The Best Bed Pillows
If you need a general-purpose bed pillow that will suit a range of different sleeping styles, we suggest the Premier Down-Like Personal Choice Density Pillow (~$35 for two). Its balance of loft, cushiness, support and value earned it high praise among all four of our testers and top marks across most categories at Sleep Like the Dead.
We came to this conclusion after spending hours reading all the reviews of pillows we could find, interviewing sleep experts, consulting Sleep Like the Dead’s extensive pillow database of thousands of user reviews, and having four people representing each of the major sleeping positions spend a combined two months trying every pillow worth trying to find the best pillows available.
Each of our testers had different preconceptions when it came to their ideal pillow, but everyone agreed that the Premier was excellent. It maintains a down-like fluffiness while also providing a level of support that you just can’t get from down pillows, which have a tendency to settle while you sleep. As such, it’s lofty enough to allow you to sleep on just a single pillow, as sleep experts recommend.
Some buyers have more specialized needs, and we’ve outlined several alternatives to meet them, including the Beans72 Buckwheat for those back and side sleepers who want more support; the Simmons Beautyrest latex for those who want a cool, lofty and squishy pillow, which is suitable for back sleepers in particular; and the Cuddledown Gusseted Pillow for a soft down pillow for back and stomach sleepers. Ultimately, the best pillow for most is the Premier Down-Like, but whatever your preferences and sleeping style, we have an option for you.
But before you run out and buy a pillow because you think it will improve your quality of sleep, you might want to consider how you’re using your current one.
Table of contents
- How to use a pillow the right way
- How much support does a back, side or front sleeper need?
- What fill material should I get?
- How we picked
- How we tested
- Our down alternative pick for most people
- Long-term test notes
- What if our pick is sold out?
- Down for some people
- A buckwheat pick for those with back pain
- A latex pick for firm loft and coolness
- Pillow maintenance
- Wrapping it up
How to use a pillow the right way
There is a good chance that everything you know and hold dear about pillow preferences and how you’re supposed to use them is wrong. This makes sense if you think about it. Were you ever taught how to use one? Probably not, and your sleep quality might be suffering as a result. This was a common theme we came across in talking to experts like doctors, chiropractors, sleep psychologists and pillow makers.
For the most part, these problems stem from flawed assumptions of “comfort” over what’s actually good for your body. Like using two pillows for extra “support”? How about overstuffed, fluffy pillows? What about super soft pillows that you melt right into? These are all commonly held preferences when it comes to pillows and they’re all bad for your quality of sleep.
Big, fluffy pillows are perhaps the biggest culprit when it comes to misconstrued ideas of comfort. They appeal to our preference for decadence, but you can often run into the problem of having too much support. Dr. Lisa Shives is the founder of Chicago’s Linden Center for Sleep and Weight Management, which oversees the nocturnal health of more than 4,000 patients, and the resident sleep expert for SleepBetter.org, a sleep product site affiliated with Carpenter Company. According to Shives, “People err on the side of pillows being too high, too thick and fluffy, and put the neck in a flexed position with the chin being pushed down toward the chest,” which is bad for the neck and leads to a narrowing of the airway, which could develop into sleep apnea, a disorder of abnormally low breathing during sleep that plagues 25 percent of American adults.
Oh, and don’t think you can get away with using multiple pillows to adjust either. The experts we spoke to all pointed out that a common mistake is sleeping on more than one pillow at once. Pillows aren’t designed to be stacked like that and doing so can negatively affect ergonomics in unintended ways.
But for the love of god, make sure you don’t underestimate the amount of support you need! That, too, could lead to neck pain. Dr. Michael Breus, a PhD psychologist, American Academy of Sleep fellow and the creator of his own line of premium ergonomic pillows explains that, “[The purpose of a pillow is to] make sure that your head and neck are aligned with your spine. Seventeen percent of the spine is in the head and neck; if it’s curved in the wrong direction it’ll cause pain.”
It’s a minor point, but Breus also pointed 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.” Swapping out pillows according to the stresses on your neck is ideal, 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.
Another thing worth looking into is a pillow for your knees. Dr. John Schubbe over on Spine Health (a peer-reviewed, retailer-independent web resource on spinal health) explains: “When there is no support between the legs, the upper leg rotates downward, pulling the pelvis and distorting the natural line of the spine. Adding support between the knees can prevent back pain induced by these types of forces and allow the back to heal and more properly rest while sleeping.”
