What's the Best Filling & Material for a Pillow?

Woman sleeping

Identifying the right pillow stuffing for your unique tendencies is an important part of creating the perfect sleeping environment.

Whether your head desires something firm, soft, extra supportive, low loft, or high loft, there is a pillow stuffing for you.

Here we dive into the pros and cons of different materials to help you determine the best pillow stuffing for your unique needs!

Table of contents

  • What is the best filling for a pillow?
  • Down pillow filling
  • Feather pillow filling
  • Polyester pillow filling
  • Shredded memory foam filling
  • Microbead pillow filling
  • Buckwheat Hull pillow filling
  • Shredded Latex pillow filling
  • Kapok pillow filling
  • Cotton pillow filling
  • Wool pillow filling
  • Down Alternative pillow filling
  • Conclusion

What is the best filling for a pillow?

Stuffing pillows

Ever heard of the term 'silver bullet'? Well, unfortunately, there is no silver bullet when it comes to pillow fill because what you define as 'best' will vary depending on your individual context.

Each material has its own benefits, but not without some drawbacks.

It's up to you to decide what works best for you, because although one material might deliver the desired effect for one person, it may have the exact opposite effect for someone else.

Now you could obviously go and try a range of different pillows in the hope of finding the ideal one for you, but that would be an expensive exercise and one we can't imagine too many of you are keen on.

So, we're here to help!

Below is a succinct summary of the pros and cons of each individual pillow fill. If you get to the end and are still no closer to finding your ideal pillow then that's on us :(

Down pillow filling

Down refers to the fluffy, bottom undercoating of a bird's feathers and typically speaking, provides significant softness for those of you looking to rest your head on something reminiscent of a cloud.

  • Pros - They're considerably malleable which helps to support your neck. Additionally, down fillings are relatively durable, they provide a light and cuddly feel, and are also sustainable with down being biodegradable and recyclable.
  • Cons - They have a tendency to trap body heat and come with a considerable price tag compared to some other materials. Regular re-fluffing is needed to stop them going flat and they're also known to be too soft for many sleepers. Furthermore, if you're a big animal lover then you're probably not going to want to sleep on bird's feathers every night.

Feather pillow filling

Without sounding too obnoxious, feather pillows are down's slightly less loved, almost black sheep of the family little sibling. They're very similar to down but all in all, down feathers are essentially just a cheaper alternative.

  • Pros - Being cheaper than down they're good for those of you on a budget and they're also light, cuddly, and relatively malleable which is good for neck support.
  • Cons - Requires regular fluffing to maintain its form. They're also tricky to clean, retain large amounts of body heat, require the harvesting of feathers from birds, and sometimes give off an unpleasant odour.

Polyester pillow filling

Consider this one of the cheapest options on the market. Polyester fiberfill is lightweight, easy to clean and no fuss, but that's probably where the benefits end.

  • Pros - Polyester pillows are very affordable and probably the most cost efficient option on the market. They're also incredibly lightweight and easy to clean.
  • Cons - Polyester fibers tend to clump up really easily which can lead to a very short lifespan compared to some other materials. Not only that, they're also particular stiff which isn't conducive to being malleable or breathable.

Shredded memory foam pillow filling

Memory foam pillow stuffing

Memory foam pillows are commonly made from “viscoelastic” polyurethane foam and although it can initially feel firm to the touch, a pillow with this filling softens in response to body heat.

  • Pros - Memory foam filling delivers a host of benefits with one of the key features being their ability to contour to your head, providing improved support, good spine alignment and pressure point relief. Furthermore, foam is incredibly durable, hypoallergenic, easy to maintain, and can help to alleviate snoring.
  • Cons - Although the cons are limited, some people say memory foam can give off a sour odour and some also have a tendency to become too thin and permanently soften if too much body heat is absorbed.

We're a big fan of these pillows due to the strong support provided. Learn the answer to "what is a memory foam pillow?" in a recent post from us.

Microbead pillow filling

The majority of microbeads you will find in pillows are made from a material called polystyrene. These little beads are great for airflow and also deliver a very malleable sleeping experience.

