Home Cleaning & Maintenance Hotel Pillows—How Long is Too Long?

Hotel Pillows—How Long is Too Long?


According to a recent National Sleep Foundation survey, 91 percent of all people identified the pillow as being most important to a good night’s sleep (second only to the mattress at 93 percent). Yet very few hotels actively manage their pillow inventory.

Currently, most properties leave it up to the subjective opinion of their housekeeping staff to pull pillows out of service when they no longer meet the hotel’s standards. This works for pillows that are obviously stained, or are flat, or lumpy. However, this practice does not allow a housekeeper to know what might be on the inside of the pillow. We all know that dust mites accumulate in pillows over time, despite the use of pillow protectors. This practice also results in a property having a very inconsistent pillow inventory, since purchasing often buys the cheapest alternative available at the time, not necessarily the same brand that is currently in use.

Over the past two years I have had the opportunity to inspect/dissect pillows in over 50 hotel properties primarily in the upper upscale and luxury segments. Overall the average age of these pillows has been approximately seven years old. This indicates that pillows are primarily replaced during soft goods replacement. This is a very long time for a hotel to keep their pillows in service. In fact, most knowledgeable hotel industry professionals will tell you pillows should be replaced every two years and this is supported by many sleep experts.

Pillow Protectors a Common Practice

Most of the general managers and executive housekeepers we worked with did not know the brand, construction, or age of their pillows, which I find quite amazing since pillows are crucial for guests to achieve a good night’s sleep. All of these properties used pillow protectors to cover their pillows. Pillow protectors assist in limiting pillow staining, but they do not eliminate the buildup of dust, and other microorganisms from growing inside pillows. They give operators a false sense of security and also add to the cost of your pillow inventory.

What can a hotel do to maintain a clean, comfortable, consistent pillow inventory? The first option is to launder the pillows, which many of you know is not a great solution. Laundering is both water and energy intensive, often requiring several cycles to clean and dry, plus pillows can cause significant damage to washers and dryers. The second option is to replace the pillows every two years—not a very sustainable or cost effective solution.

The best option is for a hotel to implement a pillow cleaning and restoration process. Most hoteliers are unaware that there is equipment specifically designed to clean pillows. Each pillow is cleaned one at a time. It takes approximately four to five minutes per pillow. While this might sound like a novel approach, in the 1940s to 1960s, re-ticking was a standard operating practice.  Many older hoteliers still remember this practice. Since then the equipment has been improved and the addition of ozone in the process has eliminated odor concerns.

Many Benefits to Pillow Revitalization

The process will work with all loose filling pillows, but is most cost effective on higher quality feather and down pillows. In addition to saving money, there are many other benefits of implementing this type of pillow cleaning. These include providing a consistent product to your guests, reducing pillow related waste by 85 percent, eliminating the need to purchase new pillows, and allowing a property to use a higher quality pillow while reducing long-term costs.  On average we save hotels over 60 percent on the price of new pillows and reduce waste by 2 pounds per pillow. In a 300-room hotel this equates to savings of over $15,000 and waste reduction of close to two tons.

If you currently have old, but quality feather and down pillows the cost to replace them may lead you to purchase lower quality pillows which is a huge mistake from a guest satisfaction perspective. I would recommend that you check into cleaning and restoring your existing inventory before you buy. With the increased awareness on sustainability, maybe it’s time for the hotel industry to re-look at pillow cleaning and restoration as a standard operating procedure.

Brian Guernier has been in the hotel industry since 1984, primarily as a hotel real estate executive. He holds the LEED AP BD&C accreditation. He is an MPS graduate from the Cornell School of Hotel Administration and holds a BS in Natural Resources Management from Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He recently launched Pillow-Fresh, a hotel pillow cleaning and restoration service operating in New York City and Orlando, as well as providing on-site bulk cleaning. Brian can be reached at brian@pillow-fresh.com or at (888) 381-2605 or cell (407) 257-5277.