That said, you shouldn’t let all this talk about too much or little support spook you. Knowing how much support you need is as easy as identifying your sleeping position, which you likely already know.
How much support does a back, side or front sleeper need?
Support may just be one part of picking a pillow, but it’s by far the most important thing to consider. A good pillow needs to hold your head the proper height above the mattress—precisely how high that is depends on how you sleep. It achieves this through a combination of loft (how thick or thin, fluffy or flat, the pillow is) and firmness—how much it compresses when you put your head on it. Some pillows might be very lofty, but not very firm, and vice versa.
Deciding what combination of firmness and loftiness is right for most people is a complicated equation, but here’s what it basically boils down to: A good pillow needs a medium loft, which makes it softer and more comfortable, and variable firmness for different sleeping styles. Luckily, most down-alternative pillow manufacturers make this easy for you, releasing their pillows in at least three different firmnesses catered for back, side and stomach sleepers.
As a general rule of thumb, people who sleep on their sides need the most support from a pillow (a “medium” will often be enough, but if you’re still having neck pain, consider “firm” as well), while back sleepers don’t need quite as much (try a medium). Stomach sleepers, whose heads stay very close to the mattress, need the least support (definitely go with soft). If you want a pillow between the knees, don’t bother with some specialized knee pillow—any old firm pillow will do. These distinctions can be further delineated, but these categories are adequate for our purposes.
If you want to get more specific, Dr. Schubbe recommends four to six inches of loft for side and back sleepers. Back sleepers may tend toward the lower end, while side sleepers need the most height. Dr. Breus suggests that stomach sleepers look for a low-profile pillow with only a one to 1.5-inch loft.
If you’re unsure of how you sleep, you’re probably a side sleeper. According to a 2003 study conducted by Professor Chris Idzikowski, the director of the U.K.’s Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service, about 69% of people sleep on their side in some form or another.1
What fill material should I get?
Now that you understand your sleeping style and proper ergonomics, the other thing to consider is fill material, which directly affects the amount and type of support you get from a pillow. But which is best? In most situations and for most people, it’s down alternative, which is filled with an artificial filling—often polyester, rayon or cotton—that’s designed specifically to mimic the cluster-like feeling of pure down. We came to that conclusion after our own testing and research, as well as reviewing the extensive research and analysis found on Nick Robinson’s exhaustive sleep resource Sleep Like the Dead (henceforth SLTD), which aggregates thousands of user reviews across varying websites to compile the most comprehensive sleep-accessory evaluation database currently available.2
The SLTD pillow report cards consist of two nested levels of review data. Pillows by type, which we used while researching this stage of the process, and individual models within each type, which we used later on to help select test candidates. As you can see in the chart below from SLTD, these report cards evaluate pillows in just about every criterion you can think of:
As you can see, down alternative has the most A’s and B’s and the fewest D’s compared to all other fill types. Obviously not all categories should have equal weights, but down alternative does well in most of the categories that matter the most. It’s friendly for all sleeping positions, doesn’t run hot, doesn’t put off gas or any other odors, is easy to clean, affordable and has great overall owner satisfaction.
The only category it scores poorly in is “no need to fluff,” with a D+, but that’s not a huge deal because complaining about having to fluff your pillows is like complaining about ice cream being cold. If it didn’t need fluffing, then it wouldn’t be fluffy (like latex or memory foam), but people like fluffy pillows so therefore you must fluff them. For what it’s worth, they score slightly higher than real down in this respect, with a D-.
This may come as a surprise considering how sought-after down pillows are, but as you can see in the chart, people are just overall less satisfied with down and it’s not hard to see why. Down receives mediocre marks when it comes to odor and sleeping temperature. High prices that start around $100 and go up from there give it a decisive D- grade in affordability. There are some cheaper down pillows to be found, but they’re often cut with down feathers. Looking at the chart above, down feather receives consistently mediocre grades, and mixing it with down doesn’t do much to improve that.
While it’s true that down can be much more durable when taken care of properly (we’ve read reports of pillows lasting five to ten years, compared to three to four for down alternative), it’s a lot more difficult to care for than its artificial counterpart. You can wash them in your home machine, but care and attention is needed. You’ll find several anecdotal washing stories at Apartment Therapy, and Martha agrees. Don’t dry clean—the chemicals can be harmful, especially when you’re sleeping on them night after night. But very, very careful handling is required to make sure your pillow doesn’t clump. That’s a lot of work. Down alternative pillows won’t clump after washing, as long as you use the gentle cycle.
