After spending a combined 459 nights on 45 pillows, talking with nine sleep and industry experts, and long-term testing our top picks for 15 months, we’ve concluded that the best pillow for most people, including back-sleepers, side-sleepers, and stomach-sleepers who prefer a pillow with generous loft, is the Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow in standard size. The best choice for stomach-sleepers who prefer something thinner and less lofty is the Parachute Down Pillow in soft density.
Because finding the best pillow usually starts with looking at your sleeping position, we thought we’d need to find a variety of pillows for different positions. Our experts agreed that there’s no best pillow for everyone. That’s why we were surprised that the Xtreme Comforts actually pleased so many of our testers. Everyone loved how supportive it was without being too stiff or firm, and its moldability made it more comfortable than you’d imagine for a pillow filled with cut-up foam. We originally featured this pillow as best for back- and side-sleepers, but in our recent tests for this update we found that stomach-sleepers who prefer a half-stomach, half-side position, or with their arms under the torso, really liked this pillow. For about $45, it’s also budget-friendly.
For those who sleep on their stomach with their head turned to the side, the soft-density Parachute Down Pillow provides a smoother, plusher surface against the face. It gives just a bit more support than other down pillows targeting stomach-sleepers, and with a price of about $70, it’s more affordable. We found it to be luxurious and well-constructed, and it’s held up over the year and a half that we’ve been sleeping on it for long-term testing. It’s also Responsible Down Standard certified, which ensures the down in this pillow came from an ethical supply chain and from humanely treated geese. That’s not a reason any of our testers cited for liking the Parachute pillow better, but it might help you rest just that much easier.
We were impressed with The Easy Breather, which at about $100 costs roughly twice as much our top pick. But it offers everything else testers love about the Xtreme Comforts—support and moldability—and its Tencel-blend fabric cover helps offset the lumpy feeling of shredded memory foam, the main drawback of Xtreme Comforts’s pillow. Because it’s adjustable, this pillow won over testers of all sleep positions.
Back-sleepers appreciated the Premier Down-like Personal Choice Density Pillow in medium density, which provided the support back-sleepers need at just the right height, and juuuust the right price. The Premier lacks the moldable support of the Xtreme Comforts’s shredded foam filling, but also costs a lot less.
We jumped into this guide with a multidisciplinary approach, interviewing experts in sleep, textiles, manufacturing, and the bedding industry: Shannon Maher, assistant professor of home development products, Fashion Institute of Technology; Terry Cralle, a registered nurse and sleep industry consultant; Jennifer Marks, editor in chief, Home & Textiles Today; Tim O’Hearn, owner, French Quarter Linens; Rebecca Robbins, sleep consultant, The Benjamin Hotel; Sean Bergman, chief marketing officer, PureCare; Scott Tannen, cofounder of Boll & Branch; Jaime Diamonstein, cofounder of Leesa; and Michael Breus, a psychologist and American Academy of Sleep Medicine fellow.
We unearthed dissertations from physiologists, dove into journals to learn more about pillow mold (yes, it’s a problem, but it doesn’t need to be), and combed through thousands of rants and raves on sites like Amazon and Overstock. We also looked at reviews and quality considerations from trusted sources like Sleep Like the Dead, Good Housekeeping, and Consumer Reports (which no longer updates its pillow reviews).
Finally, we slept: For a combined 459 nights over two rounds of testing over the past two years, 11 of us—a combination of back-sleepers, side-sleepers, stomach-sleepers, and all-night thrashers who change position frequently—laid our heads down on the 45 pillows we decided to test, keeping notes on each one and evaluating not just comfort and support but also durability, construction, and price.
“If you’re not sleeping as well as you should, changing pillows might be that first step,” said nurse and sleep consultant Terry Cralle. The right pillow for you will provide a generalized sense of comfort that will enable you to nod off easily and wake up without cricks or pains, so if you’re not comfortable when you fall asleep or wake up, a new pillow could help.
If you haven’t been using a pillow protector, chances are you need a new pillow—and, of course, a protector to keep out moisture and dust mites, a point that all of our experts stressed. Even if you’re not allergic to dust mites per se (and 27.5 percent of us are), they’re still an irritant that could be making you sniffle, and over time they can even add weight to the pillow itself—as much as 10 percent of the pillow’s weight, over six years—changing how it responds to the pressure of your head. Our guide to pillow protectors gets more in depth, but in short: Look for a zippered protector labeled as anti-allergy (the term hypoallergenic usually refers to the fabric’s usability among people with sensitive skin, not its ability to protect against allergens in the pillow). Allergy bedding is either treated with a flexible vinyl or urethane coating inside the protector, or is made of an ultra-tight weave with a pore size of fewer than 10 microns. (Unfortunately, not all manufacturers will explicitly label their cases with pore size.)
Experts vary in recommendations for a pillow’s longevity; where one says to replace pillows every year, another says five or even 10 for the best-quality down pillows (which evens out their cost somewhat over the years). Basically, when a pillow stops doing what it should do—making you comfortable so that you can reliably get a good night’s rest—it’s time for a new one. Visually, lumpiness and clumping are cues to replace. For down pillows, The Company Store recommends doing a fold test: On a flat surface, fold the pillow in half, pressing out the air. If it stays folded when you release it, time for a new pillow. For down-alternative and other synthetic fills, do the same test, but this time put a heavy object—they recommend a shoe—on top. If the pillow throws off the object, it’s still good to go. Stains aren’t pretty, but you should be using a pillow protector anyway. Stained pillows can indicate a higher dust mass, too, though not a higher mold retention.
