How to remove yellow stains & odours from your pillow

Are your pillows looking yellow? Try this quick hack to brighten them

Person holding a pillow, cleaning tips
(Image credit: Cottonbro Studio / Pexels)

Having the right pillow is essential for getting a good night’s sleep. From supporting your head and neck, correcting your spinal alignment and soothing any aches and pains, the best pillows do it all… but they can get a little dirty and stinky.

While you don’t need to wash your pillows as often as your bedding, you might start to notice that once you remove your pillowcases, the pillow itself is turning yellow. Before you get grossed out, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence and isn’t anything to do with how long you’ve had the pillow.

The main reason your pillow is turning yellow is because of sweat. We all sweat a little or a lot in our sleep but this sweat goes through your pillowcase and builds up after regular use, staining your pillow yellow or brown as a result. The natural oils from your skin also play a part in this, as does any make-up, fragrances or hair products that you use.

Not addressing this build-up is bad for your health and hygiene, and your pillow will become more stained and dirty overtime by leaving dirt and germs to fester. A general rule of thumb is to clean your pillow every 4-6 months (see how to clean a pillow for tips and advice) but it’s important to treat the yellowing separately. Here’s how to do it. 

How to remove yellow stains from your pillow

While you might think yellowing is a clear sign that you need to replace your pillow, you can actually prolong your pillow's life by using these simple and cost-effective tricks to brighten its colour and remove any odours.

The best way to do this is by spot cleaning your pillow with baking soda and white vinegar before putting your pillow in the washing machine. Baking soda and vinegar are two products that you’re likely to have in your home already and they’re safe to use on bedding materials, like pillows and sheets.

Soak & Sleep microfibre pillow on chair

(Image credit: Soak & Sleep)

How this method works is the acidity of the vinegar removes any stains and banishes odours, while the baking soda acts as a natural cleanser and deodorant. For this DIY cleaning trick, cover your pillow stains in vinegar and then mix a 1-1 ratio of vinegar and baking soda to form a paste. Rub this paste into the stains and then remove it with a wet cloth. You can let this dry or pop your pillow in the washing machine for a full clean – remember to check the pillows’ cleaning instructions before you do this, though!

Another DIY trick that can restore your pillows is using a mixture of lemon juice and salt. Similarly to the vinegar baking soda hack, squeeze lemon juice on the stain so it covers it completely before you rub salt on top of it with a dry cloth. Once the stain has been cleaned, remove the lemon salt solution with water.

Finally, if none of these work for you, many people have found that putting your pillow in the washing machine alongside a dishwasher tablet can remove the stains and faded colour, leaving your pillow white and fresh. To do this, it’s important to only put your pillow in the machine and not any other clothes, as this can be harsh to your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin.

There you have it! For more cleaning tips, check out how to clean your mattress and our advice on cleaning a duvet.

Bethan Girdler-Maslen
Home Editor

Beth is Home Editor for T3, looking after style, living and wellness. From the comfiest mattresses to what strange things you can cook in an air fryer, Beth covers sleep, yoga, smart home, coffee machines, grooming tools, fragrances, gardening and much more. If it's something that goes in your house, chances are Beth knows about it and has the latest reviews and recommendations! She's also in the know about the latest deals and discount codes from top brands and retailers.

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, TechRadar, CreativeBloq and more. In her spare time, Beth enjoys running, reading, baking and attempting craft projects that will probably end in disaster!