Can You Recycle Old Pillows?


Pillows are one of those things that give us a brilliant night’s sleep or a terrible night’s sleep depending on how comfortable you find them. When you’ve found one you like, it’s tempting to keep it forever, yet as Brits we’re terrible at maintaining good hygiene standards when it comes to bedding.

When they reach the end of their useful life, can you recycle old bed pillows?

Pillows are not recyclable because of the materials they’re made from. Charity shops won’t take them unless they’re brand new and in sealed packaging. That means a lot of people put them into their general waste bins, but a better solution is to donate them to animal shelters.

dirty pillows on bed

We spend around a third of our lives in bed, and the vast majority of that time asleep, head on pillow. During the night we sweat, shed tiny pieces of skin and generally transfer dirt from ourselves onto our pillows, duvets and bedding.

In a previous article we talked about donating old duvets to animal shelters, and today’s subject of pillows overlaps with that nicely. Give that page a read too if it’s of interest.

How Dirty Are Pillows?

If you’re squeamish, I’d recommend skipping the next few paragraphs and moving on to the next section down. It’s truly shocking the first time you hear the results of studies into what is found in the average pillow. As it’s only an average too, the worst offenders are likely to be beyond grim.

Some research has found excrement particles in the pillows they examined, which I’m told is very common to find all over homes as we spread particles as we move around during daily life.

What’s more, even if there’s nothing as disgusting as poo that’s found its way onto or into your pillows, dust mites love the sweaty mess your pillows become and multiply quickly inside.

After the average life of a pillow? Here’s the vital statistics:

  • The average person in the UK changes their pillows every four and a half years
  • Nearly ten percent of men and a quarter of women don’t recall changing their pillows in the last ten years
  • Of those men, over three quarters have never changed their pillows.
  • Almost 50 million pillows are sold in the UK every year.

How Often Should I Change My Pillows?

Guidance says you should have a clean pillow at least every six months, but that doesn’t necessarily mean buying new ones a couple of times a year. Many of the pillows on sale today are washable, so it’s perfectly possibly to keep a pillow for several years and stay hygienic if you put them through the wash at least twice annually.

I try to wash mine every three months, as I find they keep their shape better and go less lumpy if I don’t leave it too long.

As washing pillows might prolong their life, let’s go into more detail as it may save you from having to dispose of them for a few more years.

How To Wash Pillows

In a machine, pillows get very heavy as they fill with water and the drum spins. For that reason, unless your machine has a specific program for washing them, go for a cycle with a low spin speed. That will help prevent damage as the machine spins faster and the weight moves around quickly.

Unless you have an allergy to them, biological liquids are usually better to shift sweaty stains and get better results. You can also do a second wash with a non bio liquid if you prefer to avoid using biological washing liquids to keep the chemicals away from your skin. That will help remove any residual traces of the biological liquid before you use the pillows again.

When they come out of the wash cycle, pull them back into shape. It can feel like you’re wrestling with them, especially if you find they’ve twisted inside the outer cover, but persevere and you’ll get there. As we said earlier give them a good shake and push and pull at them to separate out the fibres inside, and they’re ready to dry.

How To Dry Pillows

For drying, you can hang them on a washing line if you wish to dry outdoors. Depending how well your washing machine spins them, you might find they drip for a while as the excess water comes out. Periodically, go out and turn them upside down on the line – this will help prevent the fillings dropping toward the ground.

Alternatively, you can use a lot of tumble dryers to finish the job too. Do check the care label on the pillows though, as some are not suitable for the dryer. A common example is foam pillows as they do have a carry a higher fire risk in the tumbler.

For drying pillows that are suitable for the machine, always use a slower tumble speed and a warm rather than hot dry. That will result in the pillows staying plump, especially if you keep getting them out and plumping them to agitate the fibres inside as they dry.

Do Pillows Go Lumpy In The Wash?

Pillows wash best before they get too manky, just like any other clothing, linen, bedding or anything else you put in the machine. For some reason, we seem to think of pillows differently to everything else.

The longer they go without a wash, the more build up you get of sweat, dead cells and other nasties that sometimes cause the clumpiness that is associated with washing pillows in the machine. If that’s a problem you’re suffering from after washing them, try running them through on a second cycle and see if they improve.

A second thing you need to do is give your pillows a good beating and get them back into shape when they come out of the washing machine. If you’ve ever bought a sofa, you’ll probably have been told to work the cushions from time to time. It helps to prevent the fibres from collapsing down and the same goes for pillows.

Getting a bit rough with you pillows several times as they dry will help them stay in great condition for longer, meaning you don’t have to replace them as often.

How To Dispose Of Pillows

When the time comes that your pillows have seen better days and need replacing for the sake of a good night’s sleep, recycling is unlikely to be an option.

You can put them into your general waste bin, but there’s a better option. Animal sanctuaries and shelters are usually grateful for donations to use as animal bedding, so your old pillows can stay useful for another day and take on a new life with some furry friends.

You can find your nearest animal shelter by searching on Google, asking friends, or using the Yellow Pages if you’ve still got one (although it might be outdated since they went out of print).

Some local recycling points (like the ones you find in supermarket car parks) have duvet and pillow bins, but typically won’t accept pillows in the more generic clothing and textiles (also known as fabric) collection points.

Pillows are quite chunky items, so keeping as many as possible from going into landfill sites with all the other waste has to be a good thing. It’s also a rare chance in life to do something for a good cause and solve a problem for yourself (getting rid of rubbish without running out of space in your wheelie bin) all in one go.

Freecycle And Pillows

I’m quite squeamish about what I sleep on, even when visiting hotels I have to stop myself thinking about the number of guests they’ve had in rooms before me! I do appreciate that I’m more of an exception than the rule though.

If you’ve got pillows to dispose of that are lightly used, you might find that sites like Freecycle are a good option. It’s a good idea to be honest about their condition, because it might determine who is interested in them.

Some people might have pets that rip up anything in sight and be on the lookout for pet bedding. Others might be looking for nearly new pillow for their own use or for their kids because they’re on a really tight budget. For that reason, the quality of what they’re looking for can vary dramatically!

Liam Gifford

I'm Liam. I spent twenty four years on the bins in South Yorkshire and now spend my time on recycling projects. I created this site to use my knowledge of how the rounds work, and what people need to know about getting their wheelie bins emptied every week.

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