A Buyers Guide to Bed Pillows

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Guide To Buying Pillows

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of maintaining energy throughout the day and overall good health. However, if you can’t get comfortable at night when trying to relax and doze off, quality sleep is hard to obtain.

Pillows make a big difference. While not used in every culture, most folks today are used to sleeping with a pillow and the right one can make a big difference. Some work better than others as everyone’s sleep situation is personal.

This guide to buying pillows will cover some of the big differences that can help you understand the key pillow categories available today. In some cases, “you get what you pay for,” definitely applies. However, there are exceptions to the rule given the high performance of some materials, such as memory foam.

Your favorite pillow comes down to personal choice and is affected by the personal factors of the sleeper instead of the pillow materials. Understanding the options helps you decide which is best for you.

Down Feather and Feather Mix

The classic pillow has always been the down feather pillow. Since historical times, stuffing a cloth pillow bag full of feathers has been a traditional method of pillow manufacturing, and even today’s modern pillows provide the down feather option for a natural feel.

A feather mix pillow still uses feathers but also combines them with other materials for the same feeling when rested on. Depending on one’s sensitivity and preferences, down pillows and feather mix pillows come in a variety of options, from extremely soft to stiffer versions for significant head and neck support.

Not all down products are ethically sourced.  Check to ensure that the product you are buying is cruelty-free by looking for terms including “ethical or responsible down” or “cruelty-free down” or “green down”.

The big advantages of these pillows are:

  • They tend to be higher quality
  • Good for hypoallergenic sleepers
  • Down and feather pillows can be washed in the washing machine, depending on the instructions for care
  • They breathe and don’t produce perspiration conditions
  • Come in multiple sizes
  • Variations are common depending on the feather type used

3 White pillows

Down Alternative

Unlike down pillows and mixed feather pillows which focus on natural fillers, down alternative pillows rely on synthetic filling. The content can be extremely soft, and these pillows tend to be attractive to folks who might have reactions to natural feathers and need something that is entirely allergy-free.  These are also a good alternative if you’re not sure if the down pillows you’re shopping for are cruelty-free.

The big advantages of this pillow type are:

  • Synthetic fibers don’t present ethical concerns
  • Better value for budget shoppers
  • A good imitation of the best natural down softness
  • Comes in multiple sizes
  • Can be machine-washed

Soft comfortable back pillow with gel, Orthopedic pillow, memory foam

Memory Foam

Unlike traditional pillows or synthetic choices that imitate feather pillows, memory foam takes an entirely different approach. Using synthetic, high-density foam material that can compress and expand back to its original shape once released, memory foam has become quite popular, both as an alternative that doesn’t reduce natural resources as well as one that is far more durable.

Natural pillows can lose their fluff and flatten over time. Memory foam pillows, however, last longer, are able to take consistent pressure, and literally expand back to their original shape without issue.

These pillows provide:

  • Exceptional contour support to the sleeper’s head, neck, and shoulders
  • They are easy to maintain and wash
  • Very durable and long-lasting
  • Come in multiple sizes and shapes for different sleep needs


Another alternative using natural material, bamboo pillows combine fabric and bamboo shredding for fill and greater support. Bamboo definitely appeals to those looking for household products that are sustainable and still perform well. Bamboo also meets many of the qualities of being breathable, heat-dissipating, anti-microbial in natural form, and hypoallergenic.

However, the amount of bamboo and the quality varies considerably between brands and pillow types. This is an area where a bit of research is worthwhile.

In short, bamboo pillows provide:

  • A completely natural approach for a pillow without synthetics
  • Minimal or no perspiration and notable cooling
  • A big plus for environmental sustainability
  • A healthier approach for a pillow that naturally fends off germs
  • A proven pillow material similar to down pillows

A sleeping woman with her arms stretched slightly out in front of her.

Side Sleeper Pillows

Not everyone sleeps flat on their back or their stomach. Probably one out of every two sleepers spends most of the night on their side instead, and side sleeper pillows accommodate these folks far better than traditional pillows. While the common pillow is designed to support the back of the head, neck, and both shoulders flat, a side sleeper pillow is designed to better support the neck so you don’t sleep at an angle and wake up with a kinked neck.

Side sleeper pillows tend to be thicker to take the heavier pressure of the head and not go flat. The goal for any choice is to keep the spine straight, especially between the shoulders and the head. Most side sleepers tend to enjoy firmer pillows as a result, and side sleeping choices accommodate this preference as a standard.

The advantages of side sleeper pillows:

  • They tend to be made in a variety of forms, with a good number of choices using memory foam and synthetic materials for firmer support
  • Side pillows tend to be larger in size
  • Specific to side-sleeping users in design with how the support performs

Other Options in Latex and Polyester

In the synthetic material category, latex and polyester pillows are entirely chemically-made products, which makes them far more affordable than natural pillows. However, anyone who has a latex allergy should probably avoid the former, and polyester pillows don’t retain their original shape very long and tend to go flat after use. Most discount pillows will tend to be polyester or a high mix of the same in terms of content. They are fine in the short term but may need to be replaced sooner than a high-quality pillow.  So while you may pay less in the beginning, in the long term they may not provide high value.

Whatever pillow you choose should fit your lifestyle, preferences and take into account the way that you sleep. With the right pillow, you should benefit from quality sleep and wake up refreshed, which has many health benefits.