What To Do With Old Pillows: A No-Fluff Guide To Cushion DisposalImage by Sustainable Jungle#whattodowitholdpillows #wheretodonatepillows #howtodisposeofpillows #usesforpillows #whattodowitholdbedpillows #sustainablejungle
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What To Do With Old Pillows: A No-Fluff Guide To Cushion Disposal

Jenny Bell

There’s something about the perfect pillow. 

But considering your head weights about 10 pounds, it takes its toll. 

The pillow that used to be what dreams are made of degenerates into a flat, lumpy nightmare—a literal pain in the neck. 

However, that doesn’t mean you should throw your old throws into the trash, where the polyester fiberfill will last forever and even natural fibers of eco-friendly pillows will release methane gas as they decompose.

Fortunately, figuring out what to do with old pillows doesn’t have to be a pain in the neck…unlike what continuing to sleep on them can be.

To learn more about why it’s important to dispose of pillows responsibly, roll (over) to the end of the article.

1. Wash Old Pillows

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Before you assume your pillow is past its prime, give it a wash. 

Technically, you should do this anyway. Pillows gather up all of our dead skin cells as we sleep. Going through a laundry cycle can refresh and redistribute the pillow’s fill, adding to its lifespan.

Even if it’s no longer wanted, running them through the laundry ensures they’re ready for whatever comes next.

How do you wash old pillows?

Check the label or look up the manufacturer’s instructions online, as it depends on the type of pillow you own:

Down & Down Alternative Pillows 

Usually, you can send these through a gentle/cold wash cycle.

Since down is fragile, use a gentle, natural laundry detergent (and less than you normally would) instead of one filled with harsh chemicals.

An extra rinse cycle ensures all of the soap will be washed out of the down. 

Run the pillow through the dryer for about 15 minutes to kill dust mites. Toss in some old tennis balls to help the down re-loft. Let it air dry from there so the heat doesn’t damage the pillow filling. 

Cotton & Polyfill Pillows 

Assuming the care instructions don’t say anything to the contrary, follow the same instructions for the wash cycle as for old down pillows.

Old polyester pillows can generally withstand the dryer. 

Throw them in the dryer on low heat with some dry towels to help draw out moisture and a few clean tennis balls to resuscitate the filling. 

Latex & Foam Pillows 

The actual foam of your pillow probably shouldn’t go through the washer or dryer, but it should have a cover you can remove. 

If the foam part of your pillow is all one piece of memory foam, set that aside. 

if it’s shredded foam or latex inside, have a bag handy. Empty the foam into the bag and seal it up to protect the contents while you launder the pillow cover on a cold wash cycle.

Whether you have foam pillows, an old feather pillow, or any other bed pillow, you should wash them (or the pillow covers at least) every six months.

Laundering pillowcases once a week keeps things clean and extends the life of your pillows—so figuring out how to dispose of old bed pillows is a less frequent pain in the proverbial neck.

2. Repair Old Pillows

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What, exactly, is the problem with that old pillow? If it’s a lack of stuffing or a hole in its exterior, could you fix it?

Sometimes, old pillows can be made like new with a little TLC.

If it’s a stuffing problem, you can consolidate two pillows into one. Add the stuffing from one old pillow to the second one and sew it back up.

This is an especially nice option for what to do with old feather pillows since the lack of toxins in feathers makes them more appealing for reuse in other pillows.

3. Recycle Pillows When You Can

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Are pillows recyclable or garbage?

Pillows are recyclable, but like mattress recycling, it’s not as easy as popping them into the blue bin on your curb. 

Most local recycling centers aren’t equipped to handle old pillows. 


Because old pillows typically consist of multiple components that must be disassembled and sorted to be correctly recycled.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t recycling options; you just need to find a service that specializes in pillow recycling. 

Usually, that means finding a local drop box that accepts textiles. 

USAgain accepts pillows at their TreeMachine drop boxes across the nation, from NYC to LA. You can insert your zip code to find the one closest to you. 

American Textile Recycling Service (ATRS) takes pillows — including specialty ones for those wondering what to do with old memory foam pillows

They don’t have a handy donation bin locator, but you can call their 24-hour hotline at (866) 900-9308. Give them your zip code, and the operator will tell you if there are any ATRS drop boxes nearby. 

Unfortunately, TerraCycle isn’t an option. Their Fabrics and Clothing Zero Waste Box specifically states that textiles with fill (read: pillows) can’t be included. 

However, you could still remove the filling and repurpose that separately, then toss the encasement in with the rest of your old clothes recycling box.

If you’re wondering what to do with used pillows in the UK, some Dunelm Stores offer a take-back scheme for textiles that accepts pillows, duvets, towels, and more, provided they’re in a clean condition. Check their FAQ page for a list of participating stores. 

Otherwise, your local recycling center may be able to help.

4. Where To Donate Pillows In Good Shape

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Can you donate pillows?

Yes, but donating pillows assumes they still have some life. 

This option works best for a pillow you bought a short while ago but didn’t like or a pillow from your guest bed that didn’t get much use. 

Don’t pawn your ultra-flat, lumpy pillow off onto the thrift store. If you do, it will likely end up in the landfill. Around 84% of clothes donated to thrift stores do—and it’s much easier to sell a well-loved jacket than a done-in pillow. 

So, where to donate old pillows?

Thrift stores are the first options that come to mind, but it’s best to call ahead and check.

Many stores prohibit bedding (like old sheets) and pillow donations for hygiene reasons. Some may allow you to donate throw pillows but not old bed pillows.

Donating pillows to charities, animal shelters, and homeless shelters is a better option to ensure they get used; pillows are among the top items homeless shelters need.

