This post was most recently updated on March 21st, 2019
While a goose down is the pinnacle of bedding – when it comes to pillows and comforters – goose down fill is not for everyone. For some, the cost is just not affordable. For others, allergies might be an issue. And some people just need a different type of support than what goose down has to offer.
With the countless options of pillows available out there today, which should you choose?
Here is a guide to goose down alternative pillows to help you find the right fill material/pillow type for you. Each section is linked to a deeper dive on that particular type of pillow and/or fill.
Let’s break this down into the two pillow types: natural fill and synthetic fill.
Natural fill, as the name would indicate, is fill comprised of natural materials. These fill types have not been manufactured in some factory (although they probably have been processed a bit for allergy sufferers).
If you like goose down pillows, but they just cost a bit too much, your best alternative is a duck down pillow!
Like goose down, duck down pillows are filled with the soft belly feathers of a duck. Also like goose down pillows, duck down pillows are soft, cuddly, and very easily mold to the shape desired.
They are identical in pretty much every way – they look, feel, and smell the same. They just cost a lot less.
You might be wondering why duck down pillows cost less. The answer is twofold:
1.) Duck down is often grey in color, which is less desirable. Since you don’t actually see the down unless it leaks out, this is not a practical difference.
2.) Goose down has a “brand name” that is synonymous with pillows in general. We often say “goose down pillow” when we just mean pillow in general – kind of how we often say “Xerox” when we really mean “copy”.
100% Feather fill
Feather filled pillows are usually filled with either goose or duck feather. As is the case with duck down, the two feathers are nearly identical for all practical purposes.
Feather pillows offer the moldable quality of a down piilow, but with super firm support.
Chamber or “down surround” pillows
Chamber pillows usually feature a 15/85 (or similar) ratio of down to feather. In this case – 15% down, and 85% feather.
Chamber pillows are essentially three bags encased together. One bag on the inside contains feather fill for support, which is enveloped with an outer bag on each side containing goose down for plush softness. These are commonly called “down surround” pillows, as the down surrounds the inner feather fill.
If you need something firmer than a down filled pillow, but still desire the outer plushness that down provides – a down surround/chamber pillow should work for you.
The term 5/95 refers to the ratio of fill used. Like the chamber pillows above, these pillows are filled with 5% (goose or duck) down, and 95% feather. Unlike the chamber pillow, the fill is all mixed together, not separated by chambers.
5/95 pillows are quite firm – about as firm as a 100% feather pillow, but not as stiff and noisy due to the 5% down used.
These pillows are great for those that need a super firm pillow, or a sturdy reading pillow. They are almost always found in hotel rooms as the “firm” option.
One level down from the 5/95 pillow is the 10/90 pillow. These are still firm, but with a touch of softness. They are not super firm like 5/95 pillows, but they still do hold their shape.
10/90 pillows are great “sleeping pillows” for side sleepers. Much like a chamber pillow, they hold their shape, but offer a plush surface too. If you’re looking for a firm pillow that has a decent amount of give, a 10/90 pillow like Granny Stripe pillow from Downlite shown above will do the trick.
A step down from 10/90 would be the 20/80 pillow, which offers a sturdy medium density. They offer the same firmness as a medium density down pillow, but without sinking. These are great for back sleepers, and are easy on the budget. If your dimensions are larger than average, you’ll appreciate a 20/80 pillow much more than an all-down medium pillow.
The final level in feather/down blend pillows are the 50/50 pillows – 50% down, 50% feather. These types are commonly found in luxury hotels, and for good reason too! They are just plain comfortable.
A 50/50 pillow is perfect for someone looking for soft/medium support, with the plushness that down provides. If you want plush, with just a bit more support than a down pillow provides, you can’t go wrong with a 50/50 pillow.
If you were around in the ’90s, then you probably remember the infomercials for the Sobakawa buckwheat pillows.
Buckwheat pillows are filled with the hulls of buckwheat. They are firm like feather pillows, and don’t offer much in terms of a springy or spongy feel. Where they shine, however, is in firm support, and by not holding on to your body heat – resulting in a cool pillow.
Buckwheat pillows are “adjustable” in the way that feather or down pillows are, but they hold that same shape unless fluffed again. If you need consistent support all night, a buckwheat pillow is a good option.
The people who use them swear by them. For most people however, they are just an infomercial novelty.
For those who are allergic to natural fill, or just don’t like them, there are synthetic alternatives. Let’s take a look at them:
Down alternative pillows are generally filled with polyester “gel” or “puff” fibers. These fibers give the pillows a feel similar to that of down, which is a plus for those on a budget, as well as allergy sufferers. Polyester pillows are soft, moldable, and are a good “one-size-fits-all” option.
Down alternative pillows are usually somewhere between soft/medium to the lower end of the firm spectrum. These pillows however do not offer the same durability as natural filled pillows, and can get clumpy after prolonged use. They are a middle of the road option, and do not offer the same firm support as some other options.
They also squish down with less force, so they generally aren’t a good option if you need a high loft pillow.
Memory Foam pillows are available in many varieties which include contoured (shaped for head and neck), and traditionally square-shaped. Memory foam is made of polyurethane with additional chemicals added to increase density. Depending on the model and shape, they can offer a specific shape and/or firmness required. Foam pillows are generally for those looking for a firm and sturdy pillow – they are definitely not a good option for stomach sleepers.
Memory foam is supportive, and does offer pain relief for those who get a stiff neck from a pillow that has too much give. They won’t clump, or need a regular fluffing. However, they are not moldable, often emit an initial foul odor (the first day or so), and may hold on to heat. A memory foam pillow is definitely not a “crowd pleaser”. It is more of an “individual needs” option.
If you are searching for high quality memory foam pillows, I would go with one of the Z pillows from Malouf. They use the highest quality materials, and offer different varieties, utilizing various materials.
Latex pillows are great for those looking for support and loft. When shopping for pillows, keep in mind that firmness and loft are two different properties of a pillow. Firmness refers to how much or how little a pillow will squish down when compressed. Loft refers to the initial height of the pillow. People with larger frames or shoulders will generally like a pillow with higher loft.
Latex offers pain-reducing capabilities by providing the support needed. They are also very durable – they don’t clump, or go flat like polyester pillows. Latex pillows are dense and heavy, and very hypo-allergenic – they do not attract dust mites.
Latex pillows are usually expensive, are relatively hard to fluff, and maintain a certain shape. Like memory foam, this is more of an individual-needs pillow. However, latex pillows are very popular with those looking for down alternative options, and have a devoted and loyal following.
The latex pillow below is also made by Malouf.
One reason why latex pillows are so attractive is because of the fill type. Whereas memory foam pillows are one huge chunk of foam, latex pillows are filled with shredded latex. This allows a latex pillow to shift its fill around you – offering more comfort.
When shopping for a pillow, consider what you need from a pillow. Figuring out what you need will make it that much easier to choose from the many options available.
Are you a stomach sleeper? You’re going to want a soft pillow, without much loft. Your best bet is a soft down pillow, or a 50/50 pillow.
Are you a back sleeper? A medium down or chamber pillow is most likely the best option, but many will be just as satisfied with a medium density polyester pillow.
Do you sleep on your side? A firm down/feather blend/chamber pillow will probably be just fine. If you need more support, you might be happier with a latex pillow.