This post is part of the complete guide for picking the right sleeping pillow
Did you know that the usage of pillows dates back to the prehistoric period? While they serve the same purposes as those we use today, they have since gotten better and comfier, thanks to pillow stuffing.
The good news is there is a wide range of options, with each one offering unique benefits.
The most popular types of pillow stuffing are memory foam, latex, polyester, feather, and down. Other less well-known options include gel, cotton, hemp, wool, buckwheat, and bamboo.
Choosing the pillow with the appropriate stuffing material could make all the difference between a good night’s sleep and a restless nap. However, this is not always easy because of the similarities among them.
That is why we have written this article to explain the famous stuffing materials, their pros, and cons.
- Support is excellent
- It does not form lumps
- Highly durable
- Easy maintenance
- Emits strong chemical odor
- Relatively expensive
- Absorbs body heat
Memory foam was invented by NASA engineers in the 1960s/70s for use as shock-absorbing materials in the seats of aircraft and spacecraft. It has since then become common for other uses, including pillows. This is because it has amazing weight distribution and responds well to pressure.
This stuffing material got its name from its moldability and ability to form shapes around your head and body. It is even better since it retains its original shape. That means it provides great support and is suitable for different sleeping postures.
Memory foam comes in a solid block form and is one of the most long-lasting pillow materials you can find. However, you may also find the shredded form that offers similar advantages. Another aspect we love about memory foam is the ease of maintenance.
The main composition of this material is polyurethane. While this gives it the excellent properties we enjoy, it could also emit pungent smells. Some of the chemicals used in the production are volatile, making the material combustible.
Finally, it is relatively heavy and the composition means it does not come cheap. If you’re not working with a tight budget, this is an option you would love.
If you are interested in learning more about memory foam pillows, you can check out our memory foam pillow buyers guide here.
- Natural and environmentally-friendly
- Resistant to mold growth
- Flame resistant
- It emits a rubbery odor
- Quite expensive
This is another option that’s popular for its excellent support. They are also usually available in the shape of a box which prevents foldability. However, that is not the case when they come in shredded form.
Latex pillow materials are produced using latex rubber obtained from rubber plantation trees in tropical regions. Hence, you may find pillows with stuffing labeled as “natural latex.” This is allowed as long as there is any degree of the natural rubber material in the blend. However, it is better to select the variants that use only latex, that is, labeled as “100% natural latex.
The benefits of natural latex are many. Firstly, they are friendly with the environment and can be recycled easily. This breathable natural material is resistant to mold, insects, and flame.
As for the specific advantages for the sleeper, they help with neck and back pains. They can also help if you suffer from allergies. However, some people prefer other materials because latex has a softness that may be inconsistent. It also gives off a rubbery smell when it’s new and may be a bit pricey.
If you are interested in learning more about latex pillows, you can check out our latex pillow buyers guide here.
- Relatively cheaper
- Lightweight and soft
- It does well with body heat
- It may smell unpleasantly
- It may be considered inhumane
- You need to fluff occasionally
- It may cause allergic reactions
Feathers are regarded as the cheaper alternative to down, largely because they possess similar properties but offer lesser comfort and durability. They consist of goose feathers but may be occasionally supplemented with down for improved softness.
These have their advantages, which include softness and being lightweight. They are also moldable and when you sleep, they distribute heat evenly to help you maintain a good temperature. Feathers are eco-friendly and, therefore, recyclable.
If you are hypersensitive or prone to allergies, feathers may not be for you. They are also notorious for losing their loft quickly because they align together and get flat during use. You can slow down that process by fluffing them occasionally or look for products that are mixed with down.
They smell unpleasant, and you need to dedicate time to washing frequently. Side sleepers may also have to look elsewhere. Investing more on down may be a better idea. However, if your budget cannot get you down but you still want something similar, this might just be your best option.
If you are interested in learning more about feather pillows, you can check out our feather pillow buyers guide here.
