Why Do Pillows Turn Yellow

Have you recently changed your bedding, only to notice that what feels like a soft and comfortable pillow that started with a crisp white colour looks yellow and unpleasant under the pillowcase? This can be an off-putting sight and lead you to wonder, why do pillows turn yellow? The answer is that many different reasons can cause your pillow to discolour, from skincare products to drool stains!

On average, we spend between seven and eight hours a night with our heads resting on a pillow, so it must be both comfortable and hygienic to help us get a good night’s sleep! The good news is that we can provide information on the most common reason for stained pillows and how to wash yellow pillows so that the fabric remains fresh and stain free.

Read on for great tips on how to prevent your pillows from going yellow in the first place and then inexpensive and practical ways of removing any stains when they do occur.

You don’t need any special cleaning equipment to remove marks left by sweat or products, just your usual washing liquid, baking soda to help remove stains and odours, and either a washing machine or a washing-up bowl or sink!

Main Reasons for Pillows Turning Yellow


Manufacturers will often add fluorescent whitening agents to give you the perfect white pillow. Over time, these agents are worn away, and as we mentioned above, there are many different causes of your white pillow turning yellow, and they may happen in combination:

Beauty Products

Many of us apply skin cream and hair products before we go to bed at night, and even if this is not part of our bedtime routine, any that have been applied during the day will still be present when we go to bed unless we have showered or washed. These will transfer onto the pillow covers and soak into the pillow itself over time, turning it yellow.

Similarly, if makeup is left on at night time, this too will be from your skin onto the pillow. Just think how much mess your beauty products can make in your white bathroom sink; imagine that product rubbing onto your pillow each night!

Different Causes of Moisture

Several different types of moisture can get transferred onto our pillows overnight. People sweat whilst in bed, sometimes, they sweat profusely, and when the sweat dries, it can leave permanent marks on the pillow.

Going to bed with wet hair can also cause yellow pillow stains and drool. You may not think you drool in your sleep, but it is common for people to do this when they are in the deepest stage of sleep.


When replacing pillow covers and sheets, it is recommended to allow your bedding to air out before putting on fresh ones. This practice lets odours, dust mites and other allergens disperse.

However, sunlight can also cause pillows to turn yellow if they are exposed to direct light for too long, so it is important to get the balance right.

Natural Body Oils

Our bodies secrete natural oils to keep both our skin and hair shiny and healthy-looking, and just like skin products, these oils can cause stains to your pillows over time.

Another factor that you may not have wanted to consider is that more than 300,000 dead skin cells are shed onto your pillows and sheets each night, contributing to yellow and brown stains!

Top Tips for Preventing Yellow Pillows

Now that we have covered some of the main causes of pillow stains, below we provide some steps to prevent them from happening:

Pillow Protectors

Utilising a pillow protector is a straightforward yet efficient method to safeguard the pillow from body oils, sweat, and drool, ensuring it maintains its pristine white colour.

Remove Beauty Products Before Bed

Having a wash and using a makeup remover before sleep to remove makeup and skin products will mean that they are not present to be transferred onto your pillow during the night. Using a moisturiser in the morning and allowing a nighttime one to soak into your skin before laying your head on your pillow should also help.

If you apply a hair product before going to sleep, wear a hair protector to prevent the product and your pillow cover.

Keep Cool

Not wearing too much clothing in bed and having the right top of your duvet for the season will help you keep cool and prevent excess sweating, making your pillows yellow. Keeping a low temperature in your bedroom overnight will also help with this.

Regular Washing

Making sure that your pillows are washed regularly will help to prevent yellow staining. If you wash the entire pillow and not just the pillowcase, you will remove any build-up of products or sweat. Changing your bedding once a week will prevent stains from developing on your pillow.

How to Wash Pillows if They Have Yellow Stains

If your pillows have started to turn yellow, don’t write them off, as there are many techniques for getting them clean.

An important point to note is that you should always follow the care instructions on your bedding before washing it to ensure that you do not damage it. Check the care tags to see whether your pillow is machine washable; if it is, this is a great way to give it a thorough clean.

Cleaning Pillows in a Washing Machine

Using a cleaning cycle at a lower speed will prevent your pillows from distorting, but you want to use hot water so that any bacteria is destroyed. Use your usual laundry detergent but avoid putting fabric conditioner in, as this can build up on your pillow and prevent it from washing well in the future.

If you have particularly yellow pillows, you can do some spot cleaning before placing them in the washing machine. Apply a stain remover to any strong yellow stains, or you can add baking soda to any bad spots, as this is a great natural whitener. It will also help to remove any odours from your pillows.

Check whether your pillows can go through a dry cycle, as this could damage them if it is not recommended. Instead, allow the pillow to air dry. Don’t put pillow covers back on until they are completely dry.

If your pillows are ok to be placed in a dryer, a top tip is to add two or three tennis balls. The tennis balls will hit against the pillow as they dry, fluffing it up.

Handwashing Pillows

If your pillow says not to machine wash it, you still have the option to hand wash it. Use a gentle detergent or try a mix with dishwasher detergent and use hot water initially before rinsing with cold water.

Make sure that you work into any yellow stain marks, and you can use baking soda to help with this, just as you can when placing your yellow pillow in a washing machine.

If the pillow contains memory foam, be careful not to wring it, but squeeze it instead to get rid of any excess water. Allow the pillow to dry completely by placing it in a warm, dry spot.

Pillow Care Wrap Up

old beddings that had discolouration over time

There are a few simple reasons that pillows discolour with time, and it makes sense when you think that you spend the entire night with your hair and skin pressed against them! Sweat, wet hair and oils from our skin or makeup products are the main culprits.

The good news is that there are a few simple steps you can follow to prevent your pillow from yellowing too much. If going to sleep with makeup still on is a common occurrence, then removing it before sleep is a straightforward fix! Keeping your room cool and not wearing excessive clothing should prevent you from producing too much sweat overnight.

If you find that you do have yellow pillow stains, then placing them in a washing machine with a washing detergent or hand washing them should help to return their freshness. Making sure to wash your pillowcase regularly, not using fabric conditioner and being careful not to distort memory foam pillows by wringing them out are a few more of our top tips for fresh white pillows.

Keep Your Pillow Fresh and Clean

If you have ever wondered ‘why do pillows turn yellow?’ we hope we have provided you with some answers and some great tips for keeping the yellow stain marks at bay.

Manufacturers will often add optical brighteners to your pillows’ fabric, and it can be an unpleasant shock when they change from this bright white to a yellow pillow. Hopefully, your pillows will return to their pristine conditions with our tips.

Yellow pillows won’t be an issue by putting on pillow protectors, removing your face makeup at night, regular washing (whether handwash or through the washing machine), and keeping it cool! 

Good luck with a peaceful night’s sleep on your clean, white pillows!

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