How to get rid of yellow stains on pillows – remove the unsightly marks using these quick and easy methods

The experts reveal the best ways to give your stained pillows a refresh and how to prevent further stains in the future

White bedroom with grey headboard and hanging plants above bed
(Image credit: Future PLC)

If you’ve noticed that your white or off-white pillows are starting to yellow, you may have been tempted to replace them. However, there are a few quick and easy ways to restore them back to their original colour. 

‘Yellow stains on pillows are typically caused by a combination of factors, including natural body oils and sweat that accumulate over time,’ explains Baqir Khan, cleaning expert and owner of Proactive Cleaners

‘These substances can seep into the fabric of the pillowcase and pillow, creating unsightly discolouration. Additionally, dust mites, allergens, and skin cells can contribute to the staining.’

White bedroom with grey headboard and hanging plants above bed

(Image credit: Future PLC/James French)

In fact, ‘even your desired sleeping position can lead to more moisture build-up. For example, those who sleep on their side or front are more likely to drool than back sleepers, increasing the likelihood of their pillows turning yellow,’ says Rex Isap, CEO of Happy Beds.

Certain skincare products or going to bed with wet hair can also cause staining to your pillows and pillowcases.

But how do you go about getting rid of these stains and marks? Well, there are a couple of easy ways to give your stained pillow a refresh, as well as an important way to prevent your pillows from getting yellow stains on them in the first place.

What you’ll need

Loaf Friendly Kip Pillows

(Image credit: Loaf)

How to get rid of yellow stains on pillows

Step by step guide

Neutral bedroom with upholstered headboard, white bedside table, ceiling light and artwork

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Pre-treating stains

Start by spot cleaning or pre-treating any large stains or yellowing. ‘If the stains are fresh, blot the area with a clean cloth to remove as much of the stain as possible,’ says Sophie Lane, Product Training Manager at Miele GB

Otherwise, pre-treat with some kind of stain remover. ‘Apply a small amount of a pre-wash stain remover or a mixture of equal parts water and liquid laundry detergent to the stain,’ Sophie continues. Then you can gently rub at the stain with a soft brush or your fingers.

Sarah Dempsey, cleaning expert at, also suggests using ‘a toothbrush to scrub at the stain and gently loosen the stain’s debris.

Soaking your pillow

White bathroom with vertical tiles, window and bathtub

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Next, soak the pillow ‘in cold water for 30 minutes, then apply baking soda to the yellow stain for another 30 minutes,’ says Jackie Shephard, Head of Homeware at Terrys. You can also use ‘a tablespoon of mild laundry detergent,’ instead, according to Rex.

You may be best filling up your sink or bath with water to give you enough space to fully submerge and soak the pillow. Then it’s time to wash your pillow.

Washing your pillow

When it comes to washing your pillows, the most important rule is to always read the care label. Even though most pillows can be machine washed, there are still a number which can’t be and doing so can lead to your pillows being damaged.

‘You will need to take a different method, depending on the filling in your pillow,’ says cleaning expert Sarah.

‘Most down or feather pillows can be placed in the washing machine. However, you will need to use a mild detergent and cold water. Then, dry the pillows on a low heat as high temperatures can damage this type of filling,’ advises Sarah.

Synthetic and polyester pillows can also be machine washed. Simply wash them on a gentle washing cycle with a small amount of detergent and warm water. ‘If you can, wash two pillows at the same time to help balance the load,’ Sarah recommends.

If you have latex or memory foam pillows, these will need to be hand washed, as a cycle in the washing machine can damage its fibres. ‘To do this, vacuum all of the dust from the pillow and then spot clean it with a small amount of mild detergent and a damp cloth,’ says Sarah. Then you can lay the pillow flat and allow it to air dry.

Washing machine and tumble dryer stored vertically in cupboard

(Image credit: Future PLC/Bee Holmes)

Drying your pillow

‘Before using it again, your pillow and/or pillowcase should be fully dry as even the slightest dampness can cause mould and mildew to grow,’ warns Rex. ‘To help speed up the drying process, place it in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside in the sun as sunlight can help bleach any remaining stains naturally.’

If your pillow can be tumble dried, the experts have a few hacks to help speed up the drying process. ‘Most pillows can be dried for a good hour or so on a moderate heat setting,’ recommends cleaning expert Sarah. 

