Dear Annie, I know that I need to wash my pillows, but I’m afraid I will ruin them if I throw it in the washer. Plus, I don’t really want to breathe in the chemicals that are in detergents every time I go to sleep. What’s the best way to clean pillows? – Cynthia, Washington DC
Dear Cynthia, My mother was an excellent housekeeper, but wow did she get it wrong about pillows. We never washed them, and had the same pillow for years and years. Years!
I think that the reason for her confusion is that when she grew up (she was born in 1925), pillows in her home were made with 100 percent down feathers, and yes, those lasted for 10 -15 years, could be washed, and stay healthy for years.
Pillow Health, Pillow Washing
We drool, cough, and perspire a lot at night, and our pillows can become full of germs and fungus. We sleep with our noses buried in or next to the pillow, breathing whatever is emanating from the pillow all night long.
The pillows of polyester fill or foam that I grew up with would have been best replaced every six months given that we never washed them. If we had washed them, they would have needed to be replaced every few years due to flattening.
Most polyester pillows can be washed in the washing machine. Use a FREE and CLEAR detergent so as not to bring pollutants into your bed with you, and it is best to wash two pillows at a time to balance the washing machine. Put a tennis ball into the dryer with the pillows to fluff them up and never use dryer sheets.
You can also kill molds and dust mites by freezing the pillow overnight.
Foam has to be hand washed. That said, my advice is to throw out all foam pillows due to the fire retardants they might contain. Read about what I have written about toxic pillows.
Natural materials such as wool, down, kapok, and buckwheat, are “active” fibers and are antibacterial in their own right, fighting off contamination.
My favorite pillow is made of organic wool. The wool is naturally flame retardant so doesn’t need any chemicals added, the fiber is inhospitable to dust mites, and it absorbs so much moisture and then naturally releases it that the pillows harbor less mold and mildew. The fibers also bounce back, although they don’t hold a lot of loft.
Many people are moving to buckwheat pillows and loving them. A selling point is that the tiny buckwheat hulls conform to your neck and adjust to your body and give it support where needed.
The most eco-friendly down pillows are eiderdown, a highly esteemed soft down that is very warm and causes no harm to the eider duck because the down is collected by hand from the nests.
Have a question for Annie? Write to her at annie [@] thetruefind [dot] com
By Annie B. Bond, the best-selling and award-winning author of five healthy/green living books, including Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press, 1999), Home Enlightenment, Clean & Green (1990), and most recently True Food (National Geographic, 2010 and winner of Gourmand Awards Best Health and Nutrition Cookbook in the World). She has authored literally thousands of articles and was named “the foremost expert on green living” by Body & Soul magazine (2009).
Photo credit: “Bed in Seattle hotel” by Liz Lawley – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons