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How Often Should You Replace Your Pillows?

Bedding Guides
Read Time: 7 minutes

You may not realize it, but your pillow can affect how you sleep at night. It’s not just a way of elevating your head and neck; it’s a means of keeping your spine in healthy alignment and reducing pressure points.

Over time, and with regular use, your pillow starts to wear out and lose support. You may wake up feeling sore in the mornings or have a hard time staying asleep at night. If you experience this discomfort, it’s time to replace your pillows.

Signs It’s Time to Replace Your Pillow

A pillow supports your head and neck, but over continuous wear and tear, that support decreases. When you start experiencing a stiff neck, it might be time to replace your pillow. As a general rule of thumb, if your pillow doesn’t immediately pop back to its original shape after it’s folded in half, it may no longer be supportive.

Allergic Reactions or Congestion at Night

Over time, dust mites accumulate inside your pillow. Your pillow is the perfect breeding ground for dust mites. They live off dead skin cells. Dust mites can aggravate allergies and make it harder to breathe at night. You may wake up during the night or in the morning with nasal congestion, itchy, watery eyes, and a runny nose. Allergens may also worsen snoring or sleep apnea symptoms.

Wrong Support

Your pillow may not be giving you the support you need. Consider your sleeping position. If you have a new pillow but suffer from a stiff neck in the morning, you may not be getting enough support from your pillow based on your sleeping position.

A 2016 study looks at how pillow loft, or height, affects spinal alignment. The study found that sleeping with the right pillow loft based on your preferred sleeping position resulted in less pressure in the head and neck. Less pressure means fewer aches and pains the following morning.

Side Sleepers

Lying on your side results in a large gap between your head and the sleep surface. A pillow with a higher loft (pillow height) fills in that gap, cushioning your head and neck.

Back Sleepers

There’s less of a gap between the head and mattress, but a medium to low loft pillow is best. This height aligns your neck with your spine in a neutral position.

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach Sleepers Pillows

Stomach sleepers tend to press their faces into their pillows and get the smallest gap between the head and mattress. The best pillow for stomach sleepers should have a low loft—it won’t raise the head and cause the spine to arch.

Some stomach sleepers feel most comfortable sleeping without a pillow.

Experiencing Neck Pain

Not only should your mattress encourage spinal alignment, but your pillow should too. A high-quality pillow cradles your head and neck, night after night. Pillows can last only so long with regular use before they lose support. If you wake up with neck pain that fades during the day, your pillow may not be giving you the support you need.

Why Should You Replace Your Pillow?

Pillows are not made to last forever. Your pillow should be switched out every 1 to 2 years so your head and neck get consistent support for a better night’s sleep.


Your pillow absorbs fluids and dead skin cells, even with a pillowcase covering it. No matter how many times you wash it, bacteria builds up inside your pillow and may cause a bad odor. Bacteria may also cause mold and mildew growth.

Breathe Better

Both bacteria and allergens can buildup inside your pillow. Dust mites, in particular, can be a big problem. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, dust mites may cause or worsen allergies.

Some pillow materials attract dust mites more than others. For example, memory foam, latex, and buckwheat are hypoallergenic, while down, feathers, and synthetic fibers may attract dust mites. Buying a new pillow or switching to a different pillow type may improve your breathing and sleep quality.

No Pain

As previously mentioned, pillows lose their support over time. You may not want to part with your favorite pillow, but your pillow flattens and loses support over time. Without support, you may experience painful pressure points that could disrupt your sleep or make you feel sore in the morning. Replacing your old pillow with a new one reduces pressure, so you don’t feel sore in the morning.

Caring for Your Pillow

Proper care of your pillow ensures it lasts. It may also expand its lifespan. Regularly cleaning your pillows gets rid of bacteria and allergens, and also may restore your pillow’s loft. Take a look at a pillow’s care instructions to see how best to clean your pillow.

Wash & Dry

Most pillows are machine washable, while others are hand wash only. Regularly washing your pillows every 4 to 6 months in hot water ensures the best care. High heat kills most allergens and dust mites, which could be growing inside your pillow.

If your pillow is dry clean only, the same rule applies. Take your pillows to your local dry cleaners every 4 to 6 months. Most down pillows require dry cleaning since chemicals inside laundry detergent strip the natural oils from down feathers, causing the pillow to flatten.

Tumble dry your pillows on low heat or hang dry. Make sure your pillows are completely dry before use. Otherwise, the leftover moisture could cause mold and mildew growth.


Pillowcases are not just a means of decoration. They also protect your pillow from sweat, makeup, body oil, and dead skin cells. Most bed sets come with one to two pillowcases.

Washing your pillowcases is just as important as washing your pillow. Some pillows may come with pillow covers or pillow protectors, depending on the brand. Pillow covers are extra protection for your pillow from fluids and allergens in addition to your pillow case.

