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Down vs. Feather Pillows: What’s the difference and which is better?


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If it’s time to replace your pillows you may be wondering if you should stay with what you’ve been using or explore something different.

If you’re looking for a soft, quality hotel type of pillow, you may have come across down pillows or feather pillows as a viable option. These are two excellent choices.

If you’re wondering how to differentiate between the two, this post will help. We’ll look at the difference between down pillows and feather pillows to determine which one is better.

Down and Feather Pillows: Table of Differences

While both pillows have a lot of similarities, there are a few differences. In the end, it will be up to you to decide which one would best serve your needs as you sleep.

Down and Feather Pillows: Their Differences
DownFeather
CostExpensiveLess Expensive
FeelIncredibly SoftMore Firm
TemperatureSleeps WarmSleeps Cool
MaintenanceMay be WashableDry Clean Only
SustainabilityBiodegradableBiodegradable
DurabilityLasts LongerNot as Durable

What is a Down Pillow?

Down is the terminology used to describe soft fibers that make up the undercoat of a duck or goose, predominantly in the chest area.

Down fibers are light and fluffy and resemble snowflakes. They’re intended to keep the birds warm and dry in any weather. Down is warm and soft to the touch.

Sleeping on down made of down clusters is like sleeping on a cloud. The down compresses underneath your head’s weight, allowing you to sink into the pillow. Its fluffiness allows the pillow to spring right back into place.

Natural Down vs. Down Alternative

Natural down pillows have a high price point. Down alternative is a more economic way to get a pillow with similar down qualities. Down alternative is made of polyester and naturally hypoallergenic, more durable and can be washed in the washing machine. They are a good option for vegans or people who prefer to stay free of animals during their sleep.

Goose vs. Duck 

Down and feather pillows are made from either goose or duck feathers. The difference between the two types of feathers is their firmness, durability, and cost. Goose-down pillows are plushier, and considered the most luxurious and comfortable type of pillow. They are durable and more expensive. That is because goose are rare. 

What is a Feather Pillow?

Feather pillows are stuffed with feathers that come off the back or wings of a duck or goose. This stuffing is sturdy with firm support, which makes it a little dense.

Feather pillows are usually made with a combination of down to increase the plush soft fill and loft of the pillow. 

Should I Choose a Down or Feather Pillow? Decision Factors

Having two great quality pillows to choose from can be difficult. Luckily, there are some factors to consider when purchasing your next pillow:

Cost

It costs more to farm down than feathers. Given goose are rarer than ducks, it’s understandable that down would come at a higher price point than feather.

Down pillows can cost well over $100, while some feather pillows can be as little as $25. A feather pillow with about 25% to 50% of down, may be a good middle-ground if you’re looking for quality, comfort and a good price.

Feel

Most of us prefer to sleep as if we’re on a cloud. That’s the feeling you get with the warm, soft, fluffy feeling of down. Down pillows can squish under your weight and will take on the shape of your head and neck. That customizes the support uniquely to you. Its natural tendency is to quickly bounce back to its shape.

However, some of us do prefer a firm feel, especially if there is a need to apply pressure to some pain areas. Feather pillows are a bit more firm. Feather pillows resist your weight and offer more support and less shaping.

Feather pillows don’t come in clusters, which means they will need to be fluffed more than down pillows so they won’t flatten out as quickly. Also, if the quills happen to poke through the pillow, they can prick you during sleep.

Temperature

Down is made to protect the birds from the cold weather. That’s why it traps air and holds it in. That keeps heat close to your body. If you tend to sleep cold, and need heat for comfort, down is a good choice.

Feather pillows sleep cooler than down. They don’t trap heat, which means if you tend to sleep hot, and need some coolness during the night, feather may be a better option for you.

Maintenance

These are both high-maintenance pillows. But, between the two, feathers may be a bit more so. Feathers are a little challenging to deal with because they can’t get wet. Dry cleaning is the best way to clean your feather pillow.

It’s best to follow the care instructions for the down pillow, as they may or may not be machine washable. If you do wash them in the machine, always use a gentle detergent. Never dry in the dryer. 

