Soft serene bedroom with bed pillows

How to Get Yellow-Stained Bed Pillows White Again

Favorite bed pillows get a lot of use every night. We keep clean pillowcases on them and don’t think much about the pillow inside until it’s time to change the bed linens. Lately, have you looked?

Soft serene bedroom with bed pillows

 

Yikes! The pristine white pillows have turned blotchy with disgusting yellowish-to-brownish stains. What on earth…? The most common response is to stuff an ugly, stained pillow into a clean pillowcase and hope never to look at that mess again!

What are those stains?

The culprit is sweat, the chemical composition of which varies from one person to the next, depending on what that person has been eating and drinking, or medications he or she is taking. Now add drool, body oils, makeup, hair products transferred to the pillow from lying down with wet hair—all of these things over time discolor pillows. But why not the pillowcase? Because we launder them frequently so stains are banished quickly before they have a chance to become a problem.

But the pillow itself? When did you last launder yours? Hmmm …

You may not think you sweat while asleep, but if your pillow has become stained or just looking dingy gray and old-looking, that’s a sign you do. Congratulations are in order. This means you’re normal.

Some people sweat more than others, which can account for your spouse’s pillow is far more stained than yours. Or why your teenage son’s pillow is more disgusting than say his little brother’s. Your face or head resting against that pillow hour after hour releases sweat, which travels easily through the pillowcase into the pillow.

 

Bed pillows showing yellow stains before and after treatment

Get rid of them

Depending on how old these stains are, it’s a good bet you can get your bed pillows clean and beautifully white again. You can wash most types of pillows in the washing machine.

If your pillow has a zippered pillow liner, remove it. You’re in luck if the stains are limited to just that protective cover (this is different from a pillowcase and may have come as an accessory with the pillow). If the pillow itself has stains, it’s time to wash both the liner and the pillow.

Washable only

Check to make sure the pillow tag says that it is washable. Most pillows can be safely washed. (Do not attempt to wash memory foam pillows; follow this instead). Wash only one large (king-size) pillow or two smaller pillows at a time for the best results.

You’ll need these ingredients:

  • Soilove (or your favorite laundry pretreatment stain remover)
  • 1 cup powdered laundry detergent
  • 1 cup powdered automatic dishwasher detergent
  • 1/2 cup borax
  • 1 cup bleach (or bleach alternative)
  • 1 cup white vinegar

Step 1

Treat the stains and allow them to sit for about 20 minutes.

Step 2

Soak the pillows in a large container filled with hot water—the hottest you can manage from the tap. If your washing machine is a top-loader and has a soak function, use that (Note 2). Fill the washer with hot water and then stop the cycle to allow the pillow(s) to soak.

Step 3

While the pillows soak, pull out the biggest cooking pot you can find. Fill it with tap water, set it on a burner on High and bring it to full boil. Turn the burner off and pour in the laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, and borax. Stir gently until the products dissolve in the boiling water.

Step 4

Carefully pour the contents of your hot caldron into the washer, storage bin or tub—wherever your pillows are soaking. Carefully add and stir in the liquid bleach. Make sure the stained pillows are fully saturated by turning them over or moving them around. You may need to use a broom handle or similar to gently push them down in the washer as pillows will tend to “float.” Allow soaking for at least one hour. Longer is fine.

Step 5

After the soak, launder the pillow(s) using your machine’s longest hot wash cycle, with an extra rinse if you have that option. Add a cup of white vinegar to the final rinse by pouring it into the liquid softener reservoir. This will keep it separate from the bleach, as you do not want to mix bleach and vinegar.

Step 6

Dry the pillows in the dryer in a medium heat cycle along with wool dryer balls if you have them. If not, throw in a couple of tennis balls, each one tied into the toe of a sock into the dryer to keep the pillows moving. For down pillows, use the air-only or fluff option. If the pillow is synthetic, use Low heat.

Keep them white

Get some zippered pillow protectors. A great idea is to use two of these on each pillow—one to protect the pillow and one to act as a pillowcase. Or for triple protection, use a pillowcase on top of the two pillow protectors. I do this in my guest rooms, washing all three layers between guests.

Now, as you change and launder your bed linens, peel off the pillowcase and do an inspection. If you see any spots on the top pillow protector, launder it too. Inspect the second protector. If it’s white and pristine, you’re good to go. If not, into the laundry it goes.

Check your pillows routinely so you can deal with spots quickly. That’s the secret to keeping pillows white and pristine!

First published: 5-10-18; Revised & Updated 10-11-19

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Soft serene bedroom with bed pillows
Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

How to Get Yellow-Stained Bed Pillows White Again

Depending on how old these yellow bed pillow stains are, it’s a good bet you can get your bed pillows clean and beautifully white again.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Treating stains, soaking and laundry cycle1 hr 20 mins
Total Time1 hr 45 mins
Course: Housekeeping
Cuisine: Laundry
Author: Mary

Equipment

  • Large container (bucket, bin, tub)

Ingredients

  • Laundry stain pretreatment, like Soilove, Lestoil or Blue Dawn
  • 1 cup powdered laundry detergent
  • 1 cup powdered automatic dishwasher detergent
  • 1/2 cup borax
  • 1 cup liquid bleach, or bleach alternative
  • 1 cup white vinegar

Instructions

  • Treat the stains and allow them to sit for about 20 minutes.
  • Soak the pillows in hot water—the hottest you can manage from the tap. If your washing machine is a top-loader and has a soak function, use that. Fill the washer with hot water and then stop the cycle to allow the pillow(s) to soak. If yours is a front loader find a big container like a storage bin or the bathtub for this step.
  • While the pillows soak, pull out the biggest cooking pot you can find. Fill it with tap water, set it on a burner on High and bring it to full boil. Turn the burner off and pour in the laundry detergent, Cascade, and borax. Stir gently until the products dissolve in the boiling water.
  • Carefully pour the contents of your hot caldron into the washer, storage bin or tub—wherever your pillows are soaking. Carefully add and stir in the liquid bleach. Make sure the stained pillows are fully saturated by turning them over or moving them around. You may need to use a broom handle or similar to gently push them down in the washer as pillows will tend to “float.” Allow soaking for at least one hour. Longer is fine.
  • After the soak, launder the pillow(s) using your machine's longest hot wash cycle, with an extra rinse if you have that option. Add a cup of white vinegar to the final rinse by pouring it into the liquid softener reservoir. This will keep it separate from the bleach, as you absolutely do not want to mix bleach and vinegar.
  • Dry the pillows in the dryer in a medium heat cycle along with wool dryer balls if you have them. If not, throw in a couple of tennis balls, each one tied into the toe of a sock into the dryer to keep the pillows moving. For down pillows, use the air-only or fluff option. If the pillow is synthetic, use Low heat.
  • Look at the difference!
    Bed pillows showing yellow stains before and after treatment

Notes

Note 1: Soilove contains enzymes that attack protein and other organic stains in ways I cannot describe. It is fabulous on bed pillow stains.
Note 2: If your washing machine is a front loader find a big container like a storage bin or the bathtub for this step.
 

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4 replies
  1. Deb R.
    Deb R. says:

    I have a different and much simpler method — and thought for sure I got it from you!

    I spray the pillow (after removing both the pillowcase and pillow cover) with Nok-Out and then set the pillow out in the sun. When one side is dry, then I flip it over and spray the other side and let the sun shine on that side.

    I start my bedsheets in the washer first thing in the morning and the pillows are usually dry and ready to go back on the bed by noon. I skip it if the sun isn’t shining.

    I have destroyed too many pillows in the washer, so when I discovered how well this works, I was tickled pink.

    Reply

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