Why You Need to Change Your Pillows More Often than You Think

How often do you think you need to change your pillows? Once a year? Every other year? Read along, the answer might surprise you!

Your body sheds hundreds of thousands of dead cells every hour. And when you sleep, most of the dead skin, hair follicles, sweat and sebum that your body produces end up on your pillow and linens. Actually, studies found that up to a third of the weight of an old pillow can be made out of dead skin, dust mites (microscopic bugs that feed primarily on skin cells shed by humans and their pets) and their feces. And this is just one aspect of the problem. The really bad news is that old pillows are not just gross, but they can also contain microorganisms that are potentially dangerous for your health.

So how often should you replace your pillows?

The cover of your pillow should be changed as often as you change the linens. The pillow itself should be washed (either in the washing machine, if that’s possible, of dry cleaned) every three months. But even so, do not keep your pillow, any pillow, for more than one year. And if you have allergies, you’ll need to buy a new one every six months.

According to a report by South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation trust, “The interior filling for pillows and duvets is an efficient incubator of micro-organisms if contamination occurs. Bedding material may become colonised with bacteria and become a reservoir of infection.” And while this study focused mainly on the pillows, linens and mattresses that were used in hospitals, many of the conclusions also stand for the pillows we use at home.

In another study conducted in 2004 in the UK, 10 pillows aged between 1.5 and 20 years (+) were analysed for the presence of fungi. Aspergillus fumigatus was found in 10 of the pillows, Aureobasidium pullulans in 6 and Rhodotorula mucilaginosa in 6. Plus, a number of other 47 species were isolated. The researchers drew attention to the fact that this finding has significant implications for patients with respiratory disease and especially asthma and sinusitis.

Our pillows are like sponges that absorb out bodily fluids and create the perfect moist environment for bacteria such as E.coli to grow. They can harbour thousands of dangerous microorganisms that can cause infections of the respiratory system or of the urinary tract. And the best way to protect ourselves is to take the single most effective measure – change them as often as possible.

And, if not for anything else, change your pillow often for an overall sense of wellbeing and a good night’s sleep! Many people have reported falling asleep faster in clean sheets. “We’ve looked a lot at how medical and behavioral issues affect sleep, but we really hadn’t looked at the sleep environment in such depth. […] Frankly, we were surprised to see that senses like touch, feel, and smell were so important”, said NSF Chief Operating Officer David Cloud for WebMD, referring to the results of a survey commissioned by the National Sleep Foundation which suggested that people sleep better when their bedrooms are comfortable and clean.

A similar recommendation can be found in the traditional Chinese medicine, which considers that pillows must be replaced every 1-2 years because all our negative feelings and thoughts tend to accumulate in their deep layers, causing sleep disorders, insomnia and even anxiety and depression.

How about the linens?

In an article for Tech Insider, Philip Tierno, a microbiologist and pathologist at the New York University School of Medicine said that in our linens we “have spores of fungi, bacteria, animal dander, pollen, soil, lint, finishing agents of whatever the sheets are made from, coloring material, all sorts of excrements from the body including sweat, sputum, vaginal, and anal excretions, urine milieu, skin cells … […] Plus there are cosmetics that people use — they put oils and creams on their body, all of that is in that milieu. […] including food by the way, people eat in the bed. That of course provides a nice environment for these organisms.”

He added that dust mite feces and debris are allergens that can cause stuffy nose, exacerbate allergies and aggravate asthma.

So how often should we wash our bed sheets (and pillow covers included)? On average, once a week or at the most every other week. Use hot water (140-150 degrees Fahrenheit) and a hot dryer cycle to make sure you kill all germs.

Some tips on protecting your pillows and linens from harmful bacteria

  • Always use a pillow cover and change it weekly.
  • Wash your pillow cover and linens at high temperatures. Most bacteria die at 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • If you have allergies, use a hypoallergenic pillow and a hypoallergenic pillow cover.
  • In summer, take your pillows out in the sun and leave them for a couple of hours. This will kill at least part of the bacteria and fungi.
  • Spray your pillow, mattress and sheets with a mix of water and essential oils! Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Citronella and Lavender not only smell amazing, but they also have antibacterial properties and they are natural fungicides. When sprayed on your pillow and sheets, essential oils such as Lavender can also help you sleep better. For this purpose, you can also drip some essential oil on a cotton ball and put in into your pillow case.