While several different types of pillow stuffing are available, no pillow stuffing is designed to last forever. Weigh the pros and cons of each stuffing to choose one that is both comfortable and affordable.
Cotton is a natural stuffing that is easy to find. The pillows are breathable and easy-to-care-for since they are washable; however, the fibers tend to clump after a few months. You can also find cotton stuffing that is blended with synthetic fibers like polyester.
- Pros: Hypoallergenic; cooler than other types of stuffing; washable
- Cons: Cotton begins to clump over time, making pillows lumpy; stuffing will need to be replaced more frequently than other stuffing types
Down, one of the most luxurious types of pillow stuffing, is made from the undercoat of geese and ducks. Down clusters expand and wrap around each other, creating the air pockets that make down so fluffy and soft. Down pillows have different fill power, the volume that an ounce of down consumes. The higher the fill power, the better quality the down. Good-quality down should have a fill power of at least 500, but, for the best quality, look for a down pillow with a fill power from 700 to 750. Plan to pay more for good-quality stuffing. If you are on a budget, try a down pillow that is mixed with feathers.
- Pros: Easy to adjust; long-lasting durability; soft and fluffy; conforms to your head; no quills to poke
- Cons: Common allergen, so it may not be suitable for everyone; more expensive
If you love the feel of down but don't want to spend the money for it, look for down pillows at thrift stores and yard sales. Discard the pillow covers and re-use the down.
Feather pillows are available in most stores; the feathers are typically from goose or duck, so not all feather pillows feel the same. The feathers have quills that, when stuffed into the pillow, begin to align and lay flat over time. To avoid flattening of the pillow, purchase a blend of down and feathers, which may be more expensive, but the down keeps the feathers from compacting and flattening the entire pillow.
- Pros: Great if you like a firm pillow; comes in many types and combinations of feathers, so it's easy to find one that fits your budget
- Cons: May be too firm, depending on your preference; most feather stuffing is not washable; contains quills that may poke
When a pillow is flat and no longer fluffs, it needs to be replaced.
Polyester is one of the most inexpensive types of stuffing available. It is not long-lasting, so use it only on decorative pillows that will not get much use. The two types of polyester are: siliconized and regular. Siliconized polyester, which is more resilient, has a similar feel to down, while regular polyester compacts quickly. Regular polyester is also easier to find. Polyester comes in many forms, including batting.
- Pros: Feels similar to down without the high price; hypoallergenic; inexpensive; washable; easy to find
- Cons: Polyester's fibers clump over time, making pillows lumpy; polyester stuffing needs to be replaced more frequently than other stuffing types
Foam stuffing, such as latex, molds to your body when the pillow is in use, then returns to its original shape. Foam is not as traditional as other stuffings like cotton and polyester. Foam pillows also includes those made of memory foam, a viscoelastic material that softens when it comes into contact with heat. The three types of memory foam are: traditional, gel and latex. In stores, you typically see traditional memory foam. Gel memory foam is memory foam designed to improve air flow so that the pillow does not become too hot. Latex memory foam is a more natural, eco-friendly option than other types of memory foam.
- Pros: Firm and supportive; keeps its shape; conforms to your head or body
- Cons: Crumbles over time; can become hot after several hours of use
Seeds and Herbs
Seeds and herbs are most commonly used for spa pillows such as eye masks. Lavender and buckwheat are two of the most popular seed and herb fillers, but you also see millet, flaxseed and combinations of other seeds and herbs. Some seed and herb fillings, such as buckwheat, are designed for improved air circulation, so they are useful during hot weather. This type of pillow is also recommended for sufferers of migraines, back pain, snoring and other sleep issues.
- Pros: Release soothing scents; often safe to heat in the microwave
- Cons: Seeds and herbs can be noisy if you're trying to sleep on one
Microbeads fill bean bags and therapy pillows. The beads -- typically made of polystyrene that offers support for the head and neck -- are small pellets that move freely around the inside of the pillow.
- Pros: Soft, unique texture; work well for stretchy pillow fabrics; give plenty of support
- Cons: Sag and lose shape over time; can emit a plastic odor for the first few weeks of use
Choosing a pillow that is hypoallergenic is important if you have allergies. If you want down but are allergic to it, purchase down alternative pillows, which are stuffed with synthetic or natural fibers that are as soft and fluffy as down. Synthetic fills -- 100 percent polyester or blended with other synthetics such as polyester -- are a good choice for those with allergies.
Memory foam, part of the foam family of pillow stuffing, is also hypoallergenic. The foam is made of a dense, sponge-like material that is ideal for people who like a firm stuffing.
- Pros: Hypoallergenic; work well for those with allergies
- Cons: More expensive; can off-gas
- Martha Stewart: Pillows 101
- Sew4Home: Tips & Resources: Buying Guide: Understanding Filler Materials: Polyfil, Pellets, Microbeads, Beanbag Filler, Foam & More
- The Company Store: Pillow Guide
- Down & Feather Company: How to Choose: How to Choose Down vs. Feather
- Apartment Therapy: The 10 Best Natural Pillow Alternatives