How To Wash & Whiten Yellowed Pillows

washing pillows

At first I hesitated doing this post because it teeters precariously close to over-sharing…but the more research I did, and the more I asked around, I realized that pillows that become yellow over time is a pretty common thing!

One of the most common reasons why pillows can turn yellow is sweat. Even when you’re sleeping your body continues to sweat to keep your body at a comfortable temperature. Depending on the type of fabric your pillowcase is made from, sweat can seep through the fabric. As the sweat dries, it can leave a yellow stain on the pillow. Even if you use pillow COVERS underneath your pillow CASES, the yellowing can still occur.

In the past when the yellowing got really bad, I would simply toss the pillow and buy a new one. But I hated doing that because the pillow was still perfectly good. Recently I came across an old article from Martha Stewart Living that suggested pillows should be WASHED at least twice a year. Wow. I hope I’m not the ONLY one who didn’t know that! I have washed an occasional pillow in the past but usually because something was spilled on it.

After I read Martha’s suggestion I decided to take it to heart and set out on a mission to systematically wash all the pillows in the house, and since I was going to the trouble…I decided to address the YELLOWING issue at the same time. I decided to give them the “Miracle Laundry Whitening Solution” treatment. You can CLICK HERE to read all about it, but basically it involves the following ingredients:


washing pillows


  • HOT HOT HOT water
  • 1 cup of laundry detergent
  • 1 cup powdered dishwasher detergent
  • 1 cup bleach (you could try “A Natural Bleach Alternative if you are opposed to chlorine bleach)
  • 1/2 cup borax

Not only did the whole pillow-washing process turn out to be much easier than I anticipated, it worked like a CHARM!  

Just look at these “BEFORE” and “AFTER” pictures! It’s almost like my poor pillows were just WAITING for me to rescue them! ;-)


washing pillows


WASHING {and whitening} your pillows:

  • Check the care label to confirm that your pillow (down or synthetic) can be machine washed – most can be.
  • Remove the pillow case and any pillow protector
  • Fill the washing machine about 1/3 full with HOT water (I even added a couple of pans full of boiling water).
  • Add all the ingredients in the Miracle Laundry Whitening Solution (or, if you’re just looking to wash your pillows, add your detergent now) then start the machine and allow it to agitate for a few minutes to makes sure all the detergent dissolves before adding the pillows.


washing pillows

  • Once the detergent is dissolved, add the pillow(s), and then allow the washer to fiil the rest of the way with HOT water. I washed two pillows at a time, which helped balance the load when it came time for the spin cycle.


washing pillows

  • Agitate the pillows for several minutes, then turn the pillows OVER to allow the top side to get the full effect of agitating in the HOT water. Agitate for several minutes more.


washing pillows

  • Put your machine on the 2nd rinse cycle or just run it through twice manually.


DRYING your pillows:

  • For down and feathers, use the air cycle. For synthetics, use the low heat setting.


washing pillows

  • Place the pillow(s) in the dryer, add a couple of tennis balls covered in clean socks or a few Homemade Dryer Balls to help FLUFF the pillows as they tumble dry. (If it’s a nice day you could also set them outside in the sun to dry!)


washing pillows


Now isn’t that just about a thousand times better!?!? :-)  



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  1. says

    I’ve found that the Cloralex(spanish bleach) works best for me. I’m not sure what the difference in it and regular Clorox but it just works better for me. :-)
    Now that I know we can vote everyday, I’ll be voting till the end!!

    • B. Lewenza says

      I do wash my pillows at least twice a year, but in between washes I also steam my bed and do the pillows at the same time just to freshen them up. I like to mist my pillow with lavender before I go to sleep, that’s why the over kill.

        • Natasha M says

          Hi, I also have a front loading machine, I seem to be washing my pillows (down and synthetic) loads lately as kids have been poorly. I’ve always put them in the washing machine (2 at a time to balance the load) with regular bio powder and fabric softner, just like any other load, on a 60*c wash. Then put them in the tumble dryer on the longest cycle and, just to be sure, in the airing cupboard overnight.
          That’s always got rid of the yellowing and any other marks. The down pillows come out fluffier and better than new. The synthetic ones vary, the wadding in cheap ones seems to go lumpy whereas the expensive ones are fine but no more plumped up than when they go in!
          I am going to try dryer balls and see if that helps. Not sure about bleach, I’m tempted from a ‘clean’ point of view, but not sure if it would leave a bleachy smell? May try it on mine before I try it on the kids pillows. Great website, thanks!

            • Jessica says

              I agree – Vinegar is great for whitening and softening just about everything including pillows. Just use your normal detergent and add vinegar in the softener spot. It really works great, is super cheap, and takes out even the worst odors.