In short, the process of donating used pillows boils down to three things: 

  1. Check they’re in good enough shape for someone else to use them. Donation is not the answer for what to do with old pillows with no life left. 
  2. Wash the pillows. 
  3. Call to confirm that they will accept your old pillow donations. 

Following these steps can save you the hassle of hauling your old bed pillow down to the dropoff point only to get turned away.

5. Compost Natural Pillows

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Image by Mikhail Dmitriev

You might be able to compost your old bed pillows if they’re made of the right stuff, namely natural materials.

If you know the stuffing is 100% cotton, wool, or down, for example, you can dump that into your compost bin.

Natural latex foam is also compostable but may not break down quickly enough outside high-heat industrial settings, so check with the manufacturer or brand.

Natural covers and encasements can also be composted, but remove any thread (which is usually polyester), tags, and zippers.

If you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to disassemble and compost what you know will break down. Getting at least a portion of your old pillows into the compost pile means minimizing your contribution to the landfill.

Composting is the most sustainable end-of-life solution for pretty much any product. So, when looking for a new replacement, have some foresight for future disposal problems and consider buying organic pillows.

6. Repurpose Or Upcycle Old Pillows

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If you’re wondering how to recycle pillows but don’t have local options, turn to opportunities in your own house.

You might find a better use for old pillows by moving them to a different cushioning function. 

Here are some creative ways to reuse old pillows:

  • Fill out throw pillows, floor cushion seats, and poufs. Stuff an old flat pillow into a square throw pillowcase, plumping it up and adding decorative accent pillows to your couch, chair, or bed.
  • Create a garden knee pad. Add a waterproof cover to an old bed pillow (or two pillows if you have bad knees) and use it to make your gardening efforts or general outdoor chill sessions more comfortable.
  • Make a pet bed. You can either start from scratch or use it to fill lumpy, dead spots inside an existing eco-friendly dog bed. However, this may not be the best solution for disposing of polyester pillows if your furry friend tends to eat their bed as much as they sleep in it.
  • Create a quilt. Use cotton or polyfill as batting for the old t-shirt quilt you’ve been working on.
  • Create a door draft stopper. Reduce your carbon footprint at home by taking the case, sewing it into a long tube, stuffing it, and using it to block drafts and keep your house more energy efficient.
  • Use old stuffing for all manner of craft projects. Fill a stuffed animal, quilt squares, stuffed keychains, or DIY Christmas decor like ornaments. Heck, a stuffed old sock with a face sewn on could become an eco-friendly toy for your kiddos.
  • Downcycle old pillow stuffing into packing material filler and old pillowcases into zero waste cleaning rags.

No need for any of these things at the moment?

Keep the materials on hand for the next time creativity strikes, or donate it to your artist friends or local crafting groups. 

7. How to Dispose Of Old Pillows As a Last Resort

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Image by Daddy1979

So, you’ve washed your old pillows, but they’re still flat and lumpy. There’s nowhere to recycle old pillows nearby, and they’re too worn to consider the pillow donation option.

You don’t anticipate any upcycle or downcycle projects, and your pillows aren’t compostable. 

Now what? 

When the landfill seems to be the only viable option for disposing of pillows, it’s time to toss them in a trash bag.

Tossing your pillows in the trash might feel sad, but that’s likely what would happen anyway.

If the pillow is past its usable life, donation centers have no use for it. 

Since most local recycling services aren’t equipped with a textile recycling facility, adding it to your recycling bin amounts to nothing more than wishcycling, which wastes recycling center resources and can contaminate whole batches of recyclables.

Long (bedtime) story short, if you’ve explored all of the other options for what to do with old used pillows, you’re doing the right thing by adding them to your next trash haul.

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Why You Should Learn How To Dispose of Pillows

Did you know experts recommend you retire your pillow every two years (or 3-4 depending on its fill)?

We sure didn’t (as we guiltily try to recall when last we purchased a pillow…).

Even if the majority are lax like us in how often they retire pillows (about every three years on average, according to some surveys), spread across eight billion people on the planet, that’s a LOT of pillows going to the landfill.

Most of these are cheap, disposable pillows stuffed with synthetic fabrics, namely polyester fiber.

These require virgin petroleum to manufacture and break down slowly over decades, leaching microplastics into the environment. 

Even natural, sustainable fabrics—like organic cotton, ethical wool, natural latex, and down feathers—become unsustainable when thrown in landfills.

They quickly get covered in other trash, resulting in anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition. This, in turn, leads to the release of methane gas, a GHG that traps heat in the atmosphere 28 times more effectively than CO2.

Recycling pillows, or repurposing them, is an easy way to get them off your hands while ensuring their materials get a new life.

Final Thoughts On How To Recycle & Reuse Pillows

Help put Earth’s landfill problems to bed by skipping the trash and instead pursuing alternative options for how to dispose of used pillows

This should be true for anything you want to get rid of, from old shoes to old underwear and bras to old jeans.

All those textiles and materials may have a whole other life ahead of them. 

While they might have become a pain in the neck, you can ensure pillows past their prime don’t become a pain for the environment—helping you sleep even better as you settle into your new pillow each night. 

If you’ve overheard friends or coworkers asking how to recycle old pillows, fluff up their sustainable efforts by sharing this article.

Pin these:
What To Do With Old Pillows: A No-Fluff Guide To Cushion Disposal Image by Mikhail Dmitriev #whattodowitholdpillows #wheretodonatepillows #howtodisposeofpillows #usesforpillows #whattodowitholdbedpillows #sustainablejungle
What To Do With Old Pillows: A No-Fluff Guide To Cushion Disposal Image by Daddy1979 #whattodowitholdpillows #wheretodonatepillows #howtodisposeofpillows #usesforpillows #whattodowitholdbedpillows #sustainablejungle

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