Bedding

How Often Should You Replace Your Pillows?

By Liam Hinton, January 22, 2021

Replacing your pillow is not only hygienic but also ensures you’re well-supported while you sleep. The general rule of thumb is that you should replace your pillows every 1 to 2 years. However, depending on the type of pillow you have, you may need to switch it out sooner or later than that.

Washing your pillows regularly and using a pillowcase can help extend the lifespan of your pillow, but even with the best care, all pillows eventually need to be replaced. If you don’t remember the last time you replaced your pillows, it might be time to get a new pillow.

Pillow Lifespan Overview

Pillow TypeLifespan
Memory Foam18 months to 4 years
Latex3 to 4 years
Down1 to 3 years
Feather18 months to 3 years
Down Alternative (Polyester)6 months to 2 years

Memory Foam Pillows

Lifespan: 18 months to 4 years

Memory foam pillows either have a solid block of memory foam inside or a shredded memory foam filling. Solid block memory foam is firmer and more durable but can get a bit hot, while shredded memory foam is moldable, softer, and more breathable.

Both types of memory foam pillows last between 18 months to 4 years depending on how well you care for them and the quality of the foam.

Foam pillows, such as those made with poly-foam, have a lifespan similar to memory foam. These pillows will retain their shape and buoyancy for up to 4 years.

Latex Pillows

Lifespan: 3 to 4 years

Latex is a pillow fill made from the sap of rubber trees. It’s bouncy, durable, and breathable. Although latex is naturally hypoallergenic and resists dust mites and mold, it can still get dirty and you’ll need to switch it out after 3 or 4 years.

Down Pillows

Lifespan: 1 to 3 years

Down refers to the soft feathers from a duck or goose’s belly. They’re fluffy, soft, and luxurious. A down pillow can last between 1 to 3 years depending on how well you maintain and fluff it.

Feather Pillows

Lifespan: 18 months to 3 years

Feather pillows are the feathers from a duck or goose’s overcoat. Feathers are fluffy—like down—but can be less soft. Feathers have quills that tend to poke through the pillow. Not only can quills scratch you, but the feathers may fall out and cause your pillow to flatten. Feather pillows last roughly 18 months to 3 years before needing to be replaced.

Down Alternative (Polyester) Pillows

Lifespan: 6 months to 2 years

Since down pillows can get quite expensive, you may prefer a down alternative pillow made from polyester fibers. Synthetic pillows are the most common and inexpensive pillows. A polyester pillow is also quite easy to maintain since it’s machine-washable.

Still, you’ll need to replace down alternative pillows more often than other pillows since they only last between 6 months to 2 years.

Signs You Need to Replace Your Pillow

Now, not all of us remember exactly how old our pillows are and won’t know when to switch them out. If you’re not sure how old your pillow is, some telltale signs indicate when it’s time to replace your pillow:

  • You struggle to get comfortable and fall asleep at night
  • You wake up with neck or shoulder pain
  • You wake up with headaches or migraines
  • You wake up with allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, rashes, or difficulty breathing
  • You wake up feeling exhausted
  • Your pillow has unwashable yellow spots or stains from sweat and oil
  • Your pillow is lumpy or has gone flat
  • If you fold your pillow in half, it does not unfold quickly

Even if your pillow isn’t worn down by old age, sometimes you may need to replace your pillow if you’ve switched sleeping positions. For example, if you were a back sleeper and switched to side sleeping, you’ll need a thicker pillow to maintain healthy spinal alignment.

Reasons Why You Should Replace Your Pillow

Nothing lasts forever. While it may seem wasteful to replace your pillow frequently—even if it seems to be in good condition—your pillow may be harboring bacteria that are harmful to both you and your sleep quality.

Promotes Good Hygiene

With time, your pillow collects your sweat and body oils and can develop yellow spots and stains. Even with a pillowcase that you wash frequently, all pillows are bound to get dirty and old.

Sweat trapped in your pillow also promotes mold and mildew growth inside of it, which is not only unsanitary but also causes your pillow to smell. A 2005 study found 16 variants of fungi within a single pillow, which can evolve into even more types of fungi and invite dust mites to your pillow.

Prevents Allergens

As you sleep, your pillow traps bacteria such as dust, dead skin cells, hair, and body oils. The bacteria then attract dust mites. Although dust mites are not necessarily dangerous, they still feed on your skin cells. If you suffer from allergies, dust mites can aggravate allergy symptoms such as sore throat, skin rashes, or runny nose.

