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Pillows don’t last forever, although we tend to keep ours longer than our mattresses! At a certain point the stuffing just simply won’t provide the intended support.
According to the internet, down pillows last the longest, anywhere from 18 months to 7 years. Latex foam pillows around 3-4 years. Polyester-filled pillows last around 6 months to 3 years.
Recommended ranges are all over the place. (And I suspect some may be made up.)
Memory foam pillows are thought to last around 18-36 months. However, before throwing your pillow out, test it with the fold test.
Although I love buying bedding, I’m not made of money. You can get a more accurate approximation by conducting the classic “Fold Test”.
Fold test in action
Simply fold your pillow in half and see what happens. A brand-new pillow will immediately spring back to its original form. An old pillow will spring back slowly…. And a dead pillow just sits there.
- Test 1:Brand-new foam pillow (came free with my new Nectar mattress). It springs back immediately.
- Test 2:An old polyester fill pillow, many years old. It should probably be replaced
- Test 3:Another very old polyester fill pillow. It definitely should be tossed. (Sigh.)
I have four pairs of additional pillows in storage. All are made of my favorite stuffing, polyester Quallofil®. I estimate that I purchased a new set every 3-5 years and retired the old set. All pillows passed the fold test.
However, all were retired because they felt a bit “flat”.
Regardless of what any test (or the internet) tells you, go with how the pillow feels.
Fold test and memory foam
The fold test also works for memory foam. In addition, you’ll want to confirm that the foam still behaves like “memory” foam, and any indentations immediately spring back to fill in the original shape.
You can also add a moderate weight, like a book, to your folded pillow. Wait five minutes, then repeat the experiment.
Your memory foam pillow should immediately reform itself. If not, then it may be time to replace it.
- Test 4:
The pillow immediately springs open, then the memory foam in the center of the pillow springs back to its original form
- Test 5:
Same result as before
My memory foam pillow passes both tests. It is MUCH older than 18-36 months. I don’t recall its exact age, but it could be 8-10 years old… (However, in fairness, I don’t sleep on it consistently.)
Now that I think about it, the memory foam pillow has outlasted several sets of other pillows, where the fill compressed and flattened over time.
Other red flags that your pillow probably needs replacing
Whether your pillow passes the fold test or not, there could be other reasons to start shopping.
- If you feel obvious lumps in the filling material
- If you need to fluff up or scrunch together the pillow to feel comfortable
- If you feel the need to constantly change your sleeping position
- If you wake up with neck pain, shoulder pain, headaches, or fatigue
- If your allergy symptoms worsen
Obviously, for allergy or pain issues, please check in with a medical professional.
Regardless of what pillow type you have, the decision to replace it will come down to personal choice.
Don’t throw away a pillow simply because it’s “old”. Throw it away if it’s dirty, uncomfortable, or fails the fold test.
Wash your pillow regularly
Dirt and oils accumulate on your pillow. Wash it regularly. The internet consensus is to wash your pillow at least once every 6 months or so. WebMD recommends 2-4 times a year.
If it’s stuffed with down or other natural fiber you may be out of luck—check the label. At a minimum, you may be able to dry clean it.
Otherwise, wash on hot and dry on low or air only. Most pillows filled with either shredded latex or polyester (“down alternative”) are ok to go in the washing machine and dryer. Wash two at a time to prevent your machine from becoming unbalanced.
If the stuffing is not washable, you may be able to remove it and separately wash the cover.
Memory foam is probably best to hand wash. Or rather, wash in your bathtub, again, on the hottest water coming out of your tap. After rinsing, make sure you squeeze all excess water out before air drying.
Remember that memory foam is sensitive to temperature. It may feel very soft in the hot water. This state should be temporary.
If drying your pillows in the dryer, the outside will dry first. Make sure your pillows have dried completely—either via the dryer or air drying—before placing them on your bed.
Extra care for those with allergies
Not only is it important to remove dirt and oil, but also dust mites.
Dust mites are microscopic spider-like creatures that live off the dead skin that you slough off on a regular basis. Yes, there are thousands in your pillows and mattress right now.
For most of you, they aren’t an issue; in fact, they are conveniently disposing of your dead skin.
But many of us are allergic. If you fall into this camp, then it’s critical that you wash and/or cover your pillows and replace them regularly.
Dust mites and their allergens are removed in hot water. (Not warm, hot!)
Dry cleaning will remove dust mites, but unfortunately, the allergens may remain. Washing in detergent and soap is required to remove the latter.
Alternatively, using a hot dryer first (≥ 130 F), or placing your pillow in the freezer overnight, will also kill dust mites (but not necessarily allergens).
Placing your memory foam pillow in the freezer might not be wise. It won’t hurt it, but it will turn it temporarily into a brick that may be difficult to remove.
It may be lost in your garage somewhere, but your dryer probably came with a rack to dry athletic shoes. Use that with your memory foam pillow.
Use pillow covers
This is especially important if you can’t wash your pillow, or don’t wish to risk it. (Or like me, you are a bit lazy.)
Pillow covers come in several varieties, that block different things. Make sure you choose one that blocks both dust mites and allergens. Pick a few up for the new pillows you may now be purchasing.
Don’t forget to wash your pillow covers regularly. They may not need to be laundered as often as sheets and other items that come in direct contact with you, but don’t forget about them.
Keep pillows dry and aired out
Like all your bedding, keep items dry.
To fluff out your pillows, either hang out outside or place them in your dryer on low or air only.
Although if you’re taking the time to do this, why don’t you go ahead and wash them?
Ditch the extra pillows
If you’re an allergy sufferer, you need to wash ALL the pillows on the bed. Even the half dozen throw pillows.
Instead, it may be easier to embrace minimalism.
Don’t forget about the kid’s stuffed toys they sleep with; they should also “bathe” regularly in hot water.
How to resurrect a dead pillow
Assuming your pillow is washable, before throwing it out, send it through both the washer and dryer.
Try the fold test again.
You may be pleasantly surprised. Two of my pillows that had previously flunked, now spring open on their own. Not as fast as a new pillow, mind you, but not completely dead either.
I suspect the dryer fluffed up some of the fill that had compressed over time, restoring some of the original support.