  • Pros - Microbead pillow stuffing is very breathable making them a great summer option. Additionally, microbeads hold their shape and provide good support for your head, neck and shoulders, and are also lightweight.
  • Cons - Like some of their counterparts, microbeads can put off a chemical odour and don't offer and variety in terms of firmness, sticking to a medium feel across the board. Not only that, but microbeads have a tendency to flatten out quickly and because they're not great for the environment, we wouldn't overly recommend them.

Buckwheat Hull pillow filling

Bed pillows

Similar to memory foam in terms of benefits and support, buckwheat hulls deliver a certain level of firmness while remaining malleable.

  • Pros - Buckwheat pillows deliver great support for your head, shoulders and neck. They're also very breathable, eco-friendly (yew!), malleable like we mentioned and possess a medium to long-term lifespan.
  • Cons - Buckwheat filling is pretty heavy and will be too firm for those of you who like a soft pillow.

Shredded Latex pillow filling

Shredded latex pillows are very much in the same realm of worthiness as foam pillows, providing good support for your head and neck with a solid expected lifespan. If you're in the market we recommend looking at the tag before purchasing to ensure it's as close to 100% natural latex as possible because the planet comes first people!

  • Pros - Very malleable with the ability to contour to your head's pressure, latex also has an innate ability to provide a cooler sleep than some other materials. They're also very eco-friendly!
  • Cons - They don't come cheap unfortunately. Moreover, they can be too soft for some people looking for particularly resolute support.

See how latex pillows compare with memory foam if you're struggling to decide between these two options.

Kapok pillow filling

Viva Mexico! Kapok is a tropical tree native to the home of tacos. The tree's flowers provide a fluffy, cotton-like material made up of hundreds of seeds. Although the use of kapok dropped significantly with the rise of polyester/polyurethane fillings, it's been enjoying a resurgence due to it's eco-friendly and sustainable all-natural make up.

  • Pros - Being all natural there is no risk of any toxic chemicals arising in your pillow, and the soft texture provides a similar feeling to that of memory foam, latex and down pillow stuffing.
  • Cons - Without sounding too dramatic here, kapok is essentially the arson of pillow stuffing, it's incredibly flammable. It's also not a very good long-term option because it can quickly develop lumps and lose its shape.

Cotton pillow filling

Silk cotton

Considered one of the elder statesman of pillow materials, cotton filling is soft and relatively compressible. Having been around for so long however, it lacks some of the more tangible benefits that foam, latex and buckwheat can deliver.

  • Pros - Cotton is kind on the nose with no odour, is very breathable and doesn't being a natural material, is free from any harmful chemicals.
  • Cons - Over time cotton can become lumpy and isn't good at holding its shape.

Wool pillow filling

Although used in a multitude of products, wool is not one of the more widely accessed pillow materials. Although very breathable with good insulation, it can lose it's form very quickly which doesn't bode well for sleepers looking to make a long-term investment.

  • Pros -A very breathable material, wool is also free of any potentially toxic materials that some other pillows have. It's also relatively soft and plush in the beginning.
  • Cons - Wool pillows can quickly turn to lumps and lose it's overall shape. They also struggle in humid environments and if you're a big fan of sheep you might not agree with their production at all.

Down alternative pillow filling

As alternatives of originals tend to go, down alternative pillows try to offer the same benefits as traditional down, while also improving on their perceived shortcomings.

  • Pros - Alternative down is way cheaper than it's traditional sibling and very easy to clean.
  • Cons - They retain more heat than traditional down. They're not very malleable either which leads to a loss of shape over time.


Throw pillows

So in summary, are you now in a position to make an educated decision on the best pillow filling for your needs?

If you're still on the fence may we make a suggestion?

It's hard to go wrong with a memory foam pillow - they're hypoallergenic, great for pressure relief and come with one of the longest expected lifespans on the market.

Well, we hope you found this informative and if you're unsure if you even need new pillows, check out a recent piece answering how often you should change your pillow.

Alternatively, if you're ready to part ways with an old pillow, make sure you dispose it correctly

You might just learn something!