This post was most recently updated on June 8th, 2021
Pillows have a certain lifespan, and definitely do need to be replaced every so often.
But when is the right time to change out your pillows?
The answer really depends if your pillow issues are cosmetic, or if they’re structural. If your pillows are stained, or just in need of a fluff – that can be an easy fix.
If your pillows have flattened out, or if they’re super clumpy, you probably need a new one. Let’s go through the possibilities, and see if why can identify the right answer for you.
If your pillows have huge yellow stains
If your pillows have turned an unattractive shade of yellow – but are still holding their original shape, and performing adequately – you can try washing your pillows with Bluette.
Blueing is a trick that professional cleaners use to liven up yellowed fabrics. You’ve probably never seen it before at your local grocery store, but industry professionals use it all the time.
Bluette doesn’t actually remove the yellowing, it significantly brightens up white fabrics. The yellowing disappears in the sea of white.
If you hate your pillows because of the yellowing, try bluing them before you replace them.
If your pillows have an odor
It’s important to consider the type of odor!
If you have a goose down pillow, and your pillow smells “feathery” – or like a barnyard – your pillow is fine. Feather and down pillows emit this odor when they are wet.
You need to allow the pillow to fully dry in an open area. Remove the outer pillowcase, and let it dry – preferably outside under the sun – for a few hours.
If your pillows are very clumpy or deformed
If your pillows have developed uncomfortable lumps, clumps, or dips, it might be time for a new pillow. Or it might just be a 5-minute quick fix.
Let’s break this down by pillow type:
Down Alternative pillows
After a certain amount of use, and a certain number of wash cycles, the polyester fill tends to clump. The lumps range anywhere from annoying to downright uncomfortable.
If you’re using inexpensive down alternative pillows, we suggest replacing them if the clumps are large enough to see through the pillow.
How can you tell if they’re large enough?
If it looks like you’ve stuffed a grapefruit in certain spots, while other areas have dipped inwards – the clumps are large enough, and it’s time for a new pillow!
If your clumps are rather small – if they feel like small cotton balls – and aren’t altering the overall shape of your pillow you can try to massage them out.
Run your fingers through the pillow, and when you feel any clumps, pull them apart. This might take a minute, so just be patient. When you’re done fluff the pillow.
Did that work?
If the answer is yes, then your pillow is probably good for another 6-12 months.
If not, it’s time for a new pillow.
Down alternative pillows are super affordable – even a good quality set – and tend to last long enough to justify the investment.
Goose down and/or feather blend pillows
Unlike down alternative pillows, goose down pillows are costly and are worth the effort to repair before you decide to replace them.
Down and feather blend pillows usually suffer from one of two common issues:
1.) The down/feathers clump
2.) The down fill disintegrates
1.) If your down pillow is clumpy
For clumpy down pillows, a good fluffing will solve your problem.
Take a few moments and gently run your fingers through it the pillow. Down feathers are very delicate and fragile. You don’t want to pull these clumps apart as you would with a down alternative pillow.
Think of it as more of a “pillow massage”.
Because of their textured structure, goose down and goose feathers will sometimes get tuck stuck to one another like velcro.
If the pillow massage doesn’t work, gently shake your pillow a few times. Up and down, and then in a side to side motion.
2.) The down fill disintegrates
Goose down and feathers like anything natural do break down over time. You won’t see it, but you can certainly feel it.
If (after fluffing) you notice any dips or valleys in your pillow, pinch the area with your fingers and gently rub the area.
Goose down and/or feathers should feel soft, yet gritty.
If your pillow feels powdery and gritty – particularly in the areas with dips or valleys – then the fill has disintegrated, and it’s time for a replacement.
Memory foam pillow issues are super easy to identify.
Memory foam pillows come in two common varieties. They will either be one solid chunk of foam, or they’ll be filled with memory foam clusters.
Either way, they suffer from the same problem – the foam either gets hard and dry, or it breaks down and turns powdery.
If you can no longer squeeze the foam, or if it feels like your pillow is filled with chalk dust, it’s time for a new pillow.
Memory foam pillows have no “grey area”. They’re either good, or they’re bad.
If your down pillows are leaking feathers
If you’ve noticed a few down feathers that have leaked from your pillow, check out this guide on how to stop feathers from leaking.
If you’ve caught the leak early, it can be repaired.
If your pillow has been leaking for a while, you’ve probably lost enough feathers to change the structure of your pillow. In which case it’s probably time for a replacement.
If your pillow feels fine, but you still have a stiff neck
It’s time for a new pillow!
Pillows degrade over time. Even if you don’t see any structural changes like clumps, pillows do gradually flatten out, and they do lose their resiliency.
These changes can be subtle, and gradual.
A pillow that was supportive last year, might be useless this year – even if it looks the same.
And sometimes your pillow preference just changes as you get older. You might have preferred a medium-density pillow last time around, whereas you might need a firm pillow now.
If everything looks even, and the inside of your pillow feels good – and yet you still wake up with a stiff neck – it’s definitely time for a new pillow!
New pillow considerations
If your pillow is still in good condition, but you’ve decided to purchase a new one because of neck pain, here is something to consider.
Lay down in your preferred sleeping position, and ask someone else to take a look. What you want is for your spine to be straight while you’re laying down.
If your neck tilts up or down, then you aren’t using the right pillow for your sleeping habits.
If your head tilts down, then your pillow is not supportive enough, and you need something firmer. On the other hand, if your head tilts up, then your pillow is too supportive (too firm) and you need something softer.
If your spine is perfectly straight, then maybe you just need a massage!