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PSA: Wash Your Damn Pillows, People

Let's talk dirty.

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But how often should you wash your pillows?

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We're talking about your actual pillows, not the pillow covers that go over them. Answer: If you haven't washed your pillows yet, skip the article, shove them in the washing machine, then read the rest of this piece while they're washing. Go on, I'll wait.

You see, a bed is the perfect breeding ground for fungi.

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In a paper published in Allergy in 2006, a team from the University of Manchester did the maths:

"Adults may produce up to 100 litres of sweat in bed every year, which for approximately 8 h/24 is at approximately 30°C and high humidity – an ideal fungal culture medium."

In that study, the team swabbed a selection of pillows for fungus.

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They gathered 10 pillows which were in regular use and were aged between 1.5 and 20 years. And then they grew fungi from the pillows.

In total, 50 types of fungi were found. The commonest three species were Aspergillus fumigatus (that one affects your lungs) , Aureobasidium pullulans (that's a gross black one) and Rhodotorula mucilaginosa (a rapidly-growing yeast).

And each pillow had at least four different types of fungus, btw. "The number of species isolated per pillow varied from 4 to 16."

Synthetic pillows had more fungi than feather pillows.

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This is because synthetic pillows are more porous. Ie they don't need to be tightly woven to stop feathers escaping.

"With no need for feather containment, the covers on pillows are more porous with pore size increasing from 2 to >10 μm."

If you have asthma, then your pillow is even more important.

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The study goes on to explain that "the typical used pillow contains a substantial load of many species of fungi, particularly A. fumigatus. Given the time spent sleeping, and the proximity of the pillow to the airway, synthetic and feather pillows could be the primary source of fungi and fungal products.

"This has important implications for patients with respiratory disease, and especially asthma and sinusitis."

So, a pillow protector is a good idea.

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Now that you're horrified by your fungus-y pillows, what can we do? Luckily,

Verity Mann, Head of Testing at the Good Housekeeping Institute has some easy, practical tips.

"Ensure you use pillow protectors as they act as an extra barrier between you and your pillow – these can also be washed every week or two." Argos have some, starting at £2.99.

And you should wash your pillows every 6 months.

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Mann explains: "Every 6 months or so, wash and dry your pillows following care label instructions. If it doesn’t have a care label or you've clipped off the tag, use warm water and opt for the gentle cycle.

"It's also a good idea to add on an extra cold-water rinse and spin to remove as much moisture as possible to aid drying. Most pillows can be machine washed but not foam – instead, sponge clean with warm, soapy water."

You can wash them at home, don't dry clean them.

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"Tumble dry the pillows on low heat, fluffing and turning them often*. When drying natural filled pillows, it is important to shake them occasionally to redistribute the feathers. Place them on a drying rack so they are flat and have good air circulation to aid drying.

"Don’t dry clean because the chemicals are difficult to remove and you certainly don’t want to be breathing in toxic fumes during the night. In the hotter months or if you get particularly hot at night, you might want to wash them slightly more frequently."

*If you don't have a tumble dryer, then most launderettes offer a pillow cleaning service. And if you don't fancy the launderette, here are some helpful tips about drying pillows on a drying rack.

And you should replace your pillows entirely every two years.

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Chuck your pillows when they get lumpy, Mann concludes. "Pillows have the very important task of supporting your head and neck at bedtime. There’s no set lifespan for your pillows but, as a guideline, it is safe to assume they need replacing after 2 years of continuous use. Pillows absorb body oil, dead skin, hair (and dribble…) and could end up being a playground for dust mites if kept for too long.

"Over time, whether they are made from natural or manmade fibres, they eventually stop doing their job as effectively. Signs are if it has become lumpy and has to be plumped up for support and if you fold it in half, it stays folded." –

Ailbhe Malone is the UK lifestyle editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.

Contact Ailbhe Malone at ailbhe.malone@buzzfeed.com.

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