Does shopping for bedding confuse you? Do you find yourself wondering what kind of bedding is best for yourself or maybe your children?
Actually, most people have this same confusion!
With so many unfamiliar terms, it can feel like reading a legal document. But it definitely doesn’t have to be that way! If you understand the basic bedding terms, you’ll know what to look for, every time.
Let’s make sense of all of these foreign terms, and break it all down so you know what to shop for.
For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on pillows, comforters, feather beds, and mattress pads – and their fill types. Discussing sheets will make this article much longer than it needs to be.
If you’re looking for a sheet guide, this article will help.
Function and Filling Types
It’s important to understand the purpose of the different fill types. Feathers are for support and are typically for feather beds, pillows, and decorative pillow inserts.
Goose down for softness and insulation, and is primarily for comforters and bed pillows – items that are for personal use, not decorative.
For example, pillow inserts that featured decorative fabric and not used as a bed pillow do not need an expensive type of fill. Synthetic fiber or 5/95 down and feather blend is appropriate.
Natural-filled bedding will frequently outlast man-made polyester and other fiber products.
With proper care down comforters and blankets can last up to ten years.
Pillows and featherbeds should last two or three years. When used in conjunction with pillow or featherbed protectors, you can generally add another year or two to the lifespan.
Down Alternative Products
Synthetic bedding items are good when dealing with budget constraints or allergy and climate constraints. In general, these products are completely non-allergenic and less expensive than down or feather-filled items.
These are usually easier and cheaper to properly launder than natural down.
In humid climates, many hotels prefer synthetic-filled bedding to address the concern that moisture will get trapped in natural-fill bedding and develop mold and/or odor.
Synthetic products are generally batted fiber, continuous filament fiber, or blown fiber. Each has its advantages and specific purposes.
For a more down-like feel, blown polyester works best.
Featherbeds and fiberbeds
Featherbeds are available in a variety of constructions (baffle-box, channel construction, down topped, polyester-topped, etc.) and utilize a variety of fill types.
Generally, they are a down and feather blend to provide support under the sleeper.
Featherbeds go under the bottom sheet of the bed. This provides additional warmth and softness to the bed. The down-alternative version is a fiber bed, and functions much in the same way.
And don’t forget to add a featherbed protector.
Mattress Pads and Toppers
There are a variety of pads and toppers for the top of a mattress to add softness, increase mattress loft, protect the mattress, and add insulation to the sleeper.
Traditionally, a mattress pad goes on top of a hotel mattress to simply add a protective barrier to the mattress. Mattress toppers are thicker than pads, and provide protection against stains while enhancing the sleep experience with additional softness.
Pads and toppers usually come with anchor bands, or a skirted bottom to hold them in place. For more information, check out our Feather Bed vs Mattress Pad article.
Terms for Natural Fill Blends
These terms refer to the percentage of down and feather content inside of bedding.
Typically, the first number refers to how much down and the second to how much feather is in a given product by the percentage of weight.
These terms are most commonly used when referring to pillows. The most common hotel pillows are 5/95 pillows. These pillows offer the support that most sleepers desire while offering durability.
Sewn Thru Box Construction
Sewn-through-box, sometimes referred to as Bavarian, or Bavarian box, keeps the fill from clumping into one area. The top and bottom layers of fabric are sewn together into a box pattern to lock the fill into place.
This comforter construction is most common with lighter weight down comforters and blankets.
Baffle Box Construction
Baffle box comforters utilize baffle walls in the interior of the comforter that can connect the top and bottom layers of fabric of the comforter shell.
The walls are stitched in a box pattern so the fill is fixed in place.
A blowing tube fills each box separately. These types of comforters tend to be loftier than quilted sewn-through box comforters.
Down-filled bedding is typically 100% cotton, as it allows air to pass through the product. A minimum thread count of 230 is required to prevent feather & down from escaping through the fabric.
To further ensure leak-proof pillows and comforters, quality products feature double-needle sewn edges.
