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The Best Bed Pillows

After spending a combined 242 nights on 31 pillows and talking with a half-dozen sleep and industry experts, we’ve concluded that the best pillow for most people is the Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow. (Back and side sleepers should go with the regular; stomach sleepers, the slim version.) The Xtreme Comforts is the only pillow in our tests that suited a variety of sleep positions. Everyone loved how supportive it was without being too stiff or firm, and its moldability made it more comfortable than you’d imagine for a pillow filled with cut-up foam. And for around $40 (less for the slim version), it’s budget-friendly.

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Last Updated: April 29, 2016
For this update we tested a range of pillows, including new direct-to-consumer offerings. Our favorite pillow for back and side sleepers is now the Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow (get the slim version if you’re a stomach sleeper). For side sleepers who want a classic down option, we like the Parachute firm down pillow. And for back sleepers on a tighter budget, we like the Premier Down-like Personal Choice.
Expand Most Recent Updates
January 22, 2016: We're still in the process of fully updating this guide, and hope to have new picks in early to mid 2016. Based on reader feedback, we're switching this guide to archive status while we finish research and testing. We'll post updates here when we have official new picks.
September 25, 2015: We're in the process of fully updating this guide, and hope to have new picks by mid November. Based on reader feedback, we're setting this guide to wait status while we finish research and testing. We'll post updates here when we have official new picks.
March 18, 2015: Based on reader feedback, we're setting this guide to wait status while we start a new round of research.
June 10, 2014: Updated with long-term test notes after using our pick for almost a year.
January 29, 2014: Our main pillow pick is back in stock, but if it's ever unavailable again we recommend the Hotel Collection Primaloft from Macy's. Though we still prefer our main pick if you can wait for it to restock.
December 18, 2013: To be honest, the Premier Down-like was a lot better than the rest of the competition. Our recommendation in this case is to wait. But if you really truly must have a down-alternative pillow right now, the Hotel Collection Primaloft from Macy's is your best bet if you're willing to pay over $100 per pillow (though it's on sale right now starting at $44 each using code: GREAT).
Our pick
Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow in Standard
It’s supportive without being stiff, and it’s moldable, giving you excellent support exactly where you need it. It’s also one of the most affordable pillows we tested.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $35.

Our pick
Slim Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow
This thinner version of the Xtreme Comforts pillow offers the same great support as the standard version, while allowing better head, neck, and back alignment for stomach sleepers.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $30.

Because finding the best pillow usually starts with looking at your sleeping position, we thought we’d need to find a variety of pillows for different positions. Our experts agreed that there’s no best pillow for everyone. That’s why we were surprised that the Xtreme Comforts actually pleased all our sleepers (even though, just as experts predicted, the stomach sleepers needed a different version from the one preferred by back and side sleepers). Even better, it was one of the least expensive pillows we tried.

Upgrade pick
Parachute Firm Down
The Parachute firm down pillow was the most comfortable pillow for side sleepers, giving the perfect balance of head-cradling and ample support, but at nearly three times the price of the Xtreme Comforts.

Side sleepers also loved the Parachute firm down pillow, which provided plenty of support and height without being bulky. It gave us that head-suspended-in-feathers feeling that down pillows are beloved for—but without the steep price that makes some people steer clear of the feathery stuff.

Budget pick
Premier Down-like Personal Choice Medium
At two for about $35, you won’t find a much better bargain than this. People who sleep on their backs found it comfortable and durable, but not as customizable as our main pick.

Back sleepers appreciated the Premier Down-like Personal Choice medium density, which provided the support back sleepers need at just the right height, and juuuust the right price. The Premier lacks the moldable support of the Xtreme Comforts shredded foam filling, but also costs a lot less.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

We jumped into this guide with a multidisciplinary approach, interviewing experts in sleep, textiles, manufacturing, and the bedding industry: Shannon Maher, assistant professor of home development products, Fashion Institute of Technology; Terry Cralle, a registered nurse and sleep industry consultant; Jennifer Marks, editor in chief, Home & Textiles Today; Tim O’Hearn, owner, French Quarter Linens; Rebecca Robbins, sleep consultant, The Benjamin Hotel; Sean Bergman, chief marketing officer, PureCare; and Michael Breus, PhD, psychologist, and American Academy of Sleep Medicine fellow.

We unearthed dissertations from physiologists, dove into journals to learn more about pillow mold (yes, it’s a problem, but it doesn’t need to be), and combed through thousands of rants and raves on sites like Amazon and Overstock. We also looked at reviews and quality considerations from trusted sources like Sleep Like the Dead, Good Housekeeping, and Consumer Reports.

Finally, we slept: For a combined 242 nights, six of us—two side sleepers, two back sleepers, and two stomach sleepers—lay our heads down on the 31 pillows we decided to test, keeping notes on each one and evaluating not just comfort and support but also durability, construction, and price.

Who should get this

“If you’re not sleeping as well as you should, changing pillows might be that first step,” said nurse and sleep consultant Terry Cralle. The right pillow for you will provide a generalized sense of comfort that will enable you to nod off easily and wake up without cricks or pains, so if you’re not comfortable when you fall asleep or wake up, a new pillow could help.

