Part 1 of Pillow Materials
Materials That Fill Pillows
There is great variety of mattress fillings. The first pillows, like the first mattresses, had just about any kind of supportive and cushioning material inside – leaves, straw, grass, sawdust, bark, fur, feathers, rags. Feathers are still used today, but most of the current fill materials are newer developments.
Feathers and Down
For a long time, feather pillows and down pillows were the luxury items for most people, and therefore highly prized. The terms themselves bring up images of soft comfort.
Down is the soft, insulating under layer of waterfowl, such as ducks and geese. A down pillow is very soft and fluffy. However, it compacts through the night, so it has to be fluffed up before the next use.
Feathers are more supportive than down, but not as soft. Small, curled feathers are used in pillows. The curled shafts act like little springs. Some pillows have a mixture of feathers and down. As comfortable as they are, some people cannot use them because of allergies. A current pillow filling, shredded foam, is also known as a “down alternative.”
Cotton and Wool
Cotton and wool battings are two more choices of natural fillings for pillows. They do tend to compact, even if made into felt, and have to be fluffed up. Although they are natural, like feathers and down, some persons have allergies to wool.
Horsehair has been the luxury pillow filling for the wealthy. It has the advantage of controlling moisture. A disadvantage is that it requires a very tightly woven liner to keep the hairs in, which adversely affects breathability. Horsehair is still an ingredient of some luxury mattresses, such as those made by Hypnos for the British royal family.
Another natural ingredient is buckwheat hulls. These make a firm pillow which can be shaped to suit the user. The pillow is zippered so it can be opened to remove the hull for washing the cover, replacing the hulls, or adjusting the amount of filling.
Latex foam in pillows can be all natural, synthetic, or a blend. Latex is popular because of its resiliency. Many people like the conformity with a quick recovery. The popularity of latex closely follows that of memory foam (see below).
Microbead pillows are not common. Microbeads are hard beads (unexpanded polyurethane or polyester). Like buckwheat, they have an adjustable firm support.
Polyester fibers are popular for filling pillows, such as in home-made ones. It is more popular in throw pillows, and less common in bed pillows. It does have a tendency to get lumpy, especially if the pillow is machine washed. One trade name is Poly Fill.
Polyurethane foam was more popular in pillows before the introduction of memory foam. It is still common in seating cushions. This foam is very versatile, available in a wide range of firmness. It is cushiony, providing comfortable support. However, it is not very durable, becoming brittle and breaking down over time. This is because monomers in the polyurethane polymer separate and dissipate.
Memory foam has become a very popular fill for mattresses. It not only conforms to the contours of a sleeper, it “remembers” the impression for several seconds after the weight is lifted. This reduces the pressure of the foam pressing up. The effect is even distribution of support, lessening the load on larger parts while supporting the smaller ones.
Memory foam is a type of polyurethane foam, but with added ingredients to make it more heat sensitive. This also makes it heavier for the same firmness compared to regular polyurethane foam. For instance, 1.8 lbs/ft3 polyurethane foam is much firmer than 4 lb/ft3 memory foam. Therefore, a memory foam pillow is heavier than the same size polyurethane or latex pillow.
Like polyurethane foam, memory foam is made of polymers formed from oil. Most of these polymers have to come from petroleum to maintain the quality of the memory foam. Polyurethane foam and memory foam have a reputation of gas emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Research has led to the development of foams very low in VOCs, such as Biogreen Memory Foam used in some of the Relief-Mart pillows.
A currently popular pillow filling is shredded foam. The foam can be memory foam or latex. Judging by the numbers of customers’ memory foam pillow reviews on Amazon, shredded memory foam is definitely more popular than shredded latex. Of the seven top-rated memory foam pillows on Amazon (with 1000+ reviews), five have shredded memory foam.
Shredded foam has a few advantages over blocks of foam:
- Shredded foam is lighter and more breathable than solid foam. Air flows more freely between the pieces of foam. With memory foam, this makes it much cooler.
- A shredded foam pillow can be reshaped by the user for a better fit. Then it can hold that shape, because of the irregular edges of the pieces of foam.
- Shredded foam costs less than molded or cut solid foam, because it is usually made from the scraps of foam from cutting foam layers for mattresses.
- Using shredded foam makes foam mattresses less costly by reducing manufacturing waste.
The two top-rated memory foam pillows on Amazon are shredded memory foam pillows by Snuggle-Pedic (see chart), making them the top candidates for the best memory foam pillow. The filling is a mix containing Biogreen Memory Foam.
Part 2 of Pillow Materials is Cover Materials on Pillows.