IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

How often to replace your pillow — plus, tips for choosing one that suits your sleeping style

We asked an expert to share what you should keep in mind when looking for new ones.
Woman putting on a pillow case
Kara Birnbaum/ TODAY

Much like your mattress, your pillows are an important part of creating a solid foundation for a good night's rest. And finding one that works for you can mean the difference between a night of peaceful snoozing or an evening spent tossing and turning.

That being said, not all pillows are created equal, and what's right for one person might not be right for you (and as a result, you could spend more time laying awake at night). Plus, even if you do find one that you love, it's not meant to last forever. In fact, it should probably be replaced more often than you think.

So we turned to the experts to help break down everything you need to know about your pillows, from how to choose the right one to how to know when it's time to refresh yours.

How often do you need to replace your pillow?

The truth is, your pillow can get pretty gross. Things like dead skin cells, hair, dust mites and sweat can accumulate on your bedding and pillows, which isn't just disgusting to think about, but can actually exacerbate things like allergies and asthma.

Plus, over time the pillow will soften and compress. "A really good pillow will only last you about two or three years," says Rebecca Robbins, instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine and co-author of the book "Sleep for Success!" "So, unfortunately, it is something that you have to refresh relatively regularly, but it doesn't have to break the bank."

Though, as previously reported by TODAY, using a protector can double the life of your pillow.

If you're not sure how long you've had your current pillow, one sure-fire way to know when it's time to look for a new one is if your pillow is causing pain or discomfort, either throughout the night or in the morning when you wake up, Robbins says.

How do I know which pillow is right for me?

Here's the thing: There's no such thing as a perfect one-size-fits-all pillow. "We're all different shapes and sizes, and we need different pillows and mattresses for that reason," Robbins says. "We also all have different preferences for softer surfaces or harder surfaces, which also ideally are factored into the equation."

That being said, the way you sleep could be helpful for determining which type of pillow you choose. While people tend to move throughout the night (yes, even if you think you sleep like a log, you probably still move around), we spend most of our time in one of three positions: on our back, stomach or side, Robbins says.

If you're a side sleeper, you're in good company. According to Robbins, about 60 percent of people sleep on their sides. The position is even said to open the airways and improve airflow as you sleep. But in order to support this sleeping style, you may need a pillow with a little more substance that will fill the gap between your head and shoulder. "The side sleeper needs the most voluminous of all pillows," Robbins says. "If you imagine lying on your side, your shoulder will somewhat get compressed into the mattress, but you're still supporting your brain and the space between your head on the pillow and your shoulder, and so that actually is quite a big space."

Back sleepers are the next most common group, Robbins says. People with sleep apnea, cardiac disease and acid reflux often sleep on their backs, and the position can help improve the alignment of your spine and neck.

For these kinds of sleepers, Robbins says ideal pillow is one that has a concave area in the middle and support at the neck.

Finally, a stomach sleeper needs the least amount of support, she says. So those who sleep in that position can get away with using a thin pillow or even just sleeping straight on the mattress.

Aside from that, other aspects of the pillow tend to be a matter of personal preference. "Some people really like the idea of down feathers, others really liked the idea of foam," Robbins says. "And whether you sleep hot or cold, it's not a huge consideration, when you're just talking about your shoulders and your head." That being said, she says she does recommend looking for hypoallergenic materials, especially if you have allergies.

How to clean your pillows

To help clear away some of that sweat, dirt and other debris so you can sleep more peacefully, cleaning coach Leslie Reichert previously shared with TODAY that you should be washing your pillows every three months.

Most of the time, you can find the cleaning instructions on the tag of your pillow. And while some can be thrown in the washing machine, others need to be hand-washed or can't be washed at all.

To start, with non-washable pillows, like most memory foam options, you should freshen them by vacuuming on a low-suction setting or placing them in the dryer on an “air only” setting for 15 to 20 minutes, Reichert said. If there are stains, you can spot-clean them using a cloth that's been lightly moistened with mild soap and water. After, she suggested rinsing with a damp cloth, blotting with a clean towel and letting air dry.

For pillows that are hand washable, she recommended submerging the pillow in a tub of lukewarm water mixed with some mild detergent. Carefully squeeze the pillow to circulate the water and clean it (foam, when wet, is fragile and can tear easily, she said, so be gentle). Once clean, rinse with cool water until it runs clear, squeeze to remove excess water and place on a flat surface to dry.

