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?
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 have 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? Right.
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 why your spouse’s pillow is far more stained than yours. Or 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.
Get Rid of the Stains
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, Please
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 (any will do but I keep a box of Ultra Tide just for washing pillows)
- 1 cup powdered Cascade Automatic Dishwasher detergent
- 1/2 cup borax
- 1 cup liquid chlorine bleach
- 1 cup white vinegar
Related: The Story of Soilove
Step 1. Treat the stains with Soilove and allow to sit for about 20 minutes. Soilove contains enzymes that attack protein and other organic stains in ways I cannot describe. It is that powerful.
Step 2. Soak the pillows in hot water. Use really hot water—the hottest you can manage with the machine you are using. If your machine has a soak function, use that. If not and it’s a top loader, you can fill the washer with hot water and then stop the cycle to allow the pillow(s) to soak. If yours is a front loader with a soak option, use that. If none of these apply, find a big container like a storage bin or use the bathtub.
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 set to 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.
Step 4. 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 to soak for at least one hour. Longer is fine.
Step 5. Set the washing machine to the largest, longest cycle available and select “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.
For a front loader, drain the water from your bin or tub and place the wet pillows into the washer. Now run the hottest, longest cycle available with an extra rinse. If you do not have an extra rinse option, put the pillows through a second wash/rinse cycle using cold water, adding the white vinegar to that last rinse.
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 Bed Pillows White and Pristine
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!
PREVIOUSLY: Spring Clean Kitchen Challenge