There’s also the fact that down and feather pillows can provoke allergic reactions in many users and the shafts of feathers can poke out of the pillow case or leak in some cases, which is unpleasant. They also make a great hiding place for dust mites—another allergen.
All that said, down is insanely soft, like a pile of kitten fur. There’s no getting around the fact that down alternative feels artificial when contrasted side by side with real down. It’s hard to qualify the precise differences: down pillows are fluffier; down alternative is bouncier. The metaphor “like sleeping in a cloud” seems apt for down, but it’s also important to note that clouds are not particularly suitable pillows. Down pillows have a tendency to deflate as the night goes on, which can lead to a deficiency in support. Some down pillows wrap a feather core with a layer of down, lending them a bit more support, but they’re still less springy than down-alt pillows and less moldable than straight-up down pillows.
Ultimately, we decided to test down pillows despite their deficiencies for the sake of comparison and completeness, but we mean it when we say that down alternative is actually the better choice for most people, even if you have the budget for real down.
Feather pillows were also a non-starter: They get low marks in overall satisfaction, odor and noise. If you want down, get down. Don’t waste your money on cheap wannabes when you can get down-alt for similar or cheaper prices.
Polyester fill is another option but we ultimately decided not to test it because it’s basically a lesser version of down-alt. As you can see in the report card, it doesn’t fare significantly better than down-alt in any important category and is demonstrably worse in important categories like moldability, stomach sleeping (front sleeping) and hotness. The fiberfill you’ll find in down-alt pillows—sometimes made of polyester, yes—is designed with synthetic or natural fibers intended to mimic the natural feeling of down. That means down-alt is a more luxurious-feeling product for not much more money. It’s definitely not worth saving $5 in the short run when buying something you’re going to be using every night for several years.
For the most part, it was easy to ignore other less traditional fills. Memory foam, micro-bead, and water are all listed on the report card, but they were all either too specific in their application or just not good enough overall to justify testing them. Memory foam pillows can be great for neck pain, but they’re expensive, can feel hot and aren’t better than down-alt or latex in loft, or buckwheat in support. Microbead pillows (like those neck pillows you see on airplanes) aren’t very supportive and tend to be smaller and squishy. Water pillows are high maintenance, expensive and have an unusual texture.
The two less-common fill types we thought were worth checking out were buckwheat and latex. They have lots of support which is great for side and back sleepers who have known neck and back pain issues or snoring problems.
Buckwheat, which has adjustable loft, can provide a lot of support that you can mold to fit your needs, which can vary on a nightly basis. They get high customer satisfaction ratings on SLTD due to their superior support, which, in addition to reducing pain, also helps reduce snoring according to the chart. However, they fare poorly when it comes to noise, affordability and cuddliness. Of course that’s to be expected when you’re dealing with a pillow filled with grain hulls, but if support is what you’re after, it’s hard to do better than these.
Latex tends to feel “springy,” like sleeping on a bubble without any moldability, but it’s very supportive with great airflow, helpful for those who run hot when they sleep. Like buckwheat, these can also reduce pain and snoring according to SLTD data. As a result, those who like them, love them (as evidenced by high marks in almost every category on SLTD), but that might not be you. Most models also emit an off-putting smell for the first couple of weeks. We recommend feeling these pillows in person before buying them to make sure the texture isn’t a problem for you.
How we picked
Again, we leaned heavily on SLTD’s data for selecting specific models to test, but this is where we started running into problems with the data. While aggregated review data can be good for sussing out general differences between pillow types, it’s much less helpful for comparing individual pillows.
We have a standing policy not to put too much weight into user reviews because they are prone to confirmation bias, favor older models that have had time to accumulate quantity of scores, lack comparative data and background knowledge, and tend to be over-representative of negative experiences. SLTD does try to control for this by using data that comes from multiple sites and by checking for things like fake reviews, but at the end of the day, the problems associated with user reviews everywhere exist here. What’s more, SLTD only deals with pillows that are readily available from a small number of large online retailers (Amazon, Walmart, JC Penney, Overstock) and have a lot of user reviews. This precludes many pillows that could be great, but aren’t sold across multiple sites.