“If you’re not sleeping as well as you should, changing pillows might be that first step.” —Terry Cralle, RN

If you haven’t been using a pillow protector, chances are you need a new pillow—and, of course, a protector to keep out moisture and dust mites, a point that all of our experts stressed. Even if you’re not allergic to dust mites per se (and 27.5 percent of us are), they’re still an irritant that could be making you sniffle, and over time they can even add weight to the pillow itself—as much as 10 percent of the pillow’s weight, over six years—changing how it responds to the pressure of your head. We used the AllerEase Zippered Breathable Pillow Protector in our testing, which we recommend. Otherwise, look for a zippered protector labeled as anti-allergy (the term hypoallergenic usually refers to the fabric’s usability among people with sensitive skin, not its ability to protect against allergens in the pillow). Allergy bedding is either treated with a flexible vinyl or urethane coating inside the protector, or is made of an ultra-tight weave with a pore size of fewer than 10 microns. (Unfortunately, not all manufacturers will explicitly label their cases with pore size.)

Experts vary in recommendations for a pillow’s longevity; where one says to replace pillows every year, another says five or even 10 for the best-quality down pillows (which evens out their cost somewhat over the years). Basically, when a pillow stops doing what it should do—making you comfortable so that you can reliably get a good night’s rest—it’s time for a new one. Visually, lumpiness and clumping are cues to replace. For down pillows, The Company Store recommends doing a fold test: On a flat surface, fold the pillow in half, pressing out the air. If it stays folded when you release it, time for a new pillow. For down-alternative and other synthetic fills, do the same test, but this time put a heavy object—they recommend a shoe—on top. If the pillow throws off the object, it’s still good to go. Stains aren’t pretty, but you should be using a pillow protector anyway. Stained pillows can indicate a higher dust mass, too, though not a higher mold retention.

Another time to buy a pillow: when you’re buying a mattress (we have a full guide here). Pillows can actually change how your body responds to a mattress overall. Sean Bergman of pillow manufacturer PureCare recommends that customers buying a new mattress home in on the pillow first, and then bring that pillow to the store when testing mattresses.

Pillows can actually change how your body responds to a mattress overall. … Home in on the pillow first, and then bring that pillow to the store when testing mattresses.

And if you have the budget for it, having a selection of pillows is ideal. Michael Breus, psychologist and American Academy of Sleep Medicine fellow, points out that sleepers have different support needs over the course of the week. “If you’re typing at a desk all week, by Friday, you’re going to need more support,” he said. “If you’re out and about, you don’t need that type of support; your neck is looser.” Your needs might even change throughout the night, given that the average person changes positions 12 times as they sleep, according to Cralle. But due to expense and negligible long-term impacts, we don’t think you need to buy multiple pillows with different support unless a doctor advises you to do so.

If you are sleeping well, have been using a pillow protector, and aren’t getting the sniffles at night, lucky you! You’ve found the right pillow for you.

How we picked

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We tried a range of down, artificial down, and foam pillows for this round of testing. Only half of them are pictured here.

We hate to say it in a guide to the best pillow, but the experts we spoke with were unanimous: There is no best pillow. That is, there’s no best pillow for everyone, but there is a best pillow (or pillows) for you. This guide can educate you on what can help you find the best pillow for you, and our picks are trusted starting points that might indeed lead you to your choice. (And if our top picks aren’t quite right for you, you may want look at what we tested in our competition section.) But to find out what your needs really are, you have to try out a variety yourself and see what enables you to rest most comfortably. It’s a trial-and-error process that the science of sleep can inform but not replace. “Comfort is what you need to seek out,” Bergman said. “Whatever gives you that level of comfort and relaxation is the correct pillow for you.”

“Comfort is what you need to seek out. Whatever gives you that level of comfort and relaxation is the correct pillow for you.” —Sean Bergman, CMO, PureCare

To begin, what is your sleep position most of the night? Most of us switch it up but still have one dominant position that we fall asleep and wake up in: on the back, side, or stomach. You want a pillow that will keep your head and neck in the same relative position as when you’re standing with good posture, so you’ll need a pillow that supports that alignment. You don’t want your head flexed backward or tipped too far forward (a common pillow error, since big, fluffy pillows appeal to our preference for decadence, even though they provide too much support).

Generally speaking, side sleepers will need the most support (roughly 4 to 6 inches), then back sleepers and stomach sleepers usually need the least support because their head is already being amply supported by the mattress. But within that there’s plenty of wiggle room, depending on body size and preference. A side sleeper built like a linebacker is going to need more height from his pillow than a side sleeper with narrow shoulders would, in order to be well-aligned—but he might like a pillow with less give than his twin brother who prefers a softer, more cushiony surface.

Some manufacturers market their pillows as targeted toward back, stomach, or side sleepers, which can be a helpful starting point since it indicates the loft of the pillow, but as there are no industry standards about what makes a side-sleeper pillow versus one for a back sleeper (or, for that matter, what makes a “medium” pillow versus a “soft” or “full”), at the end of the day it’s meaningless.

