Pillow Talk: How Often Should You Replace Your Pillows?

Replacing Your Pillows

You’re groggy. You’ve had another restless night - tossing and turning, but are unable to get comfortable. What to do?

A good pillow will help you get better sleep, because it provides a soft cushion for your neck and head,  and can also directly affect your spine. Since most pillows often get lumpy (or fall apart) when washed in the washing machine, you may wonder: “How long should I keep my pillows before replacing them?”  Well, look no further! I've done the research for you and what I found out may surprise you.

Allergens & Other Gross Things

If you're an allergy sufferer, like me, you want to do everything you possibly can to lessen your symptoms.  I previously mentioned helpful hints, such as, washing your bedding frequently in hot water to reduce allergens in my article, 10 Tips For Dealing With Spring Allergies.  But is washing your pillowcases enough?  You may ask, "Should I wash my pillows, too?"  or wonder if you should be replacing them altogether.  

Pillows collect body oils and skin flakes over time, even when covered by a pillowcase.   These accumulations can attract dust mites, a common allergen. Dust mites, along with bacteria, mold and mildew, and human factors such as perspiration and drool, can make pillows become unhealthy.  Experts recommend that allergy sufferers replace their pillows every 1 to 3 years, however, using a pillow cover in addition to the pillowcase can double that amount of time.  

A pillow cover, sometimes referred to as a pillow encasing, looks like a basic white pillowcase with a zipper. Though it may look like a normal pillowcase, it is specifically designed to block out dust mites and other allergens. The major differences between a pillowcase and pillow cover are that pillow covers zip up tight to completely encase your pillow and are made of a fabric that prevents allergens from passing through it. Pillow covers act as a physical barrier between the inside of your pillow and allergens.  


If the above allergy concerns don't apply to you, you may want to simply consider whether your pillow still provides good support.  While a lumpy or flattened pillow can be extremely uncomfortable, it can easily be replaced.  

Sleep experts say that an old pillow can cause improper neck alignment that can throw off a person's entire spine, resulting in back, neck and leg pain and causing a series of headaches.  They suggest replacing top-quality pillows every  2 to 3 years and less expensive ones more often than that – every couple of months!

Here are two tests that you can use to determine whether or not you should replace your pillow:

  • If you own a polyester pillow, fold it in half and place a shoe on top. If the pillow unfolds and knocks the shoe off, it is still good. If the shoe wins, the pillow probably needs replacing. 

  •  If you have a feather pillow, fold it in half and squeeze out as much air as you can. (Leave the shoe out of this contest.) When you release the pillow, it should unfold on its own. If not, it is done and the pillow needs to be replaced.

Sleep deprivation can affect almost every area of your life, so it's important to do whatever you can in order to get good-quality sleep nightly.  One simple way to do that is to make sure that your pillows are not the problem.  A too-plump/ or too-flat pillow, or one that is not contoured to your head, neck and back, can seriously change sleep patterns, leading to side effects, e.g., depression, heart disease, irritability, slower reactions (think about driving) and tremors.

Also, it’s important to note that while you certainly get fitted for shoes and clothing, getting fitted for a  pillow has probably never crossed your mind – but you really should.  Purchasing a good-quality pillow that feels like a good fit will enhance good sleep and will also give you a starting point when replacing your pillows within that 2-to 3-year timeframe.

Did you find this article helpful?  If so, please let me know!  Click on your reaction below or leave me a comment or suggestion. Thanks!

Elena White is the founder and editor of  Life The Green Way, corporate sustainability coordinator at her day job, and a "rurban" wife and mother.  Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter at @Lifethegreenway.


Tony & Cecilia said…
This is a great post, thanks! The only question I have now is how to define a "good quslity" vs. "cheap" pillow, if it makes such a difference in how long you should keep it. Is it price, brand, materials, etc.? Thanks again!
Elena said…
Thank you for your comment! In my humble opinion, a "good quality" pillow is a comfortable one. Understanding your sleeping habits, posture, and pattern and will help you choose the one that will give you the best comfort. For examples, if you are allergic to down, choose a cotton one. If you are a stomach sleeper, choose a thinner pillow that will allow your head and neck to be in alignment with your spine. I hope this helps!
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