All this to say that while we did lean heavily on SLTD for picking test candidates, it couldn’t be our only source. We also consulted guides from places like Good Housekeeping, Consumer Search, Health magazine and Real Simple, in addition to hundreds of user reviews from various popular online retailers like Overstock, Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond. But a lot of the editorial was too focused on trying to find a specific pillow for each sleep style in every material man has ever stuck inside a pillowcase—we want to find the best pillow for most people. That’s a taller order.
No amount of reviews can tell you exactly how a pillow will be in your bed while you sleep. SLTD provides good insight into which types of pillows are good for which types of sleepers and which specific pillows get good marks. To choose which brands to test, we took SLTD’s top picks for each pillow type, which generally had around a 90 percent owner satisfaction rate. We compared those picks to user reviews on retail sites and editorial guides.
For down alternative, we chose a larger test set of five pillows, four from SLTD plus a highly rated outside pick, the Hotel Collection Primaloft from Macy’s. We also chose five down pillows from personal recommendation (IKEA), Good Housekeeping and SLTD, filtering out any with overwhelmingly poor reviews.
We chose three each of buckwheat and latex; for buckwheat, SLTD’s top recommendations meshed with Amazon’s user reviews, but for latex we found that the Simmons Beauty Rest wasn’t on SLTD but rated highly elsewhere.
Rather than comparing them in aggregate, our test put the pillows head-to-head in real-life user experience.
Within the types that we did test, several well-reviewed or recommended models didn’t make the cut for being too specialized. Dr. Breus’s line of pillows were too shaped and too specifically oriented toward pain relief for general-purpose use. Similarly, pillows like this Cuddledown synthetic with a shoulder cutout were eliminated for being too specific, despite a recommendation from Good Housekeeping. And while we were initially excited about Real Simple’s test of 35 pillows, a lack of background and process documentation along with the fact that all of their recommendations tended to be inordinately expensive (not to mention a few of them were no longer being sold) led to us mostly ignore the whole thing.
We also looked into Bed Bath & Beyond, but the user review community there just wasn’t robust enough to get us anywhere in terms of narrowing down a list of hundreds to a few candidates. And the reviews that do exist aren’t necessarily reliable. This buckwheat pillow that gets a 4.3 on BB&B received a mediocre 3.8 on Amazon (with more reviews), which has a larger and more reliable community.
How we tested
We tested the pillows by having four different people with different sleeping positions use them for at least a full night’s sleep. Before sleep, users filled out a brief survey of their impressions, rating the pillows on a scale of one to 10 in support, head-feel, face-feel and breathability. After sleeping on each pillow, we rated them on durability, cuddliness, clumping, noise, odor, heat and overall sleep quality.
We had four testers of variable sleeping styles—Kyle, Jamie, Paul and Jennifer. Kyle sleeps mostly on his right side, rarely on the left, and tends to like firmer, loftier pillows. As such, he’s used to sleeping on two pillows, but ended up cutting that down to one as a result of the testing process. Jamie describes herself as “a very normal side-sleeper.” She uses “one pillow under my head, one in my arms, and one between my knees. I usually tend towards pretty flat pillows,” she says. Paul sleeps on his stomach, hugging the pillow. Flat pillows work for him “because I bunch the pillow into a ball,” and he usually sleeps on a “giant, square pillow.” Jennifer sleeps mostly on her back, sometimes shifting overnight on her side, and generally prefers to sleep on two pillows.
Our down alternative pick for most people
The Premier Down-Like Personal Choice Density Pillow was the runaway winner. It scored high marks in every category across all testers and sleeping positions, particularly for supportiveness, breathability and coolness, cuddliness and sleep quality. And it’s only about $30 for two, which is a great value.
First and foremost, it offers ample, moldable support for a good night’s rest. Many other down alternative pillows are made of a large block of fiber, but the Premier is made up of clusters. This means the pillow can be squished and shaped to suit different sleeping styles, suiting both stomach sleepers who like to grip the pillow and side sleepers who like to bunch it up for extra loft. It’s not quite moldable, like the buckwheat—you can’t literally mold it into different shapes—but it’s flexible enough to suit lots of different styles. It’s available in three different support levels—soft (for stomach sleepers), medium (for back sleepers and some side sleepers) and hard (for side sleepers).
Just as importantly, it feels amazing. Jamie called the Premier Down-Like “airier, fluffier—in a good way.” It was the best approximation of sleeping on a down pillow—almost cloud-like and supremely cuddly, like floating on a bag of feathers—without sacrificing the things that make down alternative great, like loft and firmness. When we say airy, we don’t mean empty: The filling feels solid, stable. It just doesn’t feel artificially over-stuffed like other down alternative pillows sometimes do. Kyle thought the pillow’s filling of “down-like” polyester clusters felt more, well, down-like than the other alternative pillows, and Paul thought it had “good support.”
