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How to Wash Bed Sheets, Pillows and Bedding Essentials

Below, we walk through the cleaning process for different bedding essentials and explain how to wash bed sheets, pillows, comforters, mattresses and more.
How to Wash: Bed Sheets, Pillows and Other Bedding Essentials Graphic

Getting Started

If you can't remember the last time you washed your bed sheets, pillows and mattress pad, it's time to clean them. Many people put off washing their bedding essentials because they don't know how to do it properly, but it's not that hard—and you're probably not cleaning them as often as you should be.
Washing Your Bed Sheets: You should be washing your sheets once a week, or at least once every two weeks, to get rid of dead skin cells and other things that can attract dust mites. Graphic

How to Wash Bed Sheets

You should be washing your sheets once a week, or at least once every two weeks, to get rid of dead skin cells and other things that can attract dust mites. Fortunately, the process for washing your bedding is relatively simple.
  • Pre-treat any stains if necessary. If there aren't any stains on your sheets, there's no need to pre-treat them. They can just go directly in the washing machine.
  • Place your sheets in the wash, taking care not to overload the washer so the sheets will get thoroughly cleaned. Don't wrap the sheets around the agitator in the middle of the top load washer. Just lay them separately in the bottom, without overlap, so they don't get tangled up during the wash cycle.
  • Try to only wash sheets with other similarly colored sheets. Washing them with different colors can cause the dye to bleed onto the lighter set of sheets. Washing sheets with towels can cause little lint balls to get all over the sheets.
  • Choose the "sheets" setting if your washing machine has it. If not, the normal, regular or colors cycle is perfectly fine. These cycles use cooler water and will lead to less wrinkling. You only need to select "heavy duty" if your sheets are very soiled. If your sheets aren't made of cotton, check the label for any special care instructions before starting the cycle.
  • Add detergent to the washing machine following the manufacturer's instructions. If your washing machine doesn't have a dispenser, add the detergent directly to the drum. Make sure not to add too much detergent as the excess soap can wear the sheets down faster. You may also want to add fabric softener to your load.
  • If you're washing a new set of sheets and they're a bit stiff, you can soften them up by adding one full cup of baking soda and one-half cup of vinegar to the washing machine instead of detergent.
  • Wait for the wash cycle to complete and then transfer the new sheets to dryer quickly so mold doesn't have time to develop. Make sure they're not tangled together, as this increases the odds that the sheets will get balled up and dry unevenly.
  • Choose a low or medium heat setting, as higher temperatures will put more wear on your sheets. Dry your sheets for the minimum amount of time necessary. Overdrying your sheets will also cause them to wear down. Use a dryer sheet for extra softness.
  • Remove the sheets from the dryer in a timely manner to prevent wrinkling. Remake the bed and then enjoy your freshly washed sheets!
Washing Your Pillows: You should be washing the pillow itself about every six months. You should also hang your pillow outside in the sunlight once a month or run them through the dryer on a no-heat cycle. Graphic

How to Wash Pillows

When's the last time you washed your pillows? We thought so. Your pillowcase doesn't protect your pillow as much as you think, so you should be washing the pillow itself about every six months. You should also hang your pillows outside in the sunlight once a month or run them through the dryer on a no-heat cycle.
  • Before washing the pillow, check the label first. Most pillows are fine to wash at home, though a few may be dry clean only. Memory foam or latex pillows cannot be washed and must be steamed instead.
  • Remove the cover from the pillows and wash it separately with sheets, following the above instructions.
  • Place the pillows in the washing machine. It's better to wash the pillows in a machine that doesn't have an agitator (the spindle in the middle). If that's not an option, place the pillows vertically on either side of the agitator.
  • Choose a warm, delicate/gentle cycle. Add your detergent and make sure it thoroughly mixes in the water so you won't end up with any sticky soap patches on your pillows. If you have down pillows, a powder detergent or soap specifically designed for down is your best bet.
  • Place the pillows in the dryer. Down or feather pillows should be dried on the no-heat setting. Other pillows can be dried on moderate heat. Put a couple of dryer balls or clean tennis balls in the dryer to help break up any clumps in the pillows. Dry the pillows for as long as necessary until they're dry all the way through. This may take an hour or more.
  • Remove the pillows from the dryer and give them a quick fluff.
washing your comforter graphic

