No pillow lasts forever. When it's lifeless, flat, badly stained, or can't be fluffed, it's time to replace it. Choose a pillow that will retain its shape while also providing proper support for your neck and spine. Besides its dimensions, one pillow is distinguished from another by its fill. Each has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the composition, price point, or care. There is a perfect pillow for everyone -- learn which one is right for you!
Want a better night's sleep? Your pillow plays a crucial role -- and depending on your pick, it can make each night a heavenly dream or your worst nightmare. When your pillow is lifeless, flat, badly stained, or can't be fluffed, it's time to replace it. Buy a new pillow that will retain its shape while also providing proper support for your neck and spine.
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Cotton is an all-natural, nonallergenic fiber that allows air circulation and launders well. (It dries quickly, so it won’t get a musty smell.) Although cotton doesn't provide much bounce or loft, it is soft and becomes even softer with repeated use.
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Pillows filled with feathers are firmer than down -- and less costly. Small fluffy feathers make the best fill: They're springy, soft, and don't poke through fabrics as easily as bigger ones. Look for labels that say "micro feather" or "Euro feather." Ticking with a high thread count will also keep feathers from poking out. Most feather pillows can be washed in the machine.
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Combinations –- in such ratios as 50:50 or 80:20 -– offer varying levels of firmness and different price points. If a label reads "feathers and down," there are more feathers than down, and vice versa. Most down/feather pillows can be washed in the machine.
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A lightweight, insulating fill that gives medium to firm support. Silk-filled pillows can’t be washed; air them in the sun at least twice a year.
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Photography: James Ransom6 of 9
Synthetic (Or Faux) Down
These fills are mostly made of polyester. Different manufacturers have patented their own versions, such as PrimaLoft. The best, which can rival down in price, are made to feel and act like down clusters. Synthetic down provides good support for back sleepers. The better synthetics are now "slickened" with an agent that makes the fibers slide against one another so they feel softer and bounce back after being compressed. Pillows filled with this material can be washed in the machine.
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Wool is another natural fiber that allows for air circulation. The sheared fiber is used as a medium-density pillow filling. Wool-filled pillows can't be washed; air them in the sun at least twice a year.
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This fill is used in many Japanese pillows and is good for headaches and neck pain since it conforms perfectly to the contours of your neck. It is made from the discarded hulls of buckwheat, which shift around freely inside the pillowcase. Buckwheat pillows can't be washed.
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If you sleep on your side, choose a medium-firm to firm pillow filled with a combination of down and feathers, or with silk. If you sleep on your back, choose a medium-firm pillow with the same fill noted above. If you sleep on your stomach, choose a soft pillow, such as one filled with down, to reduce neck strain. Signs of quality include neat, well-filled corners that are not dog-eared. Choose pillows made of silk or cotton with a high thread count; edges should be straight and tightly sewn. The overall appearance should be full, not lumpy or uneven. Check care labels before you buy a pillow to make sure you can easily maintain it.