Something emerged during testing that you should be aware of if you’re hunting for a new pillow: Many people hadn’t ever really thought about how they sleep. One of our back sleepers realized midway through testing that he is actually a side sleeper; it was vice versa for one of our side sleepers. Each one would fall asleep in one position, but realized only when they were being asked specific questions about their sleep that they usually woke up in another setup entirely. If you sleep on your stomach with your arms underneath you, cradling the pillow, you probably want something soft and relatively slim. But if you sleep with your arm to the side, you might need a loftier pillow to prevent the neck from awkwardly angling up or to prevent uncomfortable pressure on sensitive breasts.

The material, or fill, inside the pillow also determines level of support. There are endless combinations of fills available, from conventional ones like down, memory foam, and polyester to more exotic ones like microbeads, millet, and water. We focused on down and down/feather, down alternative, memory foam, and latex—four of the most widely available and popular fills. Here’s a brief look at their differences:

DOWN

  • Pros: Good neck support and comfort, durability/longevity, likelier to have a warranty, luxurious
  • Cons: Expensive, possibility of down allergies (which are ameliorated with a pillow protector), may be too warm for some, requires more care than other fills

DOWN ALTERNATIVE

  • Pros: Good neck support and comfort, lower price point, not sourced from animals
  • Cons: Less durable than down, less fluffy than down, still requires maintenance

MEMORY FOAM

  • Pros: Supportive, medium price point, easy to maintain, fewer allergy concerns
  • Cons: Tends to retain heat, shorter lifespan, not moldable

LATEX

  • Pros: Recommended for neck pain, medium price point, easy to maintain, fewer allergy concerns, natural material
  • Cons: Can have off-smell, shorter lifespan, not moldable, some people are allergic

Pillows made with these materials all offer varying levels of support depending on the style, they all have reasonable starting price points, and they’re all widely available so you’ll never have trouble replacing one even if a manufacturer discontinues your favorite. That doesn’t mean that your absolute best pillow is made from one of these materials—maybe your holy grail will turn out to be, say, buckwheat. But we’re confident that within these fills you’ll find something that will give you a good night’s rest. One-piece polyester pillows are cheaper than all of the above, but price is literally their only advantage so we didn’t test them—there are pillows with higher-quality fills on the market for $30, which isn’t much over a pillow’s lifespan.

A cool environment helps ensure a good night’s sleep, and while some pillows have cooling technologies, like gel or Tencel fabric, the important thing is that you not feel overheated. Memory foam is particularly prone to retaining body heat, so cooling technology in these pillows is particularly important. Allergies and irritants are another consideration, but a pillow protector that keeps out moisture and dust mites essentially makes any pillow hypoallergenic, so you don’t need to strictly buy a pillow that’s marketed for that. As for down allergies, they do exist, but most people who have an allergic reaction to down pillows are actually reacting to dust mites, not down itself. Enter: pillow protector.

Most people who have an allergic reaction to down pillows are actually reacting to dust mites, not down itself.

A well-constructed pillow will have at least five to eight stitches per inch along the seams of the outer covering, known as the shell. For down and down-alternative, the shell fabric should have a weave that’s dense enough to prevent the filling from migrating outside of the shell. In the store, shake the pillow and run your hand across it to see if any filling pokes through. If it does, leave it on the shelf. Higher-quality pillows may have a piping or binding at the seams that lend the pillow more strength, giving it more stability over time.

Another consideration is warranty. Higher-end pillows should include a warranty; part of what you’re paying for is that protection. Some down-pillow manufacturers may include cleaning, shell replacement, and even refilling as a part of their warranty. Length of coverage varies widely. All our down picks have a lifetime warranty. Better-quality foam pillows should have a warranty, but a shorter one—five years is reasonable for a memory foam warranty, and latex pillow warranties hover at three. You’re less likely to find a warranty for down-alternative pillows, though again, price is a factor here: The Company Store’s $80 Black Label Primaloft has a lifetime guarantee (though not a warranty per se), but the $35 Premier Down-like Personal Choice doesn’t. Consider the return policy of the retailer you buy your pillow from. It’s worth seeking out a place with a generous policy—full refund (with receipt) even if it’s been slept on for a night—since you won’t know until you’ve spent a few nights on it whether it’s the right pillow for you. Ask your retailer about its policy before buying, since many won’t take back a pillow that’s been taken out of the package, or will give only a partial refund.

Support, fill, construction, and consumer protection are enough for a good pillow. Beyond those measures, you’re paying for gimmicks and the feeling of luxury—ways that manufacturers try to set themselves apart using the basic materials that they all work with. Which is not to say those qualities are useless: If knowing that you’re resting your head on a top-quality Hungarian-down pillow every night is going to make bedtime more pleasurable, and you can afford it, then spending more might be worth it to you. You might also want to spend more for down pillows certified under the Responsible Down Standard, which ensures an ethical supply chain and down from humanely treated geese. And the textiles world is abuzz with all the new technologies out there. Anti-wrinkle pillows! iPod pillows! Negative-ion pillows! Sure, some might help you get a better night’s sleep, particularly cooling technologies. Others are just fun—and therefore highly optional.