You can ‘use wool dryer balls in the dryer, as they'll help the hot air to circulate more evenly and efficiently, not only reducing drying time, but saving you money on your energy bills too!’ advise Emily and Jonathan Attwood, founders of scooms

Alternatively, some clean tennis balls do the same thing and stop the pillow’s filling from clumping together. You can also add ‘a couple of dry towels to the machine to help speed up the drying process,’ suggests Sarah.

‘If you are drying feather pillows, you will need to dry these on the non-heated setting. Add some tennis balls or dryer balls to prevent clumps from forming in the pillows. Drying feather or down pillows can take a long time since no heat is used. Be patient and ensure the pillow is completely dry before using it again,’ Sarah concludes.

White bedroom with neutral headboard, marble table and built in shelving

(Image credit: Future PLC)


How do I prevent yellow stains on my pillow?

If you don’t fancy having to go through the process of cleaning yellow stains and marks from your pillows and pillowcases again anytime soon, it may be time to invest in a pillow protector.

Not only will a pillow protector prevent future staining, by putting an extra layer between you and your pillow but it can ‘extend your pillow's life and enhance your sleeping experience,’ too, according to Catherine Morris, MD at Tielle Love Luxury.

Opt for a soft cotton zipped pillow protector, as it offers superior protection against odours, stains, and dust mites compared to the unzipped envelope-style protectors,’ she suggests. ‘Additionally, cotton is breathable and noise-free, a notable advantage over many synthetic pillow protectors.’

You can wash your pillow protector at the same time as you wash the rest of your bedding, which is why we recommend having a couple of pillow protectors so that you can ensure that your pillows are always covered.

Loaf Quilty Pillow Protector

(Image credit: Loaf)

How often should I wash my pillows?

‘Pillowcases and protectors should be washed every one to two weeks, while the pillows themselves can be washed or spot-cleaned every two to three months,’ says cleaning expert Baqir. ‘Regularly fluffing and airing out pillows can also help extend their freshness.’

How often should I replace my pillows?

Even if you remove the yellow stains from your pillow, it could be that the stains and marks have accumulated due to you having the pillow for a considerable amount of time. If this is the case, it may be time to replace your pillow.

‘We advise you to replace your pillows at least once every two years,’ suggests Fabio Perrotta, director of buying at Dreams. ‘Over time it’s likely your pillow will have a build-up of dust mites and potentially lose its elasticity meaning it will no longer give you the right support for your head and neck.’

‘If your pillow feels lumpy or flat, replace it as soon as you can!’ says Jackie. ‘Skin complaints like acne and allergies can also be exacerbated by old pillows, with dust mites specifically proven to cause itchy eyes and throat, sneezing, runny noses and congestion.

‘If you regularly wake up sneezing you may want to switch to an anti-allergy pillow,’ advises Catherine from bedding brand Tielle.

‘All pillows eventually sag. That said, age isn’t the only reason you should consider replacing a pillow,’ she continues. ‘It’s not always easy to tell by looking at old pillows if it’s time to say goodbye. To help, there are a couple of tests you can do to help you know when to replace your pillow for something new.’

The first is called the saddlebag test. Essentially you lay your pillow across your arm. ‘If it flops over your arm like an old saddlebag, it’s time to ditch it. Some new, poor quality pillows will do this too,’ Catherine adds. The second test is the press test. ‘If the pillow springs back into shape as soon as you lift your hand, there’s no need to replace it just yet,’ she concludes.

Ellis Cochrane

Ellis Cochrane has been a Freelance Contributor for Ideal Home since 2023. She graduated with a Joint Honours degree in Politics and English from the University of Strathclyde and between her exams and graduation, started a lifestyle blog where she would share what she was buying, reading and doing. In doing so, she created opportunities to work with some of her dream brands and discovered the possibility of freelance writing, after always dreaming of writing for magazines when she was growing up.

Since then, she has contributed to a variety of online and print publications, covering everything from celebrity news and beauty reviews to her real passion; homes and interiors. She started writing about all things homes, gardens and interiors after joining Decor & Design Scotland as a Freelance Journalist and Social Media Account Manager in 2021. She then started freelancing at House Beautiful, Country Living and in Stylist’s Home team. Ellis is currently saving to buy her first home in Glasgow with far too many Pinterest boards dedicated to her many design ideas and inspirations.