Skip to Content

5+ Possible Reasons Why Your Pillow Smell

5+ Possible Reasons Why Your Pillow Smell

We have so much that needs our attention. Taking your sick pet to the vet, responding to that work email, prepping for your big presentation… the list goes on. So when we finally lay our head down on our pillow at night, all we look forward to is a good night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, our pillow can ruin a good night’s sleep with its terrible smell. Of course, that’s the last thing you’ll want to bother you, especially after a busy day.

So, why does your pillow smell? And how can I get rid of the unpleasant odor? Well, if that’s your latest concern, we have so much to pour out to you in this article. Just follow closely to learn more.

5+ Possible Reasons Why Your Pillow Smell

Pillows smell for various reasons, ranging from poor hygiene to the materials they’re made of to the body oils and sweat that accumulate on them over time. Sometimes the smell will result from several causes and perhaps others not mentioned here.

So, the most common reasons for pillow smells include;

1. Not Washing Your Pillow

Let’s be honest – how many of us wash our pillows regularly? Most people don’t, and that’s one of the main reasons they end up smelling and giving you a difficult time when the night falls.

As much as they may not need cleaning as regularly as other things around the house, the fact remains that pillows still need thorough washing from time to time. Otherwise, dirt will accumulate on your pillow and begin to give an unpleasant smell over time.

So, it’s always good to have at least a semi-regular pillow-washing schedule. That way, you can avoid that musty odor and have a good night’s sleep all the time.

2. Your Body Oils

Your skin constantly sheds dead skin cells, which mix with your body oils and sweat to form a sticky substance. The substance will then adhere to anything it comes into contact with – including your pillowcase!

As you sleep, this mixture will rub off your pillow. Over time, these body oils and sweat will build up and cause your pillow to smell. So again, ensure that you don’t wait until enough has accumulated before you wash your pillow.

3. Poor Air Circulation

You might not have thought about it. However, poor air circulation is another possible reason your pillow gives you sleepless nights when you need sleep the most.

If your pillow doesn’t have good air circulation, it will become moist and humid. This will provide the perfect environment for mold and mildew to grow. And when all these combines with the oil, sweat, and saliva you release when you sleep, you’ll have a pillow with an unpleasant odor.

4. The Material of Your Pillow

The material of your pillow can also cause it to smell. For instance, if your pillow has natural materials like feathers or down, it’s more likely to absorb moisture and develop mold or mildew.

On the other hand, synthetic materials like polyester are less likely to absorb moisture. However, they can still hold on to body oils, sweat, and dirt, which will eventually cause an unpleasant smell.

5. Spills From Food And Drinks

We’ve all enjoyed a bedtime snack or drink at one point or another. But if you’re not careful, these can end up spilling on your pillow – and trust me; the consequences won’t be pleasant.

Spills from food and drinks will not only create an unpleasant smell, but can also attract pests into your bedroom. So, it’s always best to be careful when eating or drinking in bed.

6. Dust Mites

Last but not least, dust mites are another possible reason your pillow doesn’t feel so pleasant on your nose. These are tiny creatures that thrive in dirty and humid environments. So if your pillow doesn’t have good air circulation, it will become the perfect home for dust mites.

How To Get Rid of The Smell From The Pillows?

It all depends on the nature of the problem and what’s causing it. But generally, you can get rid of the smell from the pillows by washing them, spot cleaning, or placing them in the freezer. These methods will remove the dirt, sweat, and body oils accumulated on the pillow over time.

So yes, it’s possible to restore your pillow’s fresh smell. But it will take some effort on your part to do so!

Here are some of the ways you can do it;

1. Wash Your Pillow

Washing is the surefire way to get rid of any odor from your pillow. You can use a washing machine or hand-wash depending on the pillow. Even so, most of them support machine washing.

Now, when machine-washing, use a gentle setting. You’ll need warm water, mild detergent, vinegar, and washing soda. It’s likely that you already have all these in your home, so you may not need to buy anything.

Check the care label if you aren’t sure whether your pillow is machine-washable. If your pillow doesn’t support machine-washing, do the washing manually using the same ingredients.

Once you finish, it’s time to dry your pillow. If yours can go into the dryer, count yourself lucky. Only use the lowest setting. And for pillows that can’t go into the dryer, leaving them in the sun is the best option.

