Why mattresses and pillows turn yellow — and how to get those stains out

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The common causes of yellow stains on mattresses and pillows

It can be shocking to peel back your bed sheets and see yellow stains covering your mattress and pillows. There are several reasons why they might turn yellow, and this type of staining can happen to any type of mattress and pillow.

On the whole, yellow stains on mattresses and pillows aren’t anything to worry about, however there are a few exceptions so you need to know the difference. The best way to stop your mattress and pillow from turning yellow is to cover them with proper protectors.

If after reading this you decide your bed and pillow are beyond saving, our guide to the best mattresses for all sleepers will point you in the right direction of a new bed (many of which should be on sale in the forthcoming Memorial Day mattress sales). For now, here’s what you need to know about yellow stains on mattresses and pillows, what causes them, if they’re safe to sleep on, and how to get them out.

Everybody sweats and secretes natural body oils whilst they sleep. It’s totally normal and you won’t notice stains these yellow stains on your mattress to appear overnight. Just like the yellow stains on your pillows, these stains accumulate over time. This is because these clear liquids react with oxygen and oxidize turning yellow and eventually brown.

Whilst you can remove yellow stains from mattresses and pillows, it is natural wear and tear and nothing to be ashamed about. However, if you start to notice that these stains also have a musty odor, then this could be a mold growth which can become harmful to your health. Here are just some reasons why you may see yellow stains on your mattress.

It can be easy to think you have dirty pillows or mattresses when you see yellow stains but the most common reason for yellow stains on mattresses and pillows is often sweat and sebum. The average adult can lose between 500-700ml of sweat per night, and if you’re a hot sleeper that could be even more. Natural body oils (sebum) also seep through your mattress leading to staining. So it’s important to regularly clean your sheets and even using a mattress topper to help protect your mattress surface.

You may not want to admit this but you drool in your sleep. Maybe you’re dreaming about eating pizza or it could be because you’re breathing through your mouth instead of your nose. Either way, saliva can be the main cause of yellow stains on your pillow. Your saliva helps to create a moist environment which in turn promotes growth of bacteria on the pillow. This bacteria breaks down and is what contributes to the yellowing of your pillow.

We all know that accidents happen, and knowing how to remove mattress stains including from urine is a must especially if you have children or pets sharing your bed. But urine is one of the big causes of yellow stains on your mattress. Urine contains a pigment called urochrome which is what gives it a yellowish colour.

When this gets on fabrics it means it can easily stain which is why the stain from urine is obvious. Also, urine contains proteins and salts which can solidify and bind tightly to fabrics such as mattress covers which makes the stain difficult to remove.

Eating and drinking in bed is always risky business, especially as any crumbs can attract pests like dust mites. But we all enjoy a cup of tea or coffee in bed each morning so it’s a risk we’ll have to take. However, spillages and drips happen and if the liquid soaks through your sheets on to your mattress or pillows then over time this will turn yellow and even brown if left uncleaned.

Don’t worry, we aren’t going to shame you for going to sleep with your make up on, but that doesn’t help when it comes to yellow stains on your pillow. A lot of makeup and cosmetics like your facial cream or serum contain oils, wax, and pigments. These transfer from your face onto your pillow whilst you sleep and when they oxidize they cause yellow stains to appear.

Yellow stains whilst mostly harmless can sometimes be more serious. If you notice yellow stains on your mattress or pillows that are accompanied by a must door, this is a huge red flag. Mold thrives in damp, humid environments like pillows and mattresses. If think that your mattress or pillow has mold then it’s time to consider either professional cleaning or a replacement.

The answer to whether it is safe to sleep on a mattress with yellow stains is that it depends on what the cause of the stains are. If it’s just mild yellowing due to the natural oxidation of the mattress materials, then this is generally harmless.

If it’s yellowing caused by sweat and sebum then this is the ideal environment needed for bacterial growth. This bacteria can cause nasty odors to occur which no one wants to breathe in over night.

Whilst bacteria from sweat and sebum don’t cause many people significant health issues they can create more infections in those with weakened immune systems. This bacteria can also worsen skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. Yellow stains caused by sweat can also attract dust mites which can cause allergy symptoms and heighten any eczema and asthma symptoms you already have.

Then there’s the dreaded mold. Mattress mold can show itself in a couple of different ways so educating yourself on how to spot mattress mold and deal with it quickly is a good idea. If you notice that your yellow stains start to have a musty odor, feel damp or you’re having respiratory issues then it is likely to be mold.

Mold can also show up on your mattress as off-white, pink or fluffy back spots. If you’re noticing mold is purple, brown or green then this usually means that the mold growth is well established and it could be time for a new mattress.

Again, this really depends on what type of yellow stains are present on your pillow. Yellow stains on pillows are often just a sign of age. But if your pillow is old, as well as it being yellow you may find that it’s misshapen and uncomfortable.

However, if you notice that your pillow smells off or feels damp, this is a sign of mold and your pillow should be replaced straight away. Sleeping on a moldy pillow can have some serious health effects leading to respiratory issues, allergies and infections. It’s crucial to act fast if you think it isn’t just a dirty pillow but in fact mold.

Yellow stains on pillows can also mean a bacteria build up caused by sweat, body oils and dead skin that build up night after night. This bacteria can contribute to skin breakouts and as well as irritating the skin.

In order to keep your mattress and pillows free of yellow stains then you need to do two things: cleaning and prevention.

Regularly cleaning your mattress can make a huge difference to keeping stains at bay. You can read more about how to clean a mattress and remove stubborn stains in our step-by-step guide on how to clean a mattress.

But it’s a good idea to tackle any stains as soon as you see them. Also, cleaning your mattress on a regular basis can help to stop the stains and bacteria build up from sweat and sebum before they even start.

Of course, how you clean your mattress does depend on what type you have, for example if you’re wondering how to clean a memory foam mattress and get urine out then it’s important to act fast to stop the mattress from getting wet and to blot instead of scrubbing the stain. Whilst cleaning a hybrid mattress can be cleaned with a combination of regular vacuuming and using household items like baking soda.

Your pillows can also be washed and should be washed every couple of months. It’s also important that if you want to stop yellow stains on your mattress and pillows from forming that you change your bedding weekly.

There is then the prevention method, invest in a best mattress topper that sits on top of your mattress and creates a vital barrier in between you and your mattress surface. Most mattress toppers can be cleaned alongside the rest of your bedding, and those that can’t be, can be spot cleaned. Mattress toppers can also help make your bed feel a little more comfortable.