How to Wash Down Pillows

Washing your down or feather pillows is easy. On top of that, it is good for them and brings them back to life.

By Sheryl Grassie

Are your down pillows getting flat, stained, or stale smelling? Washing them will take care of that, and it is a simple thing to do. In contrast to synthetic pillows, which can get lumpy or misshapen with washing, down pillows benefit from a good cleaning, and removing dust mites and bacteria adds new vitality to your pillow.

How often should you be washing your pillows? The most common answer is twice a year or every six months. Marth Stewart recommends once a season, as an easy way to remember, since many of us change bedding seasonally as well. That could mean two to four times a year depending on the type of climate you live in, the point being to get on a regular schedule that is easy to remember.

Other considerations include sweating, drooling, and allergies. If you have night sweats or drool, it might be a good idea to advance your wash schedule. As well, if you have allergies or breathing problems, killing dust mites and bacteria on a more frequent basis can help. Also, if your pillow isn’t giving you the support it once did, a good wash and fluff can bring it back to its original shape, and as a bonus, it can actually improve your sleep. Whether you wash your pillow regularly, or occasionally, it is a good thing to do for many reasons and the steps are pretty clear-cut.

10 Steps on How to Wash Down Pillows

  1. Start by reading the care instructions: The pillow’s label will tell you things like whether or not it needs to be dry cleaned. Most down pillows can be washed at home even if the label recommends dry cleaning. One advantage to professional cleaning, however, is than many dry cleaners can add feathers upon request. So, instead of replacing that expensive down pillow, you can add loft, and have it cleaned for a fraction of the cost. If the item is washable then follow any label directions to ensure the best outcome.
  2. Prepare your pillows for washing: (We refer to pillows in the plural, because it is hard to wash just one and keep the washer balanced.) Plan to wash two at a time. If it has been a while since you last washed them, your pillows may have yellowing, stains, small holes, or splitting seams that can be taken care of before washing. Spot clean stains with natural ingredients like vinegar, or baking soda and water that are friendly to the feathers.  If the entire pillow appears yellowed, you can pre-soak before washing to reduce the discoloration or even consider having the feathers transferred to a new permanent case.
  3. Assess the size of your washer: Most residential washers can wash two pillows with no problem. If you have a small European washer, you may need to use a laundromat for a larger size machine. Another option is to hand wash your pillows by soaking them in the tub or a large laundry sink.
  4. Choose mild detergent: To keep the feathers intact, use a mild natural detergent. Harsh soap, although it will kill bacteria, can break down the feathers and shorten the life of the pillow.
  5. Put on gentle cycle: Wash your pillows on a gentle cycle to help preserve both feathers and fabric. Feathers don’t do well with more intense agitation and will last longer if kept intact.
  6. Choose the right temperature: To preserve your pillows, cool to warm water is what is recommended. If you have allergies and need to do a more intense irradiation of dust mites and bacteria you can use hot water, 130 degrees Fahrenheit or 54 degrees Celsius, to kill any bugs, but it will hasten the life of the pillow. You could also opt for a cooler wash and then set the dryer to a higher heat.
  7. Do an extra rinse and spin on high: It is very important to get out all of the soap. You don’t want to leave residue on the pillows or inside with the feathers that could weigh it down or erode the contents. A clean fresh pillow is the goal and since they are rather thick, a double rinse is recommended. Then, spin on high to get as much water out as possible. Although it is easy to wash a down pillow, drying can take some effort and leaving any moisture in the pillow can cause problems like the growth of bacteria and mold. If handwashing, rinse thoroughly multiple times, and squeeze out—don’t ring out—as much water as possible.
  8. Choose a medium temperature: As with wash temperature, dryer temperature will cause wear on your pillows and low heat is recommended. Because of the thickness, drying on a low temperature can be very slow. Some people opt to dry partially in the dryer and line dry for several hours after. Then you can throw your pillows back in the dryer for a short hot cycle to get at any deeply buried moisture.
  9. Use dryer balls: Feathers tend to clump in washing and make drying difficult. To help break them up, add clean tennis balls or dryer balls to push apart feathers while drying. Dryer balls can be purchased online and come in felted wool varieties as well as plastic. Some look very much like a spiky dog toy and they are very effective.
  10. Pull out and fluff: In addition to the dryer balls, it helps to take your pillows out and fluff by hand. This helps to redistribute the feathers and ensures a more in depth drying. Pillows can take hours to get completely dry, so try to hand fluff once or twice during the drying process. In warm dry weather, you can choose to line dry your pillows, but they will need fluffing on a more frequent basis. It is crucial that pillows be completely dry with no residual moisture, before you sleep on them again.


Washing your down pillows is good for them. Ducks and geese, where the feathers come from, are waterfowl and feathers are made to get wet. It takes but a few simple steps and your pillows can smell fresh and feel like new again. Killing must mites and bacteria will reduce allergy symptoms and a fluffed-up pillow will better support your head for a sounder sleep.

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