Why Do Pillows Turn Yellow? 🧼

When you change your pillowcases, you might notice that your pillows are turning yellow. This causes concern for some people because they don’t know why the pillow is stained. In your own home, you likely know the history of the pillow, but if you are at a hotel or anywhere away from home, you may not be comfortable sleeping on the pillow.

Pillows turn yellow from sweat and other sources of moisture. The oils in the sweat from your body are one culprit and drooling or moisture from going to bed with wet hair is another. Yellowing also comes from chemicals in various products, such as hair products, makeup, and skin products.

You can prevent your pillows from turning yellow in many different ways, and you can protect yourself from yellow pillow stains if you have concerns while traveling.

What Causes Pillows to Turn Yellow?

Several different factors contribute to your pillows turning yellow. Most of the time, your pillows are yellow from either moisture or chemicals in various hair care or skin products that you use. You may be surprised by the following.


The most common reason why pillows turn yellow is sweat. Many people don’t believe that they sweat while they are sleeping, but as your body works to regulate your body temperature while you are sleeping, your pores do produce a small amount of sweat.

You don’t need to sweat profusely to turn your pillow yellow. Your scalp produces sweat overnight while sleeping, and it is transferred to the pillowcase. This tiny amount of moisture is released by your pores, including sebum. Over time, it will seep through the pillowcase and reach your pillow.

When sweat dries, it turns yellow. You won’t notice it right away because it is a constant process, and most people sweat very little each night. As it accumulates over time, you will finally see the yellow stains. It often takes months before you see the stains. If your pillowcase is a color other than white, you may not even notice it.

The compound in sweat that causes these yellow stains is urea, which is also why sweat is salty. If you sweat a lot, your pillows will turn yellow more quickly, but it can take a long time if you don’t notice any sweat. The best way to combat this is by adding a pillow protector under your pillowcase, and if you sweat a lot at night, you may need to change the thermostat or bedding.


Another common reason why pillows turn yellow is from drool. It happens far more commonly than most people realize, and it will stain your pillows more quickly. Some people aren’t aware of it, but they sleep with their mouths open. This causes some drool to move from your mouth to the pillow.

Drool stains are a little different from sweat stains. They are more of a cloudy color, and they will turn white if they stay on the pillow. However, over time, these stains will also turn yellow. You can try to change your sleeping position to reduce drooling, and you should change your pillowcase when you notice drool, as this will help prevent it from seeping through to the pillow. Having an added pillow protector will help protect your pillow as well.

Wet Hair

Many people shower before they go to bed at night, and they don’t realize that this can also leave stains and turn your pillow yellow. It is essential to dry your hair before bed because the moisture will transfer to the pillowcase and the pillow below it. It will leave permanent marks on your pillow.

You can use a hairdryer before you go to bed, or you can shower early enough to allow your hair to air dry. You can also use an absorbent pillowcase and a pillow protector that prevents moisture from seeping through to the pillow.

Hair Products

Not only does wet hair cause moisture to seep into your pillow and turn it yellow, but your hair products also add to the yellowing process. Different ingredients in your hair care products will speed up this phenomenon.

If you are using oil-based hair products, the oils moisturize your hair, but they will also seep into the pillow. When you look at the label, it might not say oils, but it will possibly have lipids as an ingredient, which is another name for oil. Some oils, such as carrot oil or palm oil, are more yellow than others by nature, and they will do more damage to your pillow.

Another culprit includes oxidative agents, such as hydrogen peroxide. They usually appear in hair color products, as their function is to open your hair cuticles to accept color. However, if your cuticles are open when you go to bed, the color or the products can seep into your pillow.

Other chemicals in your hair care products will also contribute to the problem, and it is exacerbated if your hair is wet or you sweat throughout the night. The best thing you can do is use a pillow protector inside the pillowcase, and you might consider draping a towel over your pillow if you have recently had your hair colored.

Skincare Products

Many people spend a lot of money on high-quality skincare products that are part of their nightly routine. These products are loaded with nutrients, antioxidants, and more to help keep skin healthy and fresh.

These products can cause your pillows to stain and turn yellow or brown. One of the reasons this can happen is that people apply their skincare products and go to bed right away. However, this doesn’t give the skin enough time to absorb the products. Not only does it reduce the results on your skin, but the moisturizers and creams end up on your pillow.

