Cleaning & Restoration Association News

‘Soft’ Contents Restoration: Pillows

Taking the proper steps when restoring bed pillows following smoke or fire damage yield excellent results—often a brand new pillow.

In this series on “soft” contents restoration, we’ll be discussion pillows. Bed pillows are composed of ticking (the fabric covering), stuffed with some type of fill material, usually goose down (feathers), synthetic fiber (polyester), or urethane foam (either solid or shredded). As is the case with mattresses, ticking is either natural (cotton) or synthetic (nylon, polyester). Feather pillows are fairly expensive, generally costing $40-60 minimum; however, pillows comprised of all-synthetic fiber or urethane foam materials may range in cost from $10-20 U.S.

Fortunately, bed pillows of either type are usually protected from significant soot contamination by pillowcases. Therefore, visible soot staining is normally very light, if at all. Leave the pillowcases on for protection until the pillows have been removed from the home, or until you are ready to begin cleaning.

Throw pillows found on sofas, chairs and beds are constructed in basically the same way as upholstered furniture, and may be durable or non-durable, colorfast or non-colorfast. Restorers are referred back to the discussion on upholstered furniture (August 2000 ICS) restoration for suggestions about their cleaning and deodorization. The following procedures will guide you through restoring (cleaning, deodorizing) bed pillows.

Dry Soil Removal

As with any fabric, vacuuming to remove all the dry soil is the first order of business. Again, if covered by a pillowcase, and if handled properly during removal from the home, soot staining should be minimal.


Regardless of ticking or fill composition, pillows may be wet cleaned. First, select a processing area that won’t be affected by a little overspray from the cleaning procedure, such as a durable flooring area in your restoration facility. After removing the pillowcase, simply grasp the pillow by one corner and, having filled an upholstery unit with an appropriate mildly alkaline cleaning agent, spray the detergent solution on the pillow’s ticking from bottom to top. Rotate the pillow as you spray for uniform application. Agitation is optional since there’s little soiling, and light cleaning usually is all that’s necessary. Besides, you don’t want to allow the solution excessive time to soak into the fill material, a condition that’s sure to prolong drying and perhaps promote odor. Next, use the hot water extraction unit’s hand tool to flush suspended soil from the ticking, using your hand tool in a manner similar to upholstery cleaning.


Although not always required, it’s a good idea to spray the pillow with a federally registered disinfectant to control microorganisms that might produce odor. Then, lightly “final rinse” the pillow using hot water extraction methods.


Rapid drying is important to avoid problems associated with prolonged moisture exposure. Following careful wet vacuuming to physically remove excess moisture, simply hang the pillow by one corner on a line (preferably in the sunlight, if possible) and provide a little air movement. If the pillow is laid on a drop cloth for drying, be sure to turn it over periodically for uniform drying. If down-filled pillows appear flat or “clumpy” following cleaning, inspect seams carefully to ensure that separation won’t occur; then, place the pillow in a dryer and tumble it for five to 10 minutes on a medium heat setting. This provides uniform fluffing of the pillow’s fill, and it adds to its complete restoration.


If odor remains in the pillow following cleaning, place it in an ozone room and subject it to concentrated ozone gas for 24-48 hours, followed by light thermal fogging.

There are other methods for restoring more expensive feather pillows. Some dry cleaning establishments have purchased “pillow cleaning” machines that use ultraviolet light sterilization. The procedure involves cutting open the ticking, dumping the filling into the machine’s rotating drum, and disposing of the old ticking (along with much of the smoke odor).

At this point the feather fill is exposed to intense ultraviolet light for a specified period, and once sanitized, it is blown into new ticking with a design comparable to the old one. More down fill is added, if necessary, and the pillow is sewn up again. Really, the whole process results in a brand new pillow!

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