How to spring clean your pillows and bed sheets — get rid of dust mites, bed bugs and smells

 A woman with red fingernails holds a stack of clean, fluffy pillows after they have had a big spring clean.
A woman with red fingernails holds a stack of clean, fluffy pillows after they have had a big spring clean.

Spring is on its way, so whilst you’re planning your spring cleaning schedule, you may be wondering how to wash pillows and bed sheets to get them smelling and feeling as fresh as possible. Over time, sweat and natural skin oils can soak through your pillows, mattress protector and bed sheets, so you’ll need to give them a big deep clean to ensure they're hygienic for sleeping on. Otherwise, you could be inviting in all sorts of nasties such as dust mites, mold, bacteria and even bed bugs.

Bed bugs feast on your blood and can really irritate your skin, causing you to scratch all night long. The same goes for dust mites – they can trigger allergy-like symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, or sore throats. Washing your pillows on a regular basis helps stop the build-up of bacteria that can cause breakouts, skin inflammation and itching.

Here we walk you through how to spring clean your pillows and bed sheets, including techniques and the products you need. If you're looking to revamp your sleep space ready for spring and need a new bed our guide to 2024's best mattresses for all sleepers and budgets contains our top recommendations.

How to spring clean microfiber pillows

One of the things that puts people off washing their pillows is that they don’t think that they can be washed in the washing machine. Many of this year's best pillows are made from microfiber and the great thing about this pillow material is that it can be machine-washed.

Microfiber pillows over time attract dirt, sweat and allergens so regular cleaning won’t only keep those at bay but they’ll also prolong the life of your pillow. However, before you set about the process, do read the care label of your particular pillow to ensure that you can follow these steps when spring cleaning. This is the same advice we share when explaining how to clean a mattress.

1. Remove any pillow protectors

Pillow protectors are something that you should consider if you don’t already have them. Pillow protectors act as an extra shield against sweat, oils and little pests like dust mites from getting in to your pillow. You can also machine was your pillow protectors on a more regular basis to really keep your bed fresh.

2. Pre-treat stains and smells

Pillows attract stains, it’s normal and natural so don’t worry if you see stains pop up. However, if you have stubborn or deep stains, it’s best to pre-treat these before you pop them in the washing machine.

A person wearing pink disposable gloves cleans yellow stains from a white pillow
A person wearing pink disposable gloves cleans yellow stains from a white pillow

To do this mix together equal parts of water, laundry detergent and white vinegar. Use a clean cloth to dab the area, you need enough to make it wet but not soaked.

Rub the stains to try and lift the stains and repeat the process until the stains are removed. At this point, you could just leave your pillows to air dry, however, if you want to give your pillows a good through wash, move on to the next step.

3. Place pillows in the washing machine

Microfiber pillows wash really well in the washing machine but you do need to make sure you choose the right setting. The wool cycle is the best cycle for microfiber pillows, and you don’t want the water too hot, instead, it should be warm so keep to around 30 degrees. Plus, be sure not to overload your machine – we recommend washing just two pillows at a time.

4. Reduce the amount of detergent

You may think plenty of soap is best, but use around a third of the amount of detergent that you would typically use for a load. And set your machine to run an additional rinse cycle at the end. This is to avoid any detergent buildup that may cause the filling to clump together.

5. Dry your pillow fully before using it

Depending on your pillow, you should be able to place them in the tumble drier on a low heat setting. The care label attached to your pillow should be able to confirm this.

However, if it states no tumble drier or you don’t have one, then leave your pillow to air dry. This isn’t a quick process, so before you decide to clean your pillows be sure to make sure you have enough time to ensure they can be thoroughly dried before you place them back on your bed.

When air drying your pillows, place them in a warm position and rotate them regularly to make sure that the moisture doesn’t just sink to one side. It’s really important to make sure that your pillows are fully dried before you sleep on them as if they remain damp, mold and mildew can develop.

How to spring clean down pillows

It’s pretty easy to wash a down pillow. However, there are some steps you need to know when it comes to drying them. It’s always best to check the manufacturer’s care instructions so that you can ensure that you keep within the specific guidelines for your pillow of choice.

A washing machine running with two pillows stacked on a laundry hamper next to it
A washing machine running with two pillows stacked on a laundry hamper next to it

1. Check the pillow for rips

When you remove your pillow case and or protector, always check your down pillow for any rips or tears. If you don’t do this, then you risk a washing machine full of feathers.

2. Pop the pillows in the washing machine

You can, if you want, hand wash your pillows, but this takes so much more time so it’s best to use your washing machine to wash your down pillows. To balance your washing machine, it’s best to wash two pillows at one time.