How to Wash a Comforter or Duvet

You should wash your comforter two or three times a year. If your comforter or duvet insert is too large for your at-home washing machine, take it to a large commercial washer at a laundromat instead. Otherwise, the filling might get crushed or distorted.
  • If you have a duvet, remove the duvet cover and wash according to the label's instructions. There's no point in washing your duvet insert if you're not going to wash the cover, too.
  • Check the label before washing your comforter. Most are washing machine safe, but a few may include materials like silk or wool that are better handled by a dry cleaner.
  • Spot treat any stains before washing. Take care of any torn seams, loose threads or other tears to avoid further damage in the wash.
  • Gently place the comforter into the washing machine. Don't cram it in—if it won't fit, take it to a laundromat.
  • Unless the tag indicates otherwise, choose a delicate/gentle cycle with cool water. However, if you have dust mites, you'll want to select a hot temperature to get rid of them. Add an extra rinse cycle if you would like.
  • Add your detergent, sticking with a mild or unscented version to avoid irritating your sinuses.
  • Place two tennis balls in the washing machine–one on each side–to help balance out the load.
  • Wait for the wash cycle to run its course.
  • Transfer the comforter and the tennis balls to the dryer. Dry on low heat for several hours until no dampness remains. Check every 20-30 minutes to fluff the comforter and undo any bunches that form.
cleaning your mattress graphic

How to Clean a Mattress

Like pillows, mattresses should be cleaned every six months. You can't put it in the washing machine like you can with your sheets, but with the help of a vacuum and some cleaning supplies, you'll have a clean mattress in no time.
  • Strip everything off the mattress: pillows, sheets, comforter, mattress pad, etc. Wash them according to the instructions listed here. You don't want to put dirty sheets back on a mattress you've just cleaned.
  • Vacuum the mattress to remove dust, dead skin cells and anything else that may have accumulated on the mattress.
  • If there are any stains on the mattress, spot treat them with a stain remover. Don't oversaturate the stain as it's hard to get liquid out of mattresses. Use a clean cloth with cold water to break up the stain and soak up the stain remover.
  • After all the stains are removed and the mattress has dried, sprinkle baking soda over the top of the mattress. The baking soda will absorb moisture and odors. If the weather is nice, open the windows to let the sunshine in. The UV rays will also help to kill bacteria.
  • Leave the soda on the mattress for several hours, or overnight.
  • Vacuum up all the baking soda until the mattress is clean again.
  • If possible, flip the mattress and repeat on the other side. If your mattress has a pillowtop and can't be flipped, rotate it so you'll be lying on the opposite side.
  • Replace the mattress protector or pad. Put the fitted sheet over it and finish making the bed.
cleaning your mattress pad graphic

How to Clean a Mattress Pad or Protector

While you're cleaning your mattress, you might as well wash your mattress pad, too. Mattress pads protect your mattress from stains and are much easier to clean than the mattress itself. They should be spot-treated for stains and then loaded into the washing machine. Here's how to clean different kinds of mattress pads:
  • Cotton: Place in the washing machine. Select a cool water temperature and a normal cycle and then add mild detergent. Once the washing cycle is done, transfer the mattress pad to the dryer and add a couple of clean tennis balls or dryer balls. Dry on low heat until no dampness remains.
  • Vinyl-backed: Select a warm or cool wash cycle according to the tag and let the machine fill with water. Add detergent and thoroughly mix it in the water. Don't use fabric softener as the chemicals can eat through the vinyl. Submerge the mattress pad in the water and make sure nothing is floating. Once the washing cycle is done, transfer the mattress pad to the dryer and dry on the lowest setting possible. It may take several cycles until the mattress pad is dry.
  • Down or feathers: Check for any tears or openings and mend those first so feathers don't get all over your washing machine. Use a front load washing machine if at all possible. Many people find that the agitators in top load washers can tear up the mattress pad. Choose a delicate/gentle cycle with cool water and then add mild detergent. Rinse the pad twice to ensure all the detergent is out. Dry on low heat until no dampness remains. Check every 15-20 minutes to fluff the mattress pad and smooth out any lumps that form.
  • Memory foam: Vacuum up any dust or debris and then spot-remove stains. If your memory foam mattress topper has a fabric covering, you can cover it with baking soda just like the mattress and let it sit for several hours. Then, vacuum away the baking soda. If that won't work, create a solution of non-sudsing detergent and water and spritz it over the mattress topper. Choose a detergent that doesn't need to be rinsed so you can just let the mattress topper dry instead of trying to rinse it out.
  • Egg crate: If the care label says your egg crate mattress pad can be washed in a machine, choose a large or commercial washer to avoid crushing it. Don't put it in a washing machine with an agitator as this will tear up the egg crate foam. Choose a delicate/gentle cycle with cool water and then add mild detergent. Lay flat to dry. You can carefully roll it to squeeze out some of the water if necessary.
Whether it's washing your sheets once a week or cleaning your mattress every six months, taking proper care of your bedding essentials will help keep your bedroom clean and prolong the life of your bed and its accessories. If you put off washing your bed sheets and pillows because your washing machine isn't big enough, it might be time for an upgrade. Check out our video on what to look for when shopping for a washing machine or browse our full selection of washing machines.