Pillow buying guide

Last updated: April 2013

Getting started

A really cheap mattress is likely to leave you tossing and turning, but is the same true for pillows? We sent 71 staffers home with an expensive and an inexpensive pillow of the type they normally use: polyester, feather/down, or memory-foam. Each panelist was instructed to sleep on each pillow for five consecutive nights. And, while fully awake, our textile expert assessed the pillows' construction quality.

What we found

Although some testers said that expensive polyester-filled and down-filled pillows were more comfortable than their cheaper counterparts, personal preferences about pillow firmness, fluffiness, flatness, and size were almost as important. For memory-foam pillows, the inexpensive and pricey versions offered about the same comfort, sleep quality, and construction quality. Depending on their preferences, memory-foam fans could have saved more than $60 by buying the less expensive pillow.

How to shop

Compare firmness by placing pillows on a flat surface and compressing them with your palm to about half of each pillow's original thickness. The more pressure you have to apply, the firmer the pillow. The faster the pillow returns to its original shape, the more resilient. Check for neat stitches, straight seams, evenly distributed filling, a usable zipper, and piping that reduces wear on the edges. A tightly woven cover protects the fill. Memory-foam pillows can have an odor, so take a good sniff. Tempur-Pedic claims its pillows' odor dissipates over a short time with regular use.

Did you know?

If you're keeping the pillow, it's OK to tear off the tag that warns against removing it under penalty of law. The tag is meant for pillow manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.

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