How To Spot Clean a Pillow

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Pillows – throw pillows, accent pillows – those terribly cute pillows designed to add charm and whimsy to a child’s room – are often a home decorator’s secret weapon when they want to add color and visual interest to a room fast. As useful as they are though many do have one drawback; they cannot be washed.

Check the label and it will often state (in bold letters) ‘spot clean only’. But how do you spot clean a pillow?

The basic answer to this question is carefully and according to the instructions. And if you happen to have no instructions by following the tips we are about to offer here.

What Does Spot Clean Only Mean on a Pillow?

While the term ‘spot clean’ is vague, the meaning behind it is designed to be very specific.

An instruction that a pillow is spot clean only – or any other fabric come to that matter – means that it cannot be machine washed, hand washed, soaked in any way, or even dry-cleaned. In reality the instruction IS very clear. You can make use of a safe method to spot clean stains only.

A label with cleaning instructions.

What Pillow Types are Spot Clean Only?

Many decorative pillows – the kinds designed for use on a sofa or bed – are spot clean only. This is often because not only are they crafted from delicate fabrics, but they often also feature lots of embellishments and tassels that would be ruined by even a careful commercial cleaning process.

Some less expensive throw pillows do feature a washable cover, and these are easier to keep clean and take care of for sure. The downside is that they are rarely as durable or as attractive as their sturdier, but more delicately crafted, spot clean only counterparts.

It’s not just decor type throw pillows that should be spot cleaned though. The kinds of expensive – but incredibly supportive and durable – pillows sold by mattress and bedding companies to complement their mattresses are often labelled spot clean only, as are most foam pillows and the orthopedic neck pillows that make long journeys – and long work hours – far more tolerable for those who suffer from neck pain and headaches.

And usually down and feather pillows are spot clean only too.

colorful decorative pillows

Can I Wash a Pillow That Says Spot Clean Only?

If a pillow’s label states spot clean only that is exactly what it means. It does not mean wash on cold, or hand wash, or dry-clean.

Far too many people discover this too late, after their attempts to wash a pillow that should never have been washed go awry, and they are left with a lumpy, shapeless – and often shrunken – mess that is now fit for little else than being used as a pillow in a pet bed.

How to Wash Pillows That Cannot Be Washed?

In a nutshell, you don’t. However, you may, if you head out on the Internet and check out some of those less reputable sites (the ones filled with strange ads and odd misspellings) find all kinds of odd advice and ‘home remedies’ for washing pillows and even expensive items of clothing that should not be washed.

Unfortunately, those who follow that advice do not end up saving time (as spot cleaning pillows is not expensive, as we will explain in a moment) but do end up with ruined items of home decor that, once again, will be barely fit for Fido’s bed, and even he may object a little as washing pillows that cannot be washed tend to get very lumpy, misshapen, and even hard.

A pair of bamboo pillows drying on the line using a pillow drying rack

How to Spot Clean a Pillow

Now that we have convinced you not to succumb to temptation – or bad advice – and try to dry-clean – or even wash – a spot clean only pillow it is time to take a closer look at just how you clean pillows that cannot be washed. In other words, answer the question of how to spot clean a pillow that, to be honest, most of those labels never do.

The method you make use of will depend on several factors. What kind of pillow you are trying to clean matters, as well as what it is made of. Here’s a look at some of the most effective ways to spot clean a number of various kinds of pillows.

Decorative Throw Pillows

As we mentioned, often a decorative throw pillow will come along with the instruction ‘spot clean only’ emblazoned on the label and very little else. Often that label does not even tell you what kind of fabrics the pillow has been crafted from.

This is important as, were you to consider making use of a commercial upholstery cleaning solution some fabrics – like silk and stain – can easily be damaged by them and call for special cleaners of their own.

The safer – and cheaper – way to proceed, especially if you are unsure of just what fabrics are involved or if the pillow has lots of embellishments – is to make use of gentle cleaning products it is likely you already have in your home. Here’s how:

For small stains, or those you catch as soon as they happen, try this very gentle spot cleaning method first.

What You’ll Need

  • Gentle dish detergent
  • Clean water
  • Lint free white cloths
  • A clean spray bottle
  • A few drops of your favorite essential oil (optional)

How It’s Done

  1. Before you do anything else, take the pillow outside and beat it firmly to shake off loose dust and dirt. This is something you should do regularly anyway, as it will help keep your decorative pillows cleaner longer.
  2. Mix together 2 cups of clean water and one teaspoon of a gentle dish detergent and decant the mixture into your spray bottle. At this point you can add one to two drops of your favorite essential oil too, to add a long-lasting scent, as you should avoid spraying delicate throw pillows with commercial air fresheners as they too can damage them.
  3. Spray the soled areas of the pillow with a light mist of the cleaning solution you have just created. Leave the mixture to ‘set’ for two to three minutes.
  4. Making use of one of your clean cloths and blot at visible stains until they are gone. Stubborn stains may need more than one treatment, and if they have been caused by something like juice or red wine, adding plain club soda to your cleaning mixture will often yield better results.
  5. Once you have blotted away as much of the stain as possible, take the second, dry cloth, and blot the treated areas dry.
  6. For very stubborn stains you may have to repeat the procedure a few times. You can try a professional upholstery cleaning solution at this point too, but read the labels very carefully before you do, and perform a test on a very inconspicuous area of the pillow first.

Bed Pillows

Most pillows you use for sleeping are bedding items you will cover with a pillowcase to help them stay clean, but stains can happen, especially if you sleep with conditioner in your hair or oily moisturizer on your skin.

These days many pillows are designed to be tossed in wash – something that, if you do it often will create a fresher, cleaner sleeping space – but there are still some that just cannot be laundered in any traditional way.

To spot clean a bed pillow that cannot be washed – and that almost always includes real down and feather pillows, try the same method as we have outlined for a throw pillow but use as little of the cleaning mixture as possible, as some pillows, especially foam and feather pillows, can be permanently damaged by any moisture.

These pillows tend to hold on to moisture, and as mold can form in as little as 24 hours to much of it can damage the pillow for good.

Can You Wash Foam Pillows?

A great vegan pillow for sleep apnea - nice and lofty

You may have seen people talking about washing foam pillows. In some cases, it may be possible, but you must ensure that you handwash them only, use a very mild detergent, and, most importantly of all, ensure that you wring them out very well so that they will air dry fast, or they will become moldy.

Drying a memory foam pillow in the sun is the absolute best option, as doing so will help plump them back up again too.

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