Down vs. Feather Pillows: What’s the Difference?

Are you on the market for a plush pillow? If so, knowing the difference between down vs. feather pillows can help find the best one for you.

By Nicole Gleichmann

Have you ever lay your head down on an incredibly fluffy, voluptuous hotel pillow, only to wish that your pillow at home felt the same? The plush feel of these high-end pillows is thanks to the unique properties of down.

When it comes to finding one of these marshmallow-y down pillows for yourself, you’ll be met with all sorts of options and distinctions that can be a bit confusing. Read on to learn about down pillows, feather pillows, and how to choose the best pillow for you.

Boy holding feathers on a mattress

Down Pillows

Down pillows are luxury pillows made from the downy feathers of ducks and geese. Down feathers make up the insulating layer of feathers found closest to a bird’s skin. Down itself looks almost like a fluffy snowflake, with soft fibers billowing out from a centralized point called a plumule.

Each down feather is referred to as a down cluster, and the cluster’s three-dimensional shape yields softness and insulation. When you lie your head on a down pillow, the downy clusters compress in on themselves, creating an indulgent cradle. Once you remove your head, you can watch as your pillow regains its lofty shape.

The resilience of down clusters yields a pillow that can remain soft and responsive for many years of use—so long as it’s properly cared for.

Fill Power and Fill Weight

There are two figures that you’ll come across when shopping for a down pillow: fill power and fill weight.

Fill power represents the size of the down cluster. The larger the cluster, the higher the fill power. And the higher the fill power, the larger the loft and spherical shape of the pillow. Higher fill power also yields a more durable pillow. Fill power usually ranges from 550 to 850, with good-quality down pillows containing 650+ fill power.

Fill weight tells you how much down is within, giving you an idea of how soft, or firm, your pillow will be. The higher the fill weight, the firmer the pillow.

The Best Down Pillows

Goose down pillows are considered to be the most luxurious and comfortable type of pillow. If you’re looking for an extravagant pillow at any cost, opt for a goose down pillow with a high fill power (800 or higher).

Feather Pillows

We’re all accustomed to the look and feel of a feather. Feathers are relatively flat with a hard quill down the middle and soft fibers extending out to the sides. Feather pillows are firm and don’t retain their shape as well as down pillows. However, most feather pillows will contain 5% or more down to increase their durability and comfort.

Down vs. Feather Pillows: Which Is Better?

When shopping for feather or down pillows, you’ll come across two main types: those that are 100% down and those that contain a mixture of feathers and down. There are few all-feather pillows because down is needed to provide loft, shape, and resilience.

Feather pillows will tend to have 5% or more down; the higher the down percentage, the more it will act like a down pillow rather than a feather pillow.

So, which type of pillow should you go for? That depends on what you’re looking for.

Cost

Down pillows are more expensive than feather pillows because farming down is more expensive than farming feathers. Down pillows can cost well over $100, with some feather pillows coming in as low as $25. A feather pillow with a relatively high percentage of down, say around 25-50%, is a good middle-ground for those looking for comfort and quality at competitive prices.

Longevity

Because down clusters bounce back rather quickly after being flattened, down pillows will hold their shape for longer than feather pillows. Feather pillows become flat relatively quickly without adequate down within.

Another problem with feather pillows is that the quill can stick through the pillow shell and poke you. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it can result in the loss of feathers over time. To keep your high-quality down or feather pillows for years, be sure not to use them in pillow fights…no matter how tempting.

Feel

Pillows filled with down are warm, soft, and fluffy. In comparison, feather pillows are firm, flat, and retain less heat. While people generally prefer the feel of down, some people enjoy the firm comfort offered by feathers.

The Best Pillow Based on Sleep Position

How you sleep dictates how much support you need, and with it, what type of down or feather pillow would work best for you.

1. Stomach Sleepers

People who sleep on their stomachs struggle to keep their spine neutral. While no pillow is often the best choice for alignment, some people will prefer to use a pillow when they sleep on their fronts. For these people, we suggest a down pillow with a low fill weight and fill power. This will mean a pillow that is not too lofty or firm.

2. Back Sleepers

Back sleepers need more support than stomach sleepers, but less than side sleepers. Either a down pillow or feather pillow can offer the correct amount of support, just be careful not to get a pillow that is overly stuffed as this can create a kinked neck.

3. Side Sleepers

Side sleepers need ample support to keep their head and neck in proper alignment. Typically, the best option would be a pillow that has both feathers and down. The feathers can offer the necessary firm support while the down boosts comfort and longevity.

Are Feather and Down Pillows Better than Other Pillows?

The best type of pillow comes down to preference. Many people love down and feather pillows, but others opt for memory foam, buckwheat, latex, cotton, or down alternative pillows. These types of pillows each have unique pros and cons.

Caring for Your Pillows

Every type of pillow requires different steps for proper care. To safeguard your pillow against oils from your skin or spills, a pillow protector is advised. While many synthetic materials are safe to machine wash and dry, down and feather pillows are not. Follow the care instructions provided, and implement these steps for knowing how to wash down pillows.


Conclusion

The down pillow is considered the ultimate in luxury with a cloudlike feel unmatched by other materials. However, a feather pillow offers a less costly alternative with its own benefits, such as firm support. The best pillow ultimately comes down to your personal preference.


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