When Should You Replace Your Pillow?
Signs of Wear and Tear


Written by Dr. Michael Breus

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When it comes to improving your sleep, mattresses often receive the most consideration. But your pillow also plays a crucial role in getting a good night’s rest. Like anything that you use every day, pillows tend to wear out over time. Even the best pillows need to be replaced, though many people are unaware of when they should purchase a new pillow.

We’ll discuss how long a pillow should last and how to increase your pillow’s lifespan. We’ll also cover common signs that your pillow no longer offers proper support and how the best pillows contribute to good sleep and hygiene.

How Long Should Your Pillow Last?

Most pillows last 1 to 2 years before they need to be replaced, but different types of pillows can have different lifespans.

  • Polyester or Down Alternative: Pillows using polyester fiber or a synthetic down alternative are the most common and cost-effective type of pillow available. They generally last 1 to 2 years.
  • Polyfoam: Polyfoam pillows typically consist of a solid piece of foam and should be replaced every 2 to 3 years.
  • Memory Foam: Similar to polyfoam pillows, memory foam pillows last on average 2 to 3 years.
  • Latex: Solid latex pillows are usually more durable than polyfoam and memory foam pillows. Latex pillows typically last 2 to 4 years.
  • Down or Feather: Pillows made with down, feathers, or a combination of these natural materials generally last 1 to 3 years.

We’ll cover a few steps you can take to proactively increase the lifespan of any type of pillow. It’s also important to keep an eye out for signs of wear and tear so you can replace your pillow when needed.

Boost Your Pillow’s Lifespan

The average pillow should last around 1 to 2 years, but there are several ways to lengthen its lifespan. Our tips focus on keeping your pillow clean to prevent premature breakdown of the inner fill material.

Keep Your Pillow Fresh

Use a Pillow Protector

Like a mattress protector, a pillow protector acts as a barrier that prevents body oils, dirt, dust, and spills from reaching the inner fill of your pillow.

Spot Clean Stains

If you have an accidental spill, try to spot clean the stain as soon as possible. Lingering stains can set in and penetrate your pillow cover.

Wash Your Pillow Regularly

Regular washing is beneficial for your hygiene and the lifespan of your pillow. Frequent cleaning removes oils and dirt that can build up over time and break down your pillow’s inner material. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when cleaning your pillow.

Signs Your Pillow Needs Replacing

Pillows don’t come with a precise expiration date. You’ll need to keep an eye on how your pillow feels and performs to know when it needs replacing.

Your Pillow Is Lumpy: When your pillow becomes lumpy and a spin in the washing machine and dryer doesn’t help, it may need replacing. Pillows with a plush inner filling such as down, down alternative, or shredded foam are prone to forming lumps. Over time, the fill material accumulates dirt, moisture, body oils, and other debris that regular washing isn’t always able to remove. When the inner fill forms lumps, it loses the ability to provide consistent support.

Permanent Odors or Stains: Even with regular cleaning, pillows tend to gather sweat and moisture stains. After several years, this can result in permanent discoloration and even odors. If your pillow turns yellow and has an unpleasant smell, it’s time to replace it.

Loss of Pillow Loft: After being compressed for a prolonged period every night, your pillow may start to flatten. A flat pillow can cause neck pain, particularly if you sleep on your side.

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Why Should You Replace Your Pillow?

Your pillow is a key contact point between your head and your bed. When your pillow gets old and starts to break down, it can cause many issues. We’ll cover the most important signs that it’s time to replace your pillow.

Replacing Your Pillow Is Hygienic

Your sheets and pajamas create barriers to protect your mattress. However, your pillow comes into direct contact with your hair and skin. As a result, your pillow is more likely to absorb and retain sweat, oils, and dead skin cells from your face and hair. Over time, this can lead to discoloration, odor, and even mold.

You’re Waking up With Neck or Shoulder Pain

After 1 to 2 years of nightly use, pillows tend to lose their loft. A pillow that’s too flat doesn’t provide proper support to your head or keep your neck aligned with your spine. If you regularly wake up with neck and shoulder pain, it may be time to replace your pillow.

You’re Trying to Change Your Sleep Position

A good pillow supports your head and keeps your neck in alignment with the rest of your spine. The ideal loft depends on whether you sleep on your back, side, or stomach. Side sleepers, for instance, tend to prefer thicker pillows with a medium to high loft that can support the head and keep it lifted above the shoulders.

If you have a certain medical condition or injury, you may need to change your sleep position. For example, back sleepers looking to reduce their snoring may consider sleeping on their side. However, getting a good night’s sleep in a new position can be difficult. To ease the transition, consider replacing your old pillow with a pillow suited to your new sleep position.

Ideas on How to Repurpose Your Used Pillows

An old pillow may no longer be useful for sleep, but there are many ways you can repurpose your pillow and give it a second life.

New Lives for Old Pillows

Packing Material for Moving or Storage

Old pillows still retain considerable loft and cushioning. Worn-out pillows can be an excellent low-cost option for packing materials when you need to move or place fragile items in storage.

Use Them as Floor Pillows

Dress up your old pillow with a new cover to match your living room decor and use it as a floor pillow for lounging or dining.

Use the Pillow Stuffing for DIY Projects

For those who love crafting, sewing, and other do-it-yourself projects, old pillows can be a great source of stuffing. You can repurpose down, down alternative, and shredded foam fill when making stuffed animals, door draft stoppers, or custom decorative pillows.

How Do I Dispose of My Pillow if I Can’t Repurpose It?

Sometimes a pillow reaches the end of its lifespan and there’s no way to repurpose it. We’ll discuss a few options for disposing of old pillows so they don’t clutter your home.

Donate to an Animal Shelter: Consider donating your old pillows to a local animal shelter. Heavily used bedding isn’t usually accepted by other charities, but old blankets and pillows can offer comfort to the dogs, cats, and other animals awaiting adoption at nearby shelters.

Donate to a Charity: Other charitable organizations may also accept pillows as donations. Keep in mind that most charities will only accept clean, unstained pillows in good condition.

Dispose at the Landfill: If you can’t find an organization to accept your pillow for donation, you can dispose of it at the landfill. For easy disposal, place your pillow in your trash collection bin. If your bin isn’t large enough, you may need to take your pillow directly to the nearest landfill for disposal.

About The Author

Dr. Michael Breus

Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert

Michael Breus, Ph.D is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. He holds a BA in Psychology from Skidmore College, and PhD in Clinical Psychology from The University of Georgia. Dr. Breus has been in private practice as a sleep doctor for nearly 25 years. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is also the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, Good Night!, and Energize!

  • POSITION: Combination Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Hot Sleeper

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