How to Tell If Your Pillow Is Dead

How to Tell If Your Pillow Is Dead

Getting a restful night’s sleep depends on several factors — and the pillow itself is a biggie. Pillows provide support for the alignment of your spine, and they are a necessary factor in one’s slumber comfort. The thickness and firmness of the pillow you need or prefer will very from person to person, but any pillow can be detrimental to your sleep once it has run its course. Here are a few signs that it’s time to trade in that sorry old pillow for a newer model.

How old is too old for a pillow?

Basing your pillow replacement solely on time, the Sleep Foundation says experts suggest replacing pillows every one to two years, depending on the pillow’s makeup. Some pillows actually have expiration dates — according to the company Land of Sleep, polyester pillows have expiration dates printed on their tags. The Sleep Foundation states polyester pillows last about one year, while latex pillows last three. Of course, you don’t need to trash it immediately upon “expiration,” but if you are past the expiration date, the pillow has lost some structural integrity, and it’s probably a good time to start thinking about a replacement.

What does the pillow look or smell like?

Similar to sheets and covers, pillows need to be cleaned regularly to avoid the buildup of dirt and dust. When you sleep, your pillow is absorbing things like sweat, hair, and skin cells, which can attract dust mites and worsen symptoms for people with allergies.

If your pillow has permanent stains or a funky smell, even with regular washing, that means the amount of skin oils and dander has penetrated too deep into the pillow, and you need a new one. As Jillian Kramer writes for

You don’t want to know what can live in your pillow. But since you’re here, we’ll tell you. It’s a mix of bugs, dead skin, and house dust mites and their faeces. Gross. (Pillow cases may be even worse. A study by Amerisleep found that after just one week of not washing a pillow case, it held 17,422 times more bacteria than an average U.S. toilet seat.)

How to tell if the shape of your pillow is beyond revival?

The shape of the pillow matters, as well. There are two ways to tell if your pillow’s shape is beyond repair. First, the fluff test: If a fluffed pillow doesn’t stay plump or keep its shape, even after it has been cleaned — or it, sadly, doesn’t fluff up at all, it’s run its course. Second, the fold test: If you fold the pillow, and it snaps back to its plush state, it has still got some life left to live. If the pillow stays folded, it’s time to go.

Just don’t be fooled by a flat pillow that snaps back if it doesn’t also pass the fluff test — its days are done.

How does the pillow feel?

Pillows that have gotten a lot of use will begin to feel a little different than the day you bought them. If the pillow is lumpy, and you’ve tried the fluff test but the lumps will not separate or fluff up, the pillow stuffing has lost integrity (and once that integrity is lost, it’s lost forever).

Another indication is how you feel — if you wake up with pain in your neck, shoulder, or back (or you start experiencing headaches when you wake), your pillow may be the culprit.

How to make your pillows last longer

If you’re running out right now to buy a replacement pillow and want to be sure you keep that one fresh for as long as possible, there are a few easy steps you can take. The best place to start is by buying a pillow protector. Just like a mattress cover, pillow protectors cover the pillow entirely and shield the pillow from absorbing skin oil and sweat — and some even protect against dust mites.

Regularly laundering your pillows will keep them fresh for longer, too; aim for at least two to four times a year, and you may want to wash two pillows at a time to keep the washing machine balanced, according to Good Housekeeping. You can also rotate a couple of pillows so you don’t wear out one as quickly.

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