Pillow Buying Guide

BY: Rory Cooper |Aug 7, 2018

Man sleeping napping resting in bed

A pillow typically comes after you’ve already picked a mattress, sheets, and comforter, but it should never be an afterthought. The best pillows for side sleepers, stomach sleepers, and back sleepers vary greatly, so making an informed decision is crucial to getting the best sleep possible.

This pillow buying guide will help you home in on a head-bed that matches your needs by walking you through fill materials, as well as how to wash pillows and even how to target specific sleep problems with specialized options (such as maternity pillows).

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What Type of Fill Material Should You Choose?

A pillow’s softness and support are determined by its fill materials, so knowing the different types of fill is the first step to finding a pillow that suits your needs:

Down Soft fluff from underneath the feathers of ducks or geese Durable and natural; can be scrunched up into different shapes Price can be higher; can trigger allergies if not washed regularly
Down Alternative A synthetic version of down; largely polyester Easy to clean; hypoallergenic Less durable than natural down
Memory Foam A firm, sponge-like polyurethane foam Conforms to head and neck, keeping them aligned Can’t be shaped or folded up; might retain some heat
Fiber Fill Clusters of cotton or synthetic materials such as polyester Inexpensive and breathable May not last as long as other fill types
Buckwheat Durable hulls of the seeds from buckwheat plants Customize firmness by adding or removing buckwheat hulls Heavy and more prone to noisiness than other materials

Fill Power and Fill Weight

Down pillows are rated by their fill power and fill weight:

  • Fill power measures down’s loft and fluffiness. High fill power, from 500 up to a luxurious 800, means that the individual down clusters take up more space—larger clusters are softer and retain their loft and firmness for a longer period of time.
  • Fill weight measures the weight of down in ounces. A heavier pillow has more down stuffed into the shell, making it firmer and more supportive.

What is Your Sleeping Position?

Woman sleeping napping resting in bed

Pillows for Back Sleepers

If you sleep on your back, the most important thing to do is keep your head and neck aligned throughout the night. Choose a thick, firm pillow (500 fill power or higher) or a contoured memory-foam pillow that directly supports the back of the neck.


Pillows for Side Sleepers

Side sleeping creates a gap between your head and the mattress, so you should choose a pillow to fill that space. We recommend down pillows, since they can be bunched up. Otherwise, stack a couple of standard fiber-fill pillows on top of each other.


Pillows for Stomach Sleepers

Slumbering on your stomach with the wrong type of pillow is one of the most common causes of neck pain. To prevent your head from being pushed backward at an awkward angle, use a malleable down pillow or thin fiber-fill pillow to keep the head and neck aligned.


Do You Suffer from Sleep Problems?

Man snoring in bed with annoyed wife girlfriend

You’ve zeroed in on a pillow type that matches your sleep position, but why stop there? Pillows can also be used to alleviate common sources of discomfort that affect sleep. Here’s how:


With all-over support for the head, arms, and legs, body pillows keep sleepers on their sides to help improve airflow and stop snoring.


Back, Neck, and Joint Pain

Contour pillows cradle the head and neck to keep the spine naturally aligned, relieving back pain. If your knees painfully rub against each other, pad them with a throw pillow.



It's not a pillow's materials that cause allergies; it's the dust that collects in them. Down-alternative pillows are typically recommended for alleviating allergies, but even they require regular cleaning and a tightly woven casing to be fully effective. No matter what type of pillow you choose, the best remedy for allergies is to wash your pillows in hot water at least twice a year.



Body pillows and specially designed maternity pillows hug the body to support baby bumps and slip between the knees to keep legs comfy.


Acid Reflux

In addition to making it easier to read or watch TV at night, a wedge pillow keeps your torso elevated to help ease acid reflux.


Sleep Apnea

As with acid reflux, a foam wedge pillow is one of your best options.


How to Care for Your Pillow

Woman fluffing up pillow and making a bed

Once you’ve found and purchased the right pillow, these simple tips will help make it last:

How to Wash Pillows

Most pillows can be machine-washed on the gentle cycle, but you should always check the tag beforehand. Make sure the pillow is completely dry after washing to prevent the growth of allergenic molds. It's recommended that you wash pillows at least twice a year.

How to Keep Pillows Fluffy

Periodically fluff down pillows and buckwheat pillows to maintain their shape and loft. Dryer-safe pillows should be accompanied by a tennis ball, which bounces around to increase the pillow’s fluffiness.

When to Replace Pillows

  • If you fold a fiber-fill pillow in half and it doesn’t spring back to its flat shape, it’s time for a replacement. The same goes for memory foam pillows: if your handprint doesn’t disappear after a moment, it’s lost its cradling abilities.
  • Even if you wash your pillows regularly, consider buying new ones every couple of years. Dead skin and dust mites can build up during that time. These allergens can clog up your nose, affecting sleep quality.
  • Your pillow needs will change throughout your life, so it’s worth revisiting what works for you periodically.

How Many Pillows Do You Need?

Pile of pillows on a bed

Do you want a clean, minimalist bed or a towering fluff mountain? Here are the bare minimums for each mattress size:

  • Twin: one standard pillow will do, but you can add another if you want extra support and comfort
  • Double or queen: two standard or queen-size pillows will span the width of the bed
  • King or California king: king pillows are wider to accommodate the luxurious breadth of large beds; two of those will do the trick


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