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Hotel Pillows 101: Are They Clean? How Can I Be Sure?

Hotel Pillows and feather duster in a hotel bed.

In the hospitality industry, standards for cleanliness as it relates to guest bedding may vary slightly between different establishments, but there are still widely held standards.

Even before the pandemic, consumers wanted to know that bedding is laundered frequently. Now, cleanliness is a matter of health and hygiene that is on everyone’s mind. When it comes to how often hotels wash their pillows, what do guests need to know?

Hospitality Laundering Schedules

A made doing a laundry in a hotel.

While bed coverings like sheets and pillowcases are laundered for each guest change, that is not the case for pillows. Whether a hotel uses pillows with natural or synthetic filling, washing them after each guest leaves would not be cost-effective and would cause the quick deterioration of the pillows, since they are not designed for that frequency of laundering.

Plus, the volume of pillows being washed would not be efficient, cost-effective, and could shorten the life of expensive laundering equipment.

This is not to say that pillows are never laundered. Most hotels do have a schedule for washing “top of the bed” items like pillows. This may be done on a weekly, monthly, or as-needed schedule based on feedback from the housekeeping staff.

This kind of schedule also helps determine when pillows are no longer meeting the standards of the hotel and need to be replaced.

Is There a Standard Policy on Pillow Cleaning?

A pink flower on top of a towel in a bed.

While there are no specific federal mandates that govern how often pillows should be laundered, the CDC did issue guidelines to help the hospitality industry understand how to protect employees and guests through proper sanitization.

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Each hospitality company has developed and follows its own protocols for laundering bedding. That being said, the average use of a hotel pillow (without washing) is between 243 and 365 days. That is a lot of history and other, less desirable things that might be left behind. If you have allergies, dust mites or other contaminants may cause you problems even after you get out of bed.

It’s important to know that hotels take additional steps to maintain the cleanliness of the pillow where you lay your head. While frequent laundering is not possible for the pillow, the layers that protect the pillow can be cleaned more frequently. This begins, of course, with the pillowcase.

The part of your bedding in closest contact with your face is laundered after the previous guest leaves.

Most hotels use an additional covering between your pillow and the pillowcase. This zippered covering encloses the pillow in a textile that is usually designed with antimicrobial or virus blocking properties.

Some establishments use pillow covers that also incorporate moisture-resistant fabrics, but many guests don’t like these if they are too stiff and make a crinkling sound when depressed.

How To Be Sure Your Pillow is Clean

A hotel room with pillows and lampshade.

While finding information on how often the bedding: sheets, duvet covers, and pillowcases are washed, getting the same information on your pillow may be harder to find. The most obvious way to learn about how often your pillow is cleaned is to simply ask when checking in or contacting housekeeping when you first arrive in your room. Most hotels will bring a fresh, washed pillow if requested to do so.

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The other way to be sure that a pillow is clean is to examine it for soiled or stained areas, any tell-tale debris, or smelling it. None of these options sound particularly fun, but it is better to notice these issues before lying down for the evening. If a hotel has a smoking floor, they probably take a lot of care to make sure a smoky smell isn’t present – especially in rooms on non-smoking floors.

Anything that hints at unclean pillowcase warrants a call to housekeeping for a change. The same is true for issues with the zippered pillow cover.

If everything looks (and smells) fine but you are still feeling uncertain about the cleanliness of your pillow, there are several different sanitizing sprays that you travel with and use on your bedding. Just be sure to choose a spray specifically designated for use on fabrics and avoid any sprays that contain bleach. There are also options for those who like lavender or other relaxing scents.

Lysol Max Cover Disinfectant Mist, Lavender Fields Scent 15 Ounces (Pack of 6) 2X Wider Coverage

The Ultimate Solution

Of course, one way to be sure the pillow at your hotel meets your standards for hygiene and cleanliness is to bring your own pillow with you. Even this can be tricky and present potential problems. If you’re traveling by plane, packing a pillow will take up a lot of space in your luggage.

You also run the risk of your pillow suffering the same fate as so many phone chargers – being left behind. Chances are that the more attached to your pillow you are, the more expensive it might be, so forgetting it at the hotel could be costly in addition to being frustrating.

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Traveling With Care

Travel plan paper in a bed with a tablet.

If the global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to take an extra level of care as we travel. This is particularly important when we sleep in a hotel and spend many hours with our heads on top of a pillow.

As with any travel plan, you can do a little research via internet reviews and online forums to check that the hotel you have chosen stays on top of their sanitizing game.