There’s also every indication that they’ll last a while. After sleeping on it for several months, we still find it as supportive, firm and comfortable as it was at the beginning, which is very impressive for any down alternative pillow. Doubly so for an inexpensive one.
They’re easy to care for too. They’re machine washable, and Overstock reviewers say they maintain their loft even after repeated washings.
At Sleep Like the Dead, it received the highest overall owner satisfaction score for down alternative pillows, scoring an 89%, and scored a 4.4-star rating on Overstock with more than 2,000 reviews and more than a few reviewers saying they felt like they were “sleeping on clouds.” These pillows navigate the tricky line between comfort, loft and firmness well, staying firm and lofty without sacrificing cuddle factor. It’s sturdy enough to use alone, as doctors recommend for spinal alignment. Jennifer said it was supportive enough to not need two pillows.
It does have its flaws. At first, Jamie and Kyle found it difficult to find a good place to put their head other than the exact center, but the pillow settled to become more comfortable over time. Paul wrote that it can be hard to squish into a ball, if you’re the kind of sleeper who likes to hold the pillow as you sleep. Some reviewers complained about noise, and when our Associate Editor, Michael Zhao, picked up one for himself, he found it crinkly at first. However, he says “This subsided after about a week or two and hasn’t been an issue since,” and ultimately, he says, “I find this type of pillow to be superior to down pillows I’ve tried in the past and I genuinely feel more rested in the morning. I think the added loft really does help.”
With such high quality for so little cash—only $20 per pillow if it’s not on sale, which, at Overstock, is usually the case—it far surpasses the competition.
Long-term test notes
Jamie has been using the Premier Down-Like every day for almost a year and reports that the pillows are “still just as fluffy and comfortable as they were when I first got them. Unlike a lot of other down alternative pillows, these have yet to go flat at all, and I’ve been using them almost a year.” She says she would not hesitate to buy them again.
What if our pick is sold out?
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. If you need a pillow now and can shell out the cash, the Primaloft is a good buy, but only if you actually need it now (do you?).
The Primaloft actually scored the highest in every category we tested and Macy’s reviewers back those experiences up—the pillows garnered a solid 4.6 stars averaged over 26 reviews. But although it’s a little bit more comfortable than our top pick, it’s too expensive to justify the price (you’d essentially be paying 800% more for a pillow that 5% better). Especially when considering the smattering of reviews that indicate it might go flat sooner rather than later. However, if you’re lucky enough to catch it during one of Macy’s semi-frequent sales, it can be had for as “little” as $50 a pillow, which is still very expensive compared to the Premier Down-Like, but slightly less egregiously overpriced.
Sleep Like the Dead gave the Dobby-weave Down Alternative its highest score: an 89% in owner satisfaction with a huge sample size of 2,051, making it the only pillow to score higher on SLTD than our main pick. But we found it didn’t have much loft and ran hot. None of our testers were very excited about the Dobby-weave. Jamie said, “Its low profile is really too low, and two pillows stacked up would be too high.” It might work for some stomach sleepers—Paul found it very soft and fluffy, despite its low loft—but it’s not suitable for most people.
Wal-Mart’s down alternative pillows are listed on SLTD as well, but evidently their price of only $9 is the result of cheap construction—not to mention the multitude of reviewers complaining about standardization issues. They’re cheap and they feel cheap. Pass.
We looked at a couple of The Company Store’s down alternative pillows—the Primaloft Deluxe and Black Label Primaloft, which comes recommended by Good Housekeeping—but they were in the upper range of prices for down alternative pillows without many strong reviews behind them. Black Label user reviewers indicate quality has steadily decreased over time—never a good sign.
We came across Exceptional Company’s Down Alternative Pillow after we did our initial research, and were surprised to find such a well-reviewed pillow (it’s one of the top-rated pillows on Amazon) had missed our scans. It makes sense that we didn’t see it: It looks like it’s a relatively new pillow—the earliest reviews appear to be from early October. That means we have no idea of long-term wear. It is nice and soft, with great bounce-back when compressed, but it has very little loft—side sleepers will struggle to keep their head up high enough. Not to mention the strong smell it gives off, almost reminiscent of a latex pillow and out of place for down alternative. Not appealing. Additionally, after sleeping on it for a few weeks, it’s already significantly flatter than when it arrived. We just can’t give it our recommendation.
