Why Pillows Turn Yellow, and How to Clean Them

Why Pillows Turn Yellow, and How to Clean Them
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Although we know that human bodies — including our own — can be gross at times, we’d prefer not to be reminded of it. So when you’re changing your sheets and see that your once-perfectly-white pillows are now covered in a web of yellow and brown-ish stains, it can be unsettling.

But these discoloured pillows look worse than they actually are. There’s a reasonable explanation as to how the stains got there, and it’s possible to remove them. Here’s what to know.

Why do pillows turn yellow?

Yellow pillow stains
Yellow pillow stains… nasty. Photo: PJjaruwan, Shutterstock

There are several reasons why pillows turn yellow, but the most common cause of these stains is sweat. People sweat while they sleep — some more than others. The more someone sweats, the more that moisture seeps through the pillowcase and onto your pillow, causing the stains. And when you think about how many hours our heads and faces are planted on that pillow, it all adds up.

In addition to sweat, your hair may be the culprit: Specifically, if it’s particularly oily, or you often go to bed with wet or damp hair. Some types of makeup and skincare products can also be behind the yellow stains. It could also be drool. Putting a waterproof pillow protector on before your pillowcase can help prevent a lot of the discolouration.

How to remove yellow stains from pillows

The first thing to know is that the longer the stains are there, the harder they’ll be to get rid of. This means getting in there and cleaning them the first time you notice any type of yellowing, and not putting it off.

Technically, you should be washing your pillows at least twice a year, regardless of stains. And when you’re doing that, you’ve probably looked at their tag and followed the care instructions — i.e. how to wash the pillow in a washing machine (and if that is even possible).

Basically, you’re going to want to do the same thing to remove stains, but along with your usual detergent, add 1/2 cup of bleach and 1/2 cup of borax, then finishing washing and drying according to the pillow’s instructions.

You can also start off by spot treating the stains with either a store-bought stain removal spray or cream, or with a paste made out of a mixture of baking soda and water (though the natural option tends to be less effective).

This article has been updated since its original publish date. 

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