How to Clean Decorative Pillows That Can’t Be Washed

Are you tired of decorative pillows that collect dust, dirt, and stains but can’t be washed? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Decorative pillows add a touch of elegance and comfort to any living space, but keeping them clean can be a challenge, especially when they come with the label “Do not wash.” Whether adorned with intricate beadwork, made from delicate fabrics, or featuring unique embellishments, these pillows require special care to maintain their appearance and integrity.

How to Clean Decorative Pillows That Can't Be Washed

In this guide, we’ll explore effective methods of how to clean decorative pillows that can’t be washed, ensuring they continue to enhance your home’s decor without compromising their beauty or structure. From spot cleaning to deodorizing and beyond, we’ll cover all you need to know to keep your decorative pillows looking as good as new.

What are the Benefits of Cleaning Decorative Pillows?

Before we discuss cleaning methods, let’s first understand why it’s essential to keep decorative pillows clean. Regular cleaning can maintain their appearance, prolong their lifespan, and offer health benefits.

Dust, allergens, and bacteria tend to accumulate on decorative pillows over time, making them a potential breeding ground for germs. This can lead to allergies, respiratory issues, and other health concerns, especially for those with sensitive skin or existing conditions.

Moreover, dirty decorative pillows can also affect the air quality in your home, causing unpleasant odors and an overall stuffy atmosphere. By keeping your decorative pillows clean, you not only improve the aesthetics of your living space but also promote a healthier environment for you and your family.

What Will You Need?

Benefits of Cleaning Your Decorative Pillows

Now that we’ve established the benefits of cleaning your decorative pillows, let’s gather the necessary materials before diving into the cleaning process. Depending on the type of pillow and its condition, you may need:

  • White microfiber cloth or sponge
  • Mild detergent or soap
  • Distilled water
  • Baking soda
  • Vacuum cleaner with upholstery attachment
  • Stain remover
  • Dry cleaning solvent (for delicate fabrics)
  • Essential oils (optional for deodorizing)

Make sure to read the care instructions on your pillow’s label before proceeding with any of the methods. Some pillows may require specific products or techniques, so following the manufacturer’s recommendations is essential.

8 Easy Steps on How to Clean Decorative Pillows That Can’t Be Washed

Step 1. Spot Cleaning for Minor Stains:

Begin by tackling any minor stains on the surface. Gently dab the stain with a white microfiber cloth or sponge lightly dampened with a mixture of mild detergent and distilled water. Be careful not to rub the stain, as this can cause it to spread or penetrate deeper into the fabric. Pat the area dry with a clean cloth.

Step 2. Vacuuming to Remove Dust and Allergens:

Regular vacuuming is crucial for the upkeep of decorative pillows that cannot be submerged in water or machine-washed. To begin, gently brush off any loose dirt or debris from the pillow’s surface to prevent it from spreading during vacuuming.

Regular Vacuuming is Crucial

Attach the upholstery attachment to your vacuum cleaner to ensure a more gentle treatment, especially for pillows with delicate fabrics or intricate designs. Carefully vacuum all sides of the pillow, using slow, even strokes to avoid fabric damage.

This method effectively removes dust, mites, and other potential allergens that can embed themselves deep within the fibers. For pillows with deeper grooves or embroidery, use a smaller brush attachment to get into the crevices without harming the decorative features. Vacuuming every few weeks can drastically reduce the accumulation of irritants and keep your pillows looking fresh and clean.

Step 3. Treating Difficult Stains with a Stain Remover:

When faced with more stubborn stains that spot cleaning can’t resolve, it’s time to bring in a stain remover. Opt for a stain remover appropriate for your decorative pillow’s fabric type. Apply it directly to the stain according to the product’s instructions, usually by dabbing it on gently with a cloth.

Allow it to sit for the recommended amount of time, then blot away with a clean, damp cloth. Be careful to dab rather than rub to avoid damaging the pillow’s fabric. This step may need to be repeated for particularly resistant stains. Always test the stain remover on a small, inconspicuous area of the pillow first to ensure it doesn’t affect the color or texture of the fabric.

Step 4. Deodorizing to Freshen Up:

Even after spot and stain treatment, pillows might retain an unpleasant odor, especially if they haven’t been cleaned for a while. A safe and effective way to deodorize decorative pillows is by using baking soda. Lightly sprinkle baking soda over the entire surface of the pillow.

Pillows Might Retain an Unpleasant Odor

You can enhance the deodorizing effect with a few drops of your favorite essential oil mixed into the baking soda before application. Allow the baking soda to sit on the pillow for at least an hour or overnight for stronger odors. Vacuum the baking soda thoroughly using the upholstery attachment of your vacuum cleaner. This step leaves your pillow smelling fresh and helps pull out any moisture absorbed within the fabric.

