Are Your Pillows Smelly?

Does your bedroom not smell quite as fresh as you’d like?  Has your bedroom fallen victim to the ‘boy smell’?  Bleh.

Your pillows might be the culprit.

Are your pillows smelly?

Once your pillows have that oily-headed-yuck smell, it can be really hard to remove.  To keep your pillows smelling fresh, try these washing tips.

Only wash pillows in a machine without an agitator.

All pillows have some type of filler: polyester, foam, down feathers to name a few.  None of these fillers respond well to the aggressiveness of a washer’s agitator.

The agitator beats the filler and displaces it within the pillow.  And once that happens, it is not easy to re-arrange to its original shape.

It’s better to skip this headache altogether and use a washer with no agitator.


Wash more than one pillow at the time.

Front-loaders sometimes have a problem with the balance of the load, causing it to not clean as well or not spin out the final rinse water as well.

It is much better to wash more than one pillow at the time.  You can wash up to three or four if your washer’s capacity can tolerate it.

In my experience, I’ve also found the filler inside the pillow remains intact better when more than one pillow is washed in a load.


Use only detergent and possibly bleach.  Do not use fabric softener.

If you are a reader of Mama’s Laundry Talk you’ve learned by now that while fabric softener is a great smell-good product, it can also mask smells and actually harbor them.  So skip the fabric softener for the pillows.

Instead use your regular detergent and a little bleach if you’d like.  Bleach is an excellent sanitizer, so it is certainly appropriate to use it in the washing of pillows.


Dry your pillows in the sun.

We all know by now the fabulous cleansing properties of the sun.  I’ve used the sun many times to get horrible smells out of linens that wouldn’t come clean otherwise.

So wash your pillows as directed and let them flat in the pure sunshine.

You can lay them on a towel in the grass or on your back deck – wherever the sun is shining the brightest.  Putting them outside in the heat of the day is best.

And remember to rotate them throughout the day to maximize the amount of sunshine they receive.

If they need fluffing  a little or if they aren’t quite dry, give them 20-30 minutes in the dryer at the end of the day.  Ensure that they are dry in the middle so they don’t mildew.  When it’s dried enough, the pillow should feel completely dry to the touch.  If it doesn’t, place it back in the dryer for a short, hot cycle.

Once you’ve gotten your pillows nice, clean and smelling fresh, take a few extra steps to keep them smelling great.  Maintenance is so much easier than going through these steps frequently.


Keep Your Pillow Smelling Fresh

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Pillow protectors.  They are your best friends for keeping your pillows smelling fresh.

Use pillow protectors religiously.  They provide an extra layer of protection between one’s head and the actual pillow.  They are especially helpful if you have an oily-headed child (or husband).

Make sure you change the pillow protectors every single time you change the sheets.  This is key to preventing a smelly pillow.

Note:  Unless you have allergy problems, make sure you buy the ones that are all cotton.  The allergy brand feels and sounds like paper.  The paper-type makes for a very loud pillow in the middle of the night when you’re turning over!  I speak form experience..

Keep your pillow protectors easily accessible.  I have two sets of sheets for each bed in my house, and a set of pillow protectors folded into each one of those sets.  I hate having to scramble around for things and I love it when everything is in its place!

Using this method ensures that every pillow has a protector and I never have to go searching for one.

Especially considering the current state of my laundry room. (I’ve worked on it some just for the record….but it still has a long ways to go before I can post ‘after’ pics.)


Is your bedroom fresh smelling all of the time?

What do you do to keep it that way?  And how do you keep your pillows smelling fresh?  Do tell!


  1. Another perfectly-timed post! I started rearranging rooms about two weeks ago – and found ten (10!) pillows that we don’t use anymore because they smell. Now, we obviously have too many pillows and need to get rid of some, but how to get rid of smelly pillows? I hate to just toss things in the garbage, so I’m going to try washing them, drying the outside, and then figure out what to do next. They may become our ‘camping’ pillows – just in case one gets left behind.
    And – thanks so much for the pillow protector advice. Do you think an extra pillowcase would work as well?

    • mamalaundry says:

      Oh I’m glad it was so timely! I hate to throw them out too. But sometimes you just can’t get the stink out of them and you have to.

      I DO think an extra pillow case would work just fine. I didn’t have any extras, so I bought pillow protectors. But that’s a good idea though!


  2. The filling in my pillow was already messed up before I washed my pillows. My washer does have an agitator, and per instructions from a youtube video I dried them in the dryer with two tennis balls and it they were perfectly fluffed out again!

    • mamalaundry says:

      I’ve never heard of that! I’ll definitely have to put ‘tennis balls in the dryer’ on my laundry to-do list. Thanks for the info!


      • There are dryer balls available in the laundry isle of many stores. They are spikes rubber balls that work very well. No smell of their own and the color won’t come off on your clothes as a tennis ball might.

  3. I have a machine with and agitator and I have washed pillows in it. I do them with some towels. I dried them in the dryer and they came out OK.
    To keep the bedroom fresh, I open the windows. Even in the dead of winter I crack a window while I am sleeping. I keep my bedroom door closed so I don’t cool down the entire house.

    • mamalaundry says:

      Carrie – I totally agree with opening the windows! Even just an inch or so can make a world of difference. For us though, I found it was our bedding that was the biggest culprit. So on sheet-changing day, I leave the windows open a few hours.

      Thanks for reminding us of that tip!


  4. Stephanie says:

    This has inspired me to wash curtains and bedding today! Luckily for me my husband is home, so he can take curtains down and put them back up hahaha. I love your blog and doing laundry is fun for me now! It makes me smile to open the closet in our bathroom and see nicely folded towels and wash clothes! Thank you!

    • mamalaundry says:

      Oh Stephanie, I’m so glad! Thanks so much for your kind words. 😉

      I totally agree – the worst part about washing curtains is getting them on and off the curtain rod. Not fun for this 5’3″ girl.


  5. Mr Stinky says:

    I have been washing my sheets for a long time. My pillows smell worse then my towels. But luck has it that a little bleach and a hardworking washing machine take all the elbow grease out of getting those pillows up to par. Unfortunetly If i dont wash my pillow every few weeks it just reeks agian.

    I even bought the head and shoulders oil control two in one. Nope havent been feasting on too much onions but i do enjoy elephant garlic. It keeps the coyotes from eating my bones and the bedbugs away for sure. I could use a liner for my pillow. Maybe i need to wrap it with a tarp.

  6. I place a fabric softer dryer sheet inside my pillow cases (2 per pillow) Honestly stays fresh for a week. I also wash my pillows once a month. It’s also important to know when to throw them out and buy knew pillows. If you catch a sale they really are not very expensive. I usually buy them at least 3 times a year. “Your worth it” & so is a good night’s rest…

  7. We have a new front load that is very sensitive to balance. Any suggestions on how to get around this? I have tried 1-4 pillows to no avail. It generally never spins out all the water. I am at the point of wanting to take them to the laundry mat any suggestions? Thanks


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