This just in from the bedroom: Your pillow is sad. It has realized it’s an afterthought. You spent 87 hours choosing what mattress to buy and you’re still talking about whether you should try a newer, cooler-to-the-touch, more memory-foamy mattress instead. Your girlfriend tells you how much she loves your comforter (if you’ve followed these tips). Meanwhile, your pillow has been through four apartments, three relationships, and one cat. It gets no attention. Until you wake up with a stiff neck.
It might be giving you acne
The worst kind of acne is the kind caused by pressing your face into dirty things. Because this is acne you could have avoided. It’s not coming from inside you. You can get it from your phone, or even your football helmet. But the usual suspect is your pillow and especially your pillowcase. It collects dirt, oil, and dead skin. Yesterday’s sunscreen. A fair amount of drool. You might not need to completely replace your sleep gear, however. Try cleaning it. Experts recommend laundering your pillowcase multiple times a week—but unless you live in a hotel, chances are this isn’t happening. If you’re not prone to breakouts, maybe you can ignore this and read on. But if you’re waking up with zits, now you know.
It’s a buffet for dust mites
All that grime we just mentioned—the oils, the dead skin? For dust mites, it’s lunch. These tiny, eight-legged arthropods are too small to see with the naked eye, and they feed on the flakes of human skin we shed each day. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, we each shed enough skin on a daily basis to feed 1 million dust mites. And did we mention they’re thought to be the most common trigger of year-round allergies and asthma? To keep them from burrowing in your pillow, use a zippered allergen-resistant pillow protector to keep them out. (And remember to wash it at least once a month.) Here’s a selection of certified asthma and allergy friendly products.
You don’t even know its care instructions
And really, who does? It’s a pillow. But it’s an important thing to think about. Now, we’ve talked about cleaning the pillowcase, and the pillow protector. But what about the actual pillow? If you’re like most people, you probably don’t even know if your pillow can go in the washer. Rule of thumb: If it’s synthetic, yes; if it’s down, then you dry clean. According to the National Sleep Foundation, pillows protected by an anti-allergy cover should still be washed every six months. Read the care directions, and do an extra rinse cycle to make sure you’ve gotten all the detergent out of it. Really don’t have time? Put your pillow in the dryer on low for half an hour to freshen it up.
It can’t hold your head up anymore
Here’s the catch: When you wash your pillow, it eventually breaks down all the fluffy support inside. Foam or batting can get lumpy. Down and down alternatives can just … go flat. The National Sleep Foundation suggests a test that will prove if your pillow is shot: Fold it in half. Now let go. If it stays folded, it’s time to send your pillow packing.
It’s way, way past its date
Even before your pillow is flat enough to fold, it has expired. Basically, as soon as it’s embarrassing, not filling a pillowcase, or your nighttime visitors don’t want to sleep over, it’s time. But the exact timeline is debatable. Some experts say every three years. Others say replacing your pillow once a year is a must. We say, as soon as you’re wondering if you should replace it, the answer is yes.
It could be so much better
And, really, think about how much better life could be. Pillow tech has improved. Today there are even pillows that can gently wake you up in the morning. Know the basics, and know your options. Natural fabrics breathe better, and transfer less oil, but mix in a few high-tech materials and the pillow will conform to your sleep habits. Some of our current favorites: Casper’s 100 percent cotton cover encases a fill engineered to resist clumping ($55, Buy It Here). Tempur-Pedic tailors its pillows to your sleeping position, like one for side sleepers that contains gel to keep it cool (Tempur-Contour Breeze Side-to-Side Pillow, $149, Buy It Here). The team at Coop Home Goods created a pillow that you can adjust by removing or adding the shredded memory foam stuffing for just the right level of fluff (Standard Original Pillow, $50, Buy It Here).