Q: Can I clean store-bought pillows in the washing machine?
A: Whether made of natural fibers (such as down) or synthetic materials (often polyester), most pillows can be washed in the machine. They should be cleaned every three to six months to remove mold, bacteria and odors. Read instructions on the tag to make sure the pillow is not dry-clean only.
It's best to use a front-loading washer, since pillows tend to float and stay dry in spots in a top-loading machine. If you don't have such an appliance, consider going to a self-service laundry. Set the machine on its gentlest cycle, using warm water. Add a small amount of liquid soap (powder detergent may leave a residue), then fill the tub loosely with your pillows. Repeat the rinse cycle a second time to remove soap completely.
If the tags say the pillows can be dried, place them in the dryer along with a couple of tennis balls to break up any clumps of filling. Use a low-heat setting, and allow a few hours for the pillows to dry. Between cycles, take them out to fluff.
For pillows that shouldn't go in the dryer (usually the foam kind, which can melt), dry them on a rack or a clothesline.
Copyright 2006, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Distributed by New York Times Special Features.