What are Pillow Cases?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Pillow cases are covers that are designed to be slipped over pillows. There are a number of reasons to use them, ranging from the desire to maintain a hygienic environment to a cheap way to switch up interior decor. Many home supply stores sell pillow cases, and it is also possible to make one by hand, for people who want to use specific fabrics or create special designs. There are a wide range of styles and types available.

A pillow with an embroidered pillow case.
A pillow with an embroidered pillow case.

One of the main reasons to use pillow cases rather than using pillows as-is is hygiene. A case can easily be removed for washing or replacement, while pillows are challenging to wash. They trap grease from hair along with dirt and other materials, preventing them from reaching the pillow filling. Using pillow cases also reduces the risk of spreading certain diseases, as they can be changed between users so that people don't pick up lice, scabies, colds, and a wide variety of other unpleasant medical problems from used pillows.

A bed with pillows in pillowcases.
A bed with pillows in pillowcases.

People with allergies may use specialized pillow cases that are designed to reduce allergies. These can include hypoallergenic pillow covers that prevent dust mites from getting out of the pillow filling, along with those made from hypoallergenic materials which will not trigger an allergic event.

A woman asleep on a pillow.
A woman asleep on a pillow.

Aesthetic reasons can be another factor in the use of pillow cases. A typical pillow is not very exciting to look at, since it's simply a stuffed packet of plain material. A cover can totally change the look and feel of a pillow, and people can change the cases on ornamental pillows to create a change of mood in a public room. For example, people might use colorful silk ones on throw pillows in the living room to liven the room up for guests, or change the covers on bed pillows to match a change of bedding.

Pillow cases are easier to wash than pillows, which facilitates sleeping hygiene.
Pillow cases are easier to wash than pillows, which facilitates sleeping hygiene.

Some pillow cases zip up, snugly covering the pillow inside. Those with hook-and-loop fasteners, ties, and other fastenings are available. Others may be open, or designed with a small flap which folds over the pillow once it has been inserted into the cover. An advantage to those that close is that the pillow will not be exposed during use, which can be a problem with open ones. However, open pillow cases fit a range of pillow types and sizes, since they are not designed for a snug fit, so they can be more versatile.

Pillow cases might help accent other pieces of furniture.
Pillow cases might help accent other pieces of furniture.
Some pillow cases are specially made for those with allergies.
Some pillow cases are specially made for those with allergies.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

ysmina

@anamur, @turquoise-- I'm exactly the opposite! I love satin pillow cases. I read in a magazine once that satin pillow cases help prevent wrinkles and I've been using them ever since. I think they're a lot softer than cotton ones and it has a more luxurious look to it.

I do put a linen pillow case underneath the satin one though. So I put on two pillow cases. The reason is because over time, the oils and odors from our hair can be absorbed by the pillow. If you think about it, just one pillow case is not really enough to keep the actual pillow hygienic. And I've never washed pillows, I don't think they can be washed.

So I put two pillow cases on top of one another. This way my pillows stay clean and fresh for years.

turquoise

@anamur-- It's a personal preference and you might need to try different ones to find out which one you like best.

I personally like 100% cotton pillow cases. Cotton absorbs sweat so if you sweat at night at all, this will be best. I don't like the feel of satin pillow cases and I can't bear them in the summer. They make me so much hotter and sweat more.

I change my pillows twice a week at minimum because I have acne. My dermatologist said that the bacteria that gets on my pillow can come back the next night when I sleep on it. So I try to put on clean pillow cases as often as I can.

And I wash them with the rest of my laundry. If you get satin ones though, those need to be washed in a lower temperature and dried out.

serenesurface

I just moved into my first apartment and need to get some new sheets and pillow cases. My mom used to take care of everything when I lived at home, so I don't know much about pillow cases.

Which material is usually best? I think I'm going to get all white ones but I saw online that there are many different fabrics like cotton, linen, satin and so forth. I don't really care about the cost. I just want good quality ones that will last for a long time.

And how often should I change my pillow cases? Can I throw them in with the rest of my laundry or do I need to wash them separately?

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