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Selecting Bed Pillows

Pillow Basics

Fill Materials

Pillow selection of a matter of personal preference. Once you decide on a size and fill material, look for a pillow that can be fluffed and squashed as much as you like, and that has the thickness and firmness you find comfortable.

Natural-fill pillows, such as feather and down, offer the most comfort, longest wear, and most adjustability; however, they are not suitable for people who are allergic to feathers. Although feather pillows offer support and resilience, down has more softness. Though expensive, good quality natural-fill pillows can last up to 10 years.

Combination feather and down pillows have feathers on one side, a fabric divider through the center, and down on the opposite side.

Synthetic and polyester pillows are generally solid but may be textured, shaped, or wrapped in batting for added softness. Some of these pillows are shaped to offer support for specific parts of the body. Synthetic pillows are generally less expensive than down and offer less wear as well. Replace them every two to four years, or whenever they lose their shape and bounce.

  • Down: Filled with tiny goose or duck feathers, down pillows are soft and plush. White goose down is considered the best quality natural fill for bed pillows. They are expensive and require frequent fluffing, but they adjust to sleeping positions.
  • Down-and-feather mixture: This mix is soft but not as plush as pure down. This fill combines the softness and resilience of down with firm support of feathers. It is an affordable alternative to down.
  • Feather: Goose feathers are best quality; duck feathers are second. Feather pillows are more flexible than down. Fluff the pillows occasionally in a dryer set at the hottest setting for dust mite control.
  • Synthetic fiber: This is a good choice for people who are allergic to down. Quality synthetic fills are durable and inexpensive. Polyester puffs mimic the performance and resiliency of down.
  • Latex: These economical pillows are resistant to dust mites and mildew but less comfortable than down or synthetic pillows.
  • Buckwheat hulls: This fill, which has been used abroad for centuries, is relatively new to the United States. The pillows are generally smaller than standard pillows, they mold easily to form, and they are not conducive to dust mites, making them a good choice for allergy sufferers. Some people find them annoying and noisy to sleep on, however, so before buying one, ask if it is returnable, or consider purchasing a small size to try out the feel.
  • Foam rubber: This inexpensive pillow is considered hypoallergenic and can be sculpted for specific sleep style support. Foam rubber wears out quickly and will need to be replaced every year or two. If you prefer the plush softness of down pillows, the extra firmness in a foam version will probably prove to be uncomfortable.

Need new pillows? Here's a test: Place the pillow on the floor and fold it in half. For down or feather pillows, squeeze out the air. When you release it, the pillow should return to normal shape. For synthetic pillows, place a medium-size tennis shoe on the pillow. The pillow should spill the shoe and return to shape.

Pillow care: Down and down-and-feather pillows should be dry-cleaned once or twice a year. Some cleaners promote pillow cleaning service periodically. Synthetic pillows generally can be machine washed; check the care labels. If you use pillow protectors, which are sold with bed linens, wash synthetic pillows annually.

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