The Art and Science of a Good Pillow

Have you ever wondered about ‘The Art of a Good Pillow’? I have.

What does traditional wisdom say? What would the best housekeepers of each generation say about the perfect night's rest?

I am recently single so I spent my second Friday night settling in and thinking about what I want to buy to make this house a comfortable and lasting home.

I considered the Stand Out Homes from our 200+ client list, and quickly found a common denominator when it comes to lasting and stylish pillows: Feathers.


It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the variety and marketing of hundreds of different pillows. A quick look on the Pillow Talk website sent me running in the other direction.

The basic categories you need to know are:

  • Synthetic stuffing e.g. Polyester, Rubber crumb
  • Latex
  • Memory Foam
  • Natural filling e.g. Wool and wool blend, Duck and Goose down & feather
  • Tempur – a visco-elastic, temperature-sensitive material.


When it comes to choosing a pillow, you could spend between $10 and $100. If you’re going to spend in the upper range of your budget, you’ll want value for money. Not clever marketing or a fad.


Traditional wisdom from The Art of Good Housekeeping[note]The Good Housekeeping Institute, 2015. The Art of Good Housekeeping: 1001 things you need to know to run the perfect home, pg. 190.[/note] backs up what I have found in the Stand Out Homes.

    • Polyester is fluffy and springy. Solid polyester fibers give a firmer and flatter pillow.  Hollow-fiber polyester offers a fluffier feel. All polyester can compress after washing. They do not feel as light as natural fibers and don’t breathe as well. Polyester makes a good choice for children as it is easily washable.
    • Latex is resilient and non-allergenic. However, it’s synthetic, and it’s noticeable. I bought a latex pillow once and returned it immediately as the toxic smell was unbearable.
    • In our 200+ homes, I’ve only seen a handful of Memory Foam pillows, indicating only a select few people like them. They feel heavy and dense to the touch.
    • Natural filled pillows adjust to the shape of your head or body better than synthetic ones. Duck down and feather pillows offer the best support and recovery. Natural fillings also wash better than synthetic ones, which can become lumpy.
    • Tempur manufacturers claim that the “viscoelastic” polyurethane foam molds to the exact contours of your body. A few of my clients have these, but it’s a fairly new product, so the jury is out for me on this one as they haven’t yet stood the test through generations of scrutiny.


  • Down is taken from Ducks and Geese and is the softer, less prickly version of feathers.
  • The higher the ratio of down to feathers, the higher the cost.
  • Feathers provide more support than down, so a feather core may serve you well.
  • The Good Housekeeping institute suggests that while poultry feathers are the cheapest, they are to be avoided, as duck is more comfortable. If you are able to splurge, then geese down is the best.
  • Down is very durable and will last up to four times longer than polyester.


Fibers of any kind get crushed and damaged the more they are used. Plumping your pillow puts air between the fibers, stopping them from compacting and crushing.


Firmness is a personal choice but as a general rule, your head and neck should stay in alignment. If you sleep on your side, buy a firm pillow. If on your back, buy a medium one. If on your stomach, buy a very soft one.

Some nights you will need more support than others. Consider purchasing two different kinds of pillows for optimum comfort.


  • Do use a pillow protector and change pillow slips regularly..
  • Plump pillows regularly to avoid compacting of the filling.
  • Follow the care instructions. Washing should be kept to a minimum as it will reduce the life of a pillow. Ensure your down pillow is totally dry (Three hours for two pillows in a commercial dryer on medium heat). Mold and mildew can quickly grow down if not dried properly.
  • Down pillows can be re-fluffed in the dryer and by hand, but feather pillows will break down more quickly in the dryer because the quills will break [note] The Pillow. Feather pillow vs down pillow pros cons. How to buy feather and down pillow.[/note].
  • Wash pillows occasionally, but never dry-clean them. The fumes from solvents used in the dry-cleaning process should be avoided.
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