Minimizes Pain

Old pillows get flat and lumpy with age due to the weight of your head wearing the pillow down. Your pillow’s job is to support your head and neck and keep them in line with your spine, but a flat pillow can’t do this.

Once your pillow is worn out, it can no longer support your head and neck and will eventually cause shoulder and neck pain. The pain and lack of support can also make it difficult for you to sleep.

How to Maintain Your Pillow

Although pillows have an approximate lifespan, how you maintain them affects how long they last. We always recommend following the pillow’s specific care instructions, but here are some general tips to keep in mind.

Wash Your Pillow Correctly

You should wash your pillows every six months, or twice a year. While it’s tempting to just toss your pillows in the washer and dryer without thinking about it, most pillows aren’t machine-washable or dryer-safe. Washing your pillow incorrectly can wear it down quicker and impact its structural integrity.

If you have machine-washable pillows, use a mild detergent and use the hot water setting. We suggest always washing two pillows at a time so the washing machine doesn’t overload. After the first wash, complete a rinse cycle (with no soap) to ensure there’s no leftover detergent. Depending on the size of your pillows, you may need to use a large, front-loading washing machine.

Next, dry your pillow on the air only or low-heat setting. If your pillow contains feathers or shredded foam, adding dryer balls or tennis balls to the dryer can help break the fibers apart and fluff your pillows.

If your pillow is not machine-washable, it’ll likely need to be spot cleaned or hand-washed and then air-dried.

Regardless if your pillow is machine-washable or not, be sure your pillow is completely dry before you reinsert it in the pillowcase and put it back on your bed. Even a mildly damp pillow can develop mildew or mold.

Use a Pillowcase

Always use a pillowcase with your pillow. Although most pillows have a soft fabric casing, you should still use something over your pillow for an extra layer of protection from moisture and dust. Pillowcases can also be more aesthetically pleasing than just the plain pillow cover, so you can use them to decorate your bedroom.

Be sure to wash your pillowcase and other bed sheets at least once every two weeks to ensure everything is sanitary and won’t smell. If you tend to sweat a lot at night or deal with acne, wash your pillowcase weekly.

FAQs

What happens if you don’t wash your pillow regularly?

If you fail to wash your pillow regularly, it’ll build up bacteria quicker than a regularly cleaned pillow.  You’ll need to replace your pillow sooner than expected since it will become unsanitary to sleep on.

However, pillows aren’t difficult to clean and don’t need to be cleaned more than twice a year, so it shouldn’t be much of a problem to maintain your pillows.

Can old pillows make you sick?

Old pillows can expose you to filthy bacteria, such as dust mites, mold, and mildew. Long-term mold exposure can cause health issues and may cause you to experience itchy eyes, difficulty breathing, and a runny nose. Once you get rid of these old pillows, your sleeping conditions should be cleaner and the sick feeling should go away.

Can you get mold out of pillows?

Apply diluted cleaners such as lemon with salt, vinegar, or Borax onto the mold or mildew stains on your pillow and allow the cleaner to sit for several hours. Next, gently scrub the cleaners off and repeat these steps until the stains are gone. Then, wash and dry your pillow as directed on the care instructions.

You can also wash your pillow in the washing machine with bleach on the hottest cycle to clean stains and get rid of the mold. Let your pillow dry completely before replacing it on your bed.

How do you dispose of old pillows?

You can send your old pillows to a textile recycling factory. Also, some homeless shelters may accept gently-used pillows. With either of these options, your pillows must be completely clean and free of blood, grease, or body oil stains.

If your old pillow is dirty and you cannot reuse it, it’s not recyclable and you should throw it away.

Do you have to wash new pillows?

Most pillows are already clean before arriving at your home, so there’s no need to wash them.

However, if you have a memory foam or latex pillow, you may want to wait 24 to 48 hours before using it. Foam pillows tend to release an unpleasant odor at first, but the scent dissipates within several days. Also, pillows are often vacuum packed when shipped to your home, so it can take a couple of days for them to fully expand.

Conclusion

Even with the proper care, you will eventually need to replace your pillow. Your pillow has a direct impact on your quality of sleep and a dirty, flat pillow will do little for you. Instead, using a clean and supportive pillow can promote a good night’s sleep and ensure you won’t wake up feeling tired or achy.

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