How to Customize an Adjustable Pillow

Consumer Reports shares tips for getting the perfect comfort level

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Unzipping an adjustable pillow
The Coop Home Goods adjustable pillow unzips, so you can add or remove foam to your liking.
Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports

You might work your way through a lot of less-than-perfect pillows before you land on just the right one for your body and personal sleep preferences. An adjustable pillow, though, could provide a shortcut to a better night’s sleep.

An adjustable pillow might not be the perfect solution out of the box, but they allow you to make changes to the filling to customize for your comfort—making it less likely you’ll be dissatisfied with one of them soon after buying it. Of the three adjustable pillows we’ve tested, the Coop Home Goods Premium Adjustable Loft, and Avocado Green come with a 100-day sleep trial. The other adjustable pillow in the group, Sleep Number ComfortFit Ultimate, comes with a 30-day sleep trial.

“For every adjustable pillow we’ve tested, our testers note that it was easy to make adjustments to match it to the needs of various body types,” says Chris Regan, the test engineer who oversees pillow testing at Consumer Reports.  

More on Pillows

In our labs, we rate pillows from widely available brands. We poke, prod, and pound each pillow with machines to see how well they hold up to constant use. We assess how well each pillow supports the head and neck of people of all sizes—petite, average, and large/tall—whether they sleep on their side or their back. And we use a pressure mat to analyze roughly 1,600 pressure points where the head puts pressure on the pillow, focusing on the contact area between the head and the pillow. We like to see that pressure is low; otherwise, you’re likely to experience discomfort and you’ll keep shifting in your sleep.

We also evaluate how well pillows retain their loft by placing an evenly distributed 225-pound weight on each pillow in a room set to 98.6° F (to mimic the human body) and 80 percent humidity (to mimic sweat) for 96 hours.

Below, we walk through the process of adjusting pillows from three brands. For non-adjustable pillows, and to see how these stack up against other options, check out our pillow ratings. To learn more about pillow fillings and types, our pillow buying guide is a great primer.

How to Adjust an Adjustable Pillow

All three of the adjustable pillows in our ratings earn CR’s recommendation: Coop Home Goods Premium Adjustable Loft, Sleep Number ComfortFit Ultimate, and Avocado Green. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to adjust these pillows to maximize your comfort.

1. Unzip the Pillowcase and Take a Look

The Sleep Number pillow (shown below) comes with three identical foam layers, each individually wrapped in its own case. You can add or remove the layers to get to your preferred pillow fullness, but you can’t break the layers into smaller parts. Both the Avocado and the Coop Home Goods pillows have a fluffy filling that’s easy to pull apart and allows you to adjust your pillow’s density to infinitesimal degrees.

Unzipping an adjustable pillow
Sleep Number's ComfortFit Ultimate pillow has three removable foam inserts.

Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports

2. Read the Instructions (if Available) for the Best Fit

Coop Home Goods includes a guide (shown below) that shows about how much filling you should remove to suit your sleep style. However, even if you follow the directions, you may still need to make further adjustments by adding or removing filling until you get the pillow to feel the way you want. Avocado adjustable pillows don’t come with a guide, but the process is similar. 

Sleep Number also offers info on how to make adjustments, but you have only three options: one, two, or three layers.

Co-Op Pillow instructions
Coop Home Goods' illustrated guide.

Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports

3. Remove Some Filling or a Foam Layer

Sort of like a Build-A-Bear stuffed animal in reverse, you’re taking out the filling until it feels about right for how much space is between your head and neck and your mattress.

Removing stuffing from a pillow.
The Coop Home Goods filling is made of shredded foam that can be saved in a plastic bag for an adjustment later.

Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports

4. Zip Up the Pillow and Try It Out

Once you’ve made some adjustments, take your pillow for a test run. Note how it feels, whether you feel uncomfortable at all, and whether it’s easy to squish back to the shape you want it in, then estimate how much filling you might want to add or remove. You may not get a full sense of what you need until you’ve slept on the pillow for about a month. Adjust the filling every few days if you haven’t found your fit.

Person laying on an adjustable pillow

Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports

Note: Wash the cover periodically. One great thing about adjustable pillows? You can wash the outer cover. With the Coop Home Goods pillow, you can even wash the inner filling, though it has separate cycle requirements. Keeping your pillowcase clean means you’re less likely to toss and turn, because you’re washing away any allergen buildup on the surface, which can cause you to feel sneezy and stuffy.

Person putting pillow case in washing machine

Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports

Product Picks: Adjustable Pillows From CR's Tests

Want to upgrade your pillow? Here are some of the top-rated adjustable models from our pillow ratings, listed in alphabetical order.