Pillow Talk – When And Why You Should Replace Your Pillow (A 2020 Guide): What Is A Pillow’s Lifespan?

Photo of cheerful young lady dressed in pajama lies in bed at home under a blanket sleeping.

Pillow Talk

How long does your pillow last? When should you replace it? This article is a comprehensive guide from our team’s sleep experts outlining the full details of when you should replace your pillows and the telltale signs of an old pillow that needs to be disposed.

Yes, we get you- you love your pillow, and you’ve been through so much together! She’s been there for every cry, hug, and great night’s sleep. 

But we’re sorry to break it to you, you cannot keep a pillow forever. If you can’t remember the last time you unwrapped a new one- your old one has got to go!

This just isn’t about being gross (although that is pretty strong motivation) just like your mattress (which we’re sure you spent hours looking at online reviews for) your pillow supports your neck and head while you sleep.

Newer, fresh pillows mean better alignment, cushioning, new heat dissipation materials (no more tossing and turning for the cooler side of the pillow), and support for your head, shoulders, and back. All these combined with the proper mattress for you and your sleeping position can add to that perfect night’s sleep!

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Table of Contents

Fast Facts: Why you need to know that your pillow needs replacing.

Your body sheds hair, skin, and oils each night as you sleep- all that travels from your pillowcase, pillow cover, and to your pillow. Over time, this causes your pillow to stain, smell, and get lumpy. An unhealthy breeding ground of bacteria, moisture and keeping you from your well-deserved sleep.

Other than your pillow slowly getting smelly, these conditions naturally attract dust mites. They grow, live, add extra weight to your pillow and impair its ability to be supportive long term. A dust mite drops 20 droppings every day, and that multiplied by the hundreds of mites living in your pillow is a number enough to make your skin crawl! Dust mites are not really all that dangerous, but the idea of them feeding on your skin (and dead skin cells) is quite an unsettling thought. These mites might keep you sneezing all night and interfere with sleep for those who suffer from allergic rhinitis or are sensitive to dust.

Most of the time, the dust mite issue can be remedied by regular washing, but that still does not mean you can keep your pillow forever. Our heads aren’t light, and supporting that weight every night will surely wear your pillow out and cause some uneven flat spots and a few lumps. Sleeping on a lumpy pillow can cause pressure to build up in areas where your body isn’t well supported- giving way to new aches and pains that you would not even have if you simply replaced your pillow.

The Signs- What to look out for

pillowUsually, being able to tell when it is time for a new pillow can be pretty clear; once you take it out of the pillow cover and see a stain, you know it is time to go!

When it’s time to replace your pillow, you’ll know if you spot any one or more of the following:

  • Stains from sweat, oils or drool
  • Lumps in the filling material or the foam might have a few dips
  • You aren’t getting quality sleep (weak neck and shoulder support can keep you tossing and turning all night)
  • You wake up with tension headaches
  • You wake up sniffly or sneezing from the dust mites and dust mite droppings
  • You wake up with neck and shoulder pain
  • You find yourself continually fluffing your feather pillow just to get comfortable, only for it to sink again in a few hours.
  • When folding your pillow in half, it does not flatten back out.

As much as we want to let you be and enjoy your favorite pillow- an old dirty pillow- other than being home to a few mites, skin cells, hair, sweat, and drool. An old pillow can also exacerbate irritations, allergies, and even cause acne! So, a new pillow means a healthier night’s sleep, better conditions for your skin, and better support for your neck and shoulders.

Pillows might also need to be replaced with other reasons- like say, for example, you’ve changed sleeping positions. Going from your side to your back means needing a pillow with a different height. Different sleeping positions involve having different pillow heights to keep your head, neck, and spine perfectly aligned.

Let’s talk about ALLERGENS.

Research from The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America states that everyday we shed enough skin to feed about a million dust mites (that is 1,000,000 dust mites) – so just think about that skin party that feeding all the mites that call your pillow home! Yuck!

Just so you’re aware, the most common symptoms of dust mite allergy include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy skin
  • Postnasal drip (a mucus flow from behind your nose into your throat)
  • Cough
  • Itchy, red or watery eyes
  • Stuffy nose
  • Itchy nose, mouth or throat

If you also have asthma, you might also experience the following.

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Waking up in your sleep caused by shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing
  • Chest pain or tightness

Dust mites might also be the most common trigger of year-round asthma and allergies. Now, it is impossible to get rid of them entirely- but you can lessen their populations by washing your pillows, keeping them fresh, and replacing them regularly.

Is it time? - When should you replace your pillows?

The general rule of thumb is that we should be swapping out our old pillow for a new one every 18- 24 months (1 year and a half to two years). Since pillows are now made with various materials, pillow lifespans may vary.

Below we have made a list of the most popular pillow materials and their average lifespans.

Memory Foam - One to two years.

 memoryfoamMemory foam is popular for how well it contours and molds to your body- but it does tend to sag. As a pillow, the material is not as reliable as its other fiber counterparts.

Down Pillows - once a year.

down pillowDown pillows tend to lump quite a bit after a while- and it is these lumps that make down pillows uncomfortable and eventually unusable.

