Pillow Buying Guide

Pillow Buying Guide

Buying a pillow is not as simple as it once used to be. With the plethora of options available to the buyer, it has become more difficult than ever to make the right choice. With multiple fills, materials, fabric, and technology options, it has become necessary to understand all such factors in detail so that an informed decision can be taken. After all, an average human being spends almost one-third of his life in bed.

When Should You Replace Your Pillows?

As a rule of thumb, bed pillows need to be replaced every 18 months. Natural pillows tend to last longer than synthetic pillows. Apart from that, the following signs will help you to understand that it is time that you should get your pillows replaced –

If You Observe Any Lumps, Clumps, Or Bumps

These will appear as lumps of feathers or shredded filler poking out of the pillowcase. Memory foam may develop bumps at the back of your head and neck. If you notice any of these signs, you can understand that it is time for a replacement.

When Your Pillow Smells

If not cleaned at regular intervals, pillows can develop an odor from the accumulated dirt and oil from the hair. If the odor persists after cleaning, you might need a new pillow.

When Your Pillow Cannot Hold Its Shape

In case of down pillow or fiberfill, if the pillow retains its original shape after folding it into half, it is great. But if it stays folded, you might need to get it replaced.

If You Have Aches and Pains After Waking Up

When a pillow fails to retain its original shape and loses supportability, you might end up getting neck pains and body aches. This indicates that it is time to replace your existing pillow and get a new one.

When You Are Getting A New Mattress

Different mattresses require different types of pillows to support the spinal alignment adequately. So, if you are changing your mattress, consider changing your pillows as well.

Does Sleeping Position Influence Your Pillow Choice?

Your sleeping position and pressure points will influence your decision for the right pillow to obtain maximum comfort and support. The right pillow will be able to cradle your pressure points while ensuring a natural spine curve. Typical firmness levels for pillows are classified as loft, medium, or firm depending on the sleep position.

Side Sleepers

A firm or medium-firm pillow will provide optimal support to side sleepers. These pillows will provide the required height while supporting the neck and head for optimal spinal alignment. Pillows like memory foam will be a good option to provide the added neck support.

Front Sleepers

A soft support pillow will work best for stomach sleepers. Natural fillings like down and feather will be the best option as they are softer and will help to prevent any arching of the spine out of the natural alignment.

Back Sleepers

A medium support pillow containing wool fillings or hollow fiber is recommended for people who sleep on their backs. The deeper sides of these pillows offer fullness right to the edge. They will provide gentle support that will help to maintain a natural sleeping position without pushing the head forward.

Pregnancy Pillows

These pillows are specifically designed for pregnant women and come in a long U shape or C shape to mold around the bump. These not only support the head but also go in between the knees to provide support to the entire body. 

Multi-position Sleepers

Memory foam pillows are the best for neck support. These contour pillows provide support to the neck, head, and shoulders without pushing against them. These pillows will be the best option for front, back, or side sleepers experiencing neck pain.

Different Pillow Types

While purchasing a pillow, you need to consider the fill power. Remember that higher the fill power, the better will better quality of the pillow. A fill-power of 600 indicates a sign of high-quality natural or synthetic down pillow. However, a fill power of 800 and above does not mean that the pillow will last for a decade, no matter what the manufacturer claims.


These are filled with husk-like outer shells or hulls found around the buckwheat kernels. Each pillow is known to contain between 5 to 10 pounds of buckwheat hull. Buckwheat pillows offer above-average support to the sleeper and do not absorb the body heat. Many manufacturers also offer customizable fill capacities to meet the needs of different users. However, the firmness level of this material may not be suitable for users looking for extra cushioning, especially side sleepers and those who weigh more than 130 lbs.


Latex foam pillows are either made of synthetic latex or natural latex. While natural latex is extracted from the rubber tree that produces a white sap, synthetic latex is a composition of various chemicals. Most pillows use a blend of natural and synthetic latex. These pillows have pressure point support and more breathable than the traditional memory foam. However, the increased pressure point might feel a bit firm to some users. These pillows cost somewhere between $10 and $150 depending on the foam type, shape, and brand.


Down refers to the plumage of ducks and geese, but not the feathers. A down pillow should contain around 75% down and not more than 25% feather-fill. The lightweight filler makes the pillow breathable, soft, and malleable. However, they require constant fluffing to maintain the loft and clump when exposed to moisture. The ability of down pillows to absorb body heat makes them more comfortable during colder times of the year. The high-end models can sell for as much as $200.

Down Alternatives

These pillows were manufactured to mimic the characteristics of down pillows. Made from synthetic material like polyester, these pillows sell at a much cheaper rate than the original down. Although these are known to cut down on the allergies and provide the required firmness levels, these lack the comfort and cuddliness that are available for down pillows. Also, these are not much durable and might require replacement after a few years of use.


These pillows are entirely made from the feathers of goose and duck. Some of these pillows might contain down about 10 percent. These pillows can be classified as low to the medium loft. However, these offer the same comfort, breathability, and loft as a down pillow. However, these pillows are known to produce an unpleasant odor and require frequent fluffing or shaking to maintain its uniform shape. Like down, these pillows are difficult to clean and clump when wet.

Memory Foam

These pillows are preferred by most users because of their ability to provide back and neck support while increasing the overall comfort and sleep quality. One of the notable drawbacks is that this material absorbs body heat, making the sleeper feel warmer and experience night sweats. Cooling pillowcases with moisture-wicking and heat-dissipating features can be used with these pillows. Over the years memory foam pillows have evolved in the following ways –

Natural foam: Used in hypoallergenic pillows that are eco-friendly, durable, and eliminates any sinking feeling, unlike the traditional memory foam.

