Why Do Pillows Turn Yellow (And How To Fix The Problem)

It can be a bit off-putting to find yellow stains on your pillows when you're changing your pillowcase. However, the stains are a fairly common occurrence for many people. But what causes these unsightly stains, and more so, how do you rid of them? We're going to answer this for you.

Here are the most common reasons for yellow pillow stains:

  • Body sweat
  • Make-up, hair, and beauty products
  • Wet hair
  • Product breakdown over time (from frequent usage)
  • Saliva from night time drooling

Now that you know the common culprits of yellow stains, keep reading to learn how to prevent and remove them from your pillows.

A pillow with yellow saliva stains, Why Do Pillows Turn Yellow (And How To Fix The Problem)

How To Prevent Pillow Stains

Dry cleaner's employee hands in rubber protective gloves holding spray bottle and brush removing saliva stain from white pillow

Sleep With A Headdress On

If you are someone who uses hair products that contain oils, it may be a good idea to sleep in a scarf, head wrap, or satin cap to prevent the oils from these products from lingering on your pillowcase. Or, if you're someone who washes their hair at night before going to bed, be sure to thoroughly blow dry your hair or allow it time to air-dry before laying down for the night. The calcium in the water can cause stains over time.

Check out this nighttime sleeping cap on Amazon.

Wash Your Face Before Laying Down

If you wash your face before you go to bed, you can help prevent the transfer of makeup, dirt, dust, and other pollutants that can cause your pillows to develop stains. Human skin naturally absorbs whatever is in the atmosphere, so if you spent the entire day outside, chances are that you may transfer whatever pollutants and dirt are present outdoors right onto your bedsheets.

Change Your Pillowcases (And Sheets) Every Few Days

Washing your pillowcases (and bedsheets) frequently can help to prevent stains from setting into the fabric. If you have more than one set of sheets, try to change them every four to six days to keep them from developing a dingy or yellow tint.

Buy Pillow-Protecting Pillowcases

Today, you can find various brands of pillowcases or pillow protectors that you can place on your pillow to prevent them from staining. Most of these have antibacterial properties that can prevent odors and stains from building up in the fibers of the pillow.

Check out this antibacterial pillowcase on Amazon.

How To Wash Pillows

Most pillows made from feathers, polyfill/synthetic materials, or cotton can be tossed in the washer. However, before washing your pillows, make sure that they are machine washable. You can determine this by simply checking the care tag instructions attached at the seam. Memory foam pillows are not machine washable.

Things You'll Need

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup powdered laundry detergent 
  • ½ cup Borax
  • Rubber cleaning gloves
  • A fabric stain remover
  • 1/4 cup bleach
  • 1 cup dishwasher detergent (powdered)

Step 1.

Use the fabric stain remover to treat any visible surface stains on the pillows. Let it sit for about 10 to 20 minutes.

Check out this Sweat X stain remover on Amazon.

Step 2.

Toss the pillows in the washer and set the temperature to hot water. Let the pillows soak in the water for about an hour if your washer has a "soak" setting. If it doesn't, simply start the cycle (on hot water), then lift the lid once the machine fills up.

Step 3.

Find the biggest soup pot in your kitchen and fill it with water. Place it on the stove until the water comes to a boil. Next, pour in the Borax, dishwasher detergent, and laundry detergent. Then, take a spoon and gently stir the mixture for a few seconds to combine the ingredients.

Step 4.

Take the pot and pour the solution into the washing machine and over the soaking pillows. Next, carefully pour in the bleach. With your rubber gloves on, agitate the pillows for a moment to make sure that they are fully saturated.

Check out these rubber gloves on Amazon.

Step 5.

Close the lid on the washer and start the cleaning cycle. If you have an "extra rinse" option, select it. Set the washing machine on the longest cycle possible and add the cup of vinegar once it gets on the last rinse. You may want to set a timer to remember to catch it on the rinse cycle.

Step 6.

Once the wash is completed, toss the pillows in the dryer and select a low heat (or "warm") setting. If you have any tennis balls or dryer balls, toss them in there as well to help keep the pillows from getting stuck to the walls (they work as great tumblers).