How much you should expect to pay varies by fill. Down alternative is the least expensive; you’ll spend at least $30. Pure down is at least five times that much, with down-feather pillows lowering that figure a bit. Foam pillows are between the two—both latex and memory foam start around $30, but most are between $45 and $60. If you’re paying less than these figures, the manufacturer is cutting corners somewhere; for down, that could be a cheaper shell, which means that you’ll have feathers poking through the fabric. That said, the relationship between price and quality isn’t strict. For example, if a down-alternative filling is branded, the manufacturer has to pay for licensing and royalties, but another manufacturer might make a filling of equal quality in-house, so they can pass on the savings in royalty payments to you. There’s no reason to pay more than $80 for a pillow ($180 for down), particularly because retailers have frequent bedding sales—beyond that you’re paying for something besides quality rest.

There’s no reason to pay more than $80 for a pillow ($180 for down), particularly because retailers have frequent bedding sales—beyond that you’re paying for something besides quality rest.

In deciding what pillows to test, we talked with experts both from the textile and manufacturing world as well as sleep consultants in the medical field. We consulted leading, comprehensive sleep site Sleep Like the Dead, and also looked at Good Housekeeping and Consumer Reports. We considered user reviews on Amazon (and retailer sites when there were enough reviews to hold weight, which wasn’t often) to see what the aggregate scores and main user complaints were. For newer pillows that haven’t had a chance to accumulate reviews, we relied on expert criteria and recommendations, selecting test pillows accordingly.

In short, we sought out pillows that provide adequate support for back, side, and stomach sleepers in widely available, non-gimmicky fills that don’t skimp on construction quality yet don’t veer into the price territory of pure luxury. We ultimately tested 31 pillows, seven of which we tested last round, leaving us with 24 new pillows to sleep on.

How we tested

We found six people to do the testing—two side sleepers, two back sleepers, and two stomach sleepers, though most of us spend some time throughout the night in a variety of positions, as it turns out—and had them sleep with all of the pillows that are sold as specific to that position’s needs, as well as all pillows that are billed as being appropriate for all sleepers.

After speaking with our experts—all of whom stressed that there is no such thing as the best pillow for everyone, but that sleeping position is a good starting point in figuring out what your perfect pillow is—we took a different tack in testing than we did last round, resolving to identify not one but three pillows: the best pillow for most side sleepers, back sleepers, and stomach sleepers. Most pillows were slept on for at least one full night (usually more), but we told our testers not to sacrifice a night’s sleep if a pillow felt wrong to them right off the bat.

We had testers fill out a questionnaire on each pillow, inquiring about comfort level, support, construction, any hassle factors (like ease of fitting into a pillowcase), price, and overall impressions. All testers used the AllerEase Zippered Breathable Pillow Protector, which minimized any sensitivities to each pillow’s fill (and also made sure things like pet hair, drool, or even the dreaded possibility of bedbugs didn’t make testers regret accepting a dozen pillows into their home). All pillows were the standard size.

Our pick

bed-pillows-9022-xtreme-comforts

The Xtreme Comforts pillow looks a little lumpier than down pillows, due to its shredded foam interior, but the foam molds nicely to your head.

Our pick
Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow in Standard
It’s supportive without being stiff, and it’s moldable, giving you excellent support exactly where you need it. It’s also one of the most affordable pillows we tested.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $35.

The Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow is the best bet for most people. (Back and side sleepers should go for the standard; stomach sleepers—or those who know they prefer a thinner pillow—should select the slim version.) It’s supportive without being too firm or stiff, and testers appreciated that its moldability accommodated each sleeper’s specific contours. The price is a big bonus, too: around $40 for the standard and even less for the slim. Given that our experts agreed that there was no such thing as the best pillow for everyone, we were surprised that the Xtreme Comforts fared so well with varying types of sleepers (albeit two different versions of it). The Xtreme Comforts wasn’t any one tester’s favorite. But it was the pillow that averaged the highest ratings among all sleepers, falling near the top of all testers’ lists. So one of the competitors might actually be a better pick for you, but we’re certain that the Xtreme Comforts, either regular or slim, won’t steer you wrong.

Our pick
Slim Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow
This thinner version of the Xtreme Comforts pillow offers the same great support as the standard version, while allowing better head, neck, and back alignment for stomach sleepers.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $30.

Back sleepers liked the Xtreme Comforts because they had a hard time finding a pillow that offered adequate support without being too stiff. This is where down and down-alternative pillows were variable: While each back and side sleeper fell in love with one down pillow, exactly which down pillow really came down to personal preference. One back sleeper found the Parachute down medium to be “too fluffy” but loved the Cuddledown medium fill, while another appreciated the Parachute’s softness and found the Cuddledown to be “too much.” Meanwhile, some testers found one-piece memory foam pillows too firm to be truly comfortable, even as they appreciated the support. Even testers who liked the one-piece memory foam pillows still rated them below the Xtreme Comforts, which offered similar levels of support as the one-piece without the stiffness.

pillows-xtreme-comfort

The shredded foam fill in the Xtreme Comforts strikes a balance between a super fluffy/springy down pillow and the firmness of a memory foam pillow; it molds to pressure without being too springy or stiff.

The Xtreme Comforts is a wise pick because unlike down and some down-alternative pillows, it was appropriate for both back and side sleepers—which means it’s appropriate for people who shift between those positions throughout the night.

