How To Spot Clean A Pillow (ANY Pillow)

While bed sheets and blankets are often easy to clean with a quick run through the washing machine, most pillows don’t offer the same luxury and convenience.

Instead of dry cleaning your throw pillows or bed pillows to remove every little stain or patch of dirt, it’s important to learn how to spot clean your pillows.

how to spot clean a pillow

What Does Spot Clean Only Mean On A Pillow?

Many fragile or luxury fabric items like clothing, curtains, couches or pillows will often have a tag on them that says “spot clean only.”

Basically, this means that you need carefully treat the section of the pillow that holds the stains or odors – you can’t just throw them in the washing machine — lest you ruin the entire pillow.

There is no way to safely wash these fragile pillows even if you’re handwashing, so if you want to get it clean, you have to do a spot clean.

This means removing any stains with special spotting agents, air drying, and using clean towels to soak up any spills.

You’ll need to check the cleaning code and pay attention to the pillow’s fabric and even the inner filling material to make sure the cleaning agents you want to use won’t ruin the pillow.

How To Spot Clean A Pillow: In 2 Easy Steps

From carpets and mattresses to clothing and you guessed it – pillows – spot cleaning is a great way to clean delicate fabrics and upholstery.

In my opinion, regularly cleaning your pillows is one of the most important cleaning tasks in your home. We spend so much time putting our faces on pillows so you don’t want them riddled with dust mites, dead skin cells and mould.

This is the simplest spot cleaning method you can use for down pillows, memory foam pillows, shredded foam pillows, throw pillows, bed pillows, neck pillows and any other pillow in between.

1.) Choose Your Stain Remover

Begin with picking out your stain remover. There are many natural options that will remove stains, but make sure you check your cleaning codes first and read the cleaning instructions carefully to ensure you’re not causing more damage with a new stain.

Working to the right cleaning code is crucial – you can do serious damage if you use the wrong solution. As an example- Cleaning Code X means you can only dry vacuum, Cleaning Code S means no water at all and Cleaning Code WS means a mix of water and solvents can be used.

Take note that you can’t start spot cleaning your pillow if there’s any dust or excess food items on it. So wipe off any dust before you get started, or scrape off any excess stains.

spot cleaning pillows

2.) Start Cleaning

Assuming your particular code allows it, press a damp cloth to the stain to absorb the moisture if it’s a recent stain. The quicker you respond to a spill the easier it will be to remove.

Just be sure not to press too hard or you might damage the filling inside. This is the point where you can use your stain remover, or if you don’t want to use a commercial option, there are many great homemade options for natural cleaning agents.

For example, you can often just use warm water and mild soap – just be sure to rinse well to remove any soapy residue. You can even use lemon juice instead of mild soap, although make sure you’re only using one part lemon juice and two parts water since it can accidentally bleach your pillow instead of cleaning it.

You might try a white vinegar and baking soda mix as well. Just saturate the stain in vinegar, gently rub it with a paste of half vinegar and half baking soda, and rinse everything clean.

If you aren’t concerned about your budget or the stains are really set it, there are many spot cleaning machines you can purchase or hire as well – personally, I find more satisfaction in using a DIY cleaner and a bit of elbow grease

Bonus Tip: For Sticky Residues and Tough Stains

Let’s say you have a particularly sticky spot on your pillow (e.g. chocolate).

Instead of just applying your cleaning agent, you can first try filling a Ziploc bag with ice and ice the spot to harden the substance first. From here, you can often scrape away a lot of the spill, and then follow the steps above for a full clean. This will make your life a lot easier!

You should also follow up on your spot cleaning by disinfecting. Wait until the sun comes out so that you can leave your pillows out on a flat surface. Sunlight and UV rays are natural disinfectants, although you can also just put the pillow in a well-ventilated room. Don’t leave them in the sun too long – a good half hour should be enough to kill any bacteria.

Melissa from Clean My Space gives an excellent walkthrough in the video below on exactly what you need to consider when it comes to washing a range of different pillows:

How To Spot Clean Decorative Pillows?

Have a decorative pillow with buttons or sequins that’s especially delicate?

Unfortunately, most decorative pillows have pillow covers that can’t be removed, making cleaning that much harder.

Always begin with a small spot test on the pillow. This is to ensure that whatever cleaning agent you plan to use won’t damage the pillow and is a good choice for any colored materials.

If you’re unsure about using chemicals, you can always use a water solution and a little mild dish soap or mild detergent. This will work on most leather pillows too.

If you have a suede pillow, never use water. Instead, you’ll want to grab a bristle brush that you’ll moisten with white vinegar to brush the stains away gently. You can do this with oily stains by letting some cornstarch sit on the stain overnight.

Some Considerations

Ultimately, how you clean your decorative pillow depends on the pillow fabric and what material it’s made from.

How you clean your decorative pillow also depends in part on what the filling is. If you have feather pillows or fiberfill pillows, for example, you might be able to remove the inserts so that you can spot clean the pillow cover separately.

how to spot clean decorative pillows

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Wash Some Spot-Clean Only Pillows In The Washing Machine?

No, you can’t.

While you might be able to set the filling in some pillows in your dryer on low, you can’t throw the whole pillow in the washing machine. Machine washing pillows that are ‘spot clean only’ will most likely destroy them.

You can’t hand wash, wet clean, dry clean and you certainly can’t put it in the washing machine.

Can I Put Pillows In The Dryer?

It does depend on the type of pillow and the decorations on it, but there are spot-clean only pillows you may be able to put in the dryer.

Again, read the specific instructions but it will most likely guide you to put your dryer on the “air,” “fluff,” “gentle cycle”, “delicate cycle” or “no heat” setting.

Should I Use A Cover or Pillow Protectors?

You can use a pillow protector, which is different from a pillowcase. It zips shut over your pillow to protect it from anything that might smudge on it and is usually waterproof too.

Whether you want to use this depends on your preferences. You might not like the idea of having your pillow covered up, and in this case, it’s better to learn how to spot clean problem areas instead.

It is a great way to protect it from many spills, stains and odors – but this doesn’t mean you won’t ever have to clean your pillow.

Can I Disinfect A Spot-Clean Only Pillow?

Many ‘spot clean only’ pillows will be damaged by a liquid disinfectant but you can disinfect a fragile pillow by placing it out in the sun on a warm, clear day.

Just leave your pillow out on a flat surface for just a few hours.

You may be able to spray the pillows in some cases, but this depends on your specific pillow. Be sure to check the care instructions first.

How Often Should I Wash Pillows?

You should wash your pillow immediately if it suffers a spill or stain. Outside of that, you should regularly wash your pillows every 2 – 3 months to remove mould, dust mites and dead skin cells.

Should I Go To A Professional?

If you’re not eager to spend the time spot cleaning or are concerned about damaging it – you can bring your pillow to a professional to get it cleaned.

They are trained (and insured!) in how to handle delicate fabrics and materials and they can clean your pillow without ruining the insides or the pillow cover.

cleaning a pillow


Pillows might present a challenge when it comes to getting them clean, but if you happen to get a stain on your pillow, all hope is not lost, even if they’re not machine washable.

Even if it’s a spot-clean-only pillow, the cleaning process is not too tricky. Just make sure that you read the pillow’s care label, and that you’re careful with any intricate work if you want to keep your pillow looking great for years.

About Darcy O

A.) Likes: Good design, form and function. Strong coffee and getting outdoors. A space that makes you feel like you belong. B.) Dislikes: Clutter. Inefficiency. Spending unnecessary time cleaning. On the eternal quest for more A, less B.

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