You can read more of her cleaning and drying tips below.

And in case you're past due for a refresh or have a pillow that's still looking a little worse for wear after a few cleaning sessions, the Shop TODAY team rounded up some popular pillows that you can add to your bedroom setup. Plus, we also found a handful of top-rated pillow covers that will help you extend their life.

Pillow covers to shop

SureGuard Pillow Protectors

If your pillow didn't come with a cover, you can lengthen its lifespan by adding one. This hypoallergenic cotton option is designed to be 100 percent waterproof, to help protect your pillow against sweat, saliva and other liquids. Plus, it has a super fine zipper with Invisi-Zip technology, so the brand says it will be completely sealed off from bed bugs.

PlushDeluxe Premium Bamboo Standard Pillow Protector

These pillow protectors are made from a soft bamboo material, which the brand says is breathable, water-resistant and noiseless. They come in multiple sizes to fit the pillows that you already have at home.

Four Seasons Essentials Standard Pillow Protectors (Set of 2)

Thinking about all the dirt, bacteria and other substances that can make their way onto your pillow is enough to keep you up at night. Thankfully, you'll be able to rest easy when you slip these covers onto your pillows. They're made to block liquid, moisture, dust, pet hair and more from getting in and getting trapped in your pillow.

Pillows to shop

Zamat Adjustable Cervical Memory Foam Pillow

Back sleepers will appreciate the contours of this pillow, which the brand says holds your neck at the right height to help provide support and align your head with your body. The memory foam pillow comes with a removable outer cover that's made of moisture-wicking bamboo and polyester and is designed to be machine washable for easy cleaning.

Pillow Cube Sidekick

One Shop TODAY editor who tried this oddly-shaped pillow said that it helped provide support for her side sleeping position and even eliminated the back and neck aches that she sometimes felt in the mornings. While experts say that it's not a one-size-fits-all option, even for side sleepers, the brand says that it can help fill that gap between your neck and shoulder, so you're more supported as you snooze.

Coop Home Goods The Original

Consumer Reports tested more than two dozen pillows and gave this one an "excellent rating for support." Though the brand says it works for all types of sleepers, it seems perfect for those who sleep on their side, as it features an adjustable design so you can add or remove the memory foam fill for customized comfort.

Sidney Sleep Adjustable Memory Foam Pillow

Here's another adjustable option that's said to be great for side sleepers. Like the above pick, you can add or remove the filling in this pillow to suit your sleep needs. What makes this pillow feel truly unique is its curved shape, which the brand says contours to your shoulders and centers your head on the pillow.

Groye Adjustable Neck Pillow

Calling all back sleepers! This bestselling pillow is said to conform to the natural curvature of the neck and shoulder perfectly, so that you feel supported and relaxed as you snooze. It features a removable insert so that you can adjust the height to suit your needs.

Utopia Bedding Bed Pillows

You'll sleep more soundly with these plush pillows on your bed. Not only are they filled with a "super plush hollow fiber" and designed to conform to the curves of your body, but they also have a no-shift construction, so they won't go flat.

Bluewave Bedding Ultra Slim Gel Memory Foam Pillow

Stomach sleepers don't need much (or anything at all) under their heads to get a restful night's sleep. Thankfully, this model is designed to provide medium-firm memory foam support without lifting your head too much. It's said to have cooling technology built into the foam and even comes with a removable machine-washable cover.

Osteo Cervical Pillow

"I’m a back sleeper and I always wake up with a stiff neck," one Amazon shopper wrote. "I often have problems with my pillow being too soft or too high for my neck. I bought this pillow and i’m amazed. My neck is neutral to my spine when I sleep and I don’t wake up with any neck pain. Its been a week and I sleep perfect with my pillow! Highly recommended for people who often wake up with stiff neck."

Purple Harmony Pillow

If you're willing to spend a little more to get a good night's rest, then why not spend it on "the greatest pillow ever invented." That's what Purple calls its Harmony pillow — and some shoppers agree. The pillow uses the same cushioning technology as the brand's mattresses, so it's designed to be supportive, cooling and will keep its shape even with your nightly tossing and turning.