Part of the support that shredded foam offers comes from its moldability, as you can push the filling around to mold to your head and neck. All makers of shredded memory foam pillows brag about this, but the Xtreme Comforts is the only one that held its shape for hours afterward instead of shifting around. Down pillows also offer moldability, with the added bonus that the weight of your head alone does the molding—you don’t ever need to manually adjust the filling, which you sometimes do with shredded foam if you want to get the most support. But that’s just it: You get the most support with the Xtreme Comforts.

We also think the Xtreme Comforts is a wise pick because unlike down and some down-alternative pillows, it was appropriate for both back and side sleepers—which means it’s appropriate for people who shift between those positions throughout the night. The firm down Parachute that our side sleepers loved was just a little high for sleeping comfortably on one’s back, but the medium didn’t offer enough support for sleeping on one’s side. The Xtreme Comforts is one-size-fits-most in this sense. The slim version also offers more support than a down pillow meant for stomach sleepers, making it a good bet for those who sometimes shift into other positions.

bed-pillows-9029-xtreme-comfort-textured-cover

Our test results aligned with the company’s claim: The Xtreme Comforts’s textured cover made with a breathable bamboo viscose-polyester blend fabric helped keep hot sleepers cool.

There are other things to like about the Xtreme Comforts: the breathable, micro-perforated bamboo viscose-polyester-blend cover that helped ensure hot sleepers stayed cool, and the fact that it’s made in the USA. But one of its best—and most surprising—bonuses is its low price. In fact, this is one of the only pillows whose cost people consistently overestimated.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The main trouble with any shredded memory foam pillow (and the Xtreme Comforts is no exception) is that you’re … sleeping on shreds of foam. That can make it feel lumpy, something testers noted. “It felt weird at first—I had to get used to it,” noted one tester. Still, only one of our testers said that lumps wound up detracting from her overall experience. It also looks a little lumpy. By the time it was in the pillow protector and pillowcase it looked smooth enough to be presentable, but if you adore that perfectly smooth, round shape of a down pillow, it’s something to keep in mind. The slim version suffers from this more, since it winds up looking both lumpy and flat. But the lumps of shredded memory foam in these pillows aren’t the kind of lumps that might have shown up in your old pillows that you’re looking to replace. They’re just characteristic of what makes shredded foam moldable and supportive. Shredded foam won’t make for a night of high-end luxury, but it’ll make for a night of good sleep.

One feature of the Xtreme Comforts might be a bug to some: To reap the most benefit from it, you have to mold it a little. Sometimes this is as simple as putting your head on it and letting the weight of your head shift the foam around, but sometimes it means pinching and pushing the filling into a mound (for your neck) or divot (for your skull). It’s easy and doesn’t require you to sit up and manipulate the pillow in the middle of the night—it’s just a matter of adjusting the pillow a little—but people who toss and turn a lot might find it annoying to tweak it throughout the night to get the most from it.

One more small thing: It requires just a little bit of prep out of the box. It arrives compressed, so you need to put it in a clothes dryer for a few minutes to fluff it, or just air it out manually while “fluffing” it. But you need to do that only once.

Upgrade pick for side sleepers

bed-pillows-9024-parachute-firm-down

Parachute’s firm down pillow offered the best support for side sleepers, but at three times the price of our top pick.

Upgrade pick
Parachute Firm Down
The Parachute firm down pillow was the most comfortable pillow for side sleepers, giving the perfect balance of head-cradling and ample support, but at nearly three times the price of the Xtreme Comforts.

One of a growing number of direct-to-consumer bedding companies, Parachute has down and down-alternative pillows that fared well among our testers. In fact, side sleepers chose the Parachute firm down as their top pick. It hit the sweet spot of support without rigidity, and testers reported liking how the head sank in just enough to feel cradled by the pillow without sinking in so far that the head dropped out of alignment. It was generously filled—it weighs in at 23 ounces for the standard size, with a fill power of 750, meaning it’s particularly lofty and fluffy—without being so overstuffed that it was difficult to fit into the pillow protector. Despite all this, side sleepers preferred the Parachute firm down by a slim margin that the $70 price difference between that and the Xtreme Comforts just couldn’t justify.

bed-pillows-9031-parachute-firm-down

Double-stitched piping along the seams gives the upscale Parachute pillow a particularly good-looking edge finish.

That said, Parachute’s price point is excellent for down, especially given its quality, so if you know you like down, the Parachute is an excellent bet. (One Parachute pillow did have a feather poking out, but that was also true of the $190 Cuddledown pillow we tested. The double-seamed shell seemed durable overall.) Except for one back sleeper who fell in love with the Cuddledown, no tester rated the traditional (and more expensive) down options like Cuddledown and Lands’ End any higher than Parachute. You won’t lose out on luxury points by going with Parachute.

Fluffier bargain for back sleepers

bed-pillows-9027-premier-down-like

For back sleepers, the Premier Down-like pillow offers the loft and moldability of a true-down pillow, but without the steep price.

Budget pick
Premier Down-like Personal Choice Medium
At two for about $35, you won’t find a much better bargain than this. People who sleep on their backs found it comfortable and durable, but not as customizable as our main pick.

