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Pillows 101

Martha Stewart Weddings, Volume 15 2001

Having the right pillow is important: A pillow should support your head and neck comfortably so you get a good night's sleep. Here's a guide to choosing the one that's best for you.

The first consideration is whether you like your pillow soft, firm, or somewhere in between. If you don't have strong opinions on this subject, follow these recommendations: If you sleep on your side, a medium-firm or firm pillow provides proper support; if you sleep on your back, a medium-firm pillow is appropriate; and if you sleep on your stomach, you'll find that a soft pillow reduces the strain on your neck.

Whatever pillow you choose, you can extend its life by using a pillow protector inside the pillowcase and by fluffing it every morning. No pillow lasts forever. When it's lifeless, flat, and can't be fluffed, replace it.

Pillow Fillings


Naturally hypoallergenic cotton in its combed form is an excellent filling for people with chemical sensitivities and allergies. However, cotton filling tends to become compacted over time.


Down or a down-feather blend are considered the best pillow fillings because of their natural resilience, longevity, and adjustability. Pure down makes the most luxurious pillow.


Stiffer than down, feathers are often used in combination to form firmer support. Look for down-feather (higher proportion of down), feather-down (higher proportion of feathers), and all-feather combinations.


Siliconized polyester feels similar to down and maintains its resilience over time. Regular polyester, which is more commonly found, retains its shape but becomes compacted quickly. Like cotton, polyester filling is a good choice for people with chemical sensitivities and allergies.

Foam Rubber

Latex foam rubber gives good support and won't lose its shape, but it crumbles over time.

Pillow Coverings
The ticking -- a pillow's basic cover -- should have at least a 260-thread count to provide an effective barrier to down and feather fillings. For pillows with other fillings, 200 should be the minimum thread count for ticking.

Do You Know?
Down comes from the chest and belly of a waterfowl and insulates the bird when it gets cold or wet. Feathers are flat and have a hard, tubular shaft that makes them heavier than down.

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