What Really Happens to Your Skin If You Don't Wash Your Pillowcases

If you’ve ever wondered how to wash pillows without damaging them, you’re not alone. In fact, many people (sometimes us included) are so worried about ruining them in the machine that we skip cleaning our pillows altogether. According to Dr. Melissa K. Levin, M.D., a founding dermatologist at New York City’s Entière Dermatology, this is a terrible idea. “Pillows have been shown to be a breeding ground for bacteria due to the accumulation of makeup, dust, oil, sebum, and dead skin cells,” she says. “While it is beneficial to change your pillowcase regularly, it is not a substitute for removing makeup and washing your face before bed.”

So how often should you be washing your pillows and pillowcases? Dr. Levin explains, “I recommend that pillowcases should be washed at least once weekly, and the face should be washed nightly before sleeping.” You don’t need to do anything special when washing your pillowcases; just throw them in with your sheets. That is unless your pillowcases are silk. “Silk pillowcases have been promoted to cause less friction and potentially can result in fewer wrinkles, especially for those who sleep on their sides or face,” Dr. Levin notes. If you're cleaning a silk pillowcase turn it inside out and place it in a mesh washing bag before running it through your machine's delicate cycle on cold.

As for the pillows, washing them two to four times per year will do, but cleaning them is a bit more of a process than that of your pillowcases.

What You’ll Need

  • Laundry detergent

  • Stain pre-treatment spray

  • Dryer balls (or tennis balls)

How to Wash Pillows

1. Check the pillow cover for any noticeable stains and spray them with a laundry pre-treatment. Let sit for 15 minutes.

2. Place pillows in the drum of your washing machine. Always wash two pillows at a time, if possible—this keeps the machine from becoming unbalanced.

3. Add a small amount of detergent to the dispenser. (No, more detergent won’t make the pillows cleaner; it’ll just leave more residue behind.)

4. Wash in warm water and add an extra rinse cycle to make sure that any excess detergent gets removed.

5. After the cycle is complete, put the pillows in the dryer with a couple of dryer balls (or tennis balls). This keeps the fill from clumping up so you end up with extra-fluffy pillows.

6. Dry the pillows for about an hour on low-to-medium heat for fiberfill, or extra-low or no heat for down fill.

7. When the dryer is done, take the pillows out and check for any remaining moisture by squeezing them firmly in a few different areas. (Putting even slightly damp pillows back on your bed can result in mildew, so you’ll want to make sure they’re really dry!) Keep drying in 30-minute increments as necessary.

8. To keep your newly-clean pillows fresh, use a pillow protector under the pillowcase and allow the pillow to air out occasionally. And, of course, wash them again in no more than six months.

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