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Are Your Pillows Past Their Expiration Date? The Surprising Science Behind Proper Pillow Care

The search for the perfect pillow can make you feel a bit like Goldilocks — wading through options that are too firm or too soft, the wrong shape or the wrong size — until you finally find that “just right” balance of support and comfort. And once you’ve found your ideal pillow, you should never let it go, right? Wrong.

Pillows may not come with an expiration date, but they aren’t designed to last forever either. A recent study indicated that only 18% of adults know how often you should get new pillows. And since we spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping, it’s critical to understand how to maintain —and how often to replace — our pillows.

The reasons for regular replacements

If you’re just using comfort as a gauge for the lifespan of your pillows, it’s important to consider the health reasons behind proper pillow care.

The nightly, close-contact nature of pillow use leads to a buildup of dirt, body oils, and dead skin cells. Not only can this accumulation of natural debris lead to stains, unpleasant odors, and even acne, but it also provides a perfect environment for dust mites. And while they may be too small to see, an infestation of dust mites can cause big health problems, especially for those who suffer from allergies or asthma. And then there’s the matter of early morning aches. A pillow should properly support the neck and top of the spine in a neutral position in order to reduce neck stiffness, arm pain, and headaches. If you can’t remember the last time you got a new pillow, an upgrade may mean improved sleep quality and less pain.

It starts with selecting the right materials

Selecting the right fabrics and fillings for your pillows and pillowcases ensures you have the best foundation for keeping your pillows clean and comfortable.

People have different preferences about the most supportive or comfortable pillow fill, and each material has different merits when it comes to longevity and upkeep. Pillows with synthetic fill, like down-alternative and polyester, can be easier to wash but need more frequent replacement, while down pillows may require dry cleaning but can last significantly longer.

Cotton is naturally hypoallergenic, odor-resistant, and significantly more breathable than synthetic fabrics

Because pillow covers and pillowcases require even more frequent washing than the actual pillow, you’ll want something that will stay strong and soft through repeated laundering. Pillowcases made of a natural fiber fabric, like cotton, will wear beautifully over time. Cotton is naturally hypoallergenic, odor-resistant, and significantly more breathable than synthetic fabrics. And for those who want the most luxuriously soft cotton pillowcases, look for those made with a high-quality, certified pure pima cotton like PimaCott.

Rules for how often to wash and replace

While advice varies based on the material, a good rule of thumb is to wash your pillowcases weekly in the hottest temperature water that the fabric will allow, and to avoid using fabric softeners or detergents with harsh additives. When it comes to the pillow itself, experts recommend washing every 3 months in accordance with individual label instructions.

With this type of proper maintenance, you can extend its life, but your pillow still needs to be replaced regularly. Pillows should be replaced as often as every 6 to 12 months for synthetic fill pillows, and every 2 to 3 years for down pillows.

Pillows should be replaced as often as every 6 to 12 months for synthetic fill pillows, and every 2 to 3 years for down pillows.

Of course, if you find yourself having to double over a flat pillow or plump up lumpy fill to get enough support before then, it’s time to get a new one. Pillows may be minimal investment, but the impact they have on your health and wellbeing is invaluable.

Our advice? Once you’ve found your holy grail of pillows, purchase a few backups to keep in airtight storage, always use the highest quality PimaCott cotton pillowcases, and wash on a regular schedule to ensure years of healthy, sumptuously comfortable sleep.