The amount of time that you should wait depends on the texture and the composition of the products. Some products are more easily absorbed, while others are thicker and take longer. You can also choose products designed for nighttime use, as these are often more lightweight and will be absorbed into the skin more quickly.

You can also try sleeping on your back so that your face doesn’t come into contact with the surface of the pillow. This is actually better for your skin as well, as the transfer works both ways. Your pillow absorbs some of your skincare products, but your face will absorb dirt, oils, and residue from hair products and more.


Makeup is another cause of yellowed, stained pillows. You probably already know that removing your makeup before going to sleep is better for your skin. It allows your skin to breathe, and you can protect it with products to receive the nutrients it needs while you are sleeping.

If you have ever noticed how your makeup can turn the area around your sink into a rainbow of colors, you can imagine what happens to your pillow. However, it’s not just the coloring from your blush or your powders and foundation; it is also the ingredients in the makeup.

Some makeup contains different oils that seep into your pillow, while others use chemicals that get into the pillow and damage the fabric’s fibers. The best thing you can do for your pillow and your skin is remove your makeup before going to bed.

Product Breakdown

Some pillow manufacturers use optical brighteners and fluorescent whitening agents to give your pillow that super white look. It enhances the brightness of the white, primarily to make it more attractive to consumers.

Over time, your pillow is washed and exposed to light, and the brighteners in the fabric will break down. This causes the pillow to fade to a more dull version of white. After many years, the pillow will appear yellow as the white fades. This takes a lot of time, and the other factors above speed up the process. However, when you notice that you can get the pillow back to its original bright white, this is why.

How Do You Keep Your Pillows From Turning Yellow?

No matter what you do, if you keep your pillow long enough, it will eventually fade and start to turn yellow. However, there are steps that you can take to prolong its useful life. Many of the factors that cause your pillow to turn yellow are things that you can control in some manner.

If your pillow is turning yellow, you should try to protect it. In addition to using a pillowcase, use pillow protectors that will limit the amount of oil, sweat, and dirt seeping into the pillow. By adding this extra protection, you will minimize what seeps through.

It would help if you also washed your pillowcase more frequently. You should clean it once a week, but if you sweat or see visible stains on the pillowcase after a night, go ahead and wash it sooner. Using a fresh, clean pillowcase will reduce the oils, and other particles seep into the pillow.

To minimize damage from moisture and beauty products, start by ensuring that your hair is dry when you go to bed. If this isn’t possible, lay a towel over your pillow to absorb the moisture. Make sure that you remove your makeup and give your skincare products time to absorb the skin. If you have just had your hair colored or treated at the salon, lay a towel over your pillow for a few days.

People who sweat a lot might want to consider the air temperature in the room at night. You may need to reduce the temperature, or you could change your bedding. Try to find the right balance so that your body doesn’t have to work so hard to cool down while you are sleeping.

Finally, if the issue is coming from drool, try sleeping in a different position. You can also protect your pillow with a towel, and be sure to wash the case in the morning.

Are Yellow Pillows Bad?

Your pillow turning yellow indicates how old it is and what it has been through. Most people say that you should replace your pillow after three years. Keeping your pillow too long can lead to issues such as loss of support that causes neck problems, dust mite infestations, and the growth of bacteria colonies.

How long your pillow lasts will depend on the materials and fillings used to make it. The key to determining if your pillow has outlasted its useful life is looking at the support it gives and how clean it is.

The yellow stains on your pillow indicate that it has had oils, chemicals, and other secretions seeping into it for some time. The buildup can invite mite infestations and encourage bacteria to grow. This can cause allergies and other issues.

On average, people shed 4 kilograms of skin at night while sleeping, which lands on your pillow. If it attracts dust mites, they also leave microscopic droppings on your pillows. Moisture is also a breeding ground for mold and bacteria, all of which can be too minuscule to see with the naked eye.

If your pillow is yellow, there is a good chance that it is time to replace it. You can also try folding it in half, and if it doesn’t spring back, it is no longer offering support. Many people are attached to their old pillows, but it is best to replace them before impacting your health.


Was this article helpful?

Team SafeSleep

Hi! We're a team of scientists, doctors, teachers, and coaches experienced in helping people with special needs. We hope you like our research and share it with others who might find it helpful too :)

Recent Posts