Another time to buy a pillow: when you’re buying a mattress (we have a full guide to foam mattresses). Pillows can actually change how your body responds to a mattress overall. Sean Bergman of pillow manufacturer PureCare recommends that customers buying a new mattress start with the pillow, then bring that pillow to the store when testing mattresses.
And if you have the budget for it, having a selection of pillows is ideal. Michael Breus, psychologist and American Academy of Sleep Medicine fellow, points out that sleepers have different support needs over the course of the week. “If you’re typing at a desk all week, by Friday, you’re going to need more support,” he said. “If you’re out and about, you don’t need that type of support; your neck is looser.” Your needs might even change throughout the night, given that the average person changes positions 12 times as they sleep, according to Cralle. But due to expense and negligible long-term impacts, we don’t think you need to buy multiple pillows with different support unless a doctor advises you to do so.
We hate to say it in a guide to the best pillow, but the experts we spoke with were unanimous: There is no best pillow. That is, there’s no best pillow for everyone, but there is a best pillow (or pillows) for you. This guide can educate you on what can help you find the best pillow for you, and our picks are trusted starting points that might indeed lead you to your choice. (And if our top picks aren’t quite right for you, you may want to look at what we tested in our competition section.) But to find out what your needs really are, you have to try out a variety yourself and see what enables you to rest most comfortably. It’s a trial-and-error process that the science of sleep can inform but not replace. “Comfort is what you need to seek out,” Bergman said. “Whatever gives you that level of comfort and relaxation is the correct pillow for you.”
To begin, what is your sleep position most of the night? Most of us switch it up but still have one dominant position that we fall asleep and wake up in: on the back, side, or stomach. You want a pillow that will keep your head and neck in the same relative position as when you’re standing with good posture, so you’ll need a pillow that supports that alignment. You don’t want your head flexed backward or tipped too far forward (a common pillow error, since big, fluffy pillows appeal to our preference for decadence, even though they provide too much loft).
Side-sleepers will need the most support (roughly 4 to 6 inches). Most people are side-sleepers.
Back-sleepers usually need somewhat less loft to stay properly aligned.
Stomach-sleepers are a trickier bunch: If you’re a stomach-sleeper who simply sleeps with your head turned to the side resting on a pillow, you need the least amount of support because your head is already being supported by the mattress. But if you’re a stomach-sleeper who tucks your arms under your torso, sleeps in a half-side, half-stomach position, or has sensitive breasts, you may prefer more cushioning. If you’re a stomach-sleeper, we particularly recommend that you look through our competition section to identify the right pillow for you.
Even within those side/back/stomach guidelines there’s plenty of wiggle room, depending on body size and preference. A side-sleeper built like a linebacker is going to need more height from his pillow than a side-sleeper with narrow shoulders would, in order to be well-aligned—but he might like a pillow with less give than his twin brother who prefers a softer, more cushiony surface. And, like our testers, you may find that you go to sleep one way and wake up another.
Some manufacturers market their pillows as targeted toward back-, stomach-, or side-sleepers, which can be a helpful starting point since it indicates the loft of the pillow, but as there are no industry standards about what makes a side-sleeper pillow versus one for a back-sleeper (or, for that matter, what makes a “medium” pillow versus a “soft” or “firm”), at the end of the day it’s meaningless.
The material, or fill, inside the pillow also determines level of support. There are endless combinations of fills available, including exotic ones like microbeads, millet, and water. However, we focused on memory foam, down, down alternative, and latex—four of the most widely available and popular fills. Here’s a brief look at their differences:
One note: We didn’t test any new latex options for this update, as after last year’s test we don’t consider latex to be a good candidate as a pillow that’s right for most people. We also avoided super cheap one-piece polyester pillows, because their low price is the only advantage they have over $30 pillows with higher-quality fills.
A cool environment helps ensure a good night’s sleep, and some pillows have cooling technologies, like gel or wicking fabric. Memory foam is particularly prone to retaining body heat, so cooling properties in the covers of these pillows is particularly important, though we didn’t have heat complaints for any memory foam pillows we tested.
Allergies and irritants are another consideration, but a pillow protector that keeps out moisture and dust mites essentially makes any pillow hypoallergenic, so you don’t need to strictly buy a pillow that’s marketed for that. As for down allergies, they do exist, but most people who have an allergic reaction to down pillows are actually reacting to dust mites, not down itself.
A well-constructed pillow will have at least five to eight stitches per inch along the seams of the outer covering, known as the shell. (All the pillows we tested had at least nine stitches per inch.) For down and down-alternative, the shell fabric should have a weave that’s dense enough to prevent the filling from migrating outside of the shell. In the store, shake the pillow and run your hand across it to see if any filling pokes through. Higher-quality pillows may have a piping or binding at the seams that lend the pillow more strength, giving it more stability over time.