2. Spot Cleaning

Sometimes the foul smell that has kept you awake for several nights will only come from one particular area. In this case, you can consider spot cleaning the pillow. To do so, you’ll need a clean white cloth, water, and a mild detergent.


  1. Dip the cloth in soapy water
  2. Scrub the stained area
  3. Rinse it off with clean water
  4. Let it air dry

You can also use vinegar or baking soda as alternatives to soap.


  1. Make a paste using either of these two ingredients.
  2. Apply it to the stain
  3. Let it sit for about 30 minutes
  4. Rinse off with water
  5. Allow it to dry

3. Freezing Your Pillow

Freezing is another excellent way of solving the odor problem. You only need to place it in a plastic bag and then put it in the freezer for about 12 hours. After that, take it out and let it air dry.

This method is quite effective in killing bacteria and dust mites that might be causing the foul smell.

How Can I Make My Pillow Smell Good?

If you want to make your pillow smell good, you can do a few things. For instance, you can spray it with a linen spray or essential oils. That will help infuse a pleasant smell into the fabric and transfer it to the pillow.

Another thing you can do is to place a sachet of lavender or any other herb under the pillow. This way, every time you lay your head down, you’ll be able to smell the pleasant scent of the herb.

You can also consider buying commercial pillow sprays. These come in different scents and can be pretty effective in making your pillow smell good. Only avoid over-application as this might make the pillow smell too strong.

Are New Pillows Supposed To Smell?

It’s normal for new pillows to smell, especially if they are of memory foam. Memory foam pillows contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that produce an unpleasant scent in what we technically refer to as off-gassing.

I know we all expect our pillows to come smelling fresh. However, that’s not always the case. New pillows can come smelling like chemicals, and it all goes down to the materials used to make them.

The good news is that the smell usually fades away with time. So if you can bear with it for a few days or weeks, the smell should eventually go away.

In case the smell is too strong and you can’t stand it, there are a few things you can do to get rid of it faster.

They include;

  • Airing It Out: Place the pillow outside on a sunny day to have the smell fade away faster.
  • Washing It: If the pad is machine-washable, you can wash it using mild detergent and then let it dry completely.
  • Put In The Freezer: Another reliable way of eliminating the smell is put the pillow in a plastic bag and then place it in the freezer for about 12 hours.
  • Sprinkle Baking Soda: Applying baking soda on the cushion and then vacuuming it off after a few hours may also go a long way to removing the smell.

Why Does My Pillow Smell After Washing?

Your pillow will smell after washing if you don’t dry it properly. Failure to dry properly makes pillows develop a musty odor that can make it hard for you to fall asleep.

As we’ve said, washing your smelly pillow is the best way of getting rid of the foul smell. However, sometimes you may notice that the pillow still smells even after washing. If this happens, chances are you didn’t dry it properly.

The moment the inside of your pillow doesn’t dry out completely, it makes it likely for mold and mildew to start developing. These two are the main culprits for that musty smell you get from pillows.

So, if you notice that your pillow still smells even after washing, the first thing you need to do is to check if it’s dry. If not, then put it back in the dryer and run it on high heat until it dries completely.

It’s also essential to ensure that you don’t overload the washer as this might make it hard for the pillow to dry. If possible, wash only one pillow at a time.

And for pillows that can’t go into the dryer, it’s best to wash them only when the weather is supportive. Ensure that you wait until it’s sunny and not humid outside. This way, you can air-dry the pillow to remove the musty smell.

Why Do Pillows Turn Yellow?

Pillows can turn yellow for several reasons. It could be due to sweat, oil, or even drool stains. But in most cases, those yellow stains you’ve recently noticed on your pillow are caused by sweat.

While you may argue it, the fact remains that we all sweat when we sleep. The amount of sweat depends on several factors, such as the number of blankets you use, the temperature of your room, and your health status.

Now, when you sweat, the sweat doesn’t just disappear into thin air. Some of it goes to pillowcase, and over time, this can lead to the yellowing of the pillow.

Another possible reason for the yellowing of your pillow is the materials used to make it. For instance, polyester material is more likely to turn yellow than cotton. But as said, more often than not, it all goes down to sweat stains.

Final Verdict

If your pillow smells, know that you’re not alone. It’s a problem that many people have to deal with at one point or another. The good news is that there’s something you can do about it.

You can either wash your pillow, spot clean it, or apply different home remedies to get rid of the smell. For a new purchase, you might also want to air it out. Alternatively, you might consider returning it and getting a new one.