two old pillows on top of bed

7 Signs It's Time to Replace Your Pillow

/ October 12, 2020

Your old pillow still looks fine, in that it still looks like a pillow. But if you think the pillow you got as a wedding present 10 years ago is in the same condition as it was back then, think again.

Pillows—even high-quality ones—lose their shape after a few years of daily use and no longer properly support your head and neck while you sleep. What's more, they also accumulate a lot of yucky germs that you don't want to have near your face for eight hours straight.

So, exactly how long do pillows last and how often should you replace yours? Here's what you need to know.

person with neck pain sleeping on pillow that needs to be replaced

Waking up with neck pain is a sign it's time to replace your pillow.

Signs it's time for a new pillow

Not sure whether it's time to replace your old pillow? These guidelines will help make your decision easier.

How long do pillows last?

Although there is no definitive answer to this question, the National Sleep Foundation recommends changing your pillow every one to two years to be on the safe side. But if you pay attention, you'll know, as in most cases your pillow will "tell" you it's time to retire it.

Here are some signs to look out for:

You wake up with neck pain

Your pillow should be able to adequately support your head and neck, promoting correct spinal alignment. If it doesn't do that anymore, you'll likely experience neck pain. Waking up with neck pain is one of the tell-tale signs it's time for a new pillow.

You can't stop sneezing

Research shows that after a couple of years of daily use, up to 30% of a pillow's weight will be made up of dead skin cells, dust mites, and their feces. Sleeping in close proximity to so many allergens can cause an allergic reaction (think: sneezing, watery eyes, and a stuffy nose). If you've noticed an uptick in allergy-like symptoms, an old pillow could be to blame.

Your sleep position has changed

Every sleep position calls for a different pillow. Side sleepers should use slightly thicker and firmer pillows, while back sleepers should sleep on slightly thinner and softer ones. If you've recently changed your sleeping style, you might need to change your pillow to ensure you're being properly supported overnight.

Related: How to choose the right pillow for your sleep position

Your pillow smells

After prolonged use, your pillow will be covered in skin oils, germs, and saliva. All of these can cause your pillow to start emitting unpleasant odors. A smelly pillow is one that's past its prime.

Your pillow is discolored

The sweat, germs, and body oils that accumulate on your pillow can also stain. If your pillow is noticeably discolored, it might be time to get a new one.

Your pillow is lumpy

Over time your pillow might become lumpy, which could affect your sleep quality. Lumps make it so that only certain parts of the pillow are comfortable, meaning you might end up tossing and turning more frequently throughout the night. If your pillow is lumpy, consider getting a new one.

Your pillow doesn't snap back to its original shape

The quickest way to check whether a pillow is still in good condition is the so-called “bend test." Fold the pillow in half, then let go. If it snaps back into its original position easily, it's still in a good shape. If it doesn't, that means it might be time to replace it. The lack of resilience is a sign that your pillow may have lost the ability to properly support your head and neck.

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The Saatva Pillow

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How to care for your pillow

Once you have a new pillow, there are things you can do to help keep it in good condition for as long as possible. Namely, you'll want to clean your pillow on a regular basis.

Down or synthetic pillows can usually be washed in a washing machine on a delicate cycle (always check the manufacturer's instructions first). Run them through two rinse cycles after the wash, as soap residue can cause feathers to clump, then put them in a dryer (if the care instructions say this is permissible) on a low heat setting.

Most memory foam and latex pillows can only be spot cleaned and then air-dried. If your foam pillow is washable, you can soak it in a tub of warm water with a little detergent, then squeeze out the suds and rinse thoroughly several times.

Since you're going to be putting a pillowcase over your freshly washed pillow, you don't have to spot-treat stains, but this is still an option. For dark stains, you can pretreat it like you would a stain on your clothes.

For fresh blood, flush the stain with cold water to get as much out as you can before washing. If the blood is dried, use a stain remover with enzymes (like ones meant for pet stains). An enzyme cleaner will help with dried sweat and saliva too—or you can dab the stain with a sparing amount of white vinegar.

Related: An expert guide to cleaning every type of bedding

What to do with old pillows

Decided it's time to get rid of your old pillow? Instead of throwing it in the trash, consider repurposing it instead. Some ways to reuse old pillows include turning them into DIY floor cushions, using them as pet beds, and cutting them up into cleaning rags.

Still not sure what to do with your old pillow? Consult our guide to repurposing old pillows for more DIY ideas.

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