Higher-end pillows should include a warranty; part of what you’re paying for is that protection. Some down-pillow manufacturers may include cleaning, shell replacement, and even refilling as a part of their warranty. Length of coverage varies widely. A lifetime warranty is the gold standard for down. Five years is reasonable for a memory foam warranty, and latex warranties hover at three. You’re less likely to find a warranty for down-alternative pillows. Consider the return policy of the retailer you buy your pillow from. It’s worth seeking out a place with a generous policy—full refund (with receipt) even if it’s been slept on for a night—since you won’t know until you’ve spent a few nights on it whether it’s the right pillow for you. Ask your retailer about its policy before buying, since many won’t take back a pillow that’s been taken out of the package, or will give only a partial refund.
Beyond support, fill, construction, and warranty, you’re paying for gimmicks and the feeling of luxury. Which is not to say those qualities are useless: If knowing that you’re resting your head on a top-quality Hungarian-down pillow every night is going to make bedtime more pleasurable, and you can afford it, then spending more might be worth it to you.
You might also want to spend more for down pillows certified under the Responsible Down Standard, which ensures an ethical supply chain and down from humanely treated geese. Retailers tend to not advertise which pillows are RDS-certified, as it can call attention to the fact that not all down is responsibly sourced, so look to the manufacturer to learn more about its down. And the textiles world is abuzz with all the new technologies out there. Anti-wrinkle pillows! iPod pillows! Negative-ion pillows! Sure, some might help you get a better night’s sleep, particularly cooling technologies. Others are just fun—and optional.
Price varies by fill. Down-alternative is the least expensive; you’ll spend at least $30 and up to $100. Pure down usually goes for at least three times that much, though down pillows from online startups like the three brands we tested are less pricey. (Pillows with a combination of down and feathers lower that figure a bit, but since none stood out to us in our last test round, we didn’t include any in this update.) Foam pillows are between the two—both latex and memory foam start around $35, but most are between $45 and $80. If you’re paying less, the manufacturer is cutting corners somewhere; for down, that could be a cheaper shell, which means that you’ll have feathers poking through the fabric. That said, the relationship between price and quality isn’t strict. For example, if a down-alternative filling is branded, the manufacturer has to pay for licensing and royalties, but another manufacturer might make a filling of equal quality in-house, so they can pass on the savings in royalty payments to you. There’s no compelling reason to pay more than $80 for a pillow ($180 for down), particularly because retailers have frequent bedding sales.
In deciding what pillows to test, we talked with experts both from the textile and manufacturing world as well as sleep consultants in the medical field. We consulted leading, comprehensive sleep site Sleep Like the Dead, and also looked at Good Housekeeping and Consumer Reports. We considered user reviews on Amazon (and retailer sites when there were enough reviews to hold weight, which wasn’t often) to see what the aggregate scores and main user complaints were. For newer pillows that haven’t had a chance to accumulate reviews, we relied on expert criteria and recommendations, selecting test pillows accordingly. For this update, we also took a deeper dive into pillows from online bedding startups that sell directly to customers instead of going through a traditional retailer. This category has continued to grow since our last guide was published.
We selected 31 pillows for testing in 2016. Based on what we learned from that guide, plus developments in the industry, we tested six of them again this year along with 14 new candidates, ultimately testing 45 pillows.
For our 2016 guide, we had six testers test and take copious notes. For this update, we recruited our 2016 testers and added five new testers, so you’ll see 11 people’s opinions reflected here—four back-sleepers, four side-sleepers, and three stomach-sleepers, though most of us spend some time throughout the night in a variety of positions. We had each tester sleep with all of the pillows that are sold as specific to that position’s needs, as well as all pillows that are billed as being appropriate for all sleepers. Most pillows were slept on for at least one full night (usually more), but we told our testers not to sacrifice a night’s sleep if a pillow felt wrong to them right off the bat.
We had testers fill out a questionnaire on each pillow, inquiring about comfort level, support, construction, any hassle factors (like ease of fitting into a pillowcase), price, and overall impressions. All testers for this update used Protect-A-Bed AllerZip Smooth Pillow Protectors, which minimized any sensitivities to each pillow’s fill (and also made sure things like pet hair, drool, or even the dreaded possibility of bedbugs didn’t make testers regret accepting pillows into their home). All pillows were the standard size.
The Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow is the best pillow for most people, including back-sleepers, side-sleepers, and stomach-sleepers whose sleeping position necessitates a pillow with loft. It’s supportive without being too firm or stiff, and testers appreciated that its moldability accommodated each sleeper’s specific contours. The price is a big bonus, too: around $45 for the standard. Given that our experts agreed that there was no such thing as one best pillow for everyone, we were surprised that the Xtreme Comforts fared so well with varying types of sleepers. The Xtreme Comforts averaged the highest ratings among most of our testers, but it wasn’t everyone’s favorite. So one of the competitors might actually be a better pick for you, but we’re certain that the Xtreme Comforts won’t steer you wrong.
Back- and side-sleepers liked the Xtreme Comforts because they had a hard time finding a pillow that offered adequate support without being too stiff. That also applies to stomach-sleepers who prefer a pillow with generous loft, and the softness of the Xtreme Comforts is a particular bonus to them, as these sleepers are resting on more sensitive body parts than back- and side-sleepers. Part of the support that shredded foam offers comes from its moldability, as you can push the filling around to mold to your head and neck. All makers of shredded memory foam pillows brag about this, but the Xtreme Comforts was particularly good at holding its shape instead of shifting around. Down pillows also offer moldability, with the added bonus that the weight of your head alone does the molding—you don’t ever need to manually adjust the filling, which you sometimes do with shredded foam if you want to get the most support. But that’s just it: You get the most support with the Xtreme Comforts. And like all shredded memory foam pillows, it offers good support without the stiffness of one-piece memory foam, which testers found too firm to be truly comfortable.