3. Use mild detergent and set the cycle

As with microfiber pillows, limit the amount of detergent that you use. This will stop the build-up of residue and prevent the filling from clumping together, which will leave your pillows lumpy and uncomfortable. If your pillow is suffering from odors or staining, then you may want to add a cup of white vinegar to your machine to tackle those problems.

When picking the right setting, use a cool or warm water cycle, between between 40° and 60° is perfect, and we would recommend selecting the delicate setting if you have one on your machine. This will wash your pillows on a slow spin cycle and help to avoid damage to the filling.

4. Get drying and grab a tennis ball

When your pillows have been through the wash cycle, transfer to your tumble dryer. Drying your down pillow won’t be a quick experience so this may take a couple of cycles to make sure it’s fully dry.

You may want to add a tennis ball or two (or a drying ball if you have one). This will speed up the drying time and help plump up the filling. Also, in between each cycle, take the pillows out and hand fluff them to make sure that the feathers move around and aren’t clumped together.

How to spring clean bed sheets 

We spend a lot of time in bed, and that means that our bed sheets are subject to dirt, dead skin cells, body oils, sweat, and other bodily secretions. So, as a general rule, you should wash your bedsheets at least once a week. This will keep them feeling and looking as clean and fresh as possible.

If you’re not cleaning your bed sheets regularly, then you’re putting your health and your quality of sleep at risk. Not washing your sheets can cause allergies, asthma, skin breakouts, and even more serious conditions such as ringworm as well as attracting dust mites, and bed bugs.

Here’s how to clean your sheets properly.

1. Strip every part of the bed

Remove everything from the mattress protector to the pillowcases. Be sure to read the product label carefully just to make sure there are no specific care instructions that you need to adhere to.

Bed linens crumpled on a white mattress
Bed linens crumpled on a white mattress

2. Load your washing machine

Next, add your bedding to your washing machine. Now, we know we should be washing our clothes on a cooler setting for environmental reasons, but when it comes to bedding, the hotter the better. Unless otherwise instructed via the care label, wash your sheets at 60°C, this will help kill off any bacteria and dust mites that are hanging around.

3. Use a gentle detergent and avoid fabric conditioner

Use a mild detergent when it comes to washing your sheets. This will stop any damage to the fabric of your bed sheets and help avoid any irritation to sensitive skin. While fabric conditioner smells amazing, it’s best to be avoided when it comes to cleaning your bed sheets.

Fabric conditioners can leave a thick layer of residue on your sheets and actually stop them from getting clean. Fabric conditioners also weaken the fibers of the fabric, which could lead to having to replace your sheets earlier than you may like.

4. Vacuum the mattress – top and sides

Once your sheets are in the washing machine, use this opportunity to vacuum your mattress. This will help remove any dust mites or bed bugs that have made their home in your mattress. Make sure you really go into the crevices to get every part of the mattress.

5.  Dry your bedding

Both air drying and tumble drying are fine for bedding. It really comes down to how much time you have to dry your bedding, whether you have the weather to air dry your bedding, and whether you’re able to dry it indoors without creating excess humidity.

Reasons to clean sheets often

Without a regular cleaning schedule, our beds can become a hotspot for bacteria, bodily oils, sweat and even bed bugs. Not washing your bedding on a regular basis can lead to unsightly stains, bad odors and can increase allergies and the risk of skin infections. If you have pets that you let on the bed, your sheets should be changed at least every three to four days. During summer months, change your sheets more often as we you'll be sweating more.

If you tumble dry your bedding then do so on a low-heat setting to reduce any wrinkles and stop any signs of excess wear. High heat can often damage elastics in fabrics so you may find that sheets are baggy and don’t fit as snug as they once did. The benefit of tumble drying your sheets is that the heat will destroy any dust mites or bed bugs that may still be hanging on after the wash.

If your bedding is made using linen or silk, it’s best to air dry your sheets. This method does take longer than a tumble drier but is more gentle on your clothes. If you want to speed up drying times, look at investing in one of the best dehumidifiers, which can draw excess moisture out of the air and help to dry clothes and bedding quickly.

And then there is line drying. There is nothing nicer than the fresh smell of bringing your clothes in from the washing line. Sunlight also has a natural bleaching effect, so great if you have white sheets. Plus, UV rays can help to kill any bacteria that’s left behind on the sheets after washing.

Fabrics such as cotton can also benefit from being line-dried as it will naturally reduce the wrinkles that occur after washing. However, if you suffer from allergies, especially non the summer months, then line drying does heighten the risk of pollen getting stuck on the fabrics which can be disastrous for hay fever sufferers.

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