Quick Tip: When loading your washer, be sure to only load either one king-size pillow or two regular-sized pillows at a time to prevent over-loading.

How Do You Whiten Yellowed Fabric?


Bleach can whiten almost any fabric. And because it is such a strong chemical, it's best to use extreme caution when applying it to your bedsheets (the chlorine can easily ruin them). To whiten your sheets using bleach, simply toss them into the washer and place them on a cold cycle. Next, add approximately 1/4 cup of bleach to the wash and let it continue on the cycle. Be sure to add the bleach once the drum is filled up.

Buy Clorox bleach on Amazon.

Lemon Juice

Lemons contain citric acid which is a naturally occurring bleaching agent. To whiten your sheets using lemons, simply add about 1/4 cup of naturally-squeezed lemon juice (not store-bought) to the washing machine after tossing your sheets in (along with whatever washing detergent to use). Next, continue the wash as normal. Lemon juice is also great for neutralizing any fabric odors. Air-dry them or toss them in the dryer after.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is another all-natural odor-neutralizing ingredient. It also has amazing whitening abilities, and it's safer to use than bleach. You can add about 1/3 cup of baking soda to the washing machine to give your sheets a quick and easy brightening. Adding baking soda to your laundry detergent during the wash cycle can also help to boost its cleaning power.

Buy Arm & Hammer baking soda on Amazon.

White Vinegar

You can also use vinegar to whiten your bedsheets. You can either use it as a pre-soak for the sheets (for about an hour) or add it to the wash before the cycle starts. It only takes about half a cup of vinegar to be effective at removing any dinginess or light stains from your bedsheets. When adding vinegar to your washing machine, be sure to use a gentle detergent. Allowing the sheets to air-dry can help remove the smell of vinegar, though this will mostly dissipate during the rinse cycle (or in the dryer if you use scented fabric softener).

Buy white vinegar on Amazon.

Why Do Pillows Turn Brown?

Pillows turn brown due to the same reasons that can cause them to turn yellow. These reasons include:

Sweat/Body Oil

Most people sweat during their sleep, though some more than others. Over time, sweat and oils from your body will be soaked up by the fabrics of the pillow, eventually leading to yellow and brown stains.

Wet Hair/Unwashed Face

Exposure to moisture can also create discolorations (brown spots) on your pillows. If you do not wash your face before heading to bed, these stains can also develop from an accumulation of dirt and dust (and dead skin cells). You can prevent this by washing your face before you turn in for the night.

Residue From Grooming Products

Skincare products such as lotions, oils, face creams, and toners can sometimes rub off on your pillow, causing permanent stains over time.

How Do You Get Make-Up Stains Out Of Pillows?

Most women can relate to waking up to finding makeup spots on their pillowcases from either forgetting to remove their makeup before bed, or not removing it thoroughly enough before laying down or taking a nap. If this has been you, here are a few quick ways that you can remove your make-up from your pillowcase:


To remove foundation from the pillowcase, take a can of shaving cream and spread it on the stained area. Let it sit for 5-7 minutes, then take a soft damp cloth and dab the area gently. Afterward, rinse off the shaving cream with cold water. Repeat the steps as necessary and then toss the pillowcase in the wash (on cold water) with a small amount of detergent.


To remove mascara, pour 1/2 cup of water in a bowl and add about two to three drops of dishwashing liquid. Next, grab a soft cloth (microfiber works great) and dab it on the stained pillowcase after dipping it in the solution. Do not scrub it vigorously. Lastly, rinse the stained area in the sink to remove the soap and then toss the pillowcase in the washer on a cold water setting.


Make-up can be tricky to remove. To remove it from your pillowcase, take a cotton ball and soak it in either rubbing alcohol or witch hazel. Next, dab it on the stain repeatedly to lift the makeup from the fabric. Then, toss the pillow sheet in the washer (on cold water) with a bit of detergent.

Wrapping Things Up

Before washing your pillows or pillowcases (this includes surface washing), be sure to read the care tag instructions to make sure you don't ruin them during the washing process.

Before you go, be sure to check out our other posts:

How Big Is A Queen Size Bed Really?

How To Clean Throw Pillows That Have No Zipper?

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