We also think the Xtreme Comforts is a wise pick because unlike down and some down-alternative pillows, it was appropriate for both back- and side-sleepers, and even some stomach-sleepers—which means it’s appropriate for people who shift around a lot throughout the night. Its moldability allows it to be appropriate for a wide range of sleeping positions, since it can conform to any contour, comfortably supporting the head, neck, or chest. The firm down Parachute that many side-sleepers enjoyed was just a little high for sleeping comfortably on one’s back, but the medium didn’t offer enough support for sleeping on one’s side. The Xtreme Comforts is one-size-fits-most in this sense.
There are other things to like about the Xtreme Comforts: the breathable, micro-perforated bamboo viscose-polyester–blend cover that helped ensure hot sleepers stayed cool, and the fact that it’s made in the USA. But one of its best—and most surprising—bonuses is its low price. In fact, this is one of the only pillows whose cost people consistently overestimated.
The main trouble with any shredded memory foam pillow (and the Xtreme Comforts is no exception) is that you’re … sleeping on shreds of foam. That can make it feel lumpy, something testers noted. “It felt weird at first—I had to get used to it,” noted one tester. Still, only one of our testers said that lumps wound up detracting from her overall experience, and testers did get used to it—it’s a popular pick among staffers, some of whom had been sleeping on the Xtreme Comforts for months before volunteering to test these pillows. It also looks a little lumpy. By the time it was in the pillow protector and pillowcase it looked smooth enough to be presentable, but if you adore that perfectly smooth, round shape of a down pillow, it’s something to keep in mind. But the lumps of shredded memory foam in these pillows aren’t the kind of lumps that might have shown up in your old pillows that you’re looking to replace. They’re just characteristic of what makes shredded foam moldable and supportive. Shredded foam won’t make for a night of high-end luxury, but it’ll make for a night of good sleep.
One feature of the Xtreme Comforts might be a bug to some: To reap the most benefit from it, you have to mold it a little. Sometimes this is as simple as putting your head on it and letting the weight of your head shift the foam around, but sometimes it means pinching and pushing the filling into a mound (for your neck) or divot (for your skull). It’s easy and doesn’t require you to sit up and manipulate the pillow in the middle of the night—it’s just a matter of adjusting the pillow a little—but people who toss and turn a lot might find it annoying to tweak it throughout the night to get the most from it.
Several staffers who bought the Xtreme Comforts based on the last iteration of this guide found it to be a little small. Those with this complaint who upgraded to the queen size reported that the larger size addressed the concern, and they didn’t find it too hefty. But one who had purchased the queen based on word of mouth found that while testing the standard size for this guide, she preferred the slightly smaller size. So just keep your size preference in mind when ordering—if you tend to like big, huggable pillows, the queen-size Xtreme Comforts might be more your style, but don’t feel like you need to upgrade automatically.
One more thing: It should take a spin in the dryer whenever it starts to feel hard or compressed, which can be a hassle for people who don’t have a dryer. It also requires a little bit of prep out of the box, since it arrives compressed. A few minutes in a dryer or just a manual fluffing will get it to the right loft, with a dryer being preferable.
Long-term test notes
Long-term testers report that they got used to the lumpy texture pretty quickly, to the point where they no longer notice it. They also say this pillow can feel a little stiff. This can be helped to a degree by fluffing it every morning to keep the pieces of foam separated, and by periodically fluffing it in the dryer. One long-term tester regularly alternates between the Xtreme Comforts and a firm down pillow, depending on how much support she needs on any given day, with the Xtreme Comforts giving superior comfort but less luxury. And two long-term testers say that it’s helped with neck pain.
Stomach-sleepers who prefer a thin, flattish pillow raved about the luxury of the soft-density version of the Parachute Down Pillow. Like all down pillows, it provides a smooth, plush surface, which stomach-sleepers, who mainly use a pillow as a cushion for the face, appreciated—it is the soft, no-lumps surface that made this our stomach-sleeper pick over the Xtreme Comforts. (Your skull doesn’t pick up on lumps nearly as much as your cheeks do.) It also gave just a bit more support than other down pillows we tried. And it comes at an exceptional price, nearly half as much as other pure down pillows. We found it to be well-constructed, and our long-term tester reports that it has held up over the year and a half that she’s slept on it.
Before buying this pillow, though, stomach-sleepers should really think about what kind of pillow they prefer. This pillow did well only among stomach-sleepers who sleep on their stomach with their head turned to the side, since this position necessitates a soft, non-lumpy surface to rest one’s face on. Stomach-sleepers who position themselves differently—with their arms under the torso, say, or in a half-stomach, half-side position—may need a pillow with more loft. One of our stomach-sleepers hated the soft Parachute to the point where she couldn’t finish out the night on it, and she prefers to sleep with the Xtreme Comforts, regular—a considerably larger, loftier pillow that goes against the conventional wisdom on the best pillow for stomach-sleepers. But the testers who liked it, loved it, reporting that they enjoyed the downy sensation against their cheeks so much that they had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning.
