Home Hacks

My Mom’s Trick for Fluffier, Cleaner Pillows

Get ready to question everything (you thought) you knew about making the bed.

April 30, 2020
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Remember the great (and fiercely fought) top-sheet-or-no-top-sheet debate from a few years ago? It was all-out war for a while, with non-top-sheeters being called everything from disgusting to monsters. In the opposite corner, the single-sheeters were also spoiling for a fight, calling the top sheet a scam perpetuated by Big Linen.

Look I get it: People have strong opinions on bed-making. Between the decorative pillows vs. none, light blanket vs. duvet, hospital corners vs. fanfolds vs. untucked, it seems that when it comes to how they sleep, people have all kinds of preferences.

And so do I. So here I am, adding to the bedding confusion: I think you should use two pillowcases per pillow. Yes, you heard me. Two cases. One pillow.

Full disclosure: I didn’t always subscribe to this. Like every “regular” person I know, I used a single pillowcase. But I was deeply confounded by a problem I had. Each time I bought myself a new set of pillows, I'd be shocked at how quickly they’d get flat and dirty—and forced to replace them at an alarming rate. The more I bought, the flatter and more annoying they got. To the point where I started having dreams of running after white, pert, fluffy pillows, except they were always faster (and meaner).

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Top Comment:
“My pet peeve about pillow cleanliness is that people use bolsters or big decorative pillows in back, and don’t leave a big, clean basket into which to toss them. Where do they go? On the floor, and then back on the bed—yuck! In hotels the maids put them on the upholstered chairs while changing the beds and then put the clean pillows right back on top of them—yuck! My other cleanliness tip: ALWAYS bring your own pillowcases when traveling and staying in hotels! ”
— J

Then my mother visited. And as she changed my bedding for me one morning, she sent me a text at work: “You don’t use two pillowcases like I taught you to?”

Once I stopped rolling my eyes at the pillow policing, I started to think back, and realized that through my childhood, when I’d watch her make our beds, I’d always see her slip on a pillow cover—or undercover as she called it—first. This was typically an old pillowcase, softened with time, patterns rubbed off from repeated washing, upcycled with a zipper or some other closure sewn on. On top of that, she’d slip on a more aesthetically pleasing, newer one. Think of them as a pillow cover and a pillowcase, she’d say.

Sound like a pain? I thought so, too. But then, her pillows, even when naked, always looked clean and felt fluffy. Mine—not so much.

Naturally I had to do some digging on the subject before I switched loyalties, and found she’s not the only one. According to the comments on this thread an 'under pillowcase' is typically a quite thick, coarser cotton while an upper matches the bed linen or is a finer thread count. Turns out doubling up makes complete sense. And makes people happy.

The reality of life—no point denying it—is that we shed a little every day. Gross, but true. Over time, our bedding and pillows get filled with sweats, stains, and dribbles. "It’s not just daily use that breaks down your pillow, but a buildup of dirt and oil that can actually flatten the fibers in it over time," confirms Sarah Natow, supply chain director at bedding company Buffy.

As someone who perpetually swings from very cold to very sweaty at night, I especially know this. So, using a second pillowcase isn’t just to maintain aesthetics, it helps prevent damage to the pillow and the down inside. Think of it as the final layer of defense, as a hygienic buffer between your human grossness and the trusting pillow. It extends the time between pillow washings—and in my case, fresh purchases, which Natow says should be no more often than once every couple of years. (She also recommends leaving them in the sun for a couple hours, or throwing them in the dryer with dryer balls every so often for longevity. And regular hugging.)

And before you tell me to use a pillow protector instead…don’t. A pillow protector, if anything, makes a pillow super crinkly and the very opposite of comfortable (not to mention the rustling wakes me up!). A second cover on the other hand makes it extra soft—especially if you reuse an old one like my mom does—like resting your head on a loaf of fluffy Hokkaido milk bread.

So...clean and cozy sleep. Plus, money saved. Convinced yet?

Where do you stand on this crucial bedding issue? Tell us in the comments below!

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Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.


