Pillows buying guide

A good pillow can make for a great night's sleep.
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  • Updated:1 Jul 2008

01 .Buying a new pillow


When you consider that the average person will spend approximately one third of their life asleep, having a comfortable and good quality pillow is important.

Pillow choice is a very personal thing and with so much choice available, buying a pillow isn’t that simple. Our pillow satisfaction survey may help you decide. There are pillows for people who sleep on their back, rounded pillows for stomach sleepers, pillows that claim to stop snoring and even special pillows to support pregnant bellies.

The wide range can make it hard to choose, but take the time to educate yourself and shop for something that suits. After all, you’ll be reminded of your choice every night.

Please note: this information was current as of July 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

When to buy a new pillow

  • As general rule you should look to replace your pillow every six months to two years although this does depend on the pillow fill.
  • Check with the manufacturer at the time of your purchase as the expected life span of your pillow will really depend on what material is used and the quality of it.
  • Some pillow manufacturers even provide a tag on the pillow so you can jot down the date you bought it, to see how it’s ageing.

Pillow test

The pillow test

For synthetic and feather down pillows you can also try the shoe test to see if your pillow might need replacing:

  • Put your pillow on a reasonably flat surface and fold it in half.
  • Put a sports shoe on top.
  • If the shoe flies off as your pillow bounces back into its original shape, your pillow is in top form.
  • If the shoe stays there or the pillow doesn’t spring back into shape, it’s probably time to buy a new one.

Before you buy

It pays to consider a few issues before you go out to buy yourself a new pillow:

  • How do you sleep and what position do you prefer? Do you like to curl up on your side, sleep on your stomach or crash out on your back?
  • Are you a tosser and turner or do you sleep like the dead?
  • Consider your size: do you have a large frame? Are you small or somewhere in the middle?
  • If you’re sharing your bed with a partner don’t forget to take their sleep position preferences and body shape into consideration too. Different pillow styles suit different people, so it’s smart to make sure you both shop for your own pillows to get one for your individual needs.

Soft or firm?

  • If you sleep on your stomach or have a small build, a low, soft pillow is best. This is also suitable for children.
  • If you sleep on your back a medium to firm pillow with a medium profile is the best.
  • If you sleep on your side mostly or have a bigger body frame, a firm to extra-firm pillow might suit you better.

Pillow care

To get the most out of your pillows follow these simple steps:

  • Give your pillow a good shake and fluff it up every day, and try to air it out in the sun and fresh air on a regular basis. This will help kill any dust mites and will keep it fresher and cleaner.
  • Consider buying a pillow protector — they’re quite cheap and are available in most homewares shops. A protector keeps your pillow dry and away from moisture or oils, and will also keep it from staining. You can easily wash a pillow protector, which helps keep your pillow clean and fresh.
  • Polyester and some latex pillows can be popped in the wash to keep them really clean, but not all pillows are machine-washable, so check the labels first.

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Pillows can be made out of a number of different materials. Here are some of the more common ones.

Synthetic fibre fill

  • Polyester is the most commonly used synthetic fibre fill. These pillows are machine-washable and usually come in a variety of fill weights to suit your needs.
  • Polyester is quite long-lasting, and a good choice for the budget-conscious.

Wool fibre fill

  •  An alternative to synthetics, wool is washable and flame-resistant.
  • Wool provides good moisture absorbency, wicking away any moisture created by your sleepy head.
  • It allows the infill (the filling inside your pillow) to breathe well, which claims to provide you with a more restful night’s sleep.

Feather and down fill

  • Feather and down pillows have been used across the ages and are still very popular. They tend to be soft and sit a little higher than other pillows.
  • Suitable for people who like a soft pillow that will mould around their head and shoulders.
  • While they feel quite luxurious they’re not so great for people who move around a lot when they sleep or need their neck supported well.

PillowsFoam and latex fill

  •  Foam and latex pillows tend to last longer than most other types of pillow fill. 
  • Suitable for people who like a firm and supportive pillow.
  • While foam pillows are generally quite cheap, latex pillows can be pricey but come in a mind-boggling array of styles and shapes as the latex can be sculpted and contoured to any shape.
  • There are jellybean-shaped pillows with rounded edges for stomach sleepers, pillows with sculpted grooves to facilitate air flow and graduated pillows that claim to support troublesome necks.

Memory foam

  • Memory foam is made from polyurethane, but has a different cell structure from other foams, which makes it less ‘springy’ and slower to recover (hence memory foam — it ‘remembers’ your shape for a while after you’ve moved).
  • Memory foam pillows are very heavy and have a squashy feel, leaving an indentation where your head has been for quite some time, so it’s not recommended for those who move about a lot in their sleep.
  • Memory foam pillows are quite expensive; costing up to five times the cost of a polyester-fill pillow, so you’ll want to make sure it’s the right product for you before deciding to buy one.

Pillows and allergies

  • The National Asthma Council of Australia (NAC) doesn’t recommend any specific type of pillow for sufferers of asthma or allergies.
  • However, it does suggest that you cover your pillow (and your mattress and quilt) with a specially designed dust-resistant cover. These covers completely encase the pillow to reduce any contact with dust mites, and can also be washed.
  • NAC recommends washing the dust-resistant covers at least every two months to keep any problems at bay.
  • A pillow, such as one with a polyester fill, that can be machine-washed in hot water (more than 55ºC) to kill dust mites and wash away any allergens might also be of benefit.

A pain in the neck?

  • The Australian Physiotherapy Association says while there are many kinds of pillows on the market claiming to be best for tender necks and backs, there’s very little scientific evidence available to back up these claims.
  • It says that as most people’s body shapes and preferences differ, the best thing you can do is seek advice from a physiotherapist about what you should rest your head on.
  • However, the general rule of thumb if you’re looking for a new pillow is to find something not too high and not too hard. Ideally your spine should be in a straight line when you’re lying down with your head on the pillow.

Spine alignment

Try these simple steps to help improve the quality of your sleep. But remember, if problems persist you should see your doctor:

  • Obey your body clock: set a routine for yourself and try to go to bed and get up at about the same time every day
  • Don’t go to bed when you’re not tired: this will just reinforce bad sleeping habits. Sleeping man
  • Get enough sunshine; exposure to light helps set your body clock.
  • Ensure your room is dark enough.
  • Only use your bedroom for sleeping and sex. Don’t use it like a second lounge room for watching TV or talking on the phone — and be sure not to work, worry or argue there.
  • Exercise every day — a tired body is more likely to sleep.
  • Try and use the last hour of the day to relax. Don’t do anything too stimulating.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks close to bedtime. And while alcohol might make you feel sleepy at first it’s also worth avoiding, as it tends to disrupt your sleep.
  • If you can’t sleep within a reasonable amount of time, get out of bed and do something quiet for half an hour, like reading a book.
  • If all else fails, see your doctor for further help.

Image: Laurence Mouton/Photo Alto

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