Use a pillow protector or pillowcase for your pillow, regardless of which type you have, and wash your pillowcases often. Doing this will prevent mold and mildew and can keep allergens like dust, dust mites, and pollen away.

Sustainability

Both types of pillows come from the same birds, so their carbon footprint will be similar. One thing though, because down is more durable, it won’t be thrown out as often as the feather pillow.

Also, both are natural fills and are biodegradable, and are great natural pillows. A down pillow with a natural, biodegradable cover like cotton will decompose and offset having to toss it in the garbage.

Fill Power and Weight

Fill power and weight are options you will see when shopping for down or feather pillows. When considering the fill power and weight, there a few terms that would be helpful for you to know:

Fill power:

Fill power is the amount of volume one ounce of down takes up, and this only applies to down pillows. The larger the clusters, the higher the fill power. The high fill power can allow more air than lower fill power pillows. That makes the high-fill pillows thicker with more insulating than pillows with low fill power.

Loft:

Loft is the height or thickness of the pillow. Loftier pillows just look bigger, and they also don’t flatten as easily as less loft pillows, which means you don’t have to fluff them as much.

Quill:

The quill is the long stiff center of the feather, also known as the rigid shaft of a bird’s wing, tail, or protective outer body feathers. People used to write with quills, as they would use the center or hollow shaft as a writing utensil.

Fill power represents the size of the down cluster. The larger the cluster, the higher the fill power.The higher the fill power, the larger the loft and spherical shape of the pillow. Fill power ranges from 550 to 850; the higher the filler power, the more durable the pillow is. A good, quality down pillow will have a filler power of at least 650.

Fill weight represents how much down is within the pillow. The higher the fill weight, the more soft or firm the pillow is. 

Durability

Down clusters bounce back quickly after laying on them; down pillows will hold their shape longer than feather pillows, which makes them more durable than feather pillows. Feather pillows will flatten quickly without adequate down within it. Also, the hard quills down the middle of the feathers can poke through the feather pillows when they become worn. 

Sleeping Position

Sometimes how we sleep also affect the type of pillow that’s best for us to sleep with. There’s a best type of pillow for each sleep position.

Stomach Sleepers

If you sleep on your stomach, it’s probably hard to keep your spine neutral. It should be noted that sleeping on your stomach is the worst position to be in during sleep and is not recommended because it provides little support for alignment. However, down pillows with a low fill weight and fill power are probably a good option because it’s not too lofty or firm.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers need more support than stomach sleepers. Either pillow, down, or feather can offer the needed support for this sleeping position. However, an overly stuffed pillow can create a kinked neck.

Side Sleepers

Side sleepers need less support than back sleepers to keep their head and neck in proper alignment. Having a pillow with feathers and down is a good option because feathers offer the necessary firm support, and the down provides comfort and longevity.

Allergens

If you suffer with asthma or allergies, down alternative might be a better choice over natural down pillow or a feather pillow. Down alternative is made of polyester microfibers. That means it makes a hostile environment for all kinds of microbes, from mold to dust mites to bacteria, and thus, is resistant to most common allergens.

What to Avoid When Using a Down or Feather Pillow

Certain products are just not good for either pillow. Some of the things you should avoid when using a down or feather pillow include:

Water

A feather pillow should never be wet, and thus, should never be put in a washing machine. Water lends the potential for mold, mildew, and the feathers sticking together. Should that happen, the feather pillow will become less fluff. A feather pillow should always be dry cleaned.

Creams and Oils

Creams and oils can be a nightmare for any pillow. These products build up to discolor the pillow or border on other types of health issues. It’s always a good idea to clean your face before going to bed. Another option is to invest in a protective covering or pillowcase for your pillow.

Compression

No one wants a flattened pillow. Fluff often to maintain the soft, cozy feel you expect from your pillow.

In Summary

Down and feather pillows are both two great options if you want a quality, hotel-like pillow under your head every night. Hopefully, the factors mentioned here will help in determining which pillow will be the best choice for you.

Niklas Lampi

My name is Niklas and I'm the author and content operator at The Bedding Planet. I've always had a big interest in bedding and more specifically sleep. If I find something that makes me sleep better, whether that's a lifestyle change or a better bedding environment, I'm ready to share it with the world!

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