We didn’t test these BIO PEDIC Ultra Fresh pillows from Amazon, even though they’re affordable (about $40 for 4) and popular, because the description and user reviews told us all we needed to know. You begin to wonder if a product is of questionable quality when it recommends you use them as “extra pillows, pillow sham stuffers or for the guest room.” Note that none of those things involve nightly sleeping. Scroll down to the reviews and you’ll see rampant complaints of these things going flat in a matter of weeks. There’s also a number of people who say they’re over-stuffed—and some who say under-stuffed. At a minimum, that’s not a sign of good quality control.
Sleep Number’s Pillowology line gets some great reviews, like this one from Real Simple, but running about $120 for the whole set, it’s a bit too pricey for our #1 spot. If you’re an enormously picky sleeper, and want to specify exactly which materials make up which of your pillow components, they might be worth checking out, but we still think you’ll be better-served by our top picks.
The Beyond Down Gel Fiber pillow came in second—after the Pacific Coast DoubleDown, see below—in Consumer Search’s round-up. Amazon reviewers aren’t as enthusiastic, giving it only 3.9 stars with the general consensus being, “Okay, but nothing special.” We agree, and at $25 per pillow, it’s double the price of our favorite down alternative pillow.
The Sleep Better Slumber Fresh pillow may have cracked the Amazon top 100 best-reviewed pillows, but with a mere 4.1 stars, that achievement may not be something to call home about. Reviewers complain they go flat too quickly, and without any option to select your desired firmness, they’re a pass.
We like the innovative approach of the Sleep Innovations Reversible 2-in-1 Bed Pillow, which adds a memory-foam layer to a traditional down alternative pillow, but multiple reviews complaining of recently changed production standards (and a corresponding drop in pillow quality), we can’t recommend picking one up.
Down for some people
For all of the good (and bad) things about down pillows, they’re often considered the highest-quality pillows you can buy for a reason: The longevity is fantastic, sure, but they also just feel luxurious. However, as a general rule, they tend to be flatter—not good for side sleepers (aka most sleepers)—and don’t allow much customization for your different sleep style. They also aren’t great if you or any of your guests have allergies. (Though no matter what pillow you use, a dust mite cover can be useful in reducing allergic reactions.) There just isn’t enough difference in quality to justify the drastically higher price compared to down alternative and mark them as an overall “better” pillow.
Unlike down alternative, down pillows don’t need to be super lofty to still feel fluffy and soft. A down alternative pillow that’s gone from lofty to flat feels sad and lumpy—down pillows don’t have that loft, but they’re still incredibly comfortable. They aren’t a good pick for side sleepers, because a comfortable but flat pillow is still too flat to keep the neck lifted off the bed at an appropriate angle. For stomach and back sleepers, we like the Cuddledown 700 Fill Power White Duck Down Gusseted Pillow. It’s significantly pricier than our main pick, at $109, but it feels really, really nice.
Fill power measures how lofty and fluffy a down pillow feels by measuring the amount of volume a single gram of down takes up, and 700 cubic centimeters per gram is a good medium between price and quality: While 750+ is generally considered “excellent quality,” it is a difficult and expensive proposition to find a quality pillow with a fill power that high, while still being at least 75 percent down, which is the legal minimum percentage of down required to call a product “down,” “goose down,” or “duck down.” (The remaining 25 percent “normally consists of waterfowl feathers and small amounts of other components.”)
We really like the Cuddledown in comparison to its closest competitors, like Garnet Hill’s Signature White Goose Down Pillow, for a number of reasons. First, like the Double DownAround and most down alternative pillows (and unlike the vast majority of down pillows), it offers several different fill levels: soft, medium and overfill. That gives side sleepers a fighting shot at an appropriate and comfortable down pillow, especially if they don’t have particularly broad shoulders, although we still think they (and everyone, really) will be better suited by down alternative. Even overfilled, down just doesn’t have the support and height of a good down alternative. If it were cheaper, we might recommend trying it, but at $169 for an overfilled, standard-sized pillow, that’s an awfully expensive proposition.
