Buckwheat pillows, or Sobakawa, are deeply rooted in Japan’s rich ancient traditions. They are currently a global phenomenon known for their multiple therapeutic benefits.
What Are Buckwheat Pillows?
Buckwheat pillows are pillows stuffed with recycled hulls of buckwheat, an edible pseudo-grain native to Asia. These pillows are popular for their firmness and pack a hefty punch as vegan options for bed accouterments.
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What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Buckwheat-Stuffed Pillows?
- Offers better sleep
- Reduce snoring
- Alleviate migraine
- Promote optimal spinal alignment
- No fluffless
- Not adjustable initially
- Carry natural odor
- Rustle with movement
- Not washable
- Can trigger buckwheat-induced asthma
- Can aggravate buckwheat-induced allergies
How Long Have They Been Around?
The practice of stuffing pillows with buckwheat hulls first began in 15th-century Japan. Being aware of the high nutritional value and medicinal properties of this pseudo-grain, the Japanese used to cultivate it extensively for food.
In the course of time, the easy accessibility of the hulls, combined with the local belief that buckwheat promotes good health and keeps the head cool, led the people of the country to recycle it for pillow-stuffing.
Are They Comfortable?
It’s different strokes for different folks. In fact, the opinions are quite polarized. Although buckwheat pillows are generally comfortable, the level of comfort depends on your sleeping position and other preferences.
While most people like the firmness of these pillows, some, particularly stomach sleepers, find them too rigid. Furthermore, because the hulls rustle when they move, most light sleepers dislike pillows filled with them.
Moreover, not all buckwheat pillows are created equal. The degree of comfort you experience will vary depending on the quality of the product you buy. All of these topics will be covered in depth later in this article.
How Long Does It Take To Get Used To Sleeping On One?
It can take a few nights to a few weeks to get used to the firmness and loft of a buckwheat pillow. As a rule of thumb, give your body at least 14 days to adjust to the pillow when you sleep.
Patrons of buckwheat pillows would also talk about the following benefits:
- Natural hypoallergenicity
- Dust mite-resistance
- Mold and mildew-resistant
However, we will discuss later in the article why such claims should be taken with a grain of salt.
What Us Buckwheat Hull and Where Does It Come From?
Buckwheat hulls, husks, or chaffs are the outer shells that encase buckwheat seeds. They are obtained by dehulling the seeds.
The hulls are tough and have a musty odor. Their firmness makes them extremely strong, resilient, and durable, and their inability to retain or reflect heat aids in the promotion of adequate airflow.
Is It Vegan?
Buckwheat hull is 100% vegan because it is not derived from animals. It is, in fact, a byproduct of large-scale buckwheat harvesting for food purposes.
The plant is grown in an ethical and sustainable manner, with no known harm to the air, water, land, or soil. Unlike wheat, its production does not result in deforestation.
Buckwheat can also be grown without pesticides and herbicides because it efficiently draws phosphorous from the soil and requires less nitrogen. In other words, it has no direct or indirect negative impact on animals.
Is It Organic?
Although buckwheat hull is all-natural, it is not always organic. Buckwheat hulls with organic certification come from buckwheat that is organically grown either without chemicals, or with pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides marked organic.
Please keep in mind that organic buckwheat pillows are more expensive than natural buckwheat pillows due to the certification process, which is costly and onerous.
Is It Hypoallergenic?
Buckwheat hull is believed to be hypoallergenic for the following reasons:
- It does not contain any material that can be considered a food source.
- Its natural shape allows it to promote airflow.
After the dehulling of buckwheat seeds, the empty hulls themselves are incapable of attracting bugs and insects. The promotion of airflow ensures they cannot create an environment that is conducive to the accumulation of allergens or the growth of dust mites, mold, or mildew.
In theory, buckwheat hulls should display absolute hypoallergenicity. However, this isn’t practically feasible. You must remember that you can never wash the hulls present inside your pillow. Even if they are thoroughly cleaned, you could be allergic to buckwheat itself.
Numerous cases of buckwheat-induced allergies and asthma have been reported in people who slept on buckwheat pillows. We will discuss some of these cases later in this article. For now, we recommend consulting a doctor before buying a buckwheat pillow.
Does It Contain Pesticides and Herbicides?
Buckwheat hulls typically do not contain pesticides, but they might or might not contain herbicides depending on the buckwheat cultivation process.
Most plant diseases and insects have little effect on buckwheat. It grows easily without the use of pesticides, which is why a registered pesticide for buckwheat is unlikely to be found. There is currently no cure for the few pests that feed on the crop.
Buckwheat is also sensitive to many herbicides, which is why registered chemicals for the crop are scarce. Sethoxydim is the only registered herbicide used in buckwheat production. To rid the crop of weeds, it selectively kills or suppresses annual and perennial grasses.
Most farmers will most likely use sethoxydim, which will most likely remain on the hulls unless they are thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.
Does It Cause Itching and Rashes?
Although buckwheat hulls do not generally cause itching and rashes, people who are allergic to buckwheat might experience symptoms such as swollen lips, itching of the mouth, skin rashes, and other conditions such as urticaria (round, red, itchy welts on the skin) and angioedema (swelling beneath the skin).
