow may smell. Even though the materials are clean when used to make the pillows, some feathers have a slightly gamy odor, which is natural for feathers. If the pillows become wet from extreme humidity or storing them in damp environment, this smell may be stronger than usual. Sweat and body oils trapped in the pillow also contribute to pillow odor, as does cigarette smoke if you or others smoke in the room. Most odors can be removed from the pillows successfully, other than the faint but natural smell of the feathers.

Freshen Up Funky Pillows

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A healthy dose of fresh air works wonders for ridding pillows of some odors. Remove the pillows from their pillowcases; then set them in a protected area such as a screened-in porch on a non-humid, dry day. Prop the pillows up against a table leg or set them on a baking rack or any object you have on hand that exposes as much surface area as possible to fresh air. Allow the pillows to air out all day or for at least several hours. If you can't take them outdoors, open the windows if the weather is warm and dry, and place the pillows in direct sunlight inside. The light and dry air help remove moisture trapped within the pillows, which also helps freshen them up and keeps them fluffy. Sprinkle baking soda on the pillows while airing them out to help absorb odors such as cigarette smoke. Brush the baking soda off into the trash after an hour or so.

Machine Cleaning

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If the pillows smell dirty, it may be time to wash them. Check the care tag for specific washing instructions, or select a gentle cycle and warm water if the tag is missing or unreadable and the pillows have no holes. Select a front-loading washing machine for best results, as the agitator may snag the pillows otherwise. If a top-loading machine is your only option, wash two pillows at once, aligning them vertically at opposite sides of the agitator. Use a minimal amount of a mild laundry detergent to prevent soap buildup in the pillows; half as much as you would normally use for a load of that size is sufficient. Add 1/2 cup white vinegar to the final rinse to help remove any remaining odors and soap residue. Select an extended spin cycle to remove as much water as possible; then shake and fluff the pillows to loosen any clumps before drying.

Drying to Protect the Pillows

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Machine drying on a low- or no-heat setting removes the moisture without overheating or burning the delicate feathers in the pillows. Tumble the pillows with several clean tennis balls to help fluff the pillows as they dry. Select the longest drying cycle your machine offers, but pause the drying to remove and fluff up the pillows every 45 minutes or so to help prevent clumps or uneven distribution of the feathers. It may take more than one complete drying cycle to remove all the moisture from the pillows, but it is imperative to dry them completely before using or storing them; otherwise, mold and mildew may occur.