7 signs you need to replace your pillow, according to sleep expert

Is your pillow past its best? Here are 7 signs you need to watch out for…

Signs you need to replace your pillow, sleep and wellness tips
(Image credit: Kampus Production / Pexels)

Is your pillow feeling a little lumpy? Maybe it’s starting to smell or give you neck pain? If this is the case for your current pillow, it could be time to replace it.

Having the proper sleep set-up is the catalyst to whether you get a great night’s sleep or you have a restless night, which is why we invest so much into getting the best mattress (opens in new tab) and best duvet (opens in new tab). However, something that’s often overlooked is pillows.

With a mattress, we know it’s getting old if the springs are stabbing us in the ribs or the middle is sagging, but pillows are a whole other story. If your pillow isn’t doing its job properly, it can cause serious health issues, so it’s vital that you recognise the signs that it needs replacing, and invest in one of the best pillows (opens in new tab) right away.

To understand when pillows need replacing, we spoke to sleep expert, Karen Yu from Zinus UK (opens in new tab). Zinus UK is a furniture brand that makes comfortable mattresses made from natural ingredients, alongside bed frames, sofas, desks and tables.

If you’re thinking about getting a new pillow, here are 7 signs your current one needs replacing.

1. You’re waking up with neck & back pain

One of the first signs is if you’re experiencing a stiff neck or back pain during the night or when you wake up. A pillow's primary function is to support the head and promote alignment of the neck and spine, so if your pillow isn’t doing its job, you’ll experience aches, pains and knots.

“As pillows age, they begin to break down and provide less support. Improper support can cause neck, back and shoulder problems, and can also cause headaches and migraines,” Karen told us. If these issues go untreated, it can affect you later in life, so if you’re experiencing neck and back pain from your pillow, it’s time for a change.

2. Your pillows are lumpy & misshapen

A big giveaway that your pillow needs replacing is if it looks out of shape, lumpy or overly flat. While nothing can stay in pristine condition forever, if your pillow looks nothing like when you first got it, it’s time for a change.

Karen told us that if your pillow looks misshapen, “it means the supporting material in your pillow is starting to wear out. Having a lumpy pillow can be uncomfortable for some which can lead to “restlessness and poor sleep.” If your pillow has lots of lumpy sections, these lumps can also press on your head, neck and top of spine uncomfortably, which can cause aches and pains.

Signs you need to replace your pillow

(Image credit: Vlada Karpovich / Pexels)

3. They need constant fluffing

If you need to keep fluffing up your pillow for it to be comfortable, this is a sign it needs replacing. By fluffing up, we mean giving your pillow a shake to give it more shape and plump. “Your pillow should offer consistent support without the need to fluff it over and over again. When you’re sleeping, try to make a note of how often you fluff your pillow. If it’s often, that’s a sign that your pillow isn’t giving you the support you need,” Karen explains.

It’s important to note that feather pillows will be different compared to down, memory foam and other materials. If you’re unsure what pillow material to choose, check out our down vs memory foam vs feathers (opens in new tab) comparison.

4. Fails the fold test

Just like the pillow fluff test, there’s a fold test that can determine whether your pillow is in good condition. For the fold test, take your pillow, fold it in half and hold it like that for 30 seconds. “When you release it, the pillow should return to its normal shape. If it doesn’t spring back, then it’s time for a new one.”

5. They smell

Pillows collect dust, mould, dead skin and other bacteria, so after a while, your pillow will start to smell. “Pillows can trap hair and body oil, and when these build up in combination, this can cause them to smell. This is natural, and most pillows bounce back after a wash, but if the smell persists after multiple washes, it’s time to find a replacement,” says Karen.

Pillows won’t smell as bad as your bedding as you put less of your body on them, but not many people think to clean their pillows, so check out how to clean a pillow (opens in new tab) for cleaning advice.

Signs your pillow needs replacing

(Image credit: Kampus Production / Pexels)

6. Allergies are acting up

As we mentioned previously, “most pillow materials attract dust which can get trapped in the material and build-up. This can cause sneezing and be particularly bothersome for people with allergies.”

Other allergies or conditions like asthma and eczema can also be affected, which not only makes your health worse but can impact your sleep quality. So, if you’re experiencing itchiness, eye watering, sneezing, congestion and a runny nose while you sleep, it could be time to replace your pillow.

7. Your pillows are past their expiration date

According to our how often should you replace your pillow (opens in new tab) guide, most pillow types should be replaced every 2-3 years, so if your pillow is 3+ years old, you should consider replacing it. If you’re not sure how old your pillow is, Karen’s advice is to check “its expiration date which can be found on their tag.” While you don’t have to throw out your pillow right away, it’s a good time to evaluate how well your pillow is performing, and if it’s lacking, you can get rid and replace it.

For pillow buying advice, check out our best pillow (opens in new tab) guide for our top picks and shopping tips. For example, we’re big fans of the Scooms Hungarian Goose Down Pillow which holds the number one spot on our list, but we also love the Panda Memory Foam Bamboo Pillow (opens in new tab) for memory foam fans or the Soak&Sleep Supremely Soft as Down Pillow (opens in new tab) which is a cruelty-free alternative to feathers.

Bethan Girdler-Maslen
Acting Wellness Editor & Deals Writer

As T3's resident Shopping Expert and Deals Writer, Beth covers deals, discount codes, how to save money and seasonal holidays, including Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Amazon Prime Day, Boxing Day and Easter sales. Alongside her primary focus of deals, Beth is currently Acting Wellness Editor, covering all things sleep, yoga, relaxation and general wellbeing.


Having always been passionate about writing, she’s written for websites, newspapers and magazines on a variety of topics, from jewellery and culture, to food and telecoms. You can find her work across numerous sites, including Wedding Ideas Magazine, Health & Wellbeing, The Bristol Post, Fashion & Style Directory and more. In her spare time, Beth enjoys running, reading, baking and attempting DIY craft projects that will probably end in disaster!