Step 5. Using Dry Cleaning Solvent for Delicate Fabrics:

A dry cleaning solvent is an ideal alternative for decorative pillows made from fabrics that are too delicate for water-based cleaning methods. It’s especially useful for materials that might degrade or shrink with water. Apply a small amount of the solvent to a clean microfiber cloth and gently dab the pillow’s surface.

Avoid soaking the fabric. This should help dissolve and lift any lingering stains or soil without needing water. After applying the solvent, leave the pillow to air dry completely in a well-ventilated area. Always conduct a patch test on a hidden part of the pillow to ensure the solvent does not adversely affect the fabric.

Step 6. Final Inspection and Touch-Up:

After cleaning, it’s important to conduct a final inspection of your decorative pillows. Examine each pillow closely for any remaining stains, odors, or dampness. If any spots were missed or require further attention, repeat the relevant cleaning steps as necessary.

Final Inspection of Your Decorative Pillows

For any stubborn stains that persist, consider consulting a professional cleaner to avoid damaging the fabric. Once you’re satisfied with the cleanliness and condition of your pillows, give them a final fluff to restore their shape and enhance their appearance. This step ensures that your decorative pillows are clean, healthy, visually appealing, and comfortable for daily use.

Step 7. Storage Tips for Clean Decorative Pillows:

Once your decorative pillows are completely clean and dry, proper storage can help maintain their pristine condition, especially if you’re rotating seasonal decor or storing them for an extended period. Store your pillows in a cool, dry place to prevent mold and mildew growth. Consider placing them in breathable fabric bags or cotton pillowcases for added protection.

Avoid plastic bags, which can trap moisture and lead to unwanted smells or damage. Additionally, ensure the storage area is free from direct sunlight to prevent colors from fading. Storing your pillows correctly will ensure they remain fresh, clean, and ready for use whenever needed.

Step 8. Regular Maintenance for Longevity:

To extend the life of your decorative pillows and keep them looking as good as new, incorporate regular maintenance into your cleaning routine. Fluff your pillows daily to maintain their shape and ensure even distribution of filling material, which prevents lumps and flat spots from forming.

Also, rotate and flip them regularly to ensure even wear and exposure to sunlight, especially for pillows placed in direct sunlight, which can cause fading over time. Spot clean spills and stains as soon as they occur to prevent them from setting.

Implementing these simple habits can significantly prolong your decorative pillows’ aesthetic appeal and usability, making them a continual source of comfort and beauty in your home.

Decorative Pillows' Aesthetic Appeal and Usability

By following these steps and incorporating regular maintenance, you can keep your decorative pillows looking fresh and clean for years to come.

5 Additional Tips and Tricks

  1. Baking Soda Freshening: Sprinkle baking soda over your pillows and leave it for 15-20 minutes before vacuuming it off. Baking soda can absorb odors and leave your pillows smelling fresh.
  2. Sunlight for Disinfection: Placing pillows in direct sunlight for a few hours can help disinfect them naturally. The UV rays from the sun kill bacteria and remove dampness, preventing mold growth.
  3. Dryer Sheet Tuck-In: For pillows that can’t be washed but still need a scent boost, try tucking a dryer sheet inside the pillow or pillowcase. It’s a simple trick for keeping them smelling clean without washing.
  4. Use a Cover Under Communicate (CUC) Method: This method involves using a cover to protect your decorative pillows from dirt and stains. Underneath the cover, place a thin layer of fabric or an old T-shirt to act as a barrier between the pillow and the cover. Don’t forget to communicate with guests or family members about not directly touching or using the pillows.
  5. Brush and Puff: Using a soft-bristled brush or a pet hair remover can help remove surface dirt and debris from decorative pillows. Gently brushing and puffing the pillow can also help restore its shape and fluffiness. Make sure to do this over a clean sheet or towel to catch any falling dust or debris.
Remove Surface Dirt and Debris

These additional tips and tricks are useful for cleaning decorative pillows and can also help extend their lifespan and keep them looking and smelling fresh.

5 Things You Should Avoid When Cleaning Decorative Pillows That Can’t Be Washed

  1. Avoid Using Excessive Water: Applying too much water can damage the pillow’s fabric and filling. If not dried properly, it may cause unwanted stains, shrinkage, or even mold growth.
  2. Don’t Apply Heat Directly: Using a hairdryer or placing the pillow too close to a heater to speed up the drying process can cause the fabric to weaken, fade, or shrink. Always air dry in a well-ventilated area.
  3. Steer Clear of Harsh Chemicals: Harsh cleaning agents can discolor fabrics and degrade fibers. Always opt for mild, fabric-safe cleaners or use natural cleaning solutions.
  4. Avoid Rubbing Stains Aggressively: Vigorous scrubbing can spread the stain and damage the fabric’s surface. Instead, dab gently when treating spots to prevent the stain from penetrating deeper.
  5. Don’t Ignore the Care Label: Bypassing the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions may result in irreversible damage. Always check the label for specific care details to ensure the longevity of your decorative pillows.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can effectively clean your decorative pillows without causing any damage and ensure they remain beautiful and fresh for a long time.