Does It Cause Ear Problems?
Buckwheat hulls in your pillow have the potential to cause two types of ear problems:
- Pillow ear – a condition in which the outside of the ear swells and hurts as a result of constant pressure
- Ear infection – a condition in which germs enter the inner ear and cause, swelling and pain
Buckwheat pillows are firm enough to cause “pillow ear”, particularly in side sleepers. Furthermore, they cannot be washed, which could lead to the accumulation of microbes on the surface of the pillow shell, which could lead to infections.
To avoid these problems, make a small crater in the pillow for your ear so it doesn’t hurt due to pressure. Also, buy buckwheat pillows with zippered cases so you can remove the buckwheat, disinfect it in the sun, and then wash the pillowcase.
Does It Trigger Asthma?
Buckwheat hulls can cause asthma attacks in people who are allergic to the food crop. Although the hulls are empty, microscopic amounts of buckwheat flour are usually attached to them.
When unprocessed hulls are used to stuff pillows, allergic people may develop asthma when they sleep on them. Many such cases have been reported in scientific literature.
Tatsuo Matsumura, Kouji Tateno, Shuzo Yugami, and Takayoshi Kuroume from the Department of Pediatrics at Japan’s Gunma University Graduate School of Medicine published one such report. It describes 6 cases of buckwheat asthma caused by buckwheat flour attached to buckwheat chaff in pillows.
Another study, published by Stephen B Fritz, a certified allergist and dedicated asthma physician, and Bernard L Gold, an allergist and immunologist, describes the first-ever case in the United States of a person developing asthma and worsening allergic rhinitis after sleeping on a buckwheat pillow.
Is It Biodegradable?
Buckwheat hulls are biodegradable due to their natural origin. They do not end up in landfills and do not degrade the soil’s integrity. On the contrary, they are compostable and sustainable.
Is It Better than Millet Hulls?
Buckwheat and millet hulls both have advantages and disadvantages as natural pillow filling materials. Neither is superior to the other, but both are comfortable.
Buckwheat pillows are firmer and hold their shape better than millet pillows, which are smoother and lose their shape faster. Millet hulls, on the other hand, are less noisy and lighter than buckwheat hulls.
How Many Pounds of Buckwheat Hulls Make a Pillow?
A standard-sized pillow (20″ X 26″) requires 112 to 114 oz (7 to 9 lbs) of buckwheat hulls. Half of that is required for a typical Japanese-style pillow.
How Do You Refresh Buckwheat Hulls?
To refresh buckwheat hulls, simply spread them evenly on a large piece of cloth and leave them indoors with gentle air circulation. You can also expose them to direct sunlight. This will get rid of any moisture or odors.
Why Are Lavender Buds Filled With Buckwheat in Some Pillows?
Lavender has been shown in studies to help with insomnia, anxiety, relaxation, and sleep quality.
Kumi Hirokawa, Takashi Nishimoto, and Toshiyo Taniguchi of Japan’s Department of Nursing reported that nighttime exposure to lavender aroma relieves sleepiness upon awakening.
Such scientific findings could explain why some buckwheat pillows contain dried lavender buds in addition to the hulls.
Are Buckwheat Pillows Good for Neck and Back Pain?
Buckwheat hulls are distributed evenly along the head and neck to relieve shoulder pressure and promote proper spinal alignment. As a result, chiropractors frequently recommend sleeping on buckwheat pillows, especially if you suffer from neck and back pain.
Karen Erickson, a chiropractor practicing in New York City, says buckwheat pillows provide good support and can help maintain optimal cervical-spine alignment. Dr. Veera Gupta of Optimum Health Chiropractic recommends a buckwheat pillow to patients suffering from mild, moderate, or severe neck pain.
Are They Safe for Toddlers?
Pillows filled with buckwheat hulls are not suitable for toddlers under the age of 2 due to choking hazards. If the hulls escape the fabric shell, an infant could choke on them.
Buckwheat pillows are a good choice for toddlers over the age of 2 for the following reasons:
- Outstanding neck, head, and shoulder support
- Adjustability and breathability
Please keep in mind, however, that buckwheat pillows cannot be washed, and a baby’s belongings must always be clean. Furthermore, if your baby is allergic to buckwheat, these pillows could cause problems.
Are They Good for Side Sleepers?
Buckwheat pillows are ideal for side sleepers due to their firmness. Such pillows help in keeping the head at a leveled position between the shoulders and filling the space between the head and the shoulders.
The hulls mold to the shape of the head, preventing it from sinking too deeply or floating on top of the pillow. The material provides strong reinforcement for the neck and shoulders, promoting restful sleep.
Are They Good for Stomach Sleepers?
Buckwheat pillows are not recommended for stomach sleepers. Their firmness causes the head to be positioned at awkward angles, which can result in neck, shoulder, and back pain.
Softer pillows filled with Down or millet hulls are preferred for stomach sleepers, though buckwheat hulls are malleable, adjustable, and cool.
Are They Good for Back Sleepers?
Because of