              When I wash my pillows I put them on the hottest setting (we have a sanitize mode), add detergent and vinegar, and rinse twice. They come out nice and white every time.

          • says

            the manufacturers usually say not to use fabric softener on down and feathers. it coats the feather fibers and can make them LESS fluffy over time. but, what about using the white vinegar? that’d work great, ill bet. I also use shampoo for oily hair to wash mine occasionally as it is formulated to remove body oils. this also works on collars of light colored shirts really well. my comforter gets the shampoo treatment along the upper edge that touches our faces, BEFORE I take it to the Laundromat to the big machine. try watering it down just a bit if its a very thick shampoo and it will spread better. thanks for all you great remedies, jillee.

      • Melissa H says

        You could always dissolve the mixture in a pot of boiling water and then add it to the washer at the same time as the pillows on a delicate cycle ( on my brand of machine the delicate agitates for a few minutes at a time pauses and repeats the process for around 15 minutes ) and let the machine do its job. I have washed my pillows with another recipe close to this one the only difference is I have never added the powdered dishwasher detergent and they have always turned out a lot better than before washing but never completely the same color as new. I have tried this recipe and they came out almost new looking. Its a great recipe!

    • angie says

      warning….Just be careful if your pillows are OLD feather pillows. I was washing one for an older lady friend of mine and it was so old that the material was rotten. It ripped open and I ended up with my front loader full of feathers. WHAT A MESS….

    • Sydney says

      Hey there! I did this with my HE front loader. Here is my alteration:

      - liquid laundry detergent to the 3rd line in the cup (Tide Cold Water)
      - 2 tablets Finish dishwasher detergent (had the little red ball in it)
      - 1 cup Clorox Bleach

      I left out the Borax since I didn’t have any in the house at the time.
      Because our hot water heater was under-performing, I used a kettle of boiling water in a pitcher, then dumped in the three ingredients above. I put the pillows in the washer, then dumped this in. The two pillows were in really bad shape – an embarrassing shade of dark yellow/light brown – and they came out white again. Not quite new looking, but close enough. I will be running them through again to see if they can be brought back to that new white shade.

      This concoction had a LOT of bubbles, so I set it to extra rinse and ran the machine through a second normal wash with Tide detergent in the Detergent section of the dispenser tray and vinegar added to the Fabric Softener section of the dispenser tray. The hot water and the massive level of bubbles did not hurt the machine (seemed to help it as the mildew smell is gone now in the machine). As our hot water doesn’t hold out long enough to fill the tub, I had to use the washing machine, and it worked just fine. Maybe if I had let it sit for a while in the machine it would have gotten them back to that new white shade, but they are now hard to tell apart from the new pillows we got just after Christmas.

      My final step was three small balls of aluminum foil in the dryer on medium heat to dry the two pillows. They are just as fluffy as the brand new pillows (same kind so great for comparison). I just set the dryer for extra dry/towels on the moisture sensor setting and they came out perfectly dry all the way through.

    • Skye says

      I have the same thing Melissa. I plan to throw in the ingredients, let the washer lock and agitate to dissolve, then I have the feature to “pause”, which unlocks my lids after a few seconds. I would think you have some way of unlocking the lid.

        • SUZANNE says

          Hi Brenda, I think such a strong mix would be lethal for all the good bacteria in your septic and it would be safer to discharge that water elsewhere, if possible. That might be too complicated. Perhaps you can get expert advice about the dishwashing powder and borax combined and let us know too!

          • Lisa M says

            If Borax was bad for your septic system, wouldn’t all the other more toxic chemicals we use on a daily basis be worse?…ie; toilet bowl cleaners etc. I have never heard anyone being concerned with not being able to flush or pour chemicals down your sink. Bleach in itself kills bacteria.

            • Christine says

              I wouldn’t flush borax or bleach down your drains if they are indeed hooked up to your septic tank. We’ve had them nearly all of my life & I knew never to use bleach or any cleaner that didn’t state on it “safe for septic systems”. These chemicals could destroy the bacteria in the tank needed to break down the waste & keep your septic tank running smoothly. We also flush a small cake of yeast crumbled up every few months.

            • Amanda says

              For the vinegar and baking soda alternative, are they used in the same proportions as the bleach and borax?

              Will this also work to restore the whiteness in my husband’s undershirts and socks?

          • Laura says

            Replenish the good bacteria that you need in your septic system by doing a “RID” treatment…this should fix the good bacteria level while you’re sleeping on your fresh pillows!