- Highly affordable
- Suitable for certain allergic individuals
- Easy to clean
- Short lifespan
- Non-breathable and does not distribute heat effectively
- Not easily foldable
- Not eco-friendly
- Clumps easily
You might have heard someone refer to polyester as “the poor man’s cotton.” We do not disagree with that saying since polyester is one of the most affordable pillow stuffing you can find. Also known as Poly-Fil, this material is made from a combination of small man-made polyester fibers.
Polyester is intended to perform similarly to down and is considered an alternative. Hence, they are soft and lightweight. Cleaning polyester is also a breeze, making them a favorite for many. The support level they provide is relatively decent and you can find them in different degrees of firmness.
A downside is that polyester is not breathable; hence, it is not a good heat distributor. Instead, it traps heat and makes the pillow warm, which may make you uncomfortable. It is also not long-lasting and would require serious care to lengthen the life span a bit more. Over time, you may notice polyester develop lumps or fall flat.
Unless you want the pillow for a short while or are looking for a cost-effective option, we do not recommend polyester.
If you are interested in learning more about polyester pillows, you can check out our polyester pillow buyers guide here.
- High durability
- Natural and recyclable
- Lesser heat absorption
- Relatively expensive
- Relatively less supportive
- Allergic for certain people
- Not generally accepted as humane
- Requires constant shaking
Down stuffing has been around for a while and is well-known for the natural softness they give. They are also long-lasting, maintaining their quality longer than synthetic stuffing options.
Down is harvested from the fluffy lower parts of birds’ feathers. The most popular bird that supplies down is the Hungarian goose, but other birds also contribute their fair share. Down can either be collected by live-plucking the birds or after the meat has been removed.
There are issues with the bird’s welfare and that is why down is usually expensive. Down fillings are pure white, large in size, and are better when they are not mixed with feathers. Therefore, investing in high-quality down is always a good idea.
- Cools and eases airflow
- Maintains pillow temperature
- Stays in shape for a long time
- Lesser durability
- Fairly expensive
Gel stuffing uses gel microbeads with other materials like memory foam and latex to form an additional comfort layer. This material is generally smooth, but there are varying degrees of smoothness, depending on the amount of gel used. However, specialists advise around 30% to get optimum comfort.
They are well-known for their exceptional coolness. This is because it allows airflow, which helps the pillow in temperature regulation. It also stays in shape for a very long time and can be used by different types of sleepers. The comfort level is amazing, and they can help dispel sleeplessness due to heat.
However, they may be less durable when compared with pillows made of only memory foam because the gel promotes a faster degradation. Gel is also relatively expensive since it is a combination of different materials. Let’s not forget the environmental implications of foams too.
If you are interested in learning more about gel pillows, you can check out our gel pillow buyers guide here.
- Easily washable
- Can be natural and free from hazardous materials
- It does not cause allergic reactions
- Soft and comfortable
- Forms clumps over time
- Not long-lasting
- Lesser foldability
Cotton is common for its natural availability. That makes it a good filling for you and the environment. That’s not all, it is also a very breathable and comfortable stuffing that you can care for quite easily with machine wash.
Even though cotton is initially very soft, they still form clumps after long and frequent usage. That is why some pillow manufacturers choose to combine the filling with synthetic polyester to increase durability.
The naturalness of cotton means it does not cause allergies. They are gentle on the skin and do not cause issues like synthetic fillings. Regulating the temperature is another department where cotton does well. It helps you stay cool even during summer nights.
If you are interested in learning more about cotton pillows, you can check out our cotton pillow buyers guide here.
- Soft and comfortable
- Natural and eco-friendly
- Resistant to mildew
- It can be rough initially
Hemp is a natural stuffing obtained from fast-growing crops that require little or no maintenance. This crop grows with very minimal chemicals and has entirely useful parts. Hence, this may just be one of the most eco-friendly stuffing materials out there.
Quite similar to cotton, hemp is a soft and comfortable stuffing. It is also breathable, allowing air to pass through while maintaining a good temperature. This material is moldable and resists the growth of mold and insects. Hemp is an excellent option if you are all about being organic and natural.
