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

Are you stuck choosing between down vs feather pillows for the plush surface you rest your head on each night?

If you’ve done your research looking for a soft, hotel-quality pillow, you’ve likely narrowed your options down to down pillows or feather pillows.

When it comes to finding one of these super plush 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

Quick Summary: Down vs Feather Pillows

Down and feather pillows are very similar in feel and construction. While you can find 100% down pillows, you will not find pillows that are 100% feather. Feather pillows use a combination of down to add loft and durability.

When choosing between down and feather pillows, keep in mind that the main difference is down pillows are more expensive and fluffy, while feather pillows are cheaper and more firm.

What are Down Pillows?

  • Luxurious
  • Soft and fluffy pillows
  • Feels like cotton candy
  • Most expensive
  • Made from downy feathers of ducks and geese
  • You can purchase a 100% down pillow

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.

Goose vs Duck Feathers

Goose and duck feathers are both used to create luxurious, soft and fluffy down pillows. The difference is the firmness, durability, and cost. Goose down pillows are slightly more plush, durable, and expensive because they are more rare. Duck down is cheaper but still has a luxurious, plush feel. 

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).

Down vs Down Alternative

Down alternative is a cheaper way to get a pillow that feels like a luxurious down pillow without the high price tag. Down alternative pillows are also naturally hypoallergenic, more durable to wash in the washing machine, and a good alternative for vegans or other animal rights activists. 

What are Feather Pillows?

  • Firmer
  • Often combined with down to make them more plush
  • You will likely not find a 100% feather pillow
  • Less expensive
  • Need to be cleaned carefully and avoid getting wet 

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 firmer and don’t retain their shape as well as down pillows. 

While you can find 100% down pillows, you will not likely find a 100% feather pillow. Most feather pillows are created with a combination of down to increase the plush soft fill and loft of the pillow. Most feather pillows will contain 5% or more down to increase their durability and comfort.

Down vs. Feather Pillows: How to Decide

Down and feather pillow are both great options for a luxurious, soft pillow to sleep on. They both have a similar feel to them, but down comes at a much higher price point.

So, which type of pillow should you go for? That depends on what you’re looking for. We’ll cover a few of the most important considerations when choosing between down and feather pillows including: 

  • Cost 
  • Feel
  • Sleeping position 
  • Fill power and fill weight
  • Durability

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. Also keep in mind that goose down will cost more than duck down because it is more rare.

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.

Sleeping 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Durability 

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.

FAQs

Are feather and down pillows better than other types of 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.

Can you wash down and feather pillow? 

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.

Are down and feather pillows good for neck pain?

Because down and feather pillows can easily contour to the shape of your neck, they are good for neck pain. A pillow with a customizable loft will be best for neck pain so you can adjust it to properly support your alignment. 

Are down or feather pillows better? 

Down pillows are more luxurious and expensive than feather pillows, but they have similar feels. The bottom line comes down to personal preference. 

Which is better: duck or goose down pillows? 

Goose down is more luxurious and expensive because it is more rare than duck down. They feel similar, though.

Summary

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.

The down pillow is considered the ultimate in luxury with a cloud-like 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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