The Parachute is also a winner for its just-right amount of support. Stomach-sleepers who rest in the position that’s the best fit for the soft-density Parachute Down Pillow still need some support, and this pillow gives more of it than the others marketed to stomach-sleepers that we tried. It’s Responsible Down Standard certified, which is about the ethics of the down, not the quality per se, but we found the quality to be solid, too. The other RDS-certified down pillows we included in this test, Feathered Friends, fared well but needed more support to put them on equal footing with the Parachute.
At about $70, this Parachute pillow is at an excellent price for down. Down that comes from online startup companies tends to be less expensive than their traditional retail counterparts, but the Parachute was still half the price of the soft offering from Feathered Friends, another online-only brand.
We appreciated the durability of the Parachute, with its double-stitched piping and 11 stitches per inch on the seaming. The shell has held up over time as well. A couple of feathers have escaped over the year and a half we’ve been testing it long-term. That’s far from ideal, but it’s not unusual for a down pillow.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The main “flaw” with the soft-density Parachute—by design, it doesn’t have a lot of loft—isn’t a flaw at all to people who like it, but it is a dealbreaker for stomach-sleepers who require a pillow with more heft. If you’re curious about the Parachute but are unsure what loft is best for you, know that they accept returns of “gently used but not abused” bedding (use a pillow protector if you try it out for a night; you should be using one anyway).
The other flaw here isn’t specific to the soft-density version of Parachute’s pillows. In our last guide, we recommended the firm Parachute as an upgrade pick. Based on our recommendation, several readers purchased one. Some liked their first one so much that they purchased another, and found a quality difference between the two. One reader reported that the second pillow was filled with a mix of feathers and down instead of pure down; another reported variances in weight that fell outside of the company’s 5 percent variance threshold. We tested several Parachute pillows, including one purchased anonymously delivered to an address unaffiliated with The Sweethome to avoid the possibility that Parachute would purposefully send us the cream of the crop, and didn’t find any variance in quality.
Long-term test notes
Our long-term tester reported that the Parachute continues to be comfortable and just supportive enough, though she said that it has lost some of its loft over the year and a half she’s been sleeping with it—it’s become a little more difficult to generate loft just through fluffing it daily, though she’s still satisfied with it. The pillow hasn’t lost any feathers, and the shell has stayed intact.
This was one back-sleeper’s “hands-down favorite” for its comfort and sturdy support, and it tied with the firm-density Parachute as one side-sleeper’s favorite for side-sleeping. The main factor that kept The Easy Breather from going neck-and-neck with the Xtreme Comforts was its price (nearly $100 to our pick’s $45).
Out of the box it was too lofty for many sleepers, but you can add or remove fill to suit your preference. Some users found it difficult to identify the right amount of fill, though this likely wouldn’t be a problem if you owned it. But the Tencel-blend fabric cover had a benefit beyond its wicking qualities—it kept the shredded memory foam from feeling lumpy under sleepers’ heads. This is a great pick for someone who wants to try shredded memory foam but is hesitant about the lumpiness of the Xtreme Comforts.
At around $45, our main pick, the Xtreme Comforts, is a budget pick. But if your budget is really tight, or if any of the drawbacks of shredded memory foam turn you off and you still want an inexpensive option, back-sleepers should consider the Premier Down-like Personal Choice Density Pillow in medium density. It scored high marks for support, comfort, and overall sleep quality; one tester referred to it as “Goldilocks.” It’s lofty and moldable since its fill is made of clusters instead of being one big piece of polyester. In fact, we liked the medium version of this pillow so much that we chose it as our top pick in an earlier guide. And at around $35 for two pillows, you can’t beat it on price.
Note that side- and stomach-testers didn’t much care for the firm- and soft-density versions of the Premier Down-like, and Sweethome readers agreed. Readers who bought various densities of this pillow found it either too dense or not supportive enough. If you sleep in one of those positions and are looking for a bargain pillow, stick with the Xtreme Comforts.
You shouldn’t have to do much to keep up a pillow—if you start out right with a pillow protector. There’s no reason not to have one; they’re inexpensive, they’ll make your pillows last longer (so they pay for themselves), and tossing one in your wash is way easier than washing a pillow.
Down, down alternative, and shredded memory foam pillows should be machine-washed. Once a year is sufficient—don’t overdo it, particularly with down and down alternative, because every time you wash it you’re breaking down the fibers that give a pillow the loft you’re after. Use a mild liquid detergent on the delicate cycle with cold water, and wash them two at a time so that the machine is load-balanced, which will help prevent clumping in the pillow (and wear on the machine). Shannon Maher, assistant professor of home development products at the Fashion Institute of Technology, suggests running it through a separate rinse cycle when you’re done in order to remove residue, which makes clusters stick to each other in the pillow, eventually leading to clumping. A front-loading machine is preferable if you have access to one. (The agitation bar in the center of top loaders isn’t friendly to bulky items like pillows.)
