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The Best Way to Wash Your Dirty Pillow, Without Making it Lumpy

You lie on your pillow every night, so you should make sure it's clean.

A pile of three white pillows.
From saliva stains to sweat, your pillows can accumulate a lot of germs over the course of a few months.
Jojoh/Getty Images

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

Few things are less comforting when you need a good night's sleep than a dirty pillow. How can you have sweet dreams when the thought of bacteria crawling so close to your face is enough to inspire nightmares? 

From saliva stains to sweat, your pillows can accumulate a lot of germs over the course of a few months -- and that's not to mention how pillows can easily collect allergens and dust mites. Because you rest your head and face on it every night, you need to make sure your pillows are sanitary and clean. 

We can help. We've laid out some tips for the best way to wash your pillow without making it lumpy and ruining the fluffiness that helps you sleep so well in the first place. (For more cleaning tips, checkout how to clean your mattress and and how to declutter your closet.) 

First, check the pillow's tag 

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You need to make sure that you don't ruin your pillow in the washing process, so check if it's made of any materials that need special attention. Foam pillows, for instance, can't go in the washer, but they can be hand-vacuumed or spot cleaned.

Vera Peterson, the president of Molly Maid, told CNET you should check all the laundering instructions on your pillow's tag to make sure it's machine-friendly. If there are no warnings against the washing machine, it's fine to wash your pillows in the washing machine.

How often should you wash a pillow?

Pillows need to be washed regularly. Peterson recommends washing pillows twice a year. In warmer clients, she suggests washing pillows four times per year.

What's the best way to clean a pillow?

The key to preventing pillows from getting lumpy is washing two pillows at the same time since the two pillows will balance out in the washer. To keep your pillows from getting damaged, place them in the washer vertically and use a mild, liquid detergent.

"Be sure to read the care label before washing and follow the instructions," Peterson said. "However, if the label is no longer on your pillow, wash both of your pillows at the same time in hot water on a gentle cycle."

Keep in mind that the biggest mistake you can make when washing your pillow is just tossing it in with a small load of laundry. That can lead the pillow to become damaged or lumpy.

Can you hand wash a pillow?

If your pillows aren't machine safe, hand washing can prevent your pillow from getting damaged while getting it just as clean. Peterson said the best way to hand wash is to fill up a large sink or bathtub with warm water then add a few drops of your favorite liquid detergent. You should submerge your pillow and massage it for several minutes to let the detergent seep into it. 

After 10 minutes, rinse your pillow with warm water and wring out the water and residue. Next, dry off the pillow with a towel and let it dry completely before putting the pillowcase back on.

Dirty stained pillow on new white bed

If your pillow is stained or discolored, you can get it clean with an efficient hand wash method. 

eyepark/Getty Images

Can you put a pillow in the dryer?

It's perfectly fine to put most pillows in the dryer after washing. Just be sure to place them on a gentle cycle and low heat. 

Peterson shared a neat trick for drying pillows: Toss in a few tennis balls with the pillow when drying to help loosen any clumped-up stuffing from washing. If the tag on your pillow says it is not safe for the dryer, you can wrap the wet pillow in a towel to absorb moisture and then let it air dry. 

When is it time to replace a pillow?

Peterson said you can test if it's time to ditch a pillow with this easy trick: Fold it in half and if it doesn't spring back open when folded, it's time to buy a new pillow. 

Keeping things clean around your home is vital. For more, learn about how to clean workout clothes, your running shoes and your yoga mat

Try these cleaning tips next