Pillow Types and Their Lifespans

Each pillow type has a different lifespan. Some materials are more durable than others, like latex and memory foam, while others may last less than two years, like down alternative pillows.

Memory Foam Pillows

A memory foam pillow contains either shredded memory foam filling or a solid piece of memory foam. Memory foam is naturally hypoallergenic, so you’re less likely to experience allergic reactions from dust mites and other allergens.

Memory foam pillows conform to your head, neck, and shoulders, relieving pressure points. A memory foam pillow can typically last 3 to 4 years.

Down Pillows

Down is a bird’s insulating fluff, found underneath the outer feathers. Most down pillows contain a combination of down and feathers, but a true down pillow must contain at least 75% down. Down is ultra-soft, lightweight, and moldable. Down pillows easily compress into any shape to accommodate your sleeper type.

Down pillows last 2 to 3 years depending on how well they’re maintained.

Feather Pillows

Feather pillows contain feathers from ducks and geese; some may even include down for extra softness. These pillows are soft, though not as soft as down pillows, and are easily doable for a shape to match your sleeping position.

Feather pillows have the same lifespan as down pillows, between 2 to 3 years. Keep in mind that feather pillows have sharp quills that may poke through the pillow covering. Down pillows contains less quills.

Down Alternative

Down alternative pillows contain synthetic materials that mimic the feel of down, such as polyester. These synthetic pillows are the least expensive and least durable pillows available. At most, down alternative pillows last two years.

Down alternative pillows may not be as soft as down or feather pillows, but they may be more supportive. See our down vs down alternative pillow guide for more information on the two materials.


Latex pillows are similar to memory foam pillows—both conform to the head, neck, and shoulders to relieve pressure points, and both are hypoallergenic. However, latex is more responsive and sleeps cooler than memory foam. If you’re looking for an organic pillow, you’ll prefer latex over memory foam. Latex is a highly durable material, with latex pillows lasting 3 to 4 years—longer than any other pillow type.


Buckwheat pillows contain thousands of buckwheat hulls. These dense pillows are firmer than other pillow types and may feel heavier too. Most buckwheat pillows come with 10-pound bags of buckwheat hulls to adjust the loft. Despite their weight, buckwheat pillows can be molded to suit your ideal shape.

Buckwheat is naturally hypoallergenic, and also has a long lifespan, up to 3 years.


When should you throw away pillows?

At most, you should replace your old pillows with new ones every 1 to 2 years. Your pillow absorbs a lot of body fluids and attracts allergens. Plus, it goes through lots of wear from the weight of your head. After a while, your pillow loses its support. If your pillow is older than three years, it’s time to replace it.

How often should you wash your pillows?

Your pillows collect dust mites and sweat on a nightly basis. Just like with other bedding, your pillows need regular washing. Read the care tags to see how to care for your pillows.

Many models can be placed in the washing machine with mild detergent. You should wash your pillows every 4 to 6 months to prevent allergen build-up.

Why do old pillows turn yellow?

Yellow spots on your pillow are from moisture. Moisture can cause your once white pillow to turn yellow. Your pillow absorbs sweat—then as it dries, it turns yellow. Spot cleaning your pillow before placing it into the washing machine may temporarily bring the pillow’s white color, but after a year or two, it might be best to replace your pillow.

What can you do with old pillows?

There are a few things you can do to reuse an old pillow if it’s too worn out to donate, and you don’t want just to throw it away.

  • Make Rags

Remove the stuffing from your pillow and use the pillow cover as rags for cleaning or protecting valuables inside packages.

  • Compost

The feathers inside a pillow work well as compost material.

  • Use As A Knee Pad

Instead of spending extra money on a knee pad, use an old pillow outside doing yard work.

Can an old pillow make you sick?

Your pillow accumulates a lot of allergens and fluids because your face is pressed against the pillow. Over time, these allergens build up and may cause allergic reactions and headaches that make it harder to stay asleep at night. Less sleep makes it harder to focus on our tasks during the day. This is why it’s essential to replace our pillows every two years.


Pillows support your head and neck, but after a while, you need to replace them. Pillows lose their support over time, resulting in neck pain and headaches. They also collect dust mites and bacteria, which may provoke allergic reactions and disrupt sleep. Replacing your pillows ensures a good night’s sleep.

Meg Riley Certified Sleep Science Coach

Meg Riley is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a full-time writer focused on sleep and mattresses. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Sleep Junkie.

Meg started to focus on the sleep industry in 2018. Since then, she has written over 70+ articles on sleep hygiene, product reviews, and the newest trends in the mattress and bedding industry.

A non-exhaustive list of some of the topics she has written on: the effectiveness of alarm clocks, how to prevent jet lag, the NREM & REM Sleep Cycle, and causes and treatments of Restless Legs Syndrome.

Meg Riley has her undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University where she studied Advertising and Public Relations and wrote articles on the student experience for College Magazine.

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