Types of Pillows:  Fillings & Materials

Did you know that you use your pillow for over 2500 hours a year? That’s over 100 days non-stop! Your pillow is much more than just something to put your head on at night, it is a vital part of getting a good night’s sleep. Using the wrong pillow filling can mean that you don’t sleep as soundly as you should, waking from deep sleep to try and get more comfortable resulting in waking up not feeling refreshed, sound familiar?

Different types of pillow fillings – choosing the right one

You spend so much time with your pillow that it’s worth going to the trouble of selecting one that’s right for you. You will have your own sleeping style; perhaps you sleep mostly on your side, perhaps on your back, or a mixture of the two – this determines the ideal height of your pillow. Depending upon the state of your neck, spine and back you will require a specific amount of support from your pillow, you’ll even have your own preferences for the pillow filling; synthetic (hollowfibre / microfibre) or natural (feather or down), or perhaps a pillow filling type which is more substantial like memory foam, latex, wool, cotton or even water.


Read about each of the different types of pillow filling and see our favourites:Different types of pillows










Summary of the main pillow filling types

Synthetic pillows (hollowfibre / microfibre pillows)
  • Pros: Relatively cheap, lightweight, good for those with allergies, easy to care for, easy to bend and scrunch to get required height, not noisy
  • Cons: Have the shortest life-span (6 months to 2 years), flatten quite quickly, the filling can clump and get out of shape

Pillow advisor summary: Synthetic pillows are the workhorse of the pillow world and are the most versatile; being a pretty good choice for most people and suited to many sleeping styles. Do yourself a favour though and get yourself a decent one.

Feather pillows
  • Pros: Usually inexpensive, soft, easy to shape, durable – has a good lifespan
  • Cons : The feather quills can quite often poke through even the toughest cover – they’re spiky! Do not offer a lot of support or height – not great for side sleepers, can be a bit noisy, will need regular fluffing and shaking to get back into shape, not great for allergy sufferers

Pillow advisor summary:  Pillows with a feather filling used to be popular but 100% feather is not particularly recommended unless you sleep mostly on your back or front and if feather pillows are your thing. A feather & down mix can work well.

Down pillows
  • Pros: Tend to make the softest pillows, nice and light, cool an airy, easy to shape, long lasting, quiet
  • Cons: Down tufts can sometimes poke through the cover (though usually not spiky like feathers), do not offer a lot of support or height – not great for side sleepers, can be expensive, will need occasional fluffing and shaking to get back into shape, not ideal for allergy sufferers unless the down has been correctly processed.

Pillow advisor summary: Although a bit pricey, nothing feels as soft and luxurious as a down pillow. They aren’t ideal where support or neck pain relief is required, but  down filled pillows will not disappoint in almost all other circumstances.

Memory foam pillows
  • Pros: Offers good support and pain relief, is soft and smooth without lumps, can be contoured to closely match head and neck, quiet, good durability and easy to look after, those people who get on with memory foam pillows LOVE them.
  • Cons: If you tend to move around during your sleep or swap between sleeping on your back, side or front, then the fixed height won’t suit you, it can initially be a bit smelly, heavy, not very good ventilation so can be hot, relatively expensive.

Pillow advisor summary: Memory foam pillows are worth a go if you get the opportunity, they might be your favourite ever pillow, but they are a bit pricey and not for everyone.

Latex pillows 
  • Pros: Often recommended as orthopaedic pillows.  Latex pillows are very long lasting natural material, cooler and more airy than memory foam, shapes itself to the head and neck. Soft and supportive offering effective pressure relief, holds its shape well, quiet
  • Cons: Can be expensive, heavy, fixed shape and height so if a pillow is not right you can’t adjust it, can smell strange to begin with.

Pillow advisor summary: Latex pillows have some of the highest satisfaction ratings of all pillows and can offer you a very comfortable pain-free night, but make sure you buy one of the right height for you.

Micro bead pillows
  • Pros: Often used as an effective pain relief pillow for neck and shoulder pain, or a travel pillow, they offer good support, very mouldable and conforming, relatively inexpensive and durable, light and airy.
  • Cons: The least environmentally-friendly pillow option, the small microbeads are plastic-based and can spread everywhere.  Can be noisy when you shift your position, initially have a chemical smell, sometimes too firm, cylinder shape can feel unusual for some and won’t fit your pillow cases.

Pillow advisor summary: Comfortable and adaptable but is it worth the environmental cost when there are other options on the market?  Personally, we’re trying to avoid all microbead products whether in personal products, cushions or pillows.

Water pillows
  • Pros: Also sometimes used as orthopaedic pillows, water pillows  offer customisable support, height and firmness.  A water pillow hapes itself to contours, offers good pain relief, especially for back and neck pain, offers cooling.
  • Cons: The water can make them heavy and sometimes noisy if there is an air pocket, fairly expensive, questionable durability, will need adjustment until you find the right water fill level.

Pillow advisor summary: Only really worth a go if you are looking for night time cooling, pain relief or extra support.

Buckwheat pillows
  • Pros:  Buckwheat pillows are supporting, moldable and will fit the countours of your body.  Height is adjustable, durable natural materials, airy
  • Cons: Quite heavy and a bit noisy as the husks will rustle as you move, can be more expensive (but not by much), can be too firm for some people and will take some adjusting to get the correct height

Pillow advisor summary: Pillows with buckwheat filling are only really worth trying if you are after something supporting which can help with pain relief and if you’re after something a little different.


And if you’re still confused about different types of pillows:

Compare pillows with our pillow type comparison chart