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Down Pillows: A Buyer’s Guide

The world of pillows is extremely diverse (buckwheat pillow, anyone?). But many people prefer sleeping on the traditional down pillow, as it offers great head and neck support and does a good job of keeping you warm. Still, there’s a lot you need to know before choosing the best down pillow for your needs. If you’re in the market for a new down pillow, here’s how to find the right one for you.

Down pillow basics

When shopping for a down pillow, you’ll encounter two terms: fill power and fill weight. Fill power is a measure in cubic inches of the amount of space one ounce of down will fill. Higher fill power means larger down clusters and better insulation. Pillows with higher fill power are fluffier, have a higher loft (height or thickness), and retain their shape better, without adding bulk or weight. Fill power ranges from 300 to 700 or higher, with 600 considered very good quality.

Fill weight, on the other hand, refers to the amount of down (in ounces) inside the pillow. The higher the fill weight, the firmer and heavier the pillow. However, if you prefer a firmer pillow, it’s best to go with a down/feather mixture (see below).

Down/feather vs. all down

Down refers to the soft inner feathers of a duck or goose, while feathers are the outer covering of a bird. The choice between an all-down and a down/feather pillow will come down to your personal preference. An all-down pillow will be loftier, softer, and warmer than a down/feather pillow and will last you longer. But many pillows that are marketed as down actually contain a mixture of down and feathers, so make sure to read the labels to know what exactly you’re getting. The pillow should list the ratio.

Although feathers are less prized than down, down/feather combos are not necessarily bad news—especially if you’re someone who sleeps hot. Feathers are coarser than down and are less insulating. A pillow filled with a feather/down mixture will be firmer (depending on the ratio of down to feathers) and will sleep cooler since feathers don’t trap heat as much as down does.

Duck vs. goose down

The down filling for pillows comes from either ducks or geese. Generally, both types of down make soft and lofty pillows with fantastic insulating properties. But there are a few key differences.

Goose down is considered to be of higher quality than duck down because geese are larger birds that produce larger down clusters that translate into higher fill power. However, the maturity of the birds and their feed is just as important. In most cases, a good quality duck down pillow will provide all the loftiness and warmth you need.

Because ducks are smaller and closer to the ground than geese, duck down will potentially have a more natural smell than goose down, but in most cases, it should be barely noticeable.

If you’re prone to allergies, look for assurances that the down in the pillow is sterile and hypoallergenic. Of course, if you’d rather not take chances there is always the option of synthetic down.

Synthetic down

Synthetic down pillows are made with synthetic fibers that mimic the properties of real down. Although these will offer some of the warmth and softness of down, they won’t be the same as the real thing. Synthetic down also has a shorter lifespan than the natural stuff. On the plus side, synthetic down is hypoallergenic, tends to sleep cooler, and is a great option for those who would prefer not to use pillows made from animal products.

Related: Latex pillows: A buyer’s guide

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How do you clean a down pillow?

Proper care will extend the lifespan of your down pillow and keep it in great shape longer. Change your pillowcase often and don’t go to bed with wet or greasy hair, as down does not like oil or moisture.

Make sure also that you’re buying a pillow with a good pillow shell (the shell that encases and protects the down), that has a thread count of 250 or higher.

You can wash your down pillow (no more than a couple of times a year) but do follow closely the manufacturer’s instructions. Hand-wash or put in a washing machine on a delicate setting with a mild liquid detergent.

Avoid drying your down pillow in too-high heat as this can cause the pillow to shrink. Keep in mind that it may take multiple cycles for the pillow to dry completely. Hand-fluff the pillow in between drying cycles.

How do you know when it’s time to replace your down pillow? Down actually gets finer and softer with time, which means it will retain its qualities for a long time. A good quality down pillow should last you for two to three years but may last even longer than that.

Related: Why you should wash your pillows (and how to do it)

How much does a down pillow cost?

A high-quality fully down pillow will cost you in the $150-200 range. A pillow filled with a down/feather mix will be less than half the price of a high-quality down pillow, while synthetic down pillows are usually priced at around $30.

Is your old pillow just not cutting it anymore? Don’t throw it out! Here are crafty ways to repurpose your old pillows.