Paula C. October 21, 2020
I think pillow protectors are great but I know there are many varieties available but the ones I’ve used have never made my pillows crinkly so maybe it’s the fabric type of the protector that makes a difference? I generally use ones that are allergy protectors and very smooth and “silky”. However I can see where an old case would work also.
Ranjini P. May 20, 2020
What a wonderful idea!My mom,grandmom and now myself ,will definitely use this!I now use a thin cotton South Indian towel onto of my pillows to reduce wear and tear!
Author Comment
Arati M. October 21, 2020
I know exactly the kind you speak of, Ranjini :)
jld529 May 19, 2020
i, too, use an "undercover" on my pillows, but my mom called them ticking. We always had down pillows and once a month she would prop them up on the window sill for an airing. I still do this and can attest to the freshness of the pillow afterwards. Try it.
elly May 19, 2020
Same here! Pillow protectors with zip, made from quilted or tightly woven fabric. And a breathable moisture proof mattress protector underneath a quilted fitted protector.
Paula V. May 19, 2020
I have always used pillow protectors. Plain white cotton ones with a zipper. I wash them with my laundry detergent ( I’m partial to Tide) a couple of scoops of baking soda and for the softener I highly recommend plain old white vinegar! I use this formula for all my laundry and my towels and sheets and pillows come out smelling fresh! No not like a salad! Hang your clothes out or put your pillow protectors in the dryer. But protect your pillows!
Claudia I. May 19, 2020
Mind. Blown. I also eschewed the annoying and unnecessary top sh*t several years ago. It changed my life. And now you're going to change it again! This is brilliant, and as soon as I send this off, into the breach I shall go making my pillows like new -- fresh and rejuvenated and protected!! Thank you so much, Arati.
Author Comment
Arati M. May 19, 2020
Woohoo! Welcome to the club.
Liliane May 10, 2020
Im a two pillow case girl. Old one under, new matching case on top!!!
What do you know!!! Your mom and I are on the same page. Cheers to your mom !!
Happy mothers day to you moms out there 💐
Mary-Denise S. May 10, 2020
My mom was born in 1920 (her mother in 1895). I was born in 1949. If you were born in 2005, you could be my granddaughter. My current top pillowcase is linen, with someone else's monogram on it. I love it, and look forward to warm weather when I can change out flannel sheets for linen!
Author Comment
Arati M. May 19, 2020
She will be thrilled to hear. She thinks it's pretty amusing that I now follow the same tips I used to laugh at!
Alice May 6, 2020
Just read your article. My mother always used 2 pillow cases. Then later in life went to all cotton pillow protectors. I’m now 72 and have been using all cotton pillow protectors for years. They definitely save your pillows, especially if you have all down.
Terry May 5, 2020
There are soft cotton, non-crinkly sounding, pillow protectors out there.
Author Comment
Arati M. May 6, 2020
Wow, I must’ve met all the wrong protectors ;) However I will say, I love the idea of reusing old, worm pillowcases as the covers.
Danielle May 11, 2020
Yes, except your worn out pillowcases won’t protect your pillow like a fresh pillow protector will. And you can buy cotton pillow protectors. Almost anywhere that sells linens.
diana. May 5, 2020
I'm curious, how do you clean your down pillows?
Yvonne May 19, 2020
I wash them in the laundry with powder, not liquid, detergent. Dry them with white tennis balls to ensure it fluffs up.
Mary-Denise S. May 5, 2020
My grandmother taught me to use two pillowcases, and also to "air" the bed for an hour or so after rising. The morning sun shines on the unmade sheets and they stay nicer between washings.
Author Comment
Arati M. May 6, 2020
Nothing like the curative powers of sunshine! My mother and grandmother do/did the same. I just moved to an apartment with no direct sunshine and I have to say, I really miss it cleansing the room!
Robin H. May 3, 2020
I've always used two pillowcases and a cotton cover for the pillow itself. Healthier all around!
Author Comment
Arati M. May 6, 2020
Wow, amazing!
Kathryn F. May 2, 2020
I have always used a cotton pillow cover under my pillowcase as well....it just makes since. You don't need to wash the pillow as often and keeps it looking fresh longer. My mother did this, however, my adult children do not. When staying at my daughters house, i was shocked she wan't doing this. I guess i never told her how important it is at keeping your favorites pillow looking and staying more fresh . I will now after reading this today.....she will too I bet.
Author Comment
Arati M. May 4, 2020
Moms know (pillows) best! :)
drbabs May 1, 2020
Hmmm. I have thick 100% cotton pillow protectors (not crinkly at all; that would wake me up, too), so I only use 1 pillow case, turned so that the zipper of the protector is hidden. Never thought of using two pillow cases, but of course it makes perfect sense. Here's a link to the pillow protectors, just in case....https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B076QGBRLN/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Author Comment
Arati M. May 1, 2020
Thank you for sharing!!
cookbookchick May 4, 2020
Just "in case"! LOL!
Author Comment
Arati M. May 4, 2020
Kelly-Jo M. May 1, 2020
You’ve convinced me, I’m changing the bedding today and will be trying this, thanks for sharing
Author Comment
Arati M. May 1, 2020
Let us know what you think!
J May 1, 2020
Love the tip and will try it! My pet peeve about pillow cleanliness is that people use bolsters or big decorative pillows in back, and don’t leave a big, clean basket into which to toss them. Where do they go? On the floor, and then back on the bed—yuck! In hotels the maids put them on the upholstered chairs while changing the beds and then put the clean pillows right back on top of them—yuck! My other cleanliness tip: ALWAYS bring your own pillowcases when traveling and staying in hotels!
Author Comment
Arati M. May 1, 2020
J, my mom would love you. She always carries pillowcases and towels when traveling.
Kim May 5, 2020
I take pillow slips and washcloths when traveling. Washcloths are very rarely found in Europe.
Anita October 21, 2020
I found that out the hard way!
diana. October 21, 2020
I bring my own pillows. ( ;
TracyLynn April 30, 2020
I have used 3 pillow cases on my pillows for as long as I can remember. I was not raised that way and friends and family that stayed over would make fun or say I was being overly protective. I just appreciate a nice and clean fluffy pillow that lasts a long time. So I’m a fan of 2 pillow cases and always new I had good reason for doubling up on them!!
TracyLynn April 30, 2020
Typo 2 pillow cases not 3..
Author Comment
Arati M. May 1, 2020
:) I was very impressed with 3 (but also happy with 2).
Kay H. April 30, 2020
I was raised using 2 pillow cases. I still do, so does my sister's and my daughter. And we all use mattress pads. You would be surprised at how many people do not use them
Author Comment
Arati M. May 1, 2020
I've literally just switched to using a mattress pad, and am thankful for it keeping things clean. Mattresses are expensive, so longevity helps!
Maggie S. April 30, 2020
Permission to make an illo of you chasing after fluffy, scowling pillow?
Author Comment
Arati M. April 30, 2020
Would be the rarest (and finest) of honors!
Karen S. April 30, 2020
After many years of using pillow protectors, I started using two pillowcases last year when I replaced all my bedding. The reason was, that I had purchased king and queen pillows instead of standard and didn't have the right size. I too am one of those people who immediately makes their bed as soon as I get up. A lifelong habit.
Author Comment
Arati M. April 30, 2020
A well made bed always sets me up for the day ahead :) Mini triumphs/small pleasures are ever so important, especially now.