Why Do Pillows Turn Yellow?

Yellow Pillow

Do you have yellowing pillows? You’re not alone! A lot of us have been asking ourselves why their pillows are turning yellow and it seems that no matter what type of pillow we try, we will eventually have a patchy yellow pillow to deal with.

So let’s uncover exactly why pillows turn yellow and see if there is anything we can do about it.

What Causes the Yellowing?

Not only are pillows something that we use every day, but they also go through a lot of abuse as they are exposed to all sorts of different chemicals and substances. So it is only natural and not very shocking that they will get stained and start to turn yellow over time.

The things your pillow can come in contact with that can make it turn yellow include:


One big reason why pillows yellow is due to exposure to water. A lot of people, myself included, take a shower and shampoo their hair before going to bed. Then if you go to bed before your hair has dried, your wet hair is exposing your pillow to a lot of moisture and your pillow will soak up water from your hair causing the yellowing to start.

Most pillows aren’t able to deal with that kind of constant moisture exposure without staining and yellowing. In addition to becoming unsightly, some pillows could actually become damaged and start performing poorly in response to water exposure.


Water isn’t the only type of moisture your pillow is exposed to. Your pillow also has to deal with perspiration as you sleep at night. When you sleep, your body produces sweat, which can soak into your pillow and cause yellow spotting.

You may think that since you don’t wake up at night covered in sweat, you don’t perspire while you are sleeping, but people actually do sweat while they are asleep. Have you ever noticed that you weigh less in the morning? The majority of the weight loss that we experience overnight is due to our bodies losing water while we sleep and part of that is through sweating.

If you are someone who likes to sleep under the covers, even during the warmer times of the year, odds are you are sweating even more than normal while you are asleep.

Note: If you regularly experience night sweats it might be something you want to talk to your doctor about.

Drool (Saliva)

If you are a side sleeper, odd are that you are going to have stains on your pillow. Sleeping on your side makes it easier for your pillow to become exposed to spit and drool from your mouth. It may not seem like spit or drool is something that would cause your pillow to turn yellow, but it does. Even though saliva is 98% water, it still contains chemicals from your body’s production of digestive juices and that combination can leave some nasty-looking yellow patches on your pillow, especially as it accumulates over time.

Oil From Your Skin

Another thing that can keep your pillows from looking as clean and white as they were on the day you bought them is the oil from your skin. These naturally occurring oils that we all produce every day keep our skin soft and healthy. These oils can seep into your pillowcase over time and can leave greasy streaks and stains on your pillow.


Sometimes you are just too tired to wash your face or take a shower before going to bed. If this is you and you end up going to bed wearing makeup, your pillowcase and eventually your pillow could get covered in the remnants of your makeup. This is especially true if you like to lay on your side when you sleep. Eventually, this could turn pillows to a yellow or even a brown hue.

Hair Products

If you don’t shower and shampoo your hair at night your pillow will be exposed to chemicals that are left in your hair from any hair care products you may be using to style or condition your hair.  Depending on the type or amount of products you use on your hair, the residue can get onto your pillow creating stains that can range anywhere from unsightly yellow streaks to yellow patches on your pillow.


Nighttime is a great time to use creams and lotions to moisturize, rejuvenate, and soothe the skin. The good news is that using a cream before bedtime can make your skin feel soft and healthy. The bad news is that many of these creams and lotions leave a residue on your skin that can seep into your pillow and leave stains that can yellow the fabric.

Do You Need to Get Rid of the Pillow or Can You Get Rid of the Stains?

It is very hard not to get some stains on your pillows over time. So when that happens can we get the stains out or is it time to get rid of the pillow and buy a new one?

The purpose of a pillow is to provide support and comfort for the head, neck, or other parts of the body resting upon it. So unless the pillow is supporting you the way it used and no longer makes you feel comfortable you probably don’t need to replace it. That said, you still don’t want to use a dirty or disgusting-looking pillow.

Thankfully most pillows can be spot cleaned, washed either by hand or by an in-home washing machine (yes, many pillows are machine washable), or cleaned by a professional dry cleaner. When all else fails you and you can’t clean the pillow you can look at replacing it.

How to Whiten Pillows That Have Yellowed? / How Do You Whiten Yellowed Fabric?

Know that not all pillows can be cleaned using an in-home washing machine. The materials they are made from may require dry cleaning techniques and/or processes. That said, many pillows can be cleaned using an in-home washer and dryer.

So the first thing you want to do is check the label on the pillow. If it says it can be cleaned by a laundry machine the cleaning process will be pretty straightforward and you are good to go!

Whether you need to do a spot cleaning or wash the whole pillow in the washing machine there are lots of “recipes” for how to best do this on the internet. Below is a video that shows you an example of both how to spot clean a pillow, as well as how to clean it using a washing machine.

Pay more attention to the label on your pillow (even if it is machine washable) than to any “recipe” that you find online. Not only will you find that some types of pillows, like foam pillows, aren’t machine washable, but even among the machine-washable pillows not all of them are compatible with the same detergents, additives, and stain removers and that information should be included on the labels.

After washing a pillow make sure that it is completely dry before putting a pillowcase on it otherwise any moisture that gets trapped inside the pillow could cause mold to grow or give the pillow a mildew odor.

What Can You Do To Prevent Yellow Pillows and Stains?

While it might be difficult to completely eliminate stains and yellowing on your pillows, there are things you can do to minimize them.

  • A pillow protector is a low-cost way to create a barrier between your pillow and the things that might stain it and the pillow looking good for a long time.
  • If you take a shower at the end of the day be sure that your hair is dry before you go to bed.
  • Keep yourself cool when sleeping by reducing the temperature, not using too many blankets, and not wearing warm clothing to the bed, all of which will help eliminate the chance of excessive sweating.
  • Make sure that all makeup is removed prior to going to bed.
  • If you go to bed with products in your hair, especially products that contain oils, you could consider sleeping in a scarf, head wrap, or sleeping cap to keep the oils from being absorbed by your pillow.
  • If your nighttime routine includes applying lotions and creams to your skin you could consider using them at a different time of the day (I know that isn’t always possible) or making sure you do not apply more than your skin can absorb.

Pillows You Can Buy To Prevent Yellow Stains

If you are in the market for new pillows and you want to avoid your new pillows having all the yellow stains your old ones had, then you might consider buying some pillows that have been made with stain-resistant or easy to clean materials or pre-treated to resist bacterial grown and prevent staining.

Here are a few options that I am aware of:

BioPEDIC Antimicrobial Bed Pillow with Built-in Ultra-Fresh Anti-Odor Technology, 2 Count (Pack of 1), White
  • FRESH & CLEAN COVER- Each cover is treated with anti-odor Ultra-Fresh Technology making these pillows antimicrobial & antibacterial to help keep your sleeping area fresh & clean
  • ULTRA-FRESH TREATMENT- Provides a 99% reduction in bacterial growth to protect from odor & stain growth
  • LOFTY SUPPORT- Hypoallergenic polyester fiber offers lofty comfort throughout the night
  • SOFT COVER - Each pillow features a super soft brushed cover for enhanced comfort.
  • COMFORT REGARDLESS OF SLEEP POSITION- The fiber fill cradles the head & neck to provide plush support ideal for all sleep styles

Last update on 2024-07-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

No products found.

Final Thoughts

To conclude, pillows turn yellow from multiple different causes. While getting yellow stains on pillows might be hard to avoid, there are things we can do to minimize the chances of this happening and there are often things we can do to help clean and remove the stains. Let’s all work together to rid our beds of this yellow menace!