A pillow is a personal item — so personal, that some people grow very attached to theirs.
Chances are you or someone you know is the type of person who can’t sleep on any pillow except their own, which is why getting rid of your pillow can be a difficult decision.
But we hate to break it to you: Pillows don’t last forever.
As emotionally attached to your pillow as you may be, there comes a time when you’ve got to throw in the towel and get a new one. Just like mattresses, pillows play an important role in maintaining proper spinal alignment when you’re sleeping. And also just like mattresses, they wear down with time and use (our noggins are pretty darn heavy, after all), eventually resulting in deteriorated support and less-than-ideal quality of sleep.
Most of us don’t replace our pillows nearly as often as we should. And honestly, it’s easy to forget that pillows need replacing.
So how do you know when you should replace your pillow?
1. It Smells Bad
You just washed your pillow and yet, your pillow still smells a little… off.
That stinky smell is likely a byproduct of the skin, hair and body oil build-up that is unfortunately inevitable when it comes to pillows. But once that smell persists, it’s time to find a replacement.
2. Your Pillow Has Noticeable Lumps
Another key sign of wear is noticeable lumps in your pillow — whether you have a foam pillow or a traditional one. Like when a mattress gets lumpy, a pillow with lumps just won’t provide the support you need (plus, it’ll likely be uncomfortable).
3. You’re Getting Acne (Or Your Acne Is Growing Worse)
Similar to the smell issue, the build-up of oil, dirt, dead skin and other gross particles could be the cause of your breakouts. Though you can usually just get away with washing your pillowcase in this situation, it could be time to try a new pillow if your acne seriously will not go away.
4. It’s Flat Enough to Fold
Plenty of people like to fold their pillows while they sleep. So if you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, I do that all the time!” — but that’s not what we mean.
Even if you are a frequent pillow folder, it should always bounce back to its original shape once you let go or take your head off it. But if it stays folded on its own, that’s a clear sign your pillow is too worn down for its own good.
Your pillow should never be so flat that it stays folded in half. So if yours is, it’s time to go shopping, my friend.
5. You Frequently Wake Up Sneezing
Unfortunately, dust mites love pillows just as much as they love mattresses.
A pillow laden with dust mites is enough to make anyone sneezy. But for people with allergies, it could mean a night of incessant sneezing and discomfort. In fact, if you do suffer from allergies, you’re going to want to replace your pillow more frequently than other people might.
(P.S. When you do replace your pillow, get one that can ward off dust mites and other allergens).
6. You Have Neck and Shoulder Pain in the A.M.
Do you get chronic neck and shoulder pain? Is it the worst right when you wake up?
If you answered “yes” to either one of those questions, you should consider replacing your pillow (and scheduling a massage).
7. It’s Seriously Stained
If you’d be embarrassed if someone saw your pillow without a pillowcase, it’s probably time for you to get a replacement.
Pillows can stain very easily (in part due to how easy it is to drool in your sleep), and any liquid is going to soak into your pillow. So yes, the stains look gross, but it could also mean the interior of your pillow is equally gross.
So once you do get a new pillow, be sure to grab a pillow cover while you’re at it — this will help protect your pillow from embarrassing drool stains.
8. You’ve Switched Sleeping Positions
If you’ve recently changed your most-common sleeping position (i.e. you were a back sleeper and now you’re a side sleeper), it’s possible that your pillow isn’t right for you anymore.
Now, there are some pillows like The Bear Pillow that work with any sleeping position so you’ll never have to replace your pillow as your sleeping habits evolve. But if you’ve recently adjusted how you sleep and are noticing discomfort, it’s probably time for a pillow replacement.
9. You Constantly Re-Fluff Your Pillow
When you’re sleeping tonight, try to make note of how often you fluff your pillow. If it’s often, that’s probably a sign that your pillow isn’t giving you the support you need.
Think of it this way: Your sleepy self is constantly re-fluffing to try to get comfortable again (and again and again) — but what your sleepy self really needs is a new pillow.
10. You Often Wake Up Tired
True, waking up tired can mean a lot of things. But if you consistently wake up tired because you can’t get comfortable at night, your pillow could be the culprit. Just like having the right mattress for your body, having a high-quality, supportive pillow will also lead to a more restful sleep!
How to Get the Most Out of Your Pillow
The lifespan of a pillow depends on the type and the materials (some last four years, some only last 18 months). But regardless of the composition or type, a pillow’s lifespan will be drastically shortened if you don’t take care of it.
Once you do get a new pillow, make sure you read the label to find out how to properly care for your pillow. If it is machine washable, do so every six months to ensure it reaches its maximum lifespan. Just make sure you dry your pillow on a low-heat setting, and keep it in the dryer until it’s completely dry. Otherwise, mold could grow in the moist spots (yuck).
If your pillow is foam like the Bear pillow, chances are it isn’t machine washable. But, chances are it does have a cover that is machine washable—in which case be sure to follow those instructions carefully. The cover will protect your pillow from dust mites, dirt and oily skin. In fact, a cover can double the lifespan of your pillow (whether it’s foam or not), especially if it has a zip closure and you wash it every 3–4 weeks.
In other words, if you take care of your new beloved pillow, it’ll be in your life for a long, long time.
(But you still can’t keep it forever — sorry!)