Why Does a Pillow Turn Yellow? Tips and Tricks for Prolonging Pillow Freshness

Why Does a Pillow Turn Yellow

Ever experienced the frustration of swapping out your pillowcase, only to find that your once pristine white pillow has mysteriously turned yellow? It’s a common woe, even with diligent care. Why Does a Pillow Turn Yellow, if you’re not quite ready to bid farewell to your discolored pillow, we’ve got some tricks up our sleeve to help you tackle those stubborn yellow stains and keep them at bay.

Why Does a Pillow Turn Yellow?

The primary culprit behind the yellowing of pillows is moisture, with natural body oils, sleeping with damp hair, and recently applied body lotion all contributing to the discoloration.

Another significant factor in pillow discoloration is sweat. Many of us experience overheating during the night, leading to perspiration while we sleep. Despite the seemingly minor amount, the warmth generated from our head and neck is sufficient to transform our once pristine white pillows into a rather dismal shade of yellow.

Is it Bad to Sleep With a Yellow Pillow?

Yellowed pillows not only visually reveal the buildup of grime over months, or even years, but they can also pose serious risks to respiratory and sleep health. Dr. Zachary Rubin warns, “These old yellow stinky pillows are exposing you to allergens and creating a breeding ground for mold.”

Persistently sleeping on a yellowed pillow can contribute to acne and other skin irritations due to the accumulation of dirt that may clog pores. Individuals dealing with conditions like eczema, rosacea, sensitive skin, or pre-existing acne should exercise caution when resting on discolored pillows to avoid exacerbating their skin issues.

How to Stop Your Pillow From Turning Yellow

While there will inevitably be nights when you opt for bedtime with damp hair and a generous layer of moisturizer on your face, there are proactive measures to prevent your pillow from discoloring.

Even when moisture doesn’t directly touch your pillow, the ambient humidity in the room can contribute to yellowing. Controlling the bedroom temperature by using a fan or dehumidifier can mitigate this issue.

Pillow protectors, distinct from pillowcases, prove highly effective in slowing down the yellowing process. They act as an extra barrier between your pillowcase and the pillow itself, providing an additional layer of defense against discoloration.

How Often Should You Replace Your Pillows?

Pillows that see nightly use should ideally be replaced every 1-2 years, irrespective of whether they exhibit a yellow hue. To determine if it’s time for your pillow to bid farewell, watch out for these telltale signs:

Clumps of down or filling accumulating inside.

Loss of its ability to fluff up.

Flattened and no longer maintaining its plushness.

What Causes Your Pillow to Turn Yellow

The primary cause of yellowing pillows is moisture, with various sources contributing to the development of yellow stains.


Sweat stains top the list as the most prevalent reason for pillow yellowing. Normal perspiration occurs during sleep to regulate body temperature, but excessive sweating can result from a warm sleep environment or heavy bedding that traps heat. To address this, consider adjusting the bedroom temperature or opting for more breathable sheets. If excessive sweating persists, consult a doctor to rule out underlying health issues.

Wet Hair:

Sleeping with damp hair, especially if you shower at night and don’t dry your hair before bedtime, can contribute to pillow yellowing over time. While the myth that sleeping on wet hair can cause a cold is debunked, it can have negative consequences for hair health.


Occasional drooling during sleep, particularly for those dealing with allergies or sleeping with an open mouth, is another source of moisture that can turn pillows yellow over time.

Natural Body Oils:

Sebaceous glands on the face and scalp produce sebum, an oily substance. These natural body oils are absorbed by pillowcases and pillows, contributing to moisture accumulation and potential yellowing.

Lotion, Face Cream, and Beauty Products:

Face cream and other beauty products rank as the second major contributor to yellowed pillows. If you apply skincare products or lotion and head straight to bed, these products transfer onto the pillow. To minimize moisture absorption, it’s recommended to apply such products an hour or two before bedtime, allowing them sufficient time to be absorbed.

By being mindful of these sources of moisture and making adjustments to your sleep environment and routines, you can reduce the likelihood of yellow stains on your pillows.

How to Remove Yellow Stains From Your Pillow

If your pillows haven’t reached an advanced yellowing stage, you can likely eliminate the stains through a straightforward washing process. Depending on the pillow’s composition, follow these easy steps to banish yellow stains:

Check Washing Instructions:

Prioritize checking the care instructions on your pillow. Different materials may require specific cleaning methods. Some pillows can be machine-washed and dried, while others cannot. Take note of whether the pillow has a removable cover that is machine-washable. For instance, all-foam pillows often feature a washable cover since washing the foam itself may cause damage.

Spot-Treat Your Stains:

If your pillow can’t go through a machine wash, many brands recommend spot cleaning as an alternative. Dampen a cloth with water and gently moisten the stained area. Apply a mild detergent or cleaning solution, rubbing it gently into the stain. A home remedy using baking soda mixed with a little water can also be effective. Allow the stain remover solution to sit for a few hours before rinsing or proceeding with further washing.

Machine-Washing Yellow Pillows:

For pillows that are machine-washable, follow the care instructions provided. To enhance whitening, consider adding bleach or white vinegar to your mild detergent, though it’s advisable to use non-chlorine bleach as recommended by many brands. Place the pillow in the washer and, for optimal results, include one to two dryer balls or tennis balls inside tube socks along with the pillows. These items will bounce around, redistributing the filling and facilitating efficient drying.

However, pillows made from memory foam or natural latex cannot undergo machine washing. For these types, spot-clean using the same damp cloth to remove any remaining detergent or stain remover. Allow the pillow to air dry thoroughly in a well-ventilated area, preferably exposed to direct sunlight.

Why it’s Important to Keep Pillows Clean

Experts from One Price Cleaners emphasize the significance of maintaining clean pillows as a crucial measure to safeguard against dust mites, dirt, bacteria, and even fungus. A dirty pillow can contribute to skin issues such as acne and rashes, and may even trigger allergy flares, particularly when harboring an accumulation of dust and dirt. Regular cleaning is not only essential for hygiene but also for promoting overall health and well-being.

Sleeping on a Pillow Stained Yellow

While no product lasts forever, the yellowing of even the best pillows over time can have implications for your sleep and overall health. There are a couple of reasons why sleeping on a discolored pillow may disrupt your sleep or pose health concerns.

One primary concern is the presence of allergens. As time passes, dust mites, mildew, and various allergens can accumulate in a pillow, especially if it has been significantly affected by moisture. The build-up of these allergens can trigger allergic reactions, potentially making it more challenging to sleep. Insufficient sleep, in turn, can lead to a weakened immune system and other health issues.

Moreover, the sweat, oil, and dead skin cells that contribute to a pillow turning yellow can clog pores and potentially lead to skin breakouts. Pillows can also become a breeding ground for bacterial growth over time. It is generally recommended to replace your pillow every one to two years or if it displays signs of excessive discoloration to ensure a healthier sleep environment.


In conclusion, maintaining the cleanliness of your pillows is crucial not only for aesthetic reasons but also for your overall health and well-being. The yellowing of pillows, often caused by moisture, sweat, and body oils, can lead to the accumulation of allergens and create a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. Persistently sleeping on discolored pillows may contribute to skin issues, respiratory problems, and allergic reactions. However, adopting proactive measures such as using pillow protectors, controlling bedroom humidity, and following proper cleaning techniques can help prevent and address yellow stains. Regularly replacing pillows every 1-2 years, regardless of discoloration, is recommended to ensure a hygienic sleep environment and promote a restful and healthy night’s sleep. Taking these steps not only preserves the longevity of your pillows but also safeguards against potential health risks associated with sleeping on stained or deteriorated bedding.

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