Latex Pillows - once every two years.

latexLatex foam is known to be more durable than memory foam; it also holds its shape for much longer. Although a little more expensive, the time between replacing them makes up for the extra $$

Feather Pillows - once a year or more

weather pillowFeathers or feather based materials are among the most common materials used, and they are also quite inexpensive. We recommend changing feather pillows once a year or even more often than that (at about the 8-month mark)

Bamboo fibers- once a year

bambooBamboo fibers are more reliable than cotton, hold their shape for much longer, and only need to be changed once a year.

Other Pillow materials and their lifespans

Buckwheat- 2 to 2 1/2 years

Synthetic down/down alternative- 18 to 24 months

Polyester- 6 to 24 months

DIY time- what you can do with your old pillows

Now that you’ve replaced your old pillows with brand new ones, you might be wondering what you can do with your old lumpy ones. While the first impulse might be to throw them away, why not give them a super good wash and turn them into something new. 

Here are several ways you can repurpose pillows at home!

Please note that local non-profits do not accept pillows as donations due to hygiene reasons.

Donate them to an animal/ pet shelter

Old bed pillows make excellent pet beds and are sure to keep these furry- soon to be adopted friends warm at night!

Make pet beds

This one is for your furry friend at home. Your pets are sure to love these since they already smell like you – helping ease their separation anxiety while you are away. There are loads of no-sew guides to making pet beds online. You can also use the old filling to re-fluff an old pet bed! Your pet will love you more for it! (If that’s even possible.)

Make floor pillows or cushions.

Floor pillows are fantastic for casual gatherings and are easy to make. There are loads of covers available for sale, and all you have to do is stuff them. But if you’re a DIY superstar, you can always pick any material (this way, you get to choose the size as well). A quick online search will also help when looking for inspiration. Make square pillows, bolster pillows, or even round cushions.

Seal out draft

The easiest DIY project on this list is this one; a draft stopper. You can make them by stuffing an old sock with your old pillow stuffing and placing them wherever the breeze breaks through doors and windows. You can also get crafty and make them out of an old pillowcase that you’ve sewn shut.

Bubble wrap replacement

Are you moving soon? Save a little $$ (and Mother Earth) by wrapping your breakables in old pillow stuffing. All pillow stuffing works, but latex and memory foam are sure to work best when cushioning your breakables.

Pillow Care- How to Keep your pillows in the best shape

Being conscious about how clean your pillows are and how often to wash them is very vital! You spend every night with your pillow, so it’s only fair that they stay clean and fresh!

Washing your pillow

Before throwing the pillow in the wash- check the label. Not all pillows are machine washable, and usually only synthetic or cotton pillows are. Others have to either be dry cleaned or spot cleaned.

If your pillow is washable, we recommend washing every six months in hot water. A mild liquid detergent is just fine since a stronger one might leave a bit of a smell. Depending on your washing machine size, you should be able to clean two pillows fairly thoroughly- just run them under the rinse cycle twice to remove any leftover detergent.

When drying your pillow, make sure it dries thoroughly. Any moist clumps inside will be the perfect breeding ground for icky mold to grow. Run it through the dry cycle until dry, and (if you can) leave them out to get some sun and dry further.

Fluff your pillows daily to keep its shape.

Pillow Cover

A pillow protector/ cover with a zipper is best for enclosing your pillow. A pillow protector will most likely double the lifespan of your pillow. A pillow protector also acts as that extra buffer that will keep skin and oil from getting absorbed and attracting dust mites.

Wash your pillow cover as often as you wash your pillowcase.

Time for a new one- Buying a new pillow

Choosing a new pillow is tougher than it sounds, especially if you suffer from chronic pain, have injuries, or need proper alignment. Several conditions require more supportive cushioning for your head, neck, and shoulders.

You’ll also have to consider pillow heights in relation to how you sleep. Side sleepers need lower, less soft pillows to support their heads, while back sleepers need a bit more height to support their shoulders. While softness and material are a matter of personal preference. 

Here are a few points you should not miss to consider when choosing your perfect pillow:

Shoulder width

Some pillows are narrower than others, which might not work for broad shoulders or taller individuals.

Heat retention

Our bodies release a lot of heat from the top of our heads, mouths, and ears. Have you ever woken up at night searching for the cooler side of the pillow? A pillow designed to help draw heat away from your body might just be the key to a cool night’s sleep.

Moldability

Several materials tend to mold better to your body better than others. Materials such as memory foam are more firm and supportive while down and synthetic materials are softer and tend to allow your head to sink much deeper.

We understand that letting go is tough- but were glad that you’ve decided to make that replacement! Your sleep quality and your health is way more important than that attachment to a pillow. Once you start changing and caring for your duvet, pillows, and beddings regularly, you are sure to wake up from a great night’s sleep!

To sum it up:

Just like all your favorite things, your pillow might be something that’s just hard for you to let go of. Also – we always want to be practical, right? The old “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” adage but with pillows, we’re afraid to say that just won’t cut it. The quality of your sleep and importance of your health and well-being are just much too important. 

If changing your pillow means better sleep, then go for it! Check out our pillow reviews, find what you need and quickly click on “add to cart” and you’re all set.

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