        • says


        • Shannon says

          Hi Brenda! Not sure if you are even still following this post. In most places it is not “code” for your washing machine and shower drains to be hooked up to your septic just for this reason. You should have a totally separate drain for this. Ours runs out to the back of our property. Hope this helps.

  2. Lee says

    For front loader just dissolve everything in HOT water in a big pitcher or something. Then load, pour in your mixture, fill with water then pause it, wait a bit, unpause it, let it run a minute or so and pause it again. That way it can soak and do its miracle thing. :)

  3. amy says

    Mary this will also work on pillowcases or other whites you have that need brightening up.

    Personally, I have an old top loader, but there were lots of comments on Jillee’s miracle whitening solution about soaking the items in a wash tub or the bathtub wringing and then washing in the washer to finish it up. If I remember correctly that is the method those with front loaders were using.

  4. Joy says

    This is such great information. I look forward to trying this. I’m wondering if your machine had any problem handling the spin cycle? Seems that mine, which is only 4 months old, will “TILT” when something very absorbent is in the Spin cycle. Have you had any issues with this? Thank you!

  5. Jennifer says

    Great timing, I already planned on washing some pillows today. I have a HE top loader and I’m going to use the bulky cycle (it has a higher water level) to wash the pillows. It will be the first bed pillows since getting my HE washer. It worked well with pillows from the couch.
    Have a Great Day everyone!!

  6. Chris says

    I am looking forward to trying this in my HE front loader. I’m glad someone mentioned using the bulky setting. I will try that. I look forward every week to reading your tips and love you!!!!!

    • Ann says

      I use my tub all the time to soak large items. I have a He machine and I get much better results using a bathtub soak. I use oxyclean and only the hot water tap to dissolve. Then add my pillows (2-3at a time) and slosh around. Adding hot water if I need to add more for a total soak. I leave for about 2 hours. 1 hr minimum (per previous Jillee recommendation). Then drain, wring out most of the water and wash normally in washing machine.

    • Alicia says

      It is very much worth the money to buy a small box of the dishwasher detergent. I use both the whitening solution and the liquid laundry detergent and love them both!

      P.S. I also do not have a diswasher.

      • Sydney says

        I have a dishwasher, but use the dishwasher detergent for soaking the lasagna pans and things that get the worst burnt/stuck on food. It needs less soak time and way less elbow grease to get clean than regular dish soap. I just wear rubber gloves when I do this to avoid dried/cracking hands because the dishwasher detergent is more harsh on skin.

    • Angela says

      totally worth it. Hit your local Dollar store. That’s where I go since I don’t use powdered in my dishwasher.
      I haven’t done my pillows yet (hopefully tomorrow), but use this solution to soak dirty socks. It is AMAZING! Works so well!

    • salliemcg says

      Same question – if you make your own laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent and both already contain Borax isn’t this just adding bleach to your laundry? Would you also add the extra Borax?

  7. teresa says

    This method should be fine for artificially filled pillows, but those of us using down and feather pillows probably should use really GOOD pillow cover and then clean the cover in this way, rather than subjecting the natural feathers to all these chemicals.. I’ve always read that pillows should be replaced fairly frequently and I do periodically, but their life has been extended and I always feel like they are super clean by using pillow covers underneath my pillow case, much like a mattress cover.

  8. Diana says

    For an HE washer, I came up with this. I wasn’t sure if Jillee’s idea was ok for HE front loader washers so I experimented. I used 2 Tbsp of borax (I bet washing soda would work too), regular amount of detergent (mine is homemade liquid), and if you want fill bleach section. If they are really bad I will let it fill up then let it soak by turning off sitting for an hour or longer. Then I start up the machine, you will have to restart the whole cycle if it is like mine but it works. It may not be quite as bright as Jillee’s but IMHO it is HE front loader safe. Oh, I run it on hot wash on bulky. Hope that helps!

  9. Cristi O. says

    I like the sound of this idea, but I was wondering if this would work on feather pillows. If not is there a better way to clean them? I really hate having to buy new pillows every couple of years.

  10. mary says

    Brilliant idea!!! I will add this to my laundry routine. I think this is a problem than EVERYONE who uses a pillow has – ugly, yellow, stained pillows. We always use zippered pillow covers, and they help, but they do not completely eliminate this problem.

  11. Sunshine1985 says

    I wash my pillows once a month. I just use regular detergent and bleach on the hottest setting (with a second rinse). I have an HE and I wash one pillow at a time. I have found that I get the best results if I I throw in 1 or 2 white towels. It helps because of the friction and rubbing that is created when there is something else in there. When I had a regular washer I did NOT need to add a towel.