Second, if you’re going to drop the cash a down pillow, get one with a good warranty: The Cuddledown pillow has a lifetime guarantee, meaning if at any point you are unsatisfied with your pillow, you can exchange or return it for a full refund. That means you’re getting a whole lot more value out of your pillow, far beyond the five to 10 years your pillow might last naturally. They also offer free down reconditioning within the warranty, where they’ll adjust the amount of down or replace the pillow tickings, which will make each pillow last longer. And if you’re concerned about ethical sourcing, all of Cuddledown’s pillows are made in Maine (although some textiles are imported from China).
We also tried some others that we were none too impressed with.
At first trial we liked the Pacific Coast Double DownAround pillow, which costs between $50 and $70, depending on which size and firmness you select (soft, medium, firm). We came across the Double DownAround through Good Housekeeping, which gave it an A-. But it’s not quite a traditional down pillow—it consists of an inner feather-filled pillow surrounded by down. That solves one of the main complaints we have with down pillows: They’re fluffy, but just not firm enough. The Double DownAround manages to be both fluffy and firm, a rare feat, but we found the fluff wore off after a few weeks of use. Jennifer said the pillow felt stiff and hard, and woke up with neck pain—no good, and certainly not a sign that the Double DownAround is a good fit for most people.
JC Penney’s $105 Down Pillow with Removable Cover is a Pacific Coast pillow in disguise (although not the Double DownAround). It’s only 550 fill power, with no different firmness levels; for more than $100 per pillow, it’s not worth the expense.
There were also some that we didn’t test, but were noteworthy.
Garnet Hill’s Eileen Fisher pillow is far too pricey, at $178 for a standard-sized soft pillow, to be within range of most customers.
Eddie Bauer’s Premium Goose Down is another pillow that’s just too pricey for what you get. You’re paying more for the nice, 400-thread-count fabric—which should be covered under your pillowcase anyway—than you are for the fill, which is actually only 600-power and doesn’t offer $40 worth of additional quality over our favorite Cuddledown down pillow.
Their step-down pick, the Classic Goose Feather pillow, is cheaper at $65 and liked by Health magazine. But it’s too soft for most side sleepers, and it’s constructed much like the DoubleDown, with an inner layer of goose feather—a construction that has promise, but often leads to undesired stiffness.
All that said, for most people, down alternative is still the ticket. It allows more customization for different sleep styles, it’s hypoallergenic and it’s significantly cheaper—you’d have to replace the Premier Down-Like pillow set more than five times to pay the same amount as just one Cuddledown pillow.
A buckwheat pick for those with back pain
Side and back sleepers may want to consider buckwheat for its supportiveness, though front sleepers may like buckwheat as well. Thanks to the nature of buckwheat hulls, you can shape the pillow to fit your head and sleeping style and it will retain that shape for quite a long time. The Beans72 pillow ($45) was our top-rated buckwheat pick. The pillow comes with extra buckwheat hulls, so you can remove or add filling to fit your preference.
While Jamie and Paul liked the material, Kyle found it noisy (there’s an unpleasant crunching sound as the pillow settles) and Jennifer agreed that it was too firm. In contrast, Jamie noted that it molded perfectly to her head and eliminated back pain and Paul wrote, “its breathability keeps you cool.” Buckwheat pillows are admittedly noisy, but the Beans72 was one of the quieter pillows we looked at, as well as one of the loftiest and heaviest picks. It scored highest in support and breathability.
Yes, the pillows are very heavy, around nine to 11 pounds, depending on how many buckwheat hulls you add, according to Beans72’s website—that means they don’t shift while sleeping, but they’re hard to move. Amazon reviewers say they feel “weighty and substantial,” but some people don’t want weighty and substantial pillows—if that’s you, pass on the buckwheat.
SLTD cites Beans72 as one of its top four buckwheat pillows, with an owner satisfaction score of 83 percent. It has 171 user reviews and 4.5 stars on Amazon; the reviews cite its ergonomic quality, ability to eliminate back- and neck-pain and substantial heft.
We liked how the Comfysleep buckwheat pillow clumped and kept cool, but it wasn’t very cuddly and was extremely noisy. It was smaller and flatter than the Beans72, meaning that it’s not as customizable—the chief advantage of a buckwheat pillow. Jamie called it “unsubstantial,” and the sound of crunching hulls reminded Kyle of sleeping on a pile of insect bodies. Not good for sleeping.
The Zen Chi buckwheat pillow is cheaper than our favorite, the Beans72, and it was by far the quietest buckwheat pillow we tested, but had poorer air circulation and not nearly as much support as the Beans72.
