Sure, you might wash your bedsheets and pillowcases regularly. But what about the pillows themselves?

You spend roughly 8 hours in bed each night — about a third of your life. That means you’re also spending about a third of your life with your head on a pillow. And in all that time, pillows tend to accumulate:

  • dust and dust mites
  • fungi
  • sweat and drool
  • natural oils from your body

These various materials can build up in your pillows. According to 2018 research, they can lead to respiratory irritation or allergic reactions, especially when you’re already prone to allergies.

Washing your pillow regularly can help you cut down on potential irritants. And on top of that, you might rest easier knowing your pillow isn’t hosting a combo of dirt, dust, and mites.

You might easily forget about your pillow in the whole laundry list of, well, laundry. All the same, remembering to toss your pillows in does have benefits.

Washing your pillowcase offers one key way to keep your sleeping area clean.

Still, a clean pillowcase will only do so much when your pillow remains unwashed. Even a regularly washed pillowcase is porous, so it won’t protect your pillow from accumulating dirt and bacteria over time. That’s why it’s important to also wash the pillow itself.

One thing to remember: Your pillow might accumulate different levels of dirt and allergens depending on what material it’s made from. According to a 2021 study, pillows may resist dirt and dust mites more effectively when made from:

While some people claim feather and down pillows harbor large amounts of dirt and dust mites, research from 2021 found goose down pillows appeared to harbor lower amounts of dust mites than pillows made from wool.

In addition, 2015 research suggests down and feather pillows may actually accumulate less dust than some synthetic options. Meanwhile, pillows made from synthetic materials like polyester may accumulate more dust and need more frequent cleaning as a result.

In some cases, you do get what you pay for. For instance, pillows made from synthetic materials tend to be more affordable, while pillows made from feathers or memory foam tend to be on the pricier side.

As a general rule, you’ll probably want to wash your pillow a few times each year, at least. Depending on the type of pillow, some different guidelines exist.

Pillows made from many synthetic materials accumulate dust faster. But since they’re more washer-friendly, you can wash them more often.

Other pillows, like gel or memory foam options, may need less frequent washing or spot cleaning only.

No matter what kind of pillow you have, most experts agree you’ll need to replace it at some point.

Higher quality pillows might cost more, but they do tend to put up more resistance to dust and last longer. You may only need to replace a dust-resistant latex, buckwheat, or memory foam pillow every 3 to 4 years.

While less expensive and easier to clean, synthetic pillows also tend to be less durable, meaning you may need to replace them more often. You may want to consider replacing synthetic pillows, like those made from polyester, as frequently as every 6 months to 2 years.

You may also need to wash or replace your pillow more frequently if you:

  • spill something on it and need to spot clean it
  • sleep with pets that shed, like cats or dogs
  • eat or drink while in bed

You can machine wash some types of pillows, but other kinds require more specialized care.

Memory foam and gel pillows

Memory foam and gel pillows can’t be put in the washing machine, but many come with machine washable covers. You can also spot clean them as needed with soap or detergent.

Down and feather pillows

Many feather pillows are machine washable as long as you use cold water and a gentle setting. Some can also go through the dryer.

Buckwheat pillows

Buckwheat pillows are filled with buckwheat hulls, so you won’t be able to wash the entire pillow in water, by hand or in a machine.

To clean this type of pillow, you’ll remove the filling and allow it to sit in the sun to air out and sterilize it. Meanwhile, you can wash and dry the pillow cover in a machine or by hand.

Polyester and down alternative pillows

Most pillows made from polyester and other synthetic materials can be machine washed and dried.

Still not sure how to wash your pillow?

When in doubt, you can usually check your pillow’s tags. Most tags include specific information about how you can wash and dry your pillow to maximize its longevity.

When washing pillows in the washing machine, most manufacturers recommend washing at least two pillows at a time so the spin cycle in your machine stays balanced.

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Airing out your pillow once every month or so offers another way to keep dust and dirt from building up.

To air out your pillow, hang it up outside on a dry, sunny, and preferably breezy day and let the sunlight work its decontaminating magic!

If you’re keeping your pillow clean and fluffy, you might want to consider some additional tips for keeping the rest of your sleeping area as dust- and allergen-free as possible.

Here’s how to get started.

Wash your sheets, pillowcases, and duvet covers regularly

As a good rule of thumb, aim to wash these items every 1 to 2 weeks.

Keep your comforters clean

How you wash a comforter can depend on its material and construction, but many comforters are machine washable. You can always check for any washing instructions on the tag.

You can wash your comforter yearly and spot clean in between as needed. It’s also a good idea to allow your comforter to air out every month or so, which can help with germs and dust mites.

Remember your mattress

Your mattress is another often-forgotten aspect of bedding when it comes to cleanliness.

While a mattress might seem a bit intimidating to keep clean, you can:

  • Use the upholstery attachment on your vacuum to clean its surface.
  • Clean every 6 months or so.
  • Spot clean as needed.

Replacing your mattress according to the manufacturer’s recommendations will also help ensure your bed doesn’t accumulate too much dirt over time.

Consider pillow and mattress protectors

You can use both pillow and mattress protectors to help keep dust and dust mites from accumulating in your bedding. Some people claim using a protector can even extend the life of your pillow or mattress since it helps keep these items cleaner over time.

If you didn’t think much about washing your pillow before now, that’s OK. It’s an easy item of bedding to forget about. Plus, the prospect of washing pillows can seem a bit intimidating, depending on their material and care instructions.

Still, it never hurts to make pillows part of your laundry routine to help prevent dust buildup and potential allergy flare-ups. Even a small amount of upkeep can make your sleeping experience that much cleaner.

Courtney Telloian is a writer with work published on Healthline, Psych Central, and Insider. Previously, she worked on the editorial teams of Psych Central and GoodTherapy. Her areas of interest include holistic approaches to health, especially women’s wellness, and topics centered around mental health.