    Jillee thanks for this post! I love new ideas! :)

    • Colleen says

      Thanks for the post, Sunshine 1985! Much simpler for those with HE front loaders. And, I can use Jillee’s super-fantastic bleach alternative. Along with the towels, I will throw in any of our white pillow cases as well, for whitening.

  12. Andrea says

    HeatherH–you can’t do any of this with memory foam or bead style pillows. The best you can do is spot clean the foam ones. The problem is in the drying. You can get the foam wet, but then it’s practically impossible to get them completely dry all the way through. Then they start to grow mold. The bead style pillows (like the sobakawa, which I happen to be using now) can’t get wet at all. The little beads will swell up.

    • KonaKathie says

      You’re mistaken- I clean the pillows with the little pellets all the time. Put them in a pillowcase and tie it shut. Then dry out in the sun. Or, you can dunk them in the bathtub. Works fine!

  13. says

    For those with front loaders, if this is not possible go to a laundromat. I do all my big bulky comforters there. You could probably do several pillows in the big machines. I’d love to know why the pillows are yellow as well. Hubby and I don’t sweat at all – nor go to bed with wet hair.

  14. June says

    My husbands pillow always starts looking yellow because he sweats alot at night so I started putting a second pillow case under the one I was using with my sheet set. That way I can pull it off and wash it with the sheets and put it back on with the next set.

  15. says

    I cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure you dry the pillows really well (especially if you are washing down pillows! I did this last fall and took them out of the dryer thinking they were fully dried, and they smelled HORRIFIC! Worse than when we put them in there! Turns out you have to dry them for HOURS AND HOURS to make sure that all the moisture is out of the pillows. Give them a good sniff before putting them back on the bed. If there is any smell whatsoever, put em back in the dryer! You will know they are dry when you take them out and you smell the freshness! It scared me and my husband was already looking for new pillows because he thought they were ruined! Good luck!

    • Diane H. says

      The attendant at the laundromat where I wash my down comforter told me to put down items in the dryer with tennis balls (or something heavy) and to remove from the dryer and fluff frequently for an hour or more. He said to take it home and to put on a clothesline or across something so the down comforter, pillows etc can get air and to go out and shake it frequently/fluff for 1-2 days to make sure the feathers get dried (he dry cleans comforters too).

    • DiDi says

      I would just use Jillee’s homemade laundry detergent (I’ve been using something similar for three years and then tweaked it with the Purex or Gain’s scent “crystals”/pellets because as clean as they were, I missed my scented stuff) instead of the dish detergent. and use alternative bleach.
      I’ve used an extra cup of washing soda, a Cup of Borax and a Cup of Hydrogen Peroxide in addition, before this recipe, for cleaning our colored sheets. I let it aggitate for about ten minutes. then turn it off and let soak. 6 hours to overnight. Works like a charm

      I also use white vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser and three Tbsp of liquid fabric softener in the wash water with my regular laundry. The softener in with my loads seems to help them dry quicker, smell good AND doesn’t leave a build up.

  16. Linda Stilson says

    I was very upset when I found out my new washer would not get hot water over 78 degrees. To get true hot water I have to fill a bucket at my kitchen sink and pour it into my washer. What a hassle!!! I also have pillow protectors on my pillows. I use a vinyl protector covered by a cotton protector, then my pillow case. However I do have my mothers old feather pillows I am going to try this out on.

  17. CTY says

    Pillows yellow its just a fact of life.
    We had a brand new pillow on the guest bed (about 13 mos.)–never used. The day before a guest was to arrive I decided better do the linen so its nice & fresh for her. I took the case off and it was yellow. I do wash our pillows because of mites and such; but I no longer care if they are yellow. There are many other things that could use a good cleaning around here.
    When my pillows no longer fluff–they get washed and replace the filler on the dog beds.

    Another thought for cleaning the pillows between washings. I clean and vacuum my mattress every couple of months. While I’m at it I place a pillow in one of those DIY vacuum sealer bags and remove the air. I figure at least some mites get sucked out.

    Jillee you got my vote. I had no idea I could vote everyday. I think I am more excited about this election than I was on the past presidential election. All my best to you!

  18. Hollie says

    When washing pillows I’ve always used laundry soap, bleach, and hot water. More recently I’m using white vinegar in my fabric softener dispenser. Just wondering: How does powdered dish detergent help? I look forward to trying it! Also, could common hydrogen peroxide add even more cleaning power to your pillow washing formula? It’s so nice to have refreshed pillows! :)

  19. Angela says

    I’ve been washing our bed pillows for 3 years now. I was tired of going out and buying new pillows so one day I decided to try washing one set to see how they turned out. So glad I did. When you figure that the average decent pillow costs $5-$10 bucks apiece… it is definitely worth throwing them in the washer every 4-6 mths!