It’s crucial that your pillows are thoroughly dried before they go back on your bed. It’s time-consuming, but any moisture inside the pillow can encourage mold growth. Put them in on low heat; Martha Stewart suggests throwing in an unused tennis ball or two for extra-fluffy pillows (stuff the tennis balls in a clean white sock to prevent the green fuzz from getting on your newly clean pillows). Pillows are too dense to air-dry, but after their turn in the dryer you should put them outside in the sun without a cover for a couple of hours before fluffing them and putting them back in the case (and on your bed). You want as much air circulation as possible in your pillows, and the more air you introduce in the drying process, the better.
The dryer is helpful in maintaining the loft and moldability of shredded memory foam, too. Toss them into the dryer whenever they start to feel flat—just a few minutes on low heat will be enough to restore them to their initial fluffiness. Also, taking a moment when you’re making your bed to fluff your down or shredded memory foam pillows will help keep them at their most sleep-ready. Plus, they look nice and full on your bed that way. Down pillows should be fluffed daily, but we’re just talking about a 10-second plumping here.
We suggest avoiding dry-cleaning for pillows. Down pillows will often be labeled as “dry-clean only,” but our experts point out that manufacturers will do that more or less to protect themselves in case the customer messes up the washing process.
We anticipate that the online-only bedding category will continue to grow in size and quality, so we’ll be keeping an eye on these companies. We’re also looking forward to seeing how shredded memory foam continues to evolve. It wasn’t even mentioned in our first pillow guide in 2013; now it’s everywhere. Just in the year and a half since our last update, manufacturers have gotten more creative at addressing common complaints about them, with things like adjustability and different shells to help with heat retention and the lumpy feel. Case in point: Coop Home Goods sent us its new Eden pillow to preview; at the time, there weren’t enough reviews to qualify it for our full testing procedure, but the two testers who slept on it loved it and found it comparable to The Easy Breather, for about $30 less. We’d also like to put the queen-size Xtreme Comforts up against the standard to see if it truly is a matter of personal preference or if there are benefits to upgrading to the queen as many staffers have. Overall, we’re eager to see what happens next in this category.
We recommend reading this section with your own preferences in mind; a factor that knocked some pillows out of the running for us might be just what you love in a pillow. Our top picks aside, testers’ responses were all over the place, so consider your own sleeping patterns when choosing. Stomach-sleepers, in particular, were split, which is why we put a caveat in our stomach-sleeper pick. One stomach-sleeper hated that pillow, preferring a pillow as lofty as most side-sleepers, but another tester adored the “kitten fur” aspect of the flattish, soft-density Parachute Down Pillow.
While we think the picks above will work for most people, the following key can help you find the right pillow if you’d like to branch out.
Parachute Down Pillow (firm)
The Parachute’s firm pillow was our upgrade pick last year, and we still highly recommend it. A couple of sleepers said that it didn’t keep its loft throughout the night, but others loved its cradling sensation enough to buy it—which, at about $110, is doable for down—and our long-term tester still loves hers for side- and back-sleeping. It’s a great pick for down lovers.
Parachute Down Pillow (medium)
In contrast to the firm and soft version, the medium option was a disappointment. Sleepers said that it flattened out or bunched up too easily. They also said that it didn’t have nearly enough loft for a medium-density pillow, to the point where one tester double-checked in the morning to make sure she hadn’t accidentally been testing the soft-density version.
Feathered Friends Cascade Series
Back- and side-sleepers appreciated the luxurious quality of the Feathered Friends firm and medium 700-fill pillows. But they were split about their level of support—some wanted more support, others wanted less, from both the medium and firm versions. Everyone found the medium and firm versions comfortable, though, despite varying opinions of its level of fill. Our stomach-sleepers found that the soft version simply didn’t have enough fill to provide the layer of cushion that they were after. The medium is worth a try for people who want an affordable medium-loft down pillow, though, given that the medium-density Parachute didn’t fare nearly as well as its firm and soft versions.
Crane & Canopy Back Sleeper Goose Down Pillow
Testers loved the fluffiness of the Crane & Canopy back-sleeper but had problems with its level of support—some found it too firm, others found that their head had “bottomed out” during the night. One tester said she’d love this for reading in bed but wouldn’t want that much loft for sleeping. For people who want a medium-loft down pillow, this is worth a try.
Brooklinen Down Pillow (firm)
All of the Brooklinen down pillows we tried performed well, even with a combination of down and feathers, meaning they’re not quite as lofty as pure down. Side-sleepers found that the firm pillow didn’t hold its loft quite as well as its pure down competitors, though they didn’t report a difference in comfort or support.
Brooklinen Down Pillow (mid-plush)
Back-sleepers found that the mid-plush version didn’t hold its loft quite as well as its pure down competitors, and said it wasn’t as comfortable as they expected from down.
Brooklinen Down Pillow (plush)
Stomach-sleepers who prefer a soft, squishy pillow loved the plush pillow. One stomach-sleeper reported that it made her feel “like my head was floating weightless on a freakin’ cloud from heaven.” But if you’re a stomach-sleeper who needs more loft than what a plush down pillow will give you, no plush down pillow is going to give you what you’re after.
Lands’ End Elite Goose Down Pillow (soft)
One of our stomach-sleepers liked this pillow but noted that the company’s recent decision to pull an interview with Gloria Steinem from its catalogue made her sour on the brand, which raises an auxiliary point: If the branding of a pillow resonates with you—or doesn’t—that’s ultimately going to affect how much you like it.
