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!?!? :-)  


Print Friendly
Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on Twitter233Pin on Pinterest1738.9kGoogle+0

Enjoy This Post? Never Miss Another!

Subscribe to Jillee's FREE email newsletter and receive more great tips and ideas!



  1. 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.

    • says

      That’s a good idea! I think it’s probably better to soak it in the bathtub because all that detergent probably isn’t good for a HE machine.

  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. :)

    • Christy says

      There’s really not enough water in front loader to soak anything, the machine uses the same amount of water regardless of load size.

    • JayPea says

      You CANNOT put a cup of detergent into an He machine. You will have an entire mountain of bubbles in your laundry room. MUCH easier and cheaper to buy new pillows than to clean up those bubbles and replace what got ruined by soaking in bubbles.

      • Sydney says

        I used the 3rd line on the Tide cap for HE detergent. The results were great! I also pulled back on the dishwasher detergent (2 tablets instead of 1 cup) and left out the Borax (we were out and didn’t want to go to store). No bubble mess and the pillows are back to almost new state.

  3. Sandy says

    I noticed my pillows were yellow the other day and was going to throw them out – now I will give this a try. Any recommendations for those of us with front loaders?

  4. Lisa says

    I am going to give this a try today. I just put new pillows on my shopping list…… FYI…I love that you added more color back to your page. It makes it feel fun and inviting.

    • says

      If you are going to buy new pillows, you might want to add pillow protectors. They work the same way a mattress protector does and are machine washable.

      I use a pillow protector with my Tempur-Pedic pillow and so far it has kept my pillow looking like the day I bought it after 6 years of use.

  5. Melissa says

    My question is how to get this all mixed up and use with my machine, it’s a HE with a locking lid.

    • 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.

      • melissa says

        okie, thanks, i’ll have to try that, i have a lot of pillows that desperately need

      • Brenda says

        I have HE washer and I wonder if dishwashing detergent and borax are safe for the He washer. I also have septic tank and wonder about using borax.

      • 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.

      • Allison says

        I have a box of Borax sitting right next to me now and it says “Safe for all washing machines and septic tanks.”

      • Ann says

        I’ve used bleach in my whites for 25 years on a septic system and never once had a problem. Also washing soda, borax and vinegar. No worries, it’s tougher than you may think.

      • Deb says

        You can use vinegar and baking soda instead of bleach and borax. It’s a much greener and it’s septic safe. Pillows come out super soft.

      • 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.

      • LisaInVA says

        It would depend on where you live. That’s not at all the case for septic systems in my area (Northern VA).

      • KD says

        Borax is safe for the septic system, bleach is NOT. Bleach kills the good bacteria needed to break down waste. There are bleach alternatives that can be used.

    • Jessica says

      I have a frontload HE also. We use regular detergent and add vinegar to the softener compartment. Wash on the highest heat setting and rinse twice. It works great.

    • Robin Anders says

      My question same as Sue’s. how do you alter process for front loading washer? Sounds wonderful, I throw out a lot of pillows living at the beach in a very humid environment . Thanks

      • 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.

      • Jessica says

        One other thing- Vinegar does not ruin your washer. It actually helps to sanitize and keep it clean.

      • Toni says

        I use vinegar in my washer in the softener compartment and dishwasher in the rinse compartment, instead of the Jet Rinse, for sparkly glasses. Vinegar helps clean your machines at the same time as cleaning/sanitizing. It helps to remove any residue from soaps.

      • 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.

      • matt says

        Do you know what is in fabric software? Don’t use that with your pillows. Its toxic.

      • 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.

  6. 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.