    • Jeanine says

      I washed my pillows the one time and they were so soaking wet even after the rinse cycle. It was a horrible experience. I had put them in plastic bag and throw them out, I couldn’t put them in the Dryer cause there were that WET.

  20. Debbie A says

    I’m going to wash a LOT of pillows this weekend! Plus, I have a new MYPILLOW pillow (it’s only about a month old). I’m not sure what the contents are made of. Can I use Jillee’s method on that?

    • Chris in FL says

      The way I clean my lamp shades is to first take them off the lamp and put them upright in the bath tub. Then depending on what color they are will depend on if you can use a solution with bleach in it. You will have to use your on judgement on this. Mine in my living room are a white/beige color and therefore I do use a cleaning solution with bleach. You spray them down with a cleaner of your choice from the top of the shade all the way to the bottom, don’t over do it, but make sure it’s enough to get it clean. Then I also spray the inside as that gets dusty and dirty too. Wait a good long while but not too long as to not let the solution dry on the lamp shades, but enough time to get them clean. Then I turn on the shower (I have a hand held removeable) and wash the cleaner off and watch as the dirt goes down the drain. Leave the shades in the tub until they are dry and ready to be put back on the lamps.

      I don’t know if this will work with all types of lamp shades, but it does work with all of the ones I have. The lamp shades I have are a fabric type shade with the inside part feeling like some type of water proof material. This method had worked on all of my lamps from little bed side lamps to big living room lamps.

      As for the cleaning solution that you use, I would think any of the solutions that Jillee has on her site would work as long as you are careful not to use one that is too soapy or one with a bleach for a fabric that you shouldn’t use bleach on, Also if you have a smoker in the house it may not come as clean as you would like as tar and nicotine have a way or ruining things forever,.

      Just remember to let them dry good before putting them back on the lamp as you don’t want them dripping water on your tables.

      Happy lamp shade cleaning.

  21. Ali says

    Hi Jillee

    For the Front loader folks, I suspect you could mix all the dry ingredients and dissolve in hot water BEFORE hand, then pour it into the detergent dispenser as though it were a liquid soap. I don’t think it would otherwise be different for a HE machine, as long as you use HE soap (dishwasher soap isn’t supposed to make a ton of suds either)

    I have a question though… how harsh would this be on a septic system?

    Thank you sooo much for all your wisdom!!!! my house is transforming!!!

  22. Tabitha says

    Thank you! Thank you! My husband has a pillow that he loves, and refuses to get rid of, and it is so old and yellowed. I’ve washed and washed it but can’t get the yellow out it. I know it’s clean, but it looks horrible! I’ve bought him new pillows, and he just doesn’t care for any of them, so this post is AWESOME!

    • Hollie says

      If the stuffing is in sheeted layers, it can get badly twisted inside the pillow. Feel around for a corner and try to reposition the stuffing by pulling the fabric of the pillow accordingly. Usually this works, but sometimes it’s just too tangled and you have to pull and rip the layers through the pillow cover. As a last resort you can open a section to fix what’s inside and then sew to close up the pillow. If you decide to give up, synthetic stuffing is good for all sorts of other things, even to make new pillows!

  23. Setjay says

    Jillee, i’m so jealous.
    I try to whiten pillows after my son was ill and threw up on 4 of them. I let the pillows one day in the tub filled with bleach and hot water.
    NOTHING happened : the pillows were still yellow and covered by moist (because of the vomit). So i toss them :/
    It was the day before yesterday grrr


  1. [...] here I am, away from home with only one of my ratty bras. I tried this method to whiten our pillows with great success not too long ago, so I figured, what the heck, I’ll try it on my [...]

  2. […] Be serious.  How many of you have thrown out a pillow for looking a little dingy and yellow?  Well my hand just went up.  This gives me hope that when I find that perfect pillow I never want to let go of, I won’t have to because it can (hopefully) be washed!  Great instructions over at One Good Thing. […]

  3. […] (adsbygoogle=window.adsbygoogle||[]).push({});    How To Wash & Whiten Yellowed Pillows !One of the most common reasons why pillows can turn yellow is sweat. Even when you’re sleeping your body continues to sweat to keep your body at a comfortable temperature. Depending on the type of fabric your pillowcase is made from, sweat can seep through the fabric. As the sweat dries, it can leave a yellow stain on the pillow. Even if you use pillow COVERS underneath your pillow CASES, the yellowing can still occur. […]

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