Cuddledown 700 Goose Pillow (overfill)
This was the most expensive pillow we tested, and while side-sleepers got a great night’s sleep on it, they didn’t notice a difference between the Cuddledown and the Parachute. With a price $100 higher than comparable Parachute pillows, this pillow didn’t seem worth the splurge. It’s also so overfilled that side-sleepers who occasionally sleep on their back reported that their head tipped up too far when prone.
Cuddledown 700 Goose Pillow (medium)
Cuddledown’s medium-fill pillow was strongly preferred by some of our back-sleepers—one of whom planned on buying one after testing was over—but was met with a “meh” by others, who found it comfortable but not remarkable enough to warrant a $190 price tag.
Cuddledown 700 Goose Pillow (soft)
The less fluffy version of Cuddledown’s goose down pillow did fine by stomach-sleepers who like down, but they didn’t notice a difference in comfort between the Cuddledown and the Parachute. At $60 or $40 more than comparable Parachute or Brooklinen pillows, we’re not sure it’s worth the splurge.
Lands’ End Ultimate Goose Down Pillow (medium)
This goose down pillow prompted lukewarm responses in our side- and back-sleepers; testers found it nice but not exceptional, and a bit of down was migrating out of the shell, which isn’t a good sign for longevity.
Z Cotton Encased Down Blend Pillow (standard)
We tested this pillow because it was the highest-rated down/feather pillow on Amazon under $100 at the time. Side-sleepers found it comfortable at first but ultimately needed more height for proper support throughout the night. Back-sleepers liked its support and extra-long size (even though that made it harder to fit into the pillow protector), but said it was just too firm and flat to be comfortable over the long haul.
Royal Hotel Goose Down Pillow
Back- and side-sleepers rated this Royal Hotel as strictly average. Two reviewers likened it to a hotel pillow, but not in a good way: “You can tell most people are just ‘whatever’ about this pillow, but it’s not uncomfortable so it gets by,” said one back-sleeper (and our side-sleepers agreed). We tested it because of favorable Sleep Like the Dead reviews and its reasonable price (about $150 for two).
Crane & Canopy Down Alternative Sham Pillow
One stomach-tester who tends to prefer pillows with ample loft said that this is the first conventional (i.e., not memory foam or buckwheat) pillow she’s loved enough to buy herself. She stood alone, though: Other testers reported that it felt supportive but dense, and that it felt “deflated and hard” by the morning. We also had heat-retention complaints.
Hotel Collection Primaloft Down Alternative Pillows
In our very first pillows guide, we ranked this as our runner-up. But the rise of shredded memory foam has knocked this out of contention. Back-sleepers didn’t find the medium or firm quite supportive enough, reporting that their head bottomed out even with the firm fill. It also ran warmer than other pillows. The comfort level was fine, though; one tester commented that the term “Hotel Collection” was aptly named—good enough as a generic pillow but not one she’d buy herself.
MyPillow (green, white, and yellow)
MyPillow’s range of options makes it seem like the answer to the problem of there not being one pillow that’s right for everyone—instead of buying by firm, medium, or soft, or even by sleeping position, MyPillow asks a handful of questions and determines which type is the best fit, assigning colors instead of descriptive names. This worked magic for one back-sleeper, who called the MyPillow green one of the best pillows he’s ever slept on; one side-sleeper also loved its lofty support. But testers found the yellow and white versions to be lumpy, flat, and unsupportive, even when their MyPillow sleeping profile indicated that they’d be best off with that type.
Parachute Down Alternative Pillow (firm)
Side-sleepers thought Parachute’s firm down-alternative pillow was the best down-alt pillow of the bunch, but that it didn’t hold a candle to the Parachute down pillows. Side-sleepers said they’d be happy to shell out the extra $30 for the top-notch Parachute firm down.
Parachute Down Alternative Pillow (soft)
For stomach-sleepers, the soft version met with the same split reaction as its down pillows for stomach-sleepers: Those who liked a soft pillow with little support appreciated it, but those who wanted more substance found it merely flat.
The Casper Pillow
We were suspicious of the Casper down-alt pillow at first—it markets itself as being appropriate for all sleeping positions, which we knew from our research is a very difficult claim to fulfill. But while only one tester loved it, everybody else liked it just fine, saying that it was comfortable (probably due to its fiber core, which makes it springy without being bouncy like latex). It wasn’t as moldable or supportive as side-sleepers wanted for proper neck support. One back-sleeper said he’d be happy with it as a guest-room pillow but wanted something with more support for his own needs. One stomach tester enjoyed the fairly lofty Casper because it offered more heft than down pillows. Our testers who preferred a flatter pillow found the Casper okay but ultimately too thick for comfortable stomach sleeping, though they noted that it was useful for stomach-sleepers who shift to their side throughout the night.
Parachute Down Alternative Pillow (medium)
The medium-density Parachute down-alternative pillows weren’t great for back-sleepers, who reported that they were too dense to be truly comfortable.
The Company Store’s Black Label Primaloft Collection
The Company Store’s down-alternative pillow compressed too easily for side-sleepers, who found that their head sunk down too far into the pillow, with the fabric coming up around the nose, making it awkward to breathe. It also compressed too easily for back-sleepers, though one back-sleeper noted that its softness made it feel more luxurious than most down-alt options. This pillow received a thumbs-down from all stomach-sleepers, who said it was just too lofty. Even those who prefer more substance said the Primaloft was just too much for them.
