Cleaning Decorative Pillows & Pillow Covers

It's common to not give much thought to how to clean decorative pillows until you happen to notice they could use a good cleaning. That's okay. Since throw pillows are a decorative accessory, they only require periodic cleanings, which may be once every few months or so or even once a year. Regardless of when you decide to clean them, cleaning your couch pillows the right way helps to keep them looking great for years.

Spot Cleaning Pillows with Non-Removable Covers

While the idea of cleaning all throw pillows with soap and water may be appealing, it's not practical or recommended for some pillows. Also, water can damage a pillow's fabric and ruin its cover in some cases. For this reason, it's a good idea to always check the tag that's attached to the pillow. A tag may say "spot clean only" or state that machine washing the cover is okay. When you have pillows that can only be spot cleaned, it's important to know how to do spot cleaning right to avoid damaging the pillow cover.

Do a Spot Test

There are different ways to spot clean a pillow but whatever cleaning method you intend to use, you should always test clean a small area first. The test can reveal whether the cleaner you're using is a good choice for colorfast materials. If a certain type of cleaner doesn't work out, you can always try another one.

How to Spot Clean Fabric and Leather Pillows

Leather pillows can be spot cleaned with a solution of water mixed with a few drops of mild dish soap. Swish the water to create suds and use a clean cloth to blot stains. Let the spots air dry and apply a leather upholstery conditioner if desired.

How to Spot Clean Suede Pillows

Unlike leather, suede should never be cleaned using water, which can cause discoloration. Instead, use a bristled brush to loosen and brush away dirt. The pillow is now ready for direct spot cleaning. One option is to moisten the brush with white vinegar and gently brush the stained areas until spots disappear.

Remove oily stains by sprinkling the pillow with cornstarch, letting it sit overnight and brushing away cornstarch with a soft-bristled brush. Or you can use a commercial suede cleaner following the manufacturer's directions.

Methods for Cleaning Microfiber Pillows

Multiple cleaning options can be used to clean microfiber pillows, and preferred methods are listed on the label by code letter. If the label is missing, try a cleaner with alcohol among its ingredients.

  • S code means you can use an alcohol-based cleaner.
  • W code means you can use a water-based cleaning solution such as soap and water.
  • S-W means you can use either alcohol or water-based cleaners.
  • X code means vacuuming is a must.

How to Clean Removable Pillow Covers

Throw pillows may come with convenient removable covers, which makes them easier to clean using a washer. The following basic cleaning steps can help you maintain cover quality.

Step 1. Remove and check. Take the cover off the pillow and read the tag to find out if it's machine washable. Some tags may state that covers can only be dry-cleaned. Also, don't attempt to machine wash covers with beading, sparkles, intricate trim or covers made of leather or suede.

Step 2. Treat heavy stains. Pre-treat heavily stained areas with a stain removal spray. Test a discreet area of the cover with the spray first to ensure it won't damage the fabric.

Step 3. Prepare and wash. Turn the cover inside out to protect the cover's surface during the washing process. Set the washer to the delicate cycle and select cold water. Place cover in the washer and use a mild detergent or baby shampoo as a cleaning agent.

Step 4. Dry. Remove the cover from the washer as soon as possible and hang it on an outdoors clothesline or indoor drying rack for air drying. Alternatively, you can place it in a dryer and dry on a no-heat or lowest heat setting.

How to Clean Pillows with Feathers or Fiberfill

Pillow inserts may need cleaning to remove odors, bacteria or stains that may have seeped through the cover.

Step 1. Remove and check. Remove the insert from the cover and check to see if there's a tag with cleaning instructions. If the insert isn't washable, spot clean it with a cleaning solution that's safe for the fabric. Or toss non-washable inserts into the dryer along with dryer balls and dry on a low setting to remove bacteria and odors.

Also check the insert for rips, tears or holes, which should be repaired before cleaning.

Step 2. Set washer settings and wash. You can place one or two pillows vertically inside the washer. Do not add other items into the washer. Set the washer on a gentle cycle and choose cold or warm water. Wash with a mild detergent.

Step 3. Rinse. Pillow inserts often require two rinse cycles to completely remove soapy residue, so be prepared to rinse them twice.

Step 4. Squeeze and dry. Remove the pillow and place it between two towels. Roll up the towel to squeeze out excess water without ringing or twisting. Place it in the dryer and dry on a no-heat or low-heat setting. Adding dryer balls can help pillow inserts dry faster.

How to Clean Foam Pillows

If your throw pillow has a foam insert, you can clean it if the tag states that it's washable.

Step 1. Check and treat. Check the label for washing instructions. If washing is allowed, treat any stains with a stain remover. Test the remover on a hidden area of the cover to be certain it won't damage the fabric.

Step 2. Wash. Fill your bathtub about halfway with warm water and a mild hand-wash detergent. Use your hands to create suds, and then place one or two pillows in the water. With both hands, push pillow underneath the water and then let up. Repeat several times. Drain tub.

Step 3. Rinse. Fill tub with warm water and place heavy waterproof objects on top of the pillow to get it to stay submerged. Let it soak for 10 minutes.

Step 4. Dry. Press down on the pillow repeatedly to remove excess water and allow the pillow to air-dry in a sunny spot.