Choosing a comfortable pillow can be an essential part of getting a good night's rest. Not only can a good pillow provide support for your neck and back, but it could also help to keep you a bit cooler while you sleep. So, what are the options when it comes to pillow filling materials?
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Pillows can be filled with quite a few different types of materials. Here are the most commonly used ones:
- Down & Feather
- Memory Foam
As you can see, the type and texture of materials used to make pillows can vary widely. Let's take a closer look at the most popular types of pillow fillings and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.
The Various Types Of Pillow Filling Materials
The most suitable filling material for your pillow really depends on your preference, as each will come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Let's take a look at some of them.
Cotton is considered the original pillow filling material. It's naturally soft to the touch, hypoallergenic, and can come in both firm and soft options. Firm cotton pillows, though they compete with memory foam pillows, can still offer great support for all types of sleepers, especially those with orthopedic issues.
Most cotton pillows will last anywhere from 1 to 3 years. Another benefit of cotton pillows is that they require very little maintenance and are usually machine washable. They'll need to be dried thoroughly, however.
- Is typically very affordable
- A breathable, hypoallergenic, and odorless material
- Natural and organic (made without chemicals, unlike synthetic pillows)
- Can come in soft or firm varieties
- Can help you stay cool at night
- Ideal for side sleepers (though they can work for all types of sleepers)
- May flatten or become lumpy over time
- Aren't moldable and can lose shape easily
Down & Feather
Down and feather pillows are made of the wing feathers of geese and ducks (down refers to the soft under-feathers), with down offering great insulation. These pillows are renowned for their softness and ability to last for several years. Down, however, has been known to cause allergic reactions in some cases.
Feather and down pillows can come in a thick or lighter firmness, which makes them great for a variety of sleeping styles. However, because of their soft texture, they may not be able to offer sufficient support for heavyweight sleepers or those looking for sturdy neck support. Another great benefit is that these pillows are usually machine washable, only requiring a very small amount of detergent (if any) before being rinsed and fully machine-dried.
- Very lightweight and an exceptionally soft material
- Doesn't absorb as much body heat as other pillow filling materials
- Extremely durable and long-lasting
- Can be machine washable
- Not ideal for those looking for neck or back support
- Can require constant re-fluffing to maintain their shape
- May cause allergic reactions
Memory foam material first originated in 1966 during a NASA project. It has become extremely popular for use as both pillow and mattress filling material. Memory foam consists of polyurethane and other chemicals that increase its density. It's known for offering excellent back and neck support and can mold to the shape of your neck or back, offering unparalleled comfort.
These pillows are known to last anywhere from 18 to 36 months. They can also come in various levels of firmness, though they will only very slightly, as it's known to be more of a firm material overall. Unfortunately, memory foam pillows are not machine washable, as they can easily develop mold and mildew.
- Work well for any type of sleeper (side, back, stomach)
- Offer excellent support in pain relief to neck and back areas (and even knees)
- Are extremely durable
- Available in sleek designs
- Can be too firm for some sleepers
- Are known for retaining heat
- Can come with a chemical smell
- Don't offer much malleability for sleepers who shift a lot
- Can be more expensive than other pillows
Latex pillows are made from either synthetic or natural latex (which is derived from rubber trees). They are also a great option if you're looking for an orthopedic pillow to provide neck and back support. They are hypoallergenic and most of them can be tossed in the washing machine for cleaning. Latex pillows are usually on the firmer side and work best for stomach and back sleepers. If properly maintained, a latex pillow can last up to five years.
- Can last a long time
- Provide orthopedic support
- Can feel heavy
- More expensive than other filling materials
- Can come with a chemical smell
Kapok is probably the newest material used for pillow fillings. It's a silky, buoyant material made from a cotton-like fiber that grows in the tropics. Kapok pillows are similar to cotton pillows, as they offer a nice balance of softness and firmness, though they are not recommended for sleepers who need a lot of orthopedic support.
It's not recommended to place kapok pillows in the washer as the material can escape from the casing, causing a bit of a mess in your washing machine. Kapok pillows are known to last anywhere from six months to a year.
- Very soft and malleable texture
- A great alternative if you're allergic to down or feather pillows
- Made from non-toxic material
- Known to develop lumps
- Material is very flammable
- Not machine-washable
Water-filled pillows are fairly new to the market compared to other filling materials. These pillows contain an inner pouch filled with water and then is encased in a polyester microfiber. They can also come with a cooling option, allowing for great heat diffusion and a cooler night's sleep.