Premier Down-like Personal Choice Pillow (firm)
Side-sleepers were unimpressed by the Premier Down-like Personal Choice firm pillow, which was simply too lofty to be comfortable.
Premier Down-like Personal Choice Pillow (soft)
Stomach-sleepers didn’t like the Premier Down-like Personal Choice soft pillow, reporting it was just plain flat, and that its relative stiffness made an uncomfortable impression on the cheek, which is a consideration for stomach-sleepers—you don’t want your pillow to hurt your face.
Shredded memory foam
Coop Home Goods Adjustable Loft Pillow
The Coop Adjustable addresses our main complaint about its non-adjustable predecessor from last year’s guide, which testers found too high and overstuffed. The adjustable version comes overfilled but allows you to remove as much of the shredded memory foam fill as you’d like. But choice isn’t always a bonus, it seems: As with The Easy Breather, testers had a hard time identifying their own sweet spot in finding the right amount of fill to use, and it lacks the thick, lump-hiding cover of The Easy Breather. But this would be a great bet for a person who has tried the Xtreme Comforts and wished it had more or less fill, and it’s equally affordable.
Xtreme Comforts Slim
We stand by our previous positive assessment of the Xtreme Comforts Slim for stomach-sleepers, as it provides the moldability of its standard-size sibling, just with less fill. But in introducing different stomach-sleepers into the testing fold, we learned more about their various contortions, and we think we’ve found better options. Those who want a flattish pillow just for a cushion under the head preferred the soft cushion of down instead of the lumpiness of shredded foam, and those who wanted a pillow with more support wanted something with more loft than the Xtreme Comforts Slim provides.
Coop Home Goods Pillow
This shredded foam pillow was just too big and heavy (3.5 pounds) to allow for full malleability. Side-sleepers didn’t like it, and back-sleepers found its height tipped their heads forward too much to maintain the ideal aligned position. (Its size also made it harder to fit into the pillowcase.) It’s also on the expensive side.
Snuggle-Pedic Shredded Memory Foam Pillow
The Snuggle-Pedic managed to feel even bigger than the Coop Home Goods despite weighing less (3.4 pounds). Side-sleepers wanted more malleability than it offered. It was also less comfortable than the Coop Home Goods for back-sleepers, and costs about $60 for a queen.
One-piece memory foam
Tuft & Needle Pillow
The only one-piece memory foam pillow we tested for this update, the Tuft & Needle reminded us why we didn’t test more of this type. Sleepers found that this was too low for comfortably sleeping on the back or side, and too stiff to comfortably mold to the head. A higher profile would have helped, but the lack of moldability is a problem inherent to one-piece memory foam—it works for mattresses, but for pillows the shredded memory foam provides superior moldable support. It could be a good bet for stomach-sleepers who like one-piece memory foam pillows, but back- and side-sleepers should look elsewhere.
PureCare Plush Standard Memory Foam Pillow
PureCare performed well for a one-piece memory foam, with side- and back-sleepers citing its support, but only among those who liked one-piece memory foam to begin with. Stomach-sleepers who liked a firm, supportive pillow said they liked how their body sank into it. But stomach-sleepers who preferred a more collapsible pillow couldn’t make it through the night with it since it hurt their back. One-piece memory foam pillows tend to be firm in a way that some users experience as supportive, others as stiff. So if you’re in the latter category, you’re definitely better off with shredded memory foam.
The BodiPedic, another one-piece memory foam pillow, was too contoured for most side- and back-sleepers. Side-sleepers also found it a hint too firm. But one back-sleeper with neck problems reported pain relief because of its ridged neck support.
The Yogabed pillow, another online startup option, has an airier, foam structure than both the BodiPedic and PureCare, both of which have a denser, chewier feel compared with the Yogabed’s highly responsive foam. Side-sleepers found the Yogabed “too flat” and just plain “weird.” Back-sleepers couldn’t quite agree; one said it was soft without being “sink-y,” and another said it was “too firm.” Stomach-sleepers were similarly mixed. One stomach-sleeper said it was flat-out “weird,” but another rated it very highly for its combination of support and responsiveness, along with its rounded shape that made it easier for her to “hug” throughout the night.
PureCare Plush Soft Latex
Nobody loved either of the latex picks in any position. The PureCare Plush Soft Latex fared better than the other latex we tested (Simmons Beautyrest) because of its height. Some testers appreciated its length (at 28 inches it was the longest pillow we tried), but others just found it hard to fit into a pillowcase. Stomach-sleepers appreciated its support—but they still ultimately found it too bouncy. Nearly every tester said latex was plain old weird to sleep on. Note that two of them tried using it for reading, though, and reported better experiences there. So if you’re curious about latex and have room in your budget for a reading pillow, give the PureCare a shot.
The Simmons Beautyrest was our latex pick from last round, and testers from our last guide appreciated the Beautyrest’s springiness and ability to keep cool. But its slimmer profile meant it didn’t support side- or back-sleepers enough. Stomach-sleepers found it just too springy to be comfortable; it even disrupted their sleep.
* This update builds on research from our original writers, Jamie Wiebe and Kyle Chayka.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)