How Often Should You Change Your Pillows?

Real (pillow) talk: We spoke to an expert to get all the details you wanted — and didn’t want — to know.

White pillows on bed
Frank Rothe/Getty Images

A year can fly by, especially if that's all the time you have with your pillow. Indeed, the basic pillow is only meant to last you one year.

Think that's an aggressive timeline for replacement? Consider all the nights you’ve rested and tossed and turned on the humble headrest. It’s cradled your heaviest dreams and maybe even absorbed a few sob fests. If you've invested in a better-quality option and taken good care of it, you'll have more time.

“The range of quality in a mattress is already dramatic, and the difference between the quality of pillows is even more so,” says Stephen Ferguson, Sleep Expert at Mattress Firm. The better the quality of a pillow, the more it can support your head and neck, and the longer you can rely on it. “I’ve had some of my Tempur-Pedic pillows longer than I should, but they last forever, especially if you keep them clean with a waterproof protector.”

But if you’re waking up with a crick in your neck or acne breakouts on your face — it's likely a sign you're using a past-its-prime pillow.

These Are Signs It’s Time to Replace Your Pillow

The average pillow will last you one year, but as Ferguson mentions, quality, which can somewhat be determined by price, can make a huge difference in how long you should keep your headrest around. Some top-quality down pillows, when taken care of properly, can last many many years (Martha Stewart claims to have down pillows that are 15 years old!).

If you're not sure when to swap out your pillow, here are some signs it might be past its nighttime prime:

  1. Your pillow is flat, lumpy, or won’t fluff. If it stays folded in half, deflates quickly, or looks like it has been through a grinder, it’s time for it to go. “If your pillow won’t retain its original shape when you’re not using it, it’s a sign it needs to be replaced,” says Ferguson.  
  2. It smells and/or has yellow stains. Oils from your skin and hair, plus tears and sweat, get absorbed by your pillow — even through the pillow case. A few years of that may build up on your pillow, creating stains, odors and possibly even mold or mildew, especially in a humid environment.  
  3. You sneeze, get red eyes, or itchy near it. Pillows can accumulate dust mites, which may trigger allergies. People with asthma may want to change their pillows more often.  
  4. Your head or neck hurts when you wake up. Your pillow should keep your head supported and spine aligned at night. Keep in mind your head weighs anywhere from 11-12 pounds, which can wear down your pillow after a few years.  
  5. You’ve used it for more than sleeping in the last year. Using it as laptop desk, body pillow, or for other late-night activities impacts the structure of your pillow.    

When the pillows on your bed are no longer doing their job, it’s time to replace them — but don’t look at this as an indulgence. There are a variety of pillows to choose from.

Which Type of Pillow Lasts the Longest?

As Ferguson mentioned, the quality of your pillow says a lot about how long you can keep it. “If you’re spending at least $100 on a pillow, you should be able to get three years out of it,” he says. Keep in mind that many pillows in this higher-quality range — such as memory foam, hybrid, and latex — aren’t typically washable, so will need durable protectors to protect them from moisture and dust mites.

These pillows, like the Tempure-Pedic Tempur-Adapt Cloud + Cooling Pillow, also often come with a warranty of up to 5 years.

While a high-price-tag pillow may feel overly luxurious, Ferguson does provide us a few words of wisdom: “Don’t buy a pillow based on how long it lasts. It’s got to be comfortable first. How often do you spend your time flipping the pillow over to find a cool spot or get more support? If your head is not comfortable, nothing else is.”

How Many Years a Pillow Can Last, Based on Quality and Material:

Pillow TypeLow-end LifespanHigh-end LifespanEditor's Pick
Fiber90 days to 6 months1 to 2 yearsBedgear Level 1.0 Pillow
Memory foam1 year3 to 5 yearsMalouf Supreme Cool Pillow
Latex2 years3 to 5 yearsMalouf Zoned Talalay Latex Pillow
Hybrid1 year3 to 5 yearsPureCare SoftCell Chill Hybrid Cooling Pillow
Down1 to 3 years3 to 5 yearsSerta Perfect Sleeper Goose Feather and Down Fiber Pillow for Side Sleepers (2 pack)
Bamboo1 to 1 ½ years2 yearsSimmons Essence of Bamboo Pillows

    How to Keep Your Pillow Clean

    Treat your new one like a throne so you can sleep like royalty. Here are some best practices to keep your pillow clean, dust-mite-free, and sturdy until it’s time to get a new one:

    • Use a zippered pillowcase protector. Zippered protectors shield your pillow from dust mites, liquids, and other contaminants better than open-ended pillow cases. If you use a memory foam, hybrid, or latex pillow, you’ll want a protector since these pillows can’t be thrown in the wash. 
    • Spot-clean pillows that can’t be washed by a machine. Remove the covers and spray equal parts white vinegar and water over the spot and press with a clean cloth. Wait for it to dry and repeat if necessary. 
    • Fluff your pillow every morning. Or at least every now and then. For down, fiber, and soft pillows, fluffing helps remove dust and restore its shape.  
    • Deodorize it in the sun every two weeks. Take off the pillowcase and leave your pillow in a hot, hot spot for at least three hours. If you sprinkle baking soda for extra deodorizing, be sure to vacuum the pillow thoroughly after.  
    • In the winter, throw fiber and down in the dryer for 10-15 minutes. Don’t do this with memory foam, hybrid, or latex pillows! 
    • Wash and dry fiber and down pillows every 6 months with powder detergent. Set it on the warm and delicate cycle, and make sure your pillow is completely dry or there’ll be mildew down the line!  

    Ready to Get New Pillows?

    Here are some questions to help determine which pillow is right for you:

    1. Are you a back sleeper? A small study of 20 participants found that orthopedic pillows were more cooling and supportive than memory foam and feather.  
    2. Are you a side sleeper? study of 106 participants recorded rubber pillows to outperform foam and polyester, and advocated against feather pillows.  
    3. Do you have neck pain in the morning? A theoretical review of pillow studies found that neck pillow with firm support and ability to stay cool was better for neck pain.  
    4. Do you need shoulder support as well? An orthopedic pillow may be a better fit than a standard down or fiber pillow.   
    5. Do you need something hypoallergenic, cooling, or perhaps a hybrid, to sleep well? A small study measured the temperature of 20 subjects rest on 3 different pillow types for 30 minutes and concluded that orthopedic pillows were cooler than memory and feather. 

    You might notice we didn't list stomach sleepers. If that's you, you might want to learn how to change your sleep position first. Tried that? Then you'll want to look into choosing a firm mattress for spine support.

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