Cooling gel memory foam: The infused gel technology reduces heat retention and eliminates heating issues when combined with moisture-wicking cool pillow covers.

Multi-foam: Combines multiple types of foam to amplify the beneficial features like conformity and cooling and reducing drawbacks like warming and sinking.

Shredded memory foam: These pillows are made from shredded pieces of memory foam with improved breathability that can shape conform to the desired sleeping position.


These are hypoallergenic pillows that offer a medium to the high loft and are the cheapest option available in the market. The polyester fiber used in these pillows is easier to maintain with little or no fluffing and produces no odor. However, some users claim these pillows to absorb high levels of body heat with less pain and pressure relief.

Innerspring Pillows

These pillows contain a core of steel springs covered in polyester and memory foam material providing the most comfortable and ergonomic sleep experience to the user. These can provide adequate support to the head and neck while remaining cool throughout the night. The price of these pillows can range between $119 and $159 depending on the brand.

Pillow Sizes

Most pillows available in the market are available in one of the six corresponding sizes: Standard, Super Standard, Queen, King, Euro, and Body Pillows. Alongside, the pillowcase sizes also influence the choice of the pillow. A pillowcase is generally one to two inches wider and two to four inches longer than the pillow itself.

  • Standard: This is the most common pillow size that is typically the shortest and the most compact option. A single standard pillow is enough for a twin or full-sized mattress with a Queen or King-sized mattress requiring two of such pillows.
  • Super Standard: These pillows are a slightly longer option for sleepers who find the standard size to be a bit compact.
  • Queen: These pillows offer extra room on both sides of the head, making it suitable for sleepers who toss and turn and shift position while sleeping.
  • King: These are a bigger version of the Queen size that can also serve as a backrest for people who are sitting up in bed.
  • Euro: Although these pillows are available in a wide range of dimensions, these are always square in shape. These are most suitable for users who need backrest or headrest while reading or sitting up in bed.
  • Body: These pillows are appropriate for users who prefer to hold onto their pillows or snuggle while sleeping. They are popular among side sleepers and pregnant women.

Factors influencing the pillow loft

The loft of a pillow refers to the thickness and height of the pillow that makes it more comfortable and supportive for different users. It can be categorized as follows –

  • Low Loft pillows are less than three inches thick.
  • Medium loft pillows are three to five inches thick.
  • High loft pillows have a thickness of more than five inches.

While the loftiness is a matter of personal preference, in general, pillows with excessive-high or low loft will be uncomfortable to sleep on. The following factors can help to determine the pillow loft for different sleepers –

Sleep Position

Medium loft pillows are suitable for back sleepers as they offer a balance of thickness and softness. On the other hand, side sleepers find a medium or high loft pillow to be more comfortable as they require extra space between their head and neck. Low to medium loft pillows is enough for stomach sleepers as there is a minimal gap between their head and the bed surface.

Body Weight

Sleepers weighing more than 230 pounds compress the mattress to a great extent, reducing the space between their head and sleep surface. For them, low to medium loft pillows will work fine. Lightweight sleepers weighing less than 130 pounds would require a high loft pillow to fill the extra space, and those weighing between 130 to 203 pounds would feel more comfortable in a medium-loft pillow.

Pillow Position

Sleepers who prefer to sleep with their pillows completely under their head will find a low to medium loft pillow more suitable. However, those who sleep with their pillows partially under the head may require a higher loft to compensate for the areas under the head that are not supported.

Body Type

Several body types, such as the size of the head, weight of the head, shoulder width, and distance of the head from the shoulders, play an important role in the pillow selection and the loft required to ensure the maximum support and comfort.

Some Essential Considerations

Apart from the factors mentioned above, there are some associated factors that need to be taken into consideration to ensure the right selection of a pillow. This includes –

Health Conditions

Some pillows are specifically designed for health conditions like chronic pain and allergies. Like the mattress, your pillow can either alleviate or add to the discomfort and pain.

Allergies: Many pillows are manufactured to include hypoallergenic factors. These are pre-washed and treated to prevent the development of dust mites, bacteria, and other allergens. Naturally, hypoallergenic organic and latex pillows will be the best choice.

Pain: Sleepers experiencing chronic pain in the neck and shoulders would require a pillow that is optimized for support and pressure relief. Look for pillows that have high conforming features like latex, memory foam, and buckwheat.

Heat: Sleepers who tend to sleep hot should look for pillows that are optimized for breathability. These would include specialized cooling material and fabric like gel or Tencel fibers. Natural and organic materials like cotton, down, and latex can also provide good airflow and help to regulate the temperature.

Warranties and Trial Period

Just like a new mattress, it takes time to get used to a new pillow. Many manufacturers include a sleep trial for this reason. Buyers can purchase the pillow and return it after using it for a specific time period if they are not satisfied with its comfort and performance. Most manufacturers offer a trial period of at least 30 nights that would be enough for deciding. Pillow warranties generally cover manufacturing defects and can last from a year to a lifetime.

The Bottom Line

Whether you purchase an expensive pillow or a cheaper one, note down your preferences and match them with the features of the pillow. If you opt to buy it from a physical store, perform the squeeze test, fluff it, check the cover, and look for return policies and the trial period before making the final selection.
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