At around $40, our main pick, the Xtreme Comforts, is a budget pick. But if your budget is really tight, or if any of the drawbacks of shredded memory foam turn you off and you still want an inexpensive option, back sleepers should consider the Premier Down-like Personal Choice Density Pillow in medium density. It scored high marks for support, comfort, and overall sleep quality; one tester referred to it as “Goldilocks,” despite ultimately preferring the (much more expensive) Cuddledown. It’s lofty and moldable since its fill is made of clusters instead of being one big piece of polyester. In fact, we liked the medium version of this pillow so much that we chose it as our top pick in our last round of testing, even though the firm and soft didn’t fare too well this time around. And at $25 for two pillows, you can’t beat it on price.

Side and stomach sleepers didn’t much care for the firm and soft densities of our former top pick, the Premier Down-like, and Sweethome readers agreed. Readers who bought various densities of this pillow found it either too dense or not supportive enough. If you’re looking for a pillow for less than $40, stick with the Xtreme Comforts.

Care and maintenance

You shouldn’t have to do much to keep up a pillow—if you start out right with a pillow protector. There’s no reason not to have one; they’re inexpensive (the AllerEase ones we used were $10 a pop), they’ll make your pillows last longer (so they pay for themselves), and tossing one in your wash is way easier than washing a pillow.

Down, down alternative, and shredded memory foam pillows should be machine-washed. Once a year is sufficient—don’t overdo it, particularly with down and down alternative, because every time you wash it you’re breaking down the fibers that give a pillow the loft you’re after. Use a mild liquid detergent on the delicate cycle with cold water, and wash them two at a time so that the machine is load-balanced, which will help prevent clumping in the pillow (and wear on the machine). Shannon Maher, assistant professor of home development products at the Fashion Institute of Technology, suggests running it through a separate rinse cycle when you’re done in order to remove residue, which makes clusters stick to each other in the pillow, eventually leading to clumping. A front-loading machine is preferable if you have access to one. (The agitation bar in the center of top loaders isn’t friendly to bulky items like pillows.)

It’s crucial that your pillows are thoroughly dried before they go back on your bed. It’s time-consuming, but any moisture inside the pillow can encourage mold growth. Put them in on low heat; Martha Stewart suggests throwing in an unused tennis ball or two for extra-fluffy pillows (stuff the tennis balls in a clean white sock to prevent the green fuzz from getting on your newly clean pillows). Pillows are too dense to air-dry, but after their turn in the dryer you should put them outside in the sun without a cover for a couple of hours before fluffing them and putting them back in the case (and on your bed). You want as much air circulation as possible in your pillows, and the more air you introduce in the drying process, the better. And fluff your pillows! That’ll help with air circulation, and they look nice and full on your bed that way, too. Down pillows should be fluffed daily, but we’re just talking about a 10-second plumping here.

It’s crucial that your pillows are thoroughly dried before they go back on your bed. It’s time-consuming, but any moisture inside the pillow can encourage mold growth.

We suggest avoiding dry-cleaning for pillows. Down pillows will often be labeled as “dry-clean only,” but our experts point out that manufacturers will do that more or less to protect themselves in case the customer messes up the washing process. Depending on the solvent used, dry-cleaning can be pretty bad for the environment. Dry cleaners use a range of solvents (here’s an extensive PDF list), but the most common is perchloroethylene (aka tetrachloroethylene, or “perc”). According to the EPA, it’s used in around 28,000 dry cleaners in the US, and it’s the only toxic compound emitted into the air from the dry-cleaning process. It’s also classified as probably a human carcinogen.

If you opt for a one-piece memory foam or latex pillow, don’t throw it in the washer or dryer. These pillows usually come with a case of their own that covers the shell. Then you put your pillow protector over that, and then the pillowcase—meaning that there are four layers before you get to the fill of the pillow. So you shouldn’t ever really have to wash it. But if it becomes stained, you should hand-wash it with a gentle detergent (better yet, spot clean it with baking soda and a toothbrush) and leave it to air-dry.

The competition

We recommend reading this section with your own preferences in mind; a factor that knocked some pillows out of the running for us might be just what you love in a pillow. Our top picks aside, testers’ responses were all over the place, so consider your own sleeping patterns when choosing. Stomach sleepers in particular were split. Some loved the pillows in our test, while one didn’t like any of the pillows and looked forward to returning to her own pillow—a one-piece memory foam that you won’t see popping up on any “recommended” lists for stomach sleepers. This discrepancy is probably because stomach sleepers have the widest variety of how they sleep.

While we think the picks above will work for most people, if you would prefer a different filling, use the following key to find the pillows we think work well for each sleep type.

key

 

 

 

Down

Brooklinen Down Pillow, Firm
side

 

All of the Brooklinen down pillows we tried performed well, even with a combination of down and feathers, meaning they’re not quite as lofty as pure down. Side sleepers found that the firm pillow didn’t hold its loft quite as well as its pure down competitors, though they didn’t report a difference in comfort or support.

Brooklinen Down Pillow, Mid-Plush
back

 

Back sleepers found that the mid-plush version didn’t hold its loft quite as well as its pure down competitors, and said it wasn’t as comfortable as they expected from down.

