8 Signs You Need New Bed Pillows

Close up of pillows in sunlight

Tsvi Braverman / EyeEm / Getty Images

This article is part of our series, Sleep Week: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your Best Sleep Ever. Sleep Week is your destination for whole sleep happiness, curating our very best tips and product recommendations to help you create your coziest, most comfortable sleep environment yet.

Waking up with pain or constant sneezing will understandably lead you to perform your own mini-investigation. Is it a health condition? Is your mattress not the right fit? Has your duster lost its touch? Well, there's one potential culprit that's right under your nose—or head, actually. Pillows are a little luxury that we often don't think too much about. Unless it's too firm or too lumpy, it's easy to carry on with your day, not considering if the cushion you cozy up into each night might need replacing.

So how do you know when it's time to change them out? Here are 8 expert-approved signs that your pillows are overdue for a refresh.

  • 01 of 08

    It's Been a Couple of Years

    Pillow with gray headboard

    Nathan Waters / Unsplash

    After one to two years, Carl Walsh, sleep specialist and owner of Bed Guru, says that it's time to start thinking about replacing your pillows. While washing them every three months helps, time and use still wear them out no matter how meticulous you are.

    "The reasons pillows expire is simple, and actually, kind of gross—over the years, your pillows will harbor a build-up of dead skin cells, dust, and oils from our hair and skin, as well as any liquids, spills, and stains," he says. "All of which create the perfect environment for dust mites to thrive."

  • 02 of 08

    It's Starting to Yellow (or Has Spots)

    Navy bedroom with pillows

    Rhema Kallianpur / Unsplash

    Like anyone, the thought of bed bugs might make your skin crawl. To help prevent them, pillow replacement is vital. Diana Ludwiczak, an NYC-certified bed bug and pest inspector and founder of Doctor Sniffs Bed Bug Dogs, explains that spots could be mold or even bed bug droppings.

    Discoloration is another sure sign that your pillow has seen its final days. "Over time, pillows can become stained and yellowed from sweat and body oils," she says. "Sleeping on a yellow pillowcase can attract other bugs to your bed, that will want to feed off the moisture." Any kind of spots or color? Just replace them.

  • 03 of 08

    You're Waking Up With Pain

    Pillows on a bed

    Nathan DeFiesta / Unsplash

    Waking up each morning with a creaky neck feels miserable. Though you may brush it off as a poor night's sleep, Karen Yu, marketing manager and product strategist at mattress and home goods company Zinus UK says you might need to consider your pillow if it happens more frequently.

    "As pillows age, they begin to break down and provide less support," she explains. "Improper support can cause neck, back, and shoulder problems. It can also leave you feeling stiff in the morning and cause headaches and migraines."

  • 04 of 08

    It's Lumpy and Has Lost Its Shape

    Pillows stacked up

    The Blowup / Unsplash

    Sometimes it's easy to tell that your pillow is not the puffy, firm cloud it once was. Other times, there's a certain test that may come in handy for determining if it's no longer worthy of having on your bed. "Fold your pillow in half and hold for about 30 seconds," explains Yu. "When you release it, the pillow should return to its normal shape. If it doesn't spring back then it’s time to shop around for a new one."

    She adds that lumpiness is a sign that the "supporting material in your pillow is starting to wear out." It's not worth ignoring either. This small detail can translate into a lot of lost sleep and reduced comfort throughout the night.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    It's No Longer Fluffy and Comfy

    Blue bed pillows

    Eryk Piotr Munk / Unsplash

    Along with its shape, if your pillow almost appears deflated and lacks any kind of support, it's time for a new one. "You may not even notice it, but sometimes we struggle to get comfortable and fall asleep due to the quality of our bedding," says Karin Sun, textile and best sleep practices expert and co-founder of Crane & Canopy. "If you’ve had trouble sleeping, take some time to notice and think about if your pillow is adding comfort or tension at night."

  • 06 of 08

    It's Expired (Yes, Really)

    White pillows on bed

    Jelezniac Bianca / Unsplash

    Did you know pillows have an expiration date, too? These timelines aren't just reserved for items in your fridge. The tags of many pillows also come bearing a date that's a good indicator of when you should purchase a new set. "Don’t worry—you don't need to run out and buy new pillows right away, but it’s definitely a good idea to replace them once they hit that point to make sure you’re getting the most out of them," suggests Yu.

  • 07 of 08

    It's Smelling a Bit Funny

    Pillows and throw pillows

    Laura Adai / Unsplash

    Yu explains that pillows collect a lot of cells, dirt, and grime, and can cause not-so-pleasant scents. It sounds gross, but she reassures that it's completely natural, adding "most pillows can bounce back after a wash." After a year or so though, you might find that the odor is still hanging around. In this case, she says to start your search for a new one.

  • 08 of 08

    You're Just a Little Too Sniffly

    Pillows in light

    Liz Vo / Unsplash

    If you've ruled out a cold and allergies (and dusted your bedroom), then it might be time to take a long hard look at your pillows. When dust and dirt get tangled up in pillow fibers, your nose can suffer. "This can cause wake-up sneezing which can have a huge impact on the quality of our sleep, and be particularly bothersome for people with allergies," says Yu. "If your pillows make you sneeze, even after cleaning, then it’s time to replace."