How to Buy a Pillow

How to Buy a Pillow and What to Look For

Like DJ Khaled says: A lot of pillows is key to success. The underlying argument here is true–pillows are a tool for achieving comfort and quality sleep and so they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Many people will fork over cash for a top-tier mattress only to skimp when it comes time to buy a pillow. But learning how to buy a pillow isn’t all about finding big ticket items.

The best pillows will provide both support and comfort, which comes down to which type of sleeper you are and your personal preferences.

Key Point: In this article, we will walk you through the various kinds of sleeping styles and preferences and which types of pillows will be best for each.

Do I Need a New Pillow?

When you need a new pillow, it can be a real pain in the neck. Here’s how to tell if it’s time to buy a new one:

  • It’s not comfortable. Pretty simple, right? If your pillow is saggy and lumpy –– or if it’s a memory foam pillow and no longer holds its shape –– it’s time to get a new one. 

Here are some other signs it’s time to replace your pillow:

  • Permanent stains –– I mean, gross!?
  • Aches and pains when you wake up, especially in the neck and shoulders. This pain can sometimes show itself in the form of headaches.
  • You wake up tired –– as tired as you were when you went to bed.
  • Sneezing –– it could be dust mites. EWW! Or it could be some other kind of allergen.
  • Constantly needed to re-fluff your pillow. The harder it is to get comfortable, the more likely it is you need a new pillow.

If you’re still not sure, here’s a good test to tell if it’s time to get a new feather pillow: 

  1. Fold your pillow in half.
  2. If it stays folded in half, it’s time to replace your pillow.
  3. If it expands back out, there’s still some life left in it.

It’s Time to Buy a New Pillow

So you’ve decided to replace your pillow. But which pillow is the most comfortable?

Here are some of the most common materials used to make pillows. As you’ll see, different materials make your pillow more or less expensive. 

  • Down pillows: These pillows are the fluffiest, but they also tend to be more expensive.
  • Synthetic fill or synthetic down: Synthetic fill pillows are on the cheaper side and can be quite fluffy and supportive.
  • Memory foam: Memory foam pillows are the thickest and firmest pillows of all, and maybe best of all, they can be quite affordable.

Here’s a fun fact: The most expensive pillow ever was made by Van der Hilst. At $57,000, it is 3D-printed and features diamonds and sapphires –– doesn’t sound very comfortable to us! Otherwise, a cheap foam pillow might only cost you about $5. A quality feather pillow could set you back over $100.

If you’re on a budget (and let’s face it, most of us are), pick a couple of good pillows to catch a snooze, and then use a cheaper pillow to lean on for reading or just for looks.

No matter what kind of pillow you choose, always check to make sure the fabric is woven tightly. Tightly woven fabric helps keep allergens out of your pillow. 

There should be no feathers or fibers sticking out of the pillow, and it’s always good to test it out before committing. 

When you test out your new pillow, try to rest your head on it for at least 10 minutes. Resting your head on a pillow for 10 minutes might be difficult to do in the store, so check your pillow at home before taking off the plastic wrap.

A good rule of thumb is that most pillows should last up to two years. Do pillows made from different kinds of materials have different lifespans? The answer is yes. Here’s a quick guide:

  • Latex: Up to four years
  • Buckwheat: Three years
  • Feather: Up to three years
  • Down: At least two years
  • Synthetic down: Up to two years
  • Polyester: Up to two years

How you care for your pillow and the material used to construct it determines its longevity. Here are some simple tips for getting as much life out of your pillow as possible.

How to Buy a Pillow

You might wonder, “Can I wash my pillow?” Yes, you can. Follow these steps before tossing your pillow into the washing machine:

  • Check the tag to ensure your pillow is machine-washable and can be put in the dryer.
  • Remove the pillowcase. You can, of course, wash the pillowcase along with your pillow, but your pillow will get a whole lot cleaner if you remove the pillowcase first
  • Wash two pillows at a time and check for even distribution in the washer drum. If you’re using a top-loading washer, balance the pillows evenly around the agitator.
  • Use up to a quarter cup of bleach, if necessary.
  • Wash on hot, checking periodically for even distribution.
  • Pillows usually need an extra rinse and spin cycle.

“Can I dry my pillow in the dryer?” is the next logical question. If your pillow’s tag says it is machine-dryable, then yes, you can dry your pillow in the dryer. 

Here’s a tip: Put a few tennis balls in with the pillows. The tennis balls speed up the drying time and help keep the fibers from clumping. 

And of course, you can always dry your pillowcases on a clothesline, or simply lay them out flat in the sunshine. 


When we prepared to answer the question “How to Buy a Pillow,” we first considered the best pillow for each style of sleeping:

  • Side sleepers
  • Back sleepers
  • Stomach sleepers
  • All-of-the-above sleepers

We researched the different kinds of pillow filling and how they affect the feel of the pillow.

Here are the kinds of fillings we examined:

  • Foam
  • Down
  • Polyester, also called poly-fill

Buying a New Pillow Based on Your Sleeping Style

We feel confident that choosing a pillow based on both your sleeping style and the best filling for the firmness or softness you prefer in your pillow produces the best results.

So rest your head, because the best pillow awaits.

Pillows for Side sleepers

Side sleeping is the most common sleeping position. If you prefer this sleeping position, you need extra support, because side sleeping creates a greater distance between your head and your mattress. 

A thicker pillow keeps your head in a neutral position, making for a more comfortable night’s sleep. 

To find a firm pillow that’s firm enough, we recommend a poly fiberfill one, with a high loft and extra firm density. “Loft” refers to the height of the pillow as it lays flat on the bed.

Pillows for Back sleepers

Back sleepers need to make sure their heads don’t fall too far back while they’re asleep, so they need a firm, high loft pillow with divots for the head and neck to help maintain proper alignment. 

If you’re a back sleeper in the market for a new pillow, consider one with an adjustable density. Look for a pillow with memory foam shreds. This hypoallergenic, cushiony material provides the necessary support for your head and neck, with a completely customizable loft.

Pillows for Stomach sleepers

Stomach sleepers are a rare bunch, indeed. Quality pillows for stomach sleepers hold body weight well, providing enough support to prevent pressure on or overextension of the neck. 

Stomach sleepers need a thinner pillow than back or side sleepers. Hypoallergenic materials are of particular concern if you’re a stomach sleeper, since your face is a lot closer to the pillow than in other sleeping positions. 

If you’re a stomach sleeper, we suggest looking for a low loft, memory foam pillow. 

All-of-the-above “combination” sleepers

If you’re the kind of person who sleeps in a lot of different positions throughout the night (like many of us do), you have your own particular set of considerations to take when you choose a pillow.

Combination sleepers need a pillow that can be easily reshaped throughout the night as you shift from one position to another. You may also want a quiet pillow to minimize any noise from readjusting your pillow (especially if you’re a co-sleeper).

With all of this in mind, we recommend that combination sleepers choose a soft, low loft pillow filled with shredded memory foam or down.

Combination sleepers, in particular, might want to use multiple support pillows as they shift from one position to another. For example, a pillow between your knees helps reduce pressure on your lower back.

Conclusion: Learning how to choose a pillow really comes down to knowing your sleep style. Put in the effort to learn how you sleep, and you’ll be able to choose a pillow that will provide the most comfort throughout the night.