The term Hypoallergenic refers to the cleanliness of the natural filling. It is only with thorough washing, sanitizing and drying that down and feathers are removed of impurities, dust, and allergens.
The two most common measurements of natural fill cleanliness are referred to as Turbidity and Oxygen Content. Both can be scientifically measured to determine how clean the down and feather are.
As the world’s most efficient insulator, down will moderate the body’s warmth even with smaller amounts. Both fill weight and quality (fill power, species, etc.) will affect the insulating value of down bedding.
Down traps air – which is why the sleeper’s own body heat is what keeps him or her cozy.
The higher the fill weight, the more down that is contained inside. Essentially, fill power is a reference of each down particle’s size. Longer fibers trap more air – and warmth.
For the average climate, most people find 550-650 as the most comfortable fill power. The higher fill powers are generally used in colder climates.
Grey vs. White
The color of down or feather has no bearing on its quality. White natural fill is typically more expensive, as most bedding fabrics in which the fill is used are white.
The perception that the white look is cleaner has caused the price of white natural fill to be higher than grey natural fill. Once a pillowcase is put on a pillow, the down types are virtually identical.
Down and feathers can come in various shades ranging from pure white to black speckled grey. Typically, the industry has placed a premium on white feathers and down due to its ability to visually blend in better when filled into light color bedding products.
American perception has also reinforced this premium on white down over grey; however, there are many grades of grey down that rival the best white down, as the color of the feathers and down has no relevance to its quality.
White down can achieve a higher level of fill power; but at equal fill powers, grey and white down are equal in their insulating power.
What is Fill Power?
The primary measurement for the quality of down is its fill power, or how much volume a given weight of down will occupy.
This is a measurement of efficiency; the higher the fill power number, the better the down and the greater the insulating value. Fill power is directly related to the size of the down cluster.
What is the difference between goose and duck?
Although many people consider goose down and feather superior natural products for bedding, duck feathers and down can be just as high in quality. When the fill power is the same, the down types are very similar.
However, goose down is capable of higher fill power. Geese are normally larger birds; therefore producing larger down clusters – which creates a higher fill power rating.
The worldwide supply of goose materials is more limited than duck with greater consumer demand. The pricing on goose feather and down is typically around 25% higher than duck.
For hospitality use, and for most people in general, duck down/feather products are just as good as down-filled – and more economical.
What is the difference between down and feather?
Down is found only on waterfowl ~ the light fluffy coating found on the underbellies of geese and ducks. Down is a three-dimensional cluster with thousands of tiny fibers but no quill.
As nature’s most efficient insulator, down is warm, yet light and lofty. Down also has the magnificent ability to breathe, lifting away moisture from the sleeper.
Feathers are two dimensional, and can add support and weight, but lack the insulating qualities of down.
Do I need a heavyweight down comforter to provide warmth?
As the world’s most efficient insulator, down will moderate your body’s warmth even with smaller amounts. Both fill weight, as well as fill quality affect the insulating value of a down product.
Many people are most comfortable with a year-round or all-season weight comforter… Not too hot, not too cool.
How can I extend the life of my natural fill bedding?
We recommend covering your bedding products with some sort of fabric cover. Washing a pillow, comforter, or feather bed protector is much simpler than the bedding itself and helps to avoid any over-laundering of the natural fill products.
Protectors will prolong the life of your investment by keeping the fill inside, and keeping spills, and dust mites out. They will also provide one more layer of protection for normal wear and tear.
How should I clean down comforters and pillows?
You should wash your natural filled bedding in commercial washers, set on delicate, using a mild dish detergent.
Avoid using your normal detergent or bleach. These cleaning agents will leave a residue on the down clusters, thereby reducing their ability to regain loft.
It is very important to thoroughly dry the bedding in low heat and to let it air dry for some time to allow all of the moisture to be removed.
Try placing a few tennis balls along with the comforters and pillows in the dryer, to help fluff up the products.