The Premium Buckwheat Pillow listed on Sleep Like the Dead is smaller than any of the other choices, a bad quality since buckwheat thrives on being lofty and supportive.
The Sobakawa As Seen on TV buckwheat pillow suffers from the same problem as the Comfysleep and Premium Buckwheat: It’s too small. It says it’s 20 by 15 inches, but reviewers have measured and found it coming in at only 17 by 13.
The Hullo buckwheat pillow looks interesting, but costs $30 more than the Beans72. Without any major editorial reviews, or customer reviews off of Hullo’s site, we can’t put our full confidence in it.
A latex pick for firm loft and coolness
*At the time of publishing, the price was $34.
Latex pillows received equal grades for side-, stomach-, and back-sleeping on SLTD, but our testing showed that stomach sleepers should watch out, while side sleepers may choose latex for its firmness and consistent height. The highest-rated, and Kyle’s favorite, was the talalay latex foam Simmons Beautyrest ($65), which he found to be the coolest pillow by far, as well as firm and supportive enough that he didn’t need two pillows—the only one that met this criteria.
Latex pillows are kind of like balloons—they’re really bouncy and they spring back immediately if you push into them. They don’t really rest well on the bed and they don’t look very pretty, except maybe on top of other pillows at an angle. Even during the hottest days of the summer, though, the Beautyrest still felt comfortable and cool, with little “pinholes” in the latex block allowing air to circulate. Jamie and Paul both hated all the latex pillows, complaining that the Beautyrest felt insubstantial—it squished down too much and was too small. If you know you want a very supportive, springy pillow, and have problems with pillow heat, check out latex, but it’s certainly not for everyone.
SLTD didn’t review the Beautyrest, but it’s one of the top-rated latex pillows on Amazon, with 4.1 stars and 433 reviews. Many of the reviewers explain that they’ve been sleeping on latex pillows their entire lives and actively sought out new ones, so this might speak to the need for an acquired taste.
As for its competitors, the Z by Malouf latex pillow was the most expensive latex pillow we tested, at $75, and nothing about it justified spending double the price of the Beautyrest. We found it to be smellier and flatter than other latex pillows.
The Dream Solutions latex pillow has a softer head feel than the Beautyrest. But this pillow also suffers from a low profile with little loft and support. Jamie complained that it smelled particularly badly and that it wasn’t cuddly. Paul hated it particularly intensely, eviscerating it for its utter lack of support: “Floppy, flimsy crap.” Ouch.
Serta is a well-known pillow brand, but its offerings are expensive and unusually contoured. Without a doctor’s personalized recommendation, we don’t think they’re worth picking up.
Bed Bath & Beyond’s Latex Foam Pillows only received an 86 percent rating on SLTD.
The Premium Natural Latex Foam Pillow gets good reviews on Overstock, but some don’t like how lofty it is—6 inches at its apex. Compared to the 3.5-inch-tall Simmons Beautyrest, that’s just too much loft for all but the broadest-shouldered side sleepers.
Martha Stewart recommends plumping pillows daily when you make your bed (please make your bed!), and washing pillows at least once or twice a year. Check the care label for your specific pillow, but general guidelines according to Martha are: Use a mild, liquid detergent, not powder, as powder can leave residue on your pillow; launder pillows in sets of two, “to keep your machine balanced;” and run them twice through the rinse cycle, without detergent.
In the dryer, make sure to use air or low heat until the pillows are completely dry (high heat “can encourage clumping in polyester-filled pillows,” and most down alternatives do have some polyester inside), and throw in a tennis ball or two, wrapped in a clean, white sock, for extra-fluffy pillows.
If you’re wondering when to replace your pillow, Good Housekeeping asks, “Is the foam or batting inside the form lumpy or bumpy? Does your feather pillow have to be punched or fluffed up for support? If you fold the pillow in half, does it stay folded? If you answered yes to any of these, it’s time for a nice, new pillow.” And Cuddledown recommends the “fold test,” where you fold a pillow in half, hold for 30 seconds, then put a heavy object — they recommend a shoe — on top. If the pillow throws the object off, it’s still good to go. As a general rule, you should replace your down alternative pillows about every three to four years, and down pillows after five to seven years.
Wrapping it up
Down alternative pillows are best for general users without specific pain issues, especially side and back sleepers. We recommend the Premier Down-Like Personal Choice Density Pillow, which is both cushy and firm, fluffy without being flat, and completely affordable for almost any budget.
Originally published: December 15, 2013
That dinner was delicious.