Pillows Review: Down, Cotton, Latex

Searching for the Perfect Pillow

Being a light sleeper I decided that I was the ideal candidate to figure out the pillow puzzle. If you think it is simple figuring out which pillow is right for you – then think again. Also try getting any advice in a retail store about pillows – forget it. I was in for some surprises in my search. My own perfect pillow in the end was quite an unexpected choice – but your choice of pillow like your ideal partner in life, and is different strokes for different folks. I have also subjected all sorts of people to “pillow testing” and watched how they interact with pillows . “The Pillow Trip” has been an interesting one! Now I am a walking Pillow Head…here is a summary of my research for you all. Be warned this review is not for the faint hearted.

  1. The average departmental pillow lasts about 18 months. If you fold over your pillow in half and the poor thing just lies there, you have a dead pillow. Time to bury it. I went back and stayed with in my childhood home recently and I swear the pillows were over 20 years old. Could be 30 years. Moldy, smelly and stained. Guess what my dear old Dad is getting on my next trip to the UK? And don’t pretend that a good number of you don’t have pillows like that out there. I know, I have been asking about your pillows. The answers amaze me.
  2. Most pillows are the harbinger of dust mites – millions of them – and we bury our noses in those little critters every night! You can kill the little beasties by putting your pillow in a plastic bag and freezing the pillow in the freezer for a while. Using dust mite covers which also act as protective encasings are a good idea. Use a dry steam cleaner to kill the mites. Most people drool at night, so you must use some kind of encasing.
  3. Do you scrunch up your pillow, fold it in half like a neck roll, or otherwise paw all over it like a your cat or dog trying to get it to fit comfortably underneath your head? Sure sign your pillow and you are not compatible. Time to go on the pillow search.
  4. Some pillow fillings are hypoallergenic – meaning if you have allergies you are likely to not to have a reaction to these ones. Best examples here are hypo-allergenic (super cleaned), PURE down, wool, cotton or natural latex.
  5. Best dust-mite resistant pillows are wool and natural latex. Worst pillows for attracting mold and dust mites are any kind of foam, memory foam excepted.
  6. Biggest disappointment was a memory foam contoured pillow. To be begin with I thought I was in pillow heaven, until I woke boiling hot every night for a week. We also noticed a very unpleasant odor from the pillow and found out that memory foam outgases the VOC toluene.
  7. Wool and its softer cousin Alpaca is the longest lasting and healthy kind of pillow you could hope for. Wool pillows hold their shape for years and are naturally inhospitable to dust mites. They also wick away moisture and will keep you cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Side sleepers are most likely to like wool pillows as a firmer pillow suits them best. But be warned, these pillows can feel like a rock if you prefer a squishy down pillow. Great for support, but totally lacking in the “sinking pillow sumptuous luxury feel .” A wool pillow is healthy, not sumptuous.
  8. I tried the Royal Pedic latex contoured pillow and got my husband to try it too. This is another firm choice. It maybe a rubber material but make no mistake about it – this is a healthy “almost but not quite” rock. It comes in one size – standard. Being used to huge fluffy looking pillows, this looked darn small to me when I took it out of the package. I almost felt ripped off but I dutifully gave it a whirl for a week. So here was the big surprise- while I couldn’t scrunch it up like I was used to, I did not need to because the contour fitted perfectly underneath my neck. What’s more, I slept beautifully and had no back pain. I just have to get used to its appearance, as this pillow looks so pathetically small and scarcely a decorating asset.
  9. Soft, Medium or Firm pillows which one is best for you? Well, here it gets interesting. Side sleepers do best with firmer pillows because they need to fill the space between the neck and shoulders to get proper alignment. Stomach sleepers like the softest pillows. Soft to medium is best for them because they do not need their head to be raised too high and cut off circulation. Back sleeper like the happy medium.
  10. Now onto this mysterious thing called “fill power”. The easiest way to figure it out is to say as the numerical fill power increases so does the quality and so does the life of the pillow. Our best hypoallergenic down Hypodown 800 fill pillows will last 10 years. So like anything else you get what you pay for. Forget pillows with fill power less than 550. We tested a range of “fills” from 600 to 800. To be honest, most people had a hard time distinguishing between the 600 and the 800 although the purity of the down increases with the fill number.
  11. What makes one down pillow hypoallergenic and another just a regular pillow? Here the answer surprised me. The stuff that people are allergic to in down is due to the cleaning process or lack thereof, in cleaning the down before it is put in pillows. So those companies that offer hypoallergenic down pillows put the down through a special rigorous cleaning process.
  12. Goose down is much more expensive (softer) than duck down and if you really get into it for comforters where in the world the down comes from makes a difference. All geese do not produce the exactly the comparable level of soft down. This is a topic for another article for comforters, but in pillows, I discovered a labeling problem. An “all down” pillow may contain quite a significant percentage of feathers, or other fill. With our Hypodown pillows, they do contain a small percentage of milkweed fiber which has some properties to enhance the hypoallergenic nature of these pillows. However, I was astonished to find “pure down” is an incredibly loose term and one widely abused in my opinion.
  13. And now onto synthetic down, the most popular brand being “Primaloft”. I confess that when I first tried out Primaloft I was very enthusiastic. At last, a big squishy soft pillow that felt as nice as down. They really are comfortable and soft. The price was right too. I have to say that after about 18 months of use, these pillows are not dead, but the fill has moved and the pillows are not nearly as plump as they were. The answer is they are much cheaper than allergy free goose down pillows (about 1/4 of the price) and they do not last as long. A nice choice for the guest bedroom, or the college dorm.
  14. Cotton pillows. Another choice for the firm pillow lovers. These are simply the best choice of those with multiple chemical sensitivities. There is nothing in these pillows, which could trigger a reaction even in the most sensitive.

And the answer as to my favorite pillow?

It turned out to be the natural latex contoured pillow. It has taken away a number of my aches and pains and I have been sleeping better. My only problem is one of aesthetics! My husband’s side of the bed is full of luxurious looking Hypodown pillows and I look at this tiny funny shaped pillow my side and it looks rather pathetic. But I sleep much better. So I figure that is more important.