Brooklinen Down Pillow, Plush
stomach

 

Stomach sleepers who prefer a soft, squishy pillow loved the plush pillow. One stomach sleeper reported that it made her feel “like my head was floating weightless on a freakin’ cloud from heaven.” But if you’re a stomach sleeper who needs more loft than what a plush down pillow will give you, no plush down pillow is going to give you what you’re after.

Parachute Down, Soft
stomach

 

One stomach tester fell in love with the Parachute down soft, but another who likes more height found it flat; for her, her upgrade wasn’t any of the pillows we tested, but rather going back to her own pillow, a one-piece Tempur-Pedic memory foam pillow.

Lands’ End Elite Goose Down, Soft
stomach

 

One of our stomach sleepers liked this pillow but noted that the company’s recent decision to pull an interview with Gloria Steinem from its catalogue made her sour on the brand, which raises an auxiliary point: If the branding of a pillow resonates with you—or doesn’t—that’s ultimately going to affect how much you like it. (In fact, that was the only negative thing one back sleeper had to say about the Xtreme Comforts: “‘Xtreme’ does not belong in a pillow name. ‘Xtreme’ does not belong anywhere.’”)

Cuddledown 700 Goose, Overfill
side

 

This was the most expensive pillow we tested, and while side sleepers got a great night’s sleep on it, they didn’t notice a difference between the Cuddledown and the Parachute. At $100 more than comparable Parachute pillows, we’re not sure it’s worth the splurge. It’s also so overfilled that side sleepers who occasionally sleep on their back reported that their head tipped up too far when prone.

Cuddledown 700 Goose Pillow, Medium
back

 

Cuddledown’s medium-fill pillow was strongly preferred by some of our back sleepers—one of whom planned on buying one after testing was over—but was met with a “meh” by others, who found it comfortable but not remarkable enough to shell out for its $190 price tag.

Cuddledown 700 Goose, Stomach
stomach

 

The less fluffy version of Cuddledown’s goose down pillow did fine by stomach sleepers who like down, but they didn’t notice a difference in comfort between the Cuddledown and the Parachute. At $60 or $40 more than comparable Parachute or Brooklinen pillows, we’re not sure it’s worth the splurge.

Lands’ End Ultimate Goose Down, Medium
This goose down pillow prompted lukewarm responses in our side and back sleepers; testers found it nice but not exceptional, and a bit of down was migrating out of the shell, which isn’t a good sign for longevity.

Z Cotton Encased Down Blend Pillow, Standard
We tested this pillow because it was the highest-rated down/feather pillow on Amazon under $100. Side sleepers found it comfortable at first but ultimately needed more height for proper support throughout the night. Back sleepers liked its support and extra-long size (even though that made it harder to fit into the pillow protector), but said it was just too firm and flat to be comfortable over the long haul.

Royal Hotel’s Goose Down Pillow
Back and side sleepers rated this Royal Hotel as strictly average. Two reviewers likened it to a hotel pillow, but not in a good way: “You can tell most people are just ‘whatever’ about this pillow, but it’s not uncomfortable so it gets by,” said one back sleeper (and our side sleepers agreed). We tested it because of favorable Sleep Like the Dead reviews and its reasonable price point ($160 for two).

Down alternative

Parachute Down Alternative Pillow, Firm
back

 

Side sleepers thought Parachute’s firm down-alternative pillow was the best down-alt pillow of the bunch, but that it didn’t hold a candle to the Parachute down pillows. Side sleepers said they’d be happy to shell out the extra $30 for the top-notch Parachute firm down.

Parachute Down Alternative Pillow, Soft
stomach

 

For stomach sleepers, the soft version met with the same split reaction as its down pillows for stomach sleepers: Those who liked a soft pillow with little support appreciated it, but those who wanted more substance found it merely flat.

The Casper Pillow
all

 

We were suspicious of the Casper down-alt pillow at first—it markets itself as being appropriate for all sleeping positions, which we knew from our research wasn’t really possible. But while only one tester loved it, everybody else liked it just fine, saying that it was comfortable (probably due to its fiber core, which makes it springy without being bouncy like latex). It wasn’t as moldable or supportive as side sleepers wanted for proper neck support. One back sleeper said he’d be happy with it as a guest-room pillow but wanted something with more support for his own needs. One stomach tester enjoyed the fairly lofty Casper because it offered more heft than down pillows. Our testers who preferred a flatter pillow found the Casper okay but ultimately too thick for comfortable stomach sleeping, though they noted that it was useful for stomach sleepers who shift to their side throughout the night.

Parachute Down Alternative Pillow, Medium
The Parachute medium down-alternative pillows weren’t great for back sleepers, who reported that they were too dense to be truly comfortable.

The Company Store’s Black Label Primaloft collection
The Company Store’s down-alternative pillow compressed too easily for side sleepers, who found that their head sunk down too far into the pillow, with the fabric coming up around the nose, making it awkward to breathe. It also compressed too easily for back sleepers, though one back sleeper noted that its softness made it feel more luxurious than most down-alt options. This pillow received a thumbs-down from all stomach sleepers, who said it was just too lofty. Even those who prefer more substance said the Primaloft was just too much for them.