Water pillows are typically hypoallergenic and are known for providing great relief for back or neck pain sufferers. The amount of firmness in the pillow can be adjusted by adding or removing water. Most come with warranties of 1 to 3 years.
- Offer customizable firmness
- Many are machine-washable
- A great option for back pain sufferers
- Can provide nighttime cooling benefits
- The water inside can make noise when you shift
- They can be heavier than other filling materials
- They're more expensive than other types of pillows
Wool pillows offer an all-natural, supportive, and non-allergenic pillow filling material option. They can last anywhere from 1 to 3 years if made from natural wool (synthetic fillings may last 1-2 years). Wool pillows are usually encased in either cotton or polyester linings to make them softer to the touch. They tend to be on the firmer side and work best if you are looking for neck or back support (or are a stomach sleeper). While you can perform surface cleaning on these pillows, machine washing them is not recommended.
- Won't require re-fluffing
- Great for sleepers looking for firmness
- Natural wool is usually more expensive
- Can be too heavy and firm for some sleepers
- Not machine washable
These pillows are made from buckwheat husks and provide a sufficient level of firmness. Overall, they are fairly breathable pillows that work best for sleepers who need a good amount of support. They aren't known for being "soft" pillows, but more for being supportive pillows. Buckwheat pillows have a very long life span and can last over 5 years if maintained well. They're fairly durable, though washing them is not recommended. Instead, it's better to just replace them.
- Offer a great back and neck support
- Provide breathability, allowing for a cool nights sleep
- Very long lifespan
- Can feel too hard for some sleepers
- Fairly heavy compared to other pillow filling materials
Polyfill pillows are made from synthetic polyester and are usually combined with cotton as well. These pillows typically last from six months to two years, depending on how they are maintained. They can be purchased in both soft and firm varieties. The firmer polyfill pillows can provide great support for the neck and back areas, making them a great option for stomach and back sleepers.
The material is also hypoallergenic and the pillows can usually be tossed in the washer with just a bit of mild detergent. If you do machine-wash these pillows, make sure to dry them completely or they will develop mold. Add a couple of tennis balls to the dryer for tumbling and place it on low heat.
- One of the least expensive filling materials
- Lightweight and malleable
- Easy to clean and maintain
- Can retain moister and heat
- Fairly short life span compared to other filling materials
- Non-breathable material
Most sleeping and decorative pillows require the same environment when it comes to storage, which is ideally a cool and dry place in your home. Things such as wild temperature changes and high humidity can spell disaster for stored pillows. It's also best that you place a protective cover over stored pillows or keep them in a closed container. Lastly, be careful when vacuum-sealing pillows to avoid permanently altering their shape by compressing them too much (except for memory foam).
How To Pick A Pillow?
Unfortunately, there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution to buying the perfect pillow. But there are a few elements that you can use to help guide you toward the best purchase.
With the numerous options available for pillows nowadays, it can be overwhelming to find the right fill. The first step is to determine your needs for the pillow. Do you need something firm for neck or back support? Or, do you prefer a softer pillow that can be malleable as you move about throughout the night? Do you need a hypoallergenic pillow? It helps to start with the list of "must-haves," then you can go from there.
Most adults prefer sleeping pillows that are on the larger side. It's important that your pillow allows sufficient support for your neck and back so that you may maintain proper posture while you're sleeping. If you're someone who has a tall or wider frame, you may want to find a pillow that is large and offers firm support, such as memory foam or a firm cotton/polyfill pillow.
There are also pillow options available for you if you suffer from specific orthopedic issues such as knee or hip pain. You can find these types of specialty pillows to provide relief on certain pressure points while you sleep.
Many pillows today are made with synthetic materials, some of which may cause allergic reactions. Other pillows may not offer you the breathability that you're looking for, due to their high-density levels. So, knowing a bit about the chemicals that your pillow contains can be an important aspect to consider.
How Thick Should Your Pillow Be?
The thickness of your pillow is a personal preference, though many chiropractors recommend a height of about 4-6 inches for sufficient head and neck support.
This range is important because it allows the neck to maintain its slightly curved position even when you're resting. If the pillow is not high enough it can cause strain on your neck muscles. To the opposite effect, a pillow that is too high can also cause strain on the neck (especially if you're a side sleeper). It can also obstruct your breathing and hinder your sleep in other ways.
Choosing the right pillow filling material can mean getting the appropriate level of comfort that you need during the night. We hope that this post has familiarized you with the various types of pillow filling materials for your next pillow purchase.
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