The disgusting truth about how gross your pillows are and why you should probably throw them away

Sleeping resting pillow

Pillows are more than just the soft and fluffy headrests that help us fall asleep each night — they’re also feathery palaces filled with tiny bugs, dead skin cells, and dust mites and their faeces.

Yes, really.

After just two years of use, according to the Sleep Council of the UK, up to a third of your pillow’s weight could be made up of these disgusting bed fellows. These microscopic dust mites may be .4 millimetres in length, but they make a feast of eating your dead skin cells and thrive in places where it’s warm and humid, like your bedding.

And one 2015 study found that feather and synthetic pillows ranging from 1.5 to 20 years old can contain between four and 17 different species of fungus.

Dust mite illustration
An illustration of a dust mite. These little guys love living in your pillow. Shutterstock

That could also be why you have such bad allergies. Allergy rates have skyrocketed since the 1950s, and Philip Tierno, a microbiologist and pathologist at the New York University School of Medicine, told Tech Insider he believes it could be because night after night we’re sleeping with fungus, dust mites, and dead skin cells.

“You talk about why people have allergies, everyone’s blaming all sorts of things,” Tierno said. “In reality, it’s right under your nose.”

And the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology agrees.

Tierno and the AAAAI advise sealing your mattress and pillows in a water-proof allergy barrier, such this one from Allersoft.


The other solution? Wash your pillows twice a year. Not only will they become soft, fluffy, and clean all over again, but taking care of your pillows will make them last longer. Let your pillows soak in hot water and mild detergent before running a full wash cycle and then allow them to dry fully to prevent moulding.

Most experts also agree you should be replacing your pillows every six months to three years, though you may be able to fudge it a little longer if you’re washing them consistently.

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