Premier Down-like Personal Choice Pillows, Firm
Side sleepers were unimpressed by the Premier Down-like Personal Choice firm pillow, which was simply too lofty to be comfortable.

Premier Down-like Personal Choice Pillows, Soft
Stomach sleepers didn’t like the Premier Down-like Personal Choice soft pillows, reporting it was just plain flat, and that its relative stiffness made an uncomfortable impression on the cheek, which is a consideration for stomach sleepers—you don’t want your pillow to hurt your face.

Memory foam

PureCare Plush Standard Memory Foam Pillow
all

 

PureCare performed well for a one-piece memory foam, with side and back sleepers citing its support, but only among those who liked one-piece memory foam to begin with. Stomach sleepers who liked a firm, supportive pillow said they liked how their body sank into it. But stomach sleepers who liked a more collapsible pillow couldn’t make it through the night with it since it hurt their back. One-piece memory foam pillows tend to be firm in a way that some users experience as supportive, others as stiff. So if you’re in the latter category, you’re definitely better off with shredded memory foam.

BodiPedic
back

 

The BodiPedic, another one-piece memory foam pillow, was too contoured for most side and back sleepers. Side sleepers also found it a hint too firm. But one back sleeper with neck problems reported pain relief because of its ridged neck support.

Yogabed
stomach-back

 

The Yogabed pillow, another direct-to-consumer option, has an airier, foam structure than both the BodiPedic and PureCare, both of which have a denser, chewier feel compared with the Yogabed’s highly responsive foam. Side sleepers found the Yogabed “too flat” and just plain “weird.” Back sleepers couldn’t quite agree; one said it was soft without being “sink-y,” and another said it was “too firm.” Stomach sleepers were similarly mixed. One stomach sleeper said it was flat-out “weird,” but another rated it very highly for its combination of support and responsiveness, along with its rounded shape that made it easier for her to “hug” throughout the night.

Coop Home Goods
This shredded foam pillow was just too big and heavy (3.5 pounds) to allow for the full malleability of the Xtreme Comforts, which has a similar fill. Side sleepers didn’t like it, and back sleepers found its height tipped their heads forward too much to maintain the ideal aligned position. (Its size also made it harder to fit into the pillowcase.) It’s also pricier than our winner.

Snuggle-Pedic
The Snuggle-Pedic managed to feel even bigger than the Coop Home Goods despite weighing less (3.4 pounds). Side sleepers wanted more malleability than it offered. It was also less comfortable than the Coop Home Goods for back sleepers. As with Coop Home Goods, it was pricier than the Xtreme Comforts.

Latex

PureCare Soft Latex
Nobody loved either of the latex picks in any position. The PureCare Soft Latex fared better than the other latex we tested (Simmons Beautyrest) because of its height. Some testers appreciated its length (at 28 inches it was the longest pillow we tried), but others just found it hard to fit into a pillowcase. Stomach sleepers appreciating its support—but they still ultimately found it too bouncy. Nearly every tester said latex was plain old weird to sleep on. Note that two of them tried using it for reading, though, and reported better experiences there. So if you’re curious about latex and have room in your budget for a reading pillow, give the PureCare a shot.

Simmons Beautyrest
The Simmons Beautyrest was our latex pick from last round, and testers from our last guide appreciated the Beautyrest’s springiness and ability to keep cool. But its slimmer profile meant it didn’t support side or back sleepers enough. Stomach sleepers found it just too springy to be comfortable; it even disrupted their sleep.

What to look forward to

We stuck with fairly traditional materials in this update: down, down alternative, memory foam, and latex. But when we asked industry experts what was tickling their interest these days, many of them were excited for alternative fills. We’d like to test microfiber gel pillows and buckwheat pillows in a future update. We’d also like to keep an eye on the growing direct-to-consumer category, since Brooklinen, Parachute, and Casper all fared pretty nicely. Direct-to-consumer is a particular boon for down lovers, and we anticipate that this segment of the industry will only continue to improve with time and market competition.

* This update builds on research from our original writers, Jamie Wiebe and Kyle Chayka.

(Photos by Michael Hession.)

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Sources

  1. Sean Bergman, Chief marketing officer at PureCare, Interview, October 27, 2015
  2. Michael Breus, Ph.D., Psychologist and American Academy of Sleep fellow, Interview
  3. Terry Cralle, RN, Sleep industry consultant, Interview, October 27, 2015
  4. Shannon Maher, Assistant professor of home development products at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Interview, October 26, 2015
  5. Jennifer Marks, Editor in chief at Home & Textiles Today, Interview, October 23, 2015
  6. Tim O’Hearn, Owner of French Quarter Linens, Interview, November 3, 2015
  7. Rebecca Robbins, Sleep consultant at The Benjamin Hotel, Interview, October 27, 2015
  8. Pillow Reviews, Ratings & Comparison, Sleep like the Dead, January 4, 2016
  9. Best Pillows, Good Housekeeping, January 25, 2013
  10. Yes, we were asleep on the job, Consumer Reports, May 2010

Originally published: April 29, 2016

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