Pillow Buying Guide
Not all pillows are the same, and what you need is probably different than what your neighbor needs. The right pillow for you will support your head and neck while you sleep in your desired position, and it won’t create any new problems for you to deal with. This is why there are a number of options on the market, and this explains why we have created this pillow buying guide.
The type of filling in a pillow affects the feel and support it gives. Goose down pillows last for years and they’re incredibly soft. You can buy down pillows based on how densely stuffed they are; this makes them more firm. The 600 fill is the soft, fluffy pillow you expect, while the 850 fill is almost as firm as a memory foam pillow. The 700 fill pillows count as medium. Down mixed with feathers reduces the cost and the softness. A side benefit of down and feathers is their wonderful thermal effects; they keep you warm in the winter by retaining body heat but don’t retain heat in the summer.
Memory foam and latex are always firm. Some memory foam and latex pillows reduce the firmness and perceived hardness by having a softer layer of foam on top that you can sink into before the “support” starts. A few of these pillows have a cooling gel layer to offset the heat retention problem many memory foam pillows have; this isn’t necessary if you aren’t overheating, and a pillow with good ventilation doesn’t require such an expensive solution.
If you are a side sleeper, you would do best with a memory foam or latex pillow. Note that if you’re allergic to latex, you cannot use a latex pillow but may be able to use memory foam pillow made from other compounds, such as polyurethane.
Traditional pillows have cotton or synthetic polyester fiber inside. Cotton is non-allergenic and cheap, but it settles easily. Synthetic polyester settles over time, and if you fold the pillow over and it stays folded, it needs to be replaced because it has lost its “puff”. Both cotton and polyester fiber pillows can be washed and are a good choice for those who want the simplicity of throwing the pillow in the washer because someone sneezed or leaked on it at night. You’ll also be replacing them every year or so.
If you want the fluffy feel of feather pillows without the cost, poly-cluster fill is a cheaper, artificial fill substitute. These need to be treated more gently than the average polyester fill pillow so they don’t break up.
It is possible to find hybrid pillows that try to give you the best of both worlds. A memory foam pillow with layers of polyester fiber around it is cheaper than one with multiple layers of foam of different densities. One with down or feathers around it eliminates the heat retention problem.
As the thread count of a pillow goes up, so does the durability and softness. For example, a tightly woven cover helps protect the fill inside. In the case of memory foam pillows, it prevents the small particles of memory foam that wear away with time from escaping and dusting your bed. Many of the cheapest pillows have a thread count of 300. Mid-market pillows have a thread count of 500. At the high end, you can find pillows with a thread count of 800. These cost far more than their lower quality counterparts.
When evaluating the quality of the cover, look for straight seams and neat stitches. In particular, if you’re looking at pillows containing feathers, no feathers should be poking through. After all, if one is poking through the side now, you know they’ll painfully poke you in bed. If fibers are sticking out of a polyester pillow, you know they’ll slowly escape and cause the pillow to go flat faster than expected.
If you sleep on your back, you need a pillow that is soft behind your head without elevating your head at an awkward angle that contributes to neck and shoulder pain. A neck pillow or memory foam pillow that provides a gentle supportive curve beneath your neck without elevating your head is an option. So is a medium thickness but soft polyester fill pillow.
If you are a side sleeper, you need a pillow that provides firm support from your shoulder to your ear, and this is best achieved with a contoured memory foam pillow. A combination of firm pillows may work, but it is hard to find a combination that fits your body. Side sleepers should avoid fluffy pillows filled with artificial fibers. Down pillows with medium-high firmness works for many side sleepers.
Stomach sleepers do best with a relatively thin pillow; three inches or less is your ideal. Memory foam helps those who want a pillow that doesn’t stress the neck or are already dealing with neck pain. For those who literally want to sleep face down, a wedge pillow with a U-shaped opening for your face puts your spine in a neutral position while letting you breathe easy.
If you are a restless sleeper who shifts position throughout the night, a body pillow may work best for you. Another option would be a bolster pillow that keeps you in one specific position.
Some pillows can be thrown in the washing machine and even the clothes dryer. Some pillows say they can only be dry cleaned. If you need to clean pillows often or just don’t want to deal with dry cleaning pillows, avoid the latter type. If the pillows are a pain to clean, you may want to take extra steps by putting two or more pillow cases on it that you can easily machine wash.
Do not buy a pillow because you think that is the right size for your bed. For example, standard pillows are designed to fit two side by side on a twin bed. Queen pillows are a few inches wider and meant for two of them to fill a queen sized bed. Two “king” pillows fill a king sized bed.Instead, buy a pillow because it is comfortable, durable and suits you. After all, you can put four to six standard pillows on a king bed. If you sleep with your arms around the pillow, a pillow that is too wide is uncomfortable.
Where to Find the Right Pillow for You
There are a number of options for finding the right pillow. If you go to the local mattress store, they’ll have a limited selection of pillows but you can typically try them out right there. Mass merchandisers have a broad selection of pillows, but those tend to be the pillows with artificial fill or cheap memory foam pillows. One of the best places to find the right pillow for your needs is Amazon. They have everything from the large fiber filled pillows to contoured memory foam pillows with cooling gel to hybrid pillows you cannot get anywhere else. And all of these pillows come at a reasonable cost, often cheaper than the bedding store would charge.