If you are interested in learning more about CBD pillows, you can check out our CBD pillow buyers guide here.
- Natural and chemical-free
- Helps to maintain body temperature
- Does not cause allergies
- May form lumps over time
- Not foldable and flattens easily
- It may be considered inhumane
- May give out a foul odor in wet climates
- Not easily washable
Wool is another natural stuffing option that offers a range of benefits. You can find wool in many products and pillow stuffing is not left out. This is due to the unique properties of wool, which include insulation and breathability. Serving as a natural resistance to flame and dust, wool is wonderful in preventing allergies.
Wool helps sheep maintain their temperature, and this can be beneficial in your pillows too. They keep you cool during hot summer nights and warm on cold nights. This is why specialists recommend wool for babies and little children who cannot regulate their body temperature themselves.
One of the downsides is the tendency of wool to clump easily, rendering the pillow inconsistent and uncomfortable. However, they remain firm for a long time even when they are already flat. It is also advisable that you dry clean them since washing can be quite challenging.
If you are interested in learning more about wool pillows, you can check out our wool pillow buyers guide here.
- Relatively excellent support
- Natural and environmentally-friendly
- May be too firm
- May cause allergies
Buckwheat pillows have origins in Japan, where they are also called Sobakawa. This traditional Japanese filling comes from around five to ten pounds of buckwheat seeds hulls. These hulls have been preserved and cleaned by roasting before encasing them in a synthetic or natural textile.
These pillows are considered to be highly supportive for the neck and head because they are firm, breathable, and moldable. They are a perfect combination of naturalness and affordability. Those who suffer from allergies will find this stuffing comfortable, and anyone can enjoy them after a while of getting used to it.
Their malleability makes them suitable for all sleeper times. This eco-friendly pillow stuffing ensures all-night coolness since they do not keep overnight heat. The hulls start to break down after some time, and that reduces the support they give. You may also find the rustling of hulls disturbing.
Buckwheat pillows can be heavy and challenging to clean. Ensure they dry up completely and are properly ventilated; else, they may give out a foul smell during usage.
If you are interested in learning more about buckwheat pillows, you can check out our buckwheat pillow buyers guide here.
- Prevents organism growth
- Fairly soft
- Natural and eco-friendly
- A foul odor that disappears later
Bamboo pillow stuffing is the trend in recent times and the reasons may not be far-fetched. They are very friendly with the environment since they are natural and free from synthetic chemicals. Medical specialists are also suggesting this material for those who are battling allergies.
Bacterial and fungal growth may be common, especially in damp environments and as a result of sweat. However, this is not the case with bamboo pillows because it is resistant to these microorganisms. It also does a very good job of repelling odors that generate over time.
This pillow stuffing is relatively softer than many materials, including wool. The major issue with this material is the expensive pricing. It is also slightly heavy, right from the production process that involves the conversion of bamboo stalks and the use of chemicals.
If you are interested in learning more about bamboo pillows, you can check out our bamboo pillow buyers guide here.
Even when these are the most premium quality, none of them work for everyone. You may still have to try out a few or consult a professional before settling for the most preferred material. Nevertheless, we are confident that you will find something that works for you on this list.
Picking The Right Pillow For Sleep: A complete guide – Parts:
1. Why do we Sleep on Pillows? Here’s what research says
2. Pillow Stuffing Types: Pros and Cons of All Common Materials
3. Do You Need a Soft or Firm Pillow? A physiotherapist weighs in
4. How High Should Your Pillow Be? Ideal height for your sleeping position
5. What is The Healthiest Pillow to Use? Based on science
6. When to Replace Your Pillow? Average lifespan of all pillow types
7. How to Recycle Your Pillow? 12 things you can do with an old pillow
8. How Much Do Pillows Cost? Average price of all pillow types
9. The 9 Best Affordable Pillows For All Sleeping Positions