In this Guide
Feather pillows are wonderful sleeping companions. They last for years, and provide fluffy, breathable comfort that few synthetic or foam products can compete with. There’s a reason we’ve stuck with them for so long!
However, feather pillows also become distinctly less comfy and cosy over time.
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Why you need to clean your feather pillows
For many of us, they become sources of sneezes, sore throats, and sleep disruption. That’s because as pillows are used, they fill with allergens. Even if you don’t have a chronic problem with allergies, you can still feel the results: scratchy eyes, respiratory issues, and so on.
Allergens aren’t all inanimate, either! Dust mites, tiny creatures with shells like larger insects, absolutely love to live in pillows. They eat the dead skin and dust particles that your pillow collects. Over time, your pillow might accumulate a population of hundreds or even thousands of these invisible housemates.
While dust mites are harmless in and of themselves, they shed exoskeletons and leave feces behind. Since they’re such small particles, you end up breathing them in while you sleep or rest. So, many of us are reacting to the presence of dust mites, rather than the mites themselves.
Even if you don’t experience any of the things we’ve just mentioned, there are plenty of reasons why your feather pillow will become less savory the longer you use it. Dead skin flakes off constantly, and sweat/body oils also permeate the pillow as well as its case/cover. That’s why pillows can feel greasy and smell a bit dank, especially after a year or so of nightly use. They accumulate germs, bacteria and viruses which can make it harder to get over illnesses.
Most importantly, steam kills bed bugs and fleas–along with their eggs. If you have a problem with these pests, using steam to clean your feather pillows and older mattress is a key part of eliminating them.
How to clean them and care for them
Now that we’ve grossed you out, let’s talk about some solutions for grimy pillows! You should clean them at least yearly, but more frequent cleanings are a good call if you have allergic symptoms or reactions to dust, dust mites, etc.
Steam cleaning is the quickest and easiest way to address pillow cleanliness. Using a handheld or canister steam cleaner, you can kill dust mites, neutralize germs, and reduce odors significantly. Steam is fast, for one thing, and steamed pillows dry much faster than those that have been through a traditional laundry cycle. It’s gentle on down, too. You don’t have the clumping issues that sometimes arise in the washer, and you needn’t worry about shedding feathers.
Here’s how to do it:
Start by removing your pillowcase and vacuuming your pillow. Use an upholstery attachment or something similar. You want to eliminate all the surface dust and dead skin you can. This is a good prep step to take care of some of the things a steam cleaner won’t do.
Find a hard surface that’s not permeable. A clean tile floor is good, or a sealed countertop. You want to be able to use steam liberally on the pillow without harming whatever’s underneath! Get yourself set up with your steam cleaner, wait for the water to heat up, and then place the pillow on the hard surface without the case on.
Need help finding a suitable steam cleaner? We suggest either a handheld or canister setup for taking care of pillows. Read about our canister recommendations here, or check out our handheld picks here.
Once your steamer is ready to go, start at the corners and work from edge to edge/ You want to cover every inch of the pillow with the steam spray. Work relatively slowly, so the steam can penetrate into the core of the pillow. Flip it over when you’ve finished a side, and repeat the process. Be sure to do the seams and outer edges as well as the main faces!
Steaming thoroughly like this will kill all the dust mites inside your pillow. It’ll also kill any bacteria or germs in there. While it won’t take deep stains out or wash out dead skin/oils, it should do a number to reduce allergens.
You can either air dry after steaming or use the dryer. Thankfully, steamed pillows don’t take very long to dry, especially if you can place them somewhere sunny.
When to use the washing machine
Steam cleaning achieves quite a few cleaning goals when it comes to your feather pillows, but it’s hardly a perfect solution. It eliminates dust mites, odors, and germs. There are a few things it won’t do, though, as we’ve just mentioned. So, if you have some deep stains to remove, a pillow that feels oily even after steaming, or a serious mildew problem, you may want to do a complete laundry cycle to get things back on track.
One of the reasons we like to steam clean feather pillows whenever possible is it’s simply easier. It’s a bit of a pain to do them in your average household washer/dryer. This procedure is best done in a washing machine without an agitator (central pillar in many older top-loading machines).
If you have an older top-loading washing machine, or a pillow that doesn’t fit well in the washer/dryer without severe folding, steaming is probably a better way to go. Don’t wash if there are any holes or open seams in the pillow cover, either! You’ll lose lots of feathers. Sew that up before washing, or stick to steaming.
If you can fit your pillows in relatively easily, and can curve them gently to fit the machine, you should be good to go. Position them vertically if you absolutely have to wash them in machine with agitator. It’s best to do two at once to maintain balance in a top-loading machine.
Use a delicate cycle, and don’t bother with too much soap. Hot water and the drying process will kill most things, and you’re really just washing the surface layers of stains and residue. Use an extra rinse cycle, if you can, since soap doesn’t come out of pillows as quickly as clothes.
General care tips
When you run feather pillows through a dryer, use dryer balls to prevent clumping. Take the pillow out and fluff it periodically so it doesn’t dry in a creased or bent shape. Make sure to dry the your pillow thoroughly before you replace the cases/covers, since an even slightly damp pillow will develop a musty smell.
While you shouldn’t need to do a complete wash more than once a year, regular steaming is a good preventive thing to do for feather pillows. You’ll keep the dust mite population from rebounding, and generally have a more sanitary sleep environment. You can also use impermeable covers, if you want to be absolutely sure of preventing dust mites.
Using an extra liner is always a good idea, even if you don’t have allergies. You’ll keep your pillows cleaner, longer! Just double a standard pillowcase.
Make sure your steam cleaner is completely up to temperature when you use it on pillows! You want the hottest, driest vapor, rather than a mist of water droplets.