Why Do Pillows Turn Yellow?

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Your pillow is one of the most important things in your bedroom. A high-quality pillow can prevent neck, back, and shoulder pain, help keep you cool at night, and ensure you’re getting a great sleep. So, it can be frustrating when a pillow you love starts turning yellow, especially if you’re not ready to replace it yet.

Luckily, we’re here to help! Read on below to learn why your white pillows are turning yellow and how to prevent it.

Why Do Pillows Turn Yellow?

Pillows can turn yellow for a variety of different reasons. Most of them have to do with moisture or humidity. If your bedroom is very humid, your pillow will likely turn yellow and get flat more quickly. Other types of moisture can also cause yellowing. Read on below to learn more about the most common reasons for yellow stains and build up on pillows below.


We all sweat at night, and over time sweat can seep through your pillowcase and onto your pillow. Eventually, this will cause your pillow to yellow. Sweat stains are the most common reason for pillow yellowing.

Wet Hair

If you shower at night and go to bed with wet hair, that moisture will soak into your pillow. Just like sweat, this will eventually cause yellowing over time. If you use hair products like leave-in conditioner, they could also contribute to pillow stains as they are transferred onto the pillow.


Like it or not, most of us drool a little when we sleep. Saliva can also turn your pillow yellow over time. It’s likely not the main culprit, but it can cause discoloration when combined with sweat and other moisture.

Natural Body Oils

Your natural oils and dead skin cells will also lead to yellowing over time. Like sweat, these oils will eventually make their way through your pillowcase and onto your pillow.

Lotion, Face Cream, and Beauty Products

Finally,  face cream and other beauty products at night are the second biggest culprit behind yellow pillows. Like sweat, these products have a tendency to get onto pillows quickly overnight. We recommend putting them on an hour or two before bed so they have more time to absorb before you hit the hay. This can reduce the amount of product that gets on your pillow.

Is It Okay to Sleep on a Pillow with Yellow Stains?

If your pillow is not too stained and still feels supportive and comfortable it is likely just fine to sleep on it. On the other hand, if you have never washed your pillow before, don’t use a pillow protector, and your pillow feels flat or smells like mildew, it is time to replace it. Dust mites, allergens, and other bacteria also accumulate over time, so it is important to replace pillows every one to two years.

As a rule of thumb, if your pillow has a few yellow stains it is probably okay to keep sleeping on it. But if your pillow has turned completely yellow, or has developed some brown stains, it is probably time for a replacement.

How to Wash Yellow Pillows

If your pillows aren’t too yellow, you can probably wash the stains out! So, how do you wash your stained pillows? First, check the care tag on your pillow. Certain pillows can be tossed right in the washing machine. If that’s the case, we recommend using stain removal spray on the yellow spots and letting the pillow sit for a few hours before putting it in the wash. You can also use baking soda mixed with a little water if you prefer.

After that, put your pillow in the washer. Your care tag will tell you whether you should use hot water or cold water. Be sure to use a gentle cycle when washing your pillows.

If your pillows don’t have specific stains, but are looking yellow in general, mix your detergent with 120ml of bleach or borax before washing. This could help whiten your machine washable pillows. You can also try mixing your detergent with white vinegar to whiten pillows.

After that, check the care tag again. Most machine washable pillows can be dried in the dryer on low heat. We recommend adding a few tennis balls to the dryer to help fluff up your pillows as they dry.

If your pillows are not machine washable (for instance, if you have memory foam pillows), the best thing to do is spot treat the worst stains. Use a mild laundry detergent, your preferred stain remover, and a damp cloth to massage out the stains. Let the pillow air dry before putting it back on your bed. Take a look at our how to clean your pillow article for a more detailed guide on spot cleaning.

How to Prevent Yellow Stains on Pillows

Some yellowing is inevitable over time because everyone sweats at night. But, you can prevent a lot of yellowing by using a pillow protector. This is an extra layer you place between your pillowcase and your pillow, and it can help catch some of your sweat before it reaches your pillow. This is especially important for sleepers who sweat a lot overnight. Wash the protector every time you wash the rest of your bedding. How often should that be? Check out our how often you should wash your sheets article to find out.

In addition to using a pillow protector and washing your bedding regularly, going to bed with dry hair and a few hours after you after you’ve applied your nighttime beauty products and lotions can also help prevent yellowing.

When to Get a New Pillow

If you have tried to wash your pillows and can’t get the stains out, it might be time to get new ones. We recommend getting new pillows every one to two years. If your pillow feels uncomfortable or unsupportive, smells like mildew, or develops brown stains before then, you should probably get a new one. Our how often should you replace pillows article offers more guidance on deciding when to replace your old pillows.

If it is time to replace your old pillow, check out our best pillows of 2023 guide for help choosing the right one for you.


Are yellow pillows bad?

Not necessarily! If your pillows are yellow, or have yellow stains, it is likely because you have been sweating on them at night. Try washing your pillow to fix the problem.

Is it normal for a pillow to turn yellow?

It is normal for a pillow to turn yellow over time. Sweat and other moisture will eventually cause discoloration. You should wash pillows every 4 to 6 months to prevent premature yellowing.

How do you keep pillows from turning yellow?

To prevent your pillows from turning yellow you can use a pillow protector, wash your bedding regularly, go to bed with dry hair, and apply nighttime lotions an hour or two before getting into bed. This can help prevent sweat and natural oils from damaging your pillow.

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Madison Schaper

Madison is an ex-mattress tester and current law student. When she’s not studying, she puts her accumulated mattress and bedding knowledge to good use writing articles for Mattress Clarity. A few of her favorite non-work activities include trying new restaurants, reading short stories, and watching too much reality TV.