Common Pillow Types
Now that we have discussed pillow sizes and loft options, let’s look at types of pillows that are sold today. The most common pillow types include the following (listed in alphabetical order):
Buckwheat pillows are filled with hulls, or the husk-like outer shell found around buckwheat kernels. Most are designed to contain between five and 10 pounds of buckwheat hull.
- Buckwheat pillows offer above-average support.
- Many buckwheat pillow manufacturers offer customizable fill capacities to accommodate different sleepers.
- Buckwheat pillows have been linked to pain and pressure relief.
- Buckwheat pillows do not absorb as much body heat as other pillow types.
- Buckwheat pillows often have above-average price-points, with some costing upward of $100 per pillow.
- The above-average firmness of buckwheat pillows may not be suitable for certain sleepers that require extra cushioning, such as side-sleepers and those who weigh less than 130 pounds.
- Because they tend to weigh more than other pillows (five to 10 pounds on average), buckwheat pillows may be more difficult to maneuver and reposition during the night.
The term ‘down’ refers to the plumage (but not the feathers) of ducks or geese. In order to be considered a ‘down pillow’, the pillow must contain at least 75% down and no more than 25% feather fill.
- Down pillows are exceptionally lightweight and malleable beneath the sleeper’s head and neck, resulting in higher levels of overall comfort.
- Down pillows absorb some body heat but not as much as other pillow types, which can elevate comfort during colder times of the year.
- The break-in period for most down pillows is relatively short, while the lifespan is often above-average.
- Down pillows are among the most expensive pillows sold today, with high-end models selling for as much as $200 or more.
- Down pillows are typically low- to medium-loft, which may make them less suitable for sleepers with large/heavy heads or broad shoulders, as well as some side-sleepers.
- Due to their fill structure, down pillows may need to be shaken or fluffed out on a regular basis in order to ensure proper comfort and support.
- Down carries an allergy risk for some sleepers, and the material may emit an unpleasant smell.
Most ‘down alternative’ pillows are made from polyester fibers designed to mimic the soft, lightweight qualities of genuine down. As a result, most sleepers note close similarities in comfort and support between genuine and faux down.
- Down alternative pillows are usually much cheaper than genuine down pillows.
- Faux down may be more suitable for sleepers that experience down allergies.
- Down alternative pillows generally provide the same softness and malleability as their genuine down counterparts, and have short break-in periods.
- Down alternative pillows are not as durable as genuine down pillows.
- A significant number of sleepers report increased pain and pressure after a few years of using down alternative pillows.
- Like genuine down pillows, down alternative pillows can become misshapen somewhat easily and often require fluffing or shaking to maintain a full, comfortable shape.
Not to be confused with down pillows, which are primarily made from goose or duck plumage, feather pillows (as the name suggests) are almost entirely made of goose or duck feathers. In most cases, down will comprise less than 10% of a feather pillow — and many do not contain any down whatsoever. Most feather pillows are classified as low- to medium-loft.
- Like down pillows, feather pillows are relatively soft, lightweight, and malleable.
- Feather pillows absorb less heat compared to other pillow types.
- In terms of durability, most feather pillows have lifespans that are significantly longer than other pillow types.
- Feather pillows tend to be much cheaper than down pillows, though their price-point may be higher than other pillow types (such as down alternative or polyester).
- Unlike down, feathers have sharp quills at their base that may poke through the outer cover, resulting in discomfort and above-average noise due to crunching.
- Feather pillows often produce an unpleasant odor that is normally not found in down pillows.
- Shaking or fluffing is often required to maintain a uniform shape in feather pillows, and their relatively low loft may not be suitable for certain sleepers.
Latex is a natural substance that is extracted from the sap of rubber trees and whipped into a frothy material that conforms closely. They provide support and alleviate pressure to roughly the same extent as memory foam pillows. Most latex pillows are medium- to high-loft, and are available in different firmness ratings.
- Latex has been linked to above-average pain and pressure relief, and most owners claim latex pillows offer good support.
- Unlike other pillow types (such as down, feather, or shredded memory foam), latex maintains a consistently uniform shape, and these pillows do not require much fluffing or shaking.
- Latex pillows are virtually silent when bearing weight, and absorb minimal levels of body heat.
- Latex pillows tend to be somewhat expensive; the average model costs between $40 and $60.
- Latex pillows can be relatively dense and somewhat bouncy, and may not be suitable for sleepers who prefer a lighter, more stable pillow surface.
- Latex pillows have been linked to unpleasant rubber-like smells, as well.
Memory foam (also known as viscoelastic polyurethane foam) is designed to conform deeply and create a cradle-shaped impression around the sleeper’s head, neck and shoulders. Two types of memory foam pillows are available. The first type is filled with shredded foam fibers, while the second type consists of a single section of foam. Memory foam pillows may be available in low-, medium- or high-loft designs.
- Memory foam offers a good balance of firmness and support for most sleepers, and these pillows have been linked to pain and pressure relief.
- Memory foam pillows are suitable for most side- and back-sleepers, as well as sleepers with different weights and body types, and are widely available to online and brick-and-mortar shoppers.
- Memory foam pillows produce little to no noise,.
- Off-gassing odors are associated with memory foam; expect unpleasant smells to linger for at least one to two days after the pillow has been removed from its packaging.
- Memory foam pillows also have high price-points compared to other pillow types; the average shredded or one-piece memory foam pillow costs between $50 and $60.
The terms ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ refer to pillows made entirely from natural fibers with no synthetic or petrochemical components. Examples include pillows made of natural or organic cotton, organic wool, or silk. Pillows made entirely of natural or organic latex also fall under this category.
- Natural and organic fibers tend to offer exceptional softness that is hard to find in synthetic materials, and the result is a pillow that is more comfortable and supportive than most.
- Natural fibers are highly breathable, making them a good fit for hot sleepers.
- In most cases, natural and organic pillows absorb much less heat than pillows made of polyester or foam.
- Natural and organic pillows are usually very expensive, and shoppers should expect to pay at least $100 to $150; some models cost more than $500.
- Natural and organic pillows are not as widely available as other pillow types.
Polyester pillows (as the name implies) are entirely filled with polyester fibers. Most are medium- to high-loft, though some low-loft polyester options are also available.
- Polyester pillows are typically the cheapest option, with the average model priced between $10 and $15. They are also widely available.
- The polyester fibers used in pillows are hypoallergenic, which make them suitable for sleepers who are allergic to other pillow materials (such as latex or down).
- Polyester pillows produce little to no odor.
- Polyester pillows are easier to maintain, and require less fluffing or shaking.
- Polyester pillows are not particularly durable, and many owners claim the pillow becomes flat or misshapen after minimal use.
- Polyester pillows are associated with less pain and pressure relief, and they may also absorb high levels of body heat.
- Many polyester pillow owners report above-average noise when they are bearing weight.
Like water beds, water pillows are filled with water. These pillows offer sleepers to fully customize their loft by adding or removing water to the pillow’s inner pouch.
- The loft and firmness can both be adjusted, allowing sleepers to find the most comfortable fill for them.
- Water pillows are very conforming, providing support and pressure relief for the head and neck.
- Because the water is insulated in an inner pouch, these pillows prevent heat transfer and stay relatively cool through the night.
- Water pillows are heavier than other pillow types.
- Adjusting the fill of a water pillow takes some getting used to. It can take sleepers several nights to find the ideal loft and firmness.
Pillow Type Comparison
The data table below compares the various qualities of all pillow types discussed above.