Some Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Do You Deodorize Decorative Pillows?

To deodorize decorative pillows, you can use natural solutions such as sprinkling baking soda on them and vacuuming them off after 20 minutes. You can also place the pillows in direct sunlight to naturally disinfect and remove any odors. Use dryer sheets or fabric sprays with natural ingredients like essential oils to freshen up your pillows for a quick fix.

Place the Pillows in Direct Sunlight

However, it’s essential to regularly clean and maintain your decorative pillows to prevent any unpleasant smells from developing in the first place.  Overall, incorporating these tips and tricks into your cleaning routine can help keep your decorative pillows looking and smelling clean and fresh for a long time.

So, take care of your decorative pillows with regular maintenance, proper storage, and gentle cleaning to enjoy their comfort and beauty for years to come!

2. What Kind of Pillows Cannot Be Washed?

Some types of decorative pillows, such as:

  1. Silk or Satin Pillows: These delicate fabrics can easily get damaged when exposed to water. Instead, spot-clean any spills or stains.
  2. Feather and Down Pillows: While some feather and down pillows can be washed, check the care label for specific instructions. If they are not labeled as machine washable, it’s safer to have them professionally cleaned.
  3. Beaded, Sequined, or Embroidered Pillows: These decorative pillows often have delicate decorations that can get damaged in the washing machine. Spot cleaning is the best option for these types of pillows.
  4. Vintage or Antique Pillows: These delicate and often valuable pieces should not be washed as it can decrease their value and cause damage. Instead, spot clean or have them professionally cleaned.

It’s always best to check the care label and follow any specific instructions for cleaning decorative pillows to avoid causing any damage. It’s safer to use gentle methods such as spot cleaning or seek professional help if in doubt. 

3. Why Do Your Pillows Smell Bad?

There can be several reasons why your pillows may have a bad smell. Some common causes include:

  1. Sweat and Body Oils: Over time, pillows can absorb sweat and body oils from our skin, leading to an unpleasant odor.
  2. Mold or Mildew: If your pillows are not properly dried after being washed or exposed to moisture, it can lead to mold or mildew growth, causing a musty smell.
  3. Pet Odors: If you have pets that like to cuddle on your pillows, their dander or saliva can lead to unpleasant smells.
  4. Lack of Air Circulation: Pillows that are not aired out regularly may also develop a musty smell due to lack of air circulation.

To prevent bad smells, make sure to regularly clean and maintain your pillows, use covers for protection, and air them out frequently. If the smell persists, it may be time to replace your pillows. 

4. Can You Spray Air Freshener on Pillows?

It’s generally safe to spray air freshener on your pillows, but choosing a natural or fabric-safe option is essential. Some air fresheners can contain harsh chemicals that may irritate your skin or damage the pillow’s fabric and filling.

If you opt for natural air fresheners such as essential oils, dilute them with water before spraying them onto the pillows. It’s also recommended to spot-test a small area first to ensure the scent and spray do not cause any discoloration or damage.

Overall, it’s best to regularly clean and maintain your decorative pillows instead of relying on air fresheners for long-term freshness.  So, make sure to incorporate these tips into your cleaning routine to keep your decorative pillows looking, feeling, and smelling fresh. 

5. Can Use Water to Clean Decorative Pillows?

It depends on the type of decorative pillow. Some types, such as silk or satin pillows, should not be exposed to excessive water as it can damage the fabric. However, other types, like cotton or polyester, can typically handle light cleaning with water. It’s essential to check the care label and follow any specific instructions for cleaning your decorative pillows.

Also, avoid soaking the pillows or using excessive water, as it can lead to mold and mildew growth. Always air-dry your decorative pillows in a well-ventilated area to prevent any moisture buildup.  Overall, it’s best to use gentle cleaning methods and spot clean where possible to avoid causing damage to your decorative pillows.


How to clean decorative pillows that can’t be washed may seem challenging, but with the right techniques, it’s entirely feasible to maintain their beauty and hygiene.

The key is to be proactive in preventing dirt and stains through regular dusting, using pillow covers, and immediate spot cleaning of spills. For deeper cleaning, choose gentle methods such as vacuuming with an upholstery attachment or using a soft brush to remove dust and dirt.

Additionally, natural deodorizing methods like baking soda or airing out pillows in the sun can keep them fresh without water or harsh chemicals. Remember, the care label is your best guide for maintaining the pillow’s integrity and appearance.

By following these tips, you can ensure that even the most delicate decorative pillows remain an elegant and clean addition to your home décor.

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