What To Do With Old Pillows?

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Pillows take on a lot of wear and tear over their lifetimes. With prolonged use, they can lose their supportive qualities and become flat, yellow, lumpy, or otherwise uncomfortable.

If you’ve had your pillow for years, it may be time for an upgrade. We’ve got you covered with our top picks for the best pillows of the year. But what should you do with your old pillows? Check out our tips and tricks for what to do with old pillows below!

Should I Throw Away My Old Pillow?

When it’s time to get rid of your old pillow, try to avoid throwing the pillow into the garbage. Pillows are bulky items and can be made from materials like polyester that resist decomposition. When thrown away, pillows go straight to the landfill, where they can sit for months or years without breaking down.

If you’re looking for an environmentally friendly way to get rid of your old pillow, consider donating, reusing, or upcycling your pillow.

Composting

Depending on the materials of your pillow, an eco-friendly alternative to throwing away your pillow could be composting. Most pillow covers cannot be composted, but if your pillow is filled with down or feathers, the filling can be removed and put into a composting bin. Be sure to research your pillow’s materials before composting, avoid composting materials with dyes, and do not compost synthetic fabric blends.

Pillow Materials That Can Be Composted:

  • Down and feathers
  • Wool
  • 100% bamboo

RELATED: Types of Pillows

Can I Donate My Old Pillow?

Donation is another option for old pillows. Due to sanitary concerns, some organizations may not accept pillow donations. But, if your pillow is in good enough condition, there are some organizations that will happily accept your old pillows. These include:

Homeless Shelters

While some homeless shelters may not take pillows for sanitary reasons, many will accept gently used pillows. It’s best to call and ask your local shelter before bringing in your old pillows. Please wash your pillows before donating and ensure the pillow does not have any tears or other defects.

Animal Shelters

Old pillows make for great animal beds. Animal shelters, veterinarian clinics, and wildlife reservations can repurpose your old pillows into animal bedding to improve the comfort of their animals. Like homeless shelters, animal shelters may be selective about the kinds of donations they accept, so be sure to call ahead and organize your pillow drop off beforehand.

Daycares

Another option for donating your old pillows is daycares. Again, some organizations may not accept pillows due to sanitary concerns, so call to confirm with your local daycare before bringing in your old pillows.

Thrift Stores and Secondhand Shops

Some secondhand shops may accept gently used pillows. Donating your pillow to a thrift store or other secondhand shop can give your pillow a second life and prevent or delay its arrival in a landfill.

What Can I Use My Old Pillow For?

Repurposing your old pillows is another great way to avoid the landfill. Without much effort, your old pillows can be repurposed into a variety of useful items, including:

  • Packing materials
  • Floor or knee pillows
  • Pet beds
  • Throw pillows
  • Draft stoppers
  • Gardening cushions

You can also use the stuffing of your old pillow to refill and revitalize your current pillow. Simply remove stuffing from your old pillow and add it to your current pillow to increase its loft and support.

RELATED: How to Fluff Your Pillow

Can I Recycle My Old Pillow?

Because of their size and materials, pillows can’t go straight into your standard recycling bin. Instead, there are organizations that specialize in textile recycling that can take care of your old pillows for you. Here are a few options:

Local Drop-Off Bins

Organizations like the American Textile Recycling Service (ATRS) provide local drop-off bins for common household textile items like pillows. Depending on the quality of your pillow, the organization will either donate the item as is to an appropriate non-profit or repurpose the materials into new items like upholstery stuffing, insulation, or wiping rags.

Mail-In Recycling

If you’re unable to locate a local drop-off bin, there are also mail-in donation organizations that will recycle or repurpose your old pillow, including TerraCycle. These organizations differ by region and can be expensive, so it’s best to research the available options in your local area before sending your pillow off in the mail.

Recyclable Materials

Most types of fabrics can be recycled or repurposed if they are in good enough condition. Cotton pillows, for example, can be recycled into insulation, padding, or industrial cloths. Similarly, feather or down pillows can be repurposed into winter clothing or new bedding items. When recycling your old pillow, be sure it is going to an organization that can properly process its materials.

How Do I Make My Pillow Last Longer?

Love your current pillow? We’ve got some strategies to help you keep your pillow in good shape for as long as possible. Here’s what we recommend:

Cleaning and Care

Maximizing your pillow’s useful life starts with proper cleaning and care. Big messes aside, we recommend washing your pillow every four to six months. Sweat, body oils, and dirt can be absorbed into the pillow and attract bacteria and allergens — all of which can degrade the quality of your pillow. A clean pillow is important not only to the longevity of your pillow, but also to your overall sleep health.

The manufacturer will provide the best way to clean your pillow with recommended instructions. These can be found on the tag of your pillow or on the manufacturer’s website. Some pillow materials, like cotton and down, can be machine-washed, while other materials, like memory foam and latex, may need to be spot cleaned.

In general, avoid exposing your pillow to harsh detergents or aggressive wash cycles and allow the pillow to fully dry before replacing its pillowcase or cover.

Pillow Protectors

If you’ve got a pillow that is difficult to wash, using a pillow protector is a great way to keep your pillow clean and prolong its life. Unlike the standard pillow case, most pillow protectors have a zipper that seals the pillow within the protector, preventing the natural build up of moisture and microbes from seeping into the pillow.

Pillow protectors go between the pillow and the pillowcase. Because the pillow protector fully isolates the pillow from wear and tear, using a pillow protector can reduce the amount of cleaning needed to keep your pillow fresh and healthy.

RELATED: Dust Mites – Symptoms, Cleaning Tips, and Treatment

Durable Materials

Certain materials last longer than others. In general, latex and memory foam are highly durable pillow materials. On the other hand, down and feather pillows may flatten more easily and require more frequent fluffing to maintain their shape. This is because, as a natural material, down tends to break down with long-time use.

The quality of the cover, stitching, and other details will also contribute to your pillows’s longevity. When looking to purchase a new pillow, keep the pillow’s warranty and recommended lifetime in mind.

What To Do With Old Pillows: The Bottom Line

It’s plain and simple: pillows don’t last forever. Whatever the reason, when your pillow no longer meets your sleep needs, it’s time for an upgrade.

When you decide to part with your pillow, there are lots of practical and eco-friendly alternatives to throwing your pillow away. Donating, recycling, or reusing your pillow maximizes its useful life and prevents bulky, non-degradable pillows from going to landfills. Finally, investing in a quality pillow that fits your specific sleep needs will ensure you get the most out of your pillow!

FAQs

Still have questions? Check out our list of frequently asked questions to learn more about what to do with old pillows:

How do you know when you need to replace your pillow?

In general, experts recommend replacing your pillow every two years. However, if at any point your pillow no longer holds its shape, triggers allergies, or develops excessive stains, it may be time to invest in a new pillow. You should upgrade your pillow especially if you are regularly waking up with neck or back pain.

Why do pillows turn yellow or brown?

Moisture and other substances can stain your pillow a yellow or brown color. While the stain itself may not necessarily be unsanitary, stains can indicate the build-up of dirt, microbes, or other undesirable substances. If your pillow has turned yellow or brown, it may be time to replace it.

Can an old pillow make you sick?

Pillows collect bacteria and allergens over time, which can cause sneezing, itching, or other forms of discomfort. Washing the pillow will limit the build up of unhealthy microbes, but eventually you will need to replace your pillow.

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Anna Lawrence

Anna is an editorial intern with Mattress Clarity. She earned a B.A. in English from Wake Forest University. A life-long stomach sleeper, she always sleeps with earplugs and an eye mask. Outside work, she likes reading speculative fiction, attending concerts, and playing board games.