How to Clean Pillows and Mattresses Naturally

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How to Clean Pillows Mattress

Learn how to clean pillows and how to clean a mattress to better protect your family from the dust mites, mold, and bacteria that build up in them over time.

It seems like no matter how hard I try to keep them clean, my pillows and mattresses end up with stains on them. Sweat? Dirt? Something else? Whatever it is, now you can clean them and keep them clean, naturally.

Pillows Need To Be Washed and Cleaned

The bad news is, pillows get dirty. Between sweat, oil, dust mites, mold, and bacteria pillows take a beating. The good news is, sunlight and hot water are great weapons in the fight against mites, mold, and bacteria.

Dust mites live in the dust of a room (be it as clean as possible) and, especially, in beddings, pillows and mattresses, carpets and upholstered furniture.[1]

How to Clean Pillows

Note: for prevention of the accumulation of mites, mold, and bacteria, give your pillow a fluff every day. Also, we recommend taking them outside to fluff so whatever comes out doesn’t end up back on your bed.

The first step is to wash them. Next, we’ll hang them out in the sun. And lastly, we’ll look at cleaning stubborn stains the washing machine can’t get.

How to Wash Pillows

Most pillows, unless marked otherwise, are machine washable, so throw it in the wash. However, you should always wash pillows in pairs (2 at a time) to balance the load. Also, fill the wash basin with water and soap and allow soap to mix in thoroughly before adding pillows. This keeps detergent from forming clumps in the filling. Lastly, if you dry them in a dryer, use the no heat setting so you don’t singe the filling material.

Washing Latex and Memory Foam Pillows

With the exception of latex and memory foam pillows, which cannot be laundered in a washing machine, washing instructions are generally the same. To wash stains on these pillows we recommend spot cleaning using the process below, then hanging in the sun.

Washing Polyester and Down Feather Pillows

Wash pillows in hot water on the gentle cycle. Use a tablespoon of laundry detergent, and remember to dissolve the detergent in water before throwing pillows in the wash.

Clean Pillows by Hanging In The Sun

Because sunlight is such a powerful ally in the fight against mold, mites, and bacteria, we recommend hanging your pillows in the sun once each month. To illustrate, hang them on the clothesline for several hours. Otherwise, you can hang them on a drying rack for the same amount of time. Simply pop it out on the patio on a sunny day and let the sun do the rest.

How to Remove Stains from Pillows

Now let’s talk about how to clean pillows with stubborn stains that don’t come out in the wash or the sun.

  1. First, dampen the area lightly. Don’t saturate through to the stuffing, just get the surface damp.
  2. Next, sprinkle baking soda over the damp area. Rub in with a stiff brush, like a toothbrush if the area is small.
  3. Then, spray the area with distilled white vinegar. It will bubble and foam. After the reaction, wait until it’s dry and brush/vacuum it off, or wipe off as much as you can while it’s damp, and vacuum once dry.
  4. When the excess is cleaned off, then toss them in the washer or wash by hand. Hang in the sun to line dry if you can. The sun will help to fade some of the stains if the pillows are left there for a while.
  5. If the stains are really bad, you may need to do this more than once.

This pillow cleaning method should take care of most sweat and oil stains. Should you forget to wash it off before bed, this method also works on makeup stains. That has happened to me a time or two.

How to Clean a Mattress

Now that we’ve learned how to clean pillows let’s learn how to clean a mattress.

Mattresses are harder to clean because they’re so big. You can try, but you may have trouble fitting them in the washing machine. Tee hee. Because of this we simply recommend using the same method as above.

  1. First, dampen the area lightly.
  2. Next, sprinkle the damp area with baking soda and rub in with a stiff brush.
  3. Then, spray the area with distilled white vinegar. After the reaction, wait until it’s dry and brush/vacuum it off, or wipe off as much as you can while it’s damp, and vacuum once dry.
  4. Once cleaned, prop your mattress up in the sun for several hours. The sun will help to fade the stains.
  5. Repeat if necessary.

Sometimes mattresses are subjected to a bit more wear. Sweat and oil are only part of the problem. They can get stains from mud, urine, blood, and all sorts of things. Ick. The method above will take care of some stains, but these others may take a bit more work.

How to Clean a Mattress with Stubborn Stains

This solution will help take care of the stubborn stains the above method left behind.


  • 8 ounces hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon liquid soap.


  1. Mix together well and pour into a spray bottle.
  2. Spray over the surface of the stain and let sit 20 minutes or so.
  3. Blot with a towel and brush off as much as you can and let dry.
  4. Repeat if necessary.

The baking soda helps absorb stains and odors while the peroxide helps lighten the appearance of stains.

Bonus Tip: Placing the mattress in the sun and spraying lightly with lemon juice will also help to lighten the stains.

Preventing Soiled Pillow and Mattress

After you get the pillows and mattress clean, or when you have new ones, preventing the stains from happening in the first place will help lengthen their life. Here are a few ways to do it:

Mite-Proof Pillow Protectors and Mattress Pads

To help decrease the number of dust mites encase mattresses, box springs, and pillows with mite-proof covers.[2]

I have an all cotton mattress pad that I use under my sheets. It’s fairly thick and washable. You can get waterproof pads, but they usually have a plastic layer that can make you sweat, exacerbating the problem. Pillow protectors are usually plastic as well, so I use two pillowcases together. (Find cotton, mite-proof pillow protectors here.) (Find cotton, mite-proof mattress covers here.)

Cotton Sheets and Pillowcases

Polyester is a plastic product and can make you sweat. Cotton or linen are natural fibers that can help your body to breathe. Newer natural fabrics include hemp and bamboo. It pays to read the labels.

Skip the Spray-On Products

While some products like Scotchgard™ may help to protect your investment, they can do more harm than good. Most are petroleum products and some contain plastics and other harmful ingredients.

Shower or Bathe Before Bed

I know I’m guilty! I work all day, come home dead tired, and fall into bed without taking a shower. If I were outside gardening, the garden comes inside and ends up in my bed. I swear I’ll change the sheets in the morning, but by then the damage is done and the stains happen. Makeup will do the same to your pillow.

Most stains on pillows and mattresses can be avoided, but if you can’t, at least now you can clean them!

Do you know how to clean pillows in other ways? Do you have other ideas for how to clean a mattress? Share them!



  1. Mircea Cinteza. House Dust Mite – The Paradox. Dec 2014. PubMed.
  2. Paula J. Busse, MD. Dust Mite-Proof Pillow Cover. June 2010. MedlinePlus.

About Debra Maslowski

Debra is a master gardener, a certified herbalist, a natural living instructor, and more. She taught Matt and Betsy how to make soap so they decided to bring her on as a staff writer! Debra recently started an organic herb farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can even purchase her handmade products on Amazon!

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  1. Michele Moore says

    Hello, here in New Zealand most people wash using an automatic washing machine – haha, not like the old days – but we all hang all our washing out on the clothesline to dry, checking the weather first of course. This contributes to our amazingly healthy life-style. We take our exercise outside as the climate is fairly mild all year round. Still, the feather and down pillows need a hand fluffing as they dry outside and later a final fluffing in the drier. Duvets need the same.

  2. Alexandra Smith says

    Here in the UK sunlight is often not so strong as elsewhere so I tend to put my pillows and duvets in the dryer to freshen them and remove any dust. It also fluffs up the material. I’m going to try some of your remedies above as we have an old nervous cat who pees on things when she gets upset and I’ve tried numerous products already which don’t really work.

    Thank you.