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How to buy the comfiest pillow

Foam, latex, down, or polyester? We analyse the best filling for back, side and stomach sleepers.

bed pillows on mattress

Everyone's got their favourite sleeping position: from the back snorers to the tummy snoozers, and every angle in between. 

Because some of these positions aren't necessarily great for your posture, it's important to choose the right pillow to support you. 

Quality sleep is vital for good health, and a good pillow is vital for quality sleep.

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Pillow filling: synthetic vs natural

The type of pillow filling and how firm it is can be a big factor in your sleep. We look at the main types of filling we've found on the market (there are others, but these are the most common).

Foam pillows

Foam can be made to measure, keeps its shape for years and is hypoallergenic, so it's a great option if you suffer from allergies or asthma. "Memory foam" pillows, made from NASA-designed visco-elastic polyurethane, mould to your body shape and relieve pressure on sensitive areas, but may make it difficult to move about so they may not be the best choice for a restless sleeper. 

Lifespan: 5–10+ years.

Latex pillows

Latex is a renewable and biodegradable product made from the sap of a rubber tree. Latex pillows are durable, lasting for years before needing to be replaced, and they have the added benefit of being hypoallergenic. Latex comes in a variety of shapes, profiles and densities. 

Lifespan: 5–10+ years.

Feather and down pillows

These pillows are usually made from a combination of the two materials – the more down, the more expensive. A higher percentage of down means a softer pillow that will last longer, and they can be moulded and fluffed into your favourite shape. On the downside, they can be quite expensive, and are a potential allergen. 

Lifespan: 5–10+ years.

Polyester pillows

A good-quality polyester pillow will provide comfort and support, but as they tend to form lumps quickly you'll need to replace them more frequently than some of the other types of pillow. They flatten easily into a low, comfortable shape so they're a good choice for tummy sleepers.

Lifespan: Between 6 months and 2 years.

Cotton and wool pillows

Cotton and wool pillows are soft and can be added on top of a firm pillow if more support is needed. Both fibres are breathable, which minimises the risk of oil or sweat stains. In a tick for cotton, it's hypoallergenic. 

Lifespan: 3–5 years.

Best pillow for your sleeping style

sleeping styles stomach sleeper

You lie flat on your stomach

A soft, flat pillow is best for stomach sleepers, because it gives support without raising the head and neck too far. Synthetic, wool-fibre, feathers and down are good options for keeping it low.

You like to curl up on your sidesleeping styles side sleeper

A firm-to-extra-firm pillow is best for side sleepers, because it ensures your spine is supported properly at a consistent height. Latex and foam are the likely contenders if you love to sleep on your side.

You collapse flat on your backsleeping styles back sleeper

A medium-to-firm pillow is best for supporting your head and neck while you sleep. Consider a pillow made from foam.

You like to mix it upsleeping styles combination sleeper

If you sleep in a number of positions, a soft to medium is the best pillow for you. It might have softer and firmer sections, or one that's lower in the centre (for back sleeping) and higher on the sides (for side sleeping). Buckwheat hulls and pillows made of multiple materials fit this bill.

Caring for your pillow

Before using it

Consider buying a pillow protector – they're quite inexpensive and available in most home and bedding shops. The pillow protector can be easily washed as well. Often pillow slips and/or protectors will stain yellow from a mixture of moisture and oils from your skin. Maintaining your pillow helps to keep your pillow fresh and clean, away from moisture and oils, and will also keep it from staining.


Give your pillow a good shake and fluff it up. This will help kill any dust mites and keep it fresher and cleaner.


Some pillows can be put through a gentle washing machine cycle to keep them really clean, particularly polyester and latex pillows. Check the labels on your pillows, and if they're suitable, pop them in the wash.

Every six months

Test your pillows with our simple four-step method to ensure your pillows are still in good condition.

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

Pillow use-by dates

Some pillows are labelled with a use-by date – a useful reminder to check the pillow is still OK.

We explain how often you should replace your pillow, plus other household items like toothbrushes and smoke alarms, in our article use-by dates for household goods.

Why do people replace their pillows?

According to feedback from CHOICE members, most people only have a few reasons for replacing their pillows.

  • Just needed replacing (this was accompanied with feedback on staining, or losing shape, volume or firmness).
  • Was getting a sore neck/back pain and thought a new pillow would help.
  • Pillow had reached its 'use-by' date.
  • Saw pillows on sale.
  • A professional recommended a particular pillow.

We are fairly skeptical of use-by dates. We were unable to find any scientific evidence to say why a use by date should be applied, and neither Tontine, nor referrals to the Asthma Foundation (in Australia or America) had any evidence as to why there should be a use by date.

Will your pillowcase fit?

Something not many people consider is that the size of their new pillow may not fit their existing pillowcases. You might have a few faves that you use consistently, so make sure you take these into the store, or at least their dimensions, when shopping for a new pillow. It would be annoying to have to spend more on pillowcases because your new pillows don't fit.

When we bought pillows for this test, most claimed dimensions vary only marginally (by about 1–2cm), but there are a few that varied up to 8cm. If your pillowcase is already a tight fit, it's best to bring it into the shop to make sure.

If the pillow is vacuum-packed, ask to see one that's already open. A bricks-and-mortar store will usually have some samples that are already fully expanded from the vacuum packaging. If you try your pillowcase on the sample pillow, give it a wash when you get home.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.