How often should you change your pillows? And the possible health consequences if you don't do it often enough

If you're wondering how often you should change your pillows, look no further than our guide below

pillow
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We all know how important your mattress is to a good night’s sleep. But, your pillow is equally important. That said, even the best pillow doesn't last forever. So how often should you change your pillows? If you're waking up with aches and pains or can't seem to find a comfortable position to drift off to dreamland, it may be time for a new one.

Using the right pillow for your needs may mean the difference between restful slumber and a night of tossing and turning. So if you feel that you're not getting the best from yours anymore, take a look at our guide to changing your pillow - and be prepared for your best night of sleep ever.

How often should you change your pillows?

So how often should you change your pillows? Your pillow can absolutely impact the quality of your rest. As such, experts at Sleep.org recommend generally replacing it every one or two years. If that seems excessive, consider how much use it gets in that time. Every single night, your pillow accumulates dead skin cells, sweat, oils, saliva, makeup residue, and allergens. 

If that “ick-factor” isn't enough to persuade you, remember that the structure of your pillow breaks down over time. When it loses its fluff and form, it becomes less supportive of your head and neck. 

The time frame for replacing your pillow also varies depending on its filling: 

  • Polyester and synthetic down: These are some of the most common pillows on the market. Based on how well they're maintained, they can last anywhere from six months to two years.
  • Down: The fill makes down pillows reasonably durable. Still, these pillows should be replaced every one to three years
  • Memory foam and latex: Depending on the quality, memory foam and latex pillows can last three years or more

How not changing your pillow could be affecting your health

Besides affecting the quality of your sleep, your pillow can also impact your wellbeing if you don't change it often enough. But, how?

Your pillow is a perfect breeding ground for dust mites, which devour your dead skin cells and thrive in environments that are warm and humid. The microscopic mites aren't dangerous, but they can trigger eczema for some and aggravate allergy symptoms in others. 

Dust mites aren't the only things lurking on your pillow. In a 2005 study at the University of Manchester, scientists analysed ten pillows that had been slept on for anywhere from one and a half to 20 years. They found that each one hosted up to 16 different fungi! For most people, the fungus in pillows is harmless. But, for people with asthma, other chronic respiratory diseases, or immunocompromised systems, it may cause significant risks. 

pillows on bed

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A good pillow should also keep your head and neck in alignment with your spine when you sleep. In fact, it's one of the reasons choosing the best pillow for neck pain is so important. It's important to make sure you're using the right density for your sleep position. Snoozing on the wrong pillow can cause serious back and neck strain. This is particularly vital for travelling too - you should always make sure you have the best travel pillow to hand to prevent injuries or strain.

If you typically sleep on your side, you'll need a thicker, firmer pillow to provide enough support for your neck. Stomach sleepers need to make sure their pillows are reasonably flat, so their necks don’t get hyperextended backward.  And, if you sleep on your back, you'll need a pillow that’s firm enough to prevent your head from sinking too much and soft enough to ensure that your neck isn't arched too far forward. 

Tell-tale signs that you need a new pillow

While there are some obvious signs you may benefit from a new pillow, a simple test will tell you for sure. 

Fold your pillow in half, and put a clean shoe on top. If the shoe goes flying and your pillow springs back to its original shape when you let go, you can keep it for now. But, if the pillow stays folded, it's time for a new one. 

Clean, newer pillows are also a must for anyone that struggles with acne. But, how do you tell when your pillow needs replacing? If you consistently remove your makeup and cleanse your face before bed but still wake up with breakouts, your pillow may be to blame. All the dirt and oil your pillow absorbs night after night can clog your pores (and cause blemishes).

Here are some other signs your pillow needs replacing:

  • It's stained and dingy looking, even after washing
  • You wake up with a stiff, achy neck or tight, cramped shoulders
  • You suffer from throbbing headaches every morning
  • You experience congestion, sneezing, or an itchy throat every night
  • Your pillow feels flat or lumpy

How to prolong the life of your pillow

There are some things you can do to make your pillow last longer: 

  • Make it a habit to wash your pillow every six months to get rid of odours and pesky dust mites
  • If your washer is large enough, wash two pillows at a time to balance the load. Use the hottest cycle recommended and a gentle detergent 
  • Memory foam and latex pillows can't be washed, so be sure to check the laundry label before tossing your pillow into the washing machine
  • Add a few tennis balls to the dryer to keep the filling from clumping
  • You can even speed up the drying time by throwing in a couple of dry towels. Make sure your pillow is completely dry to prevent mould and mildew from forming
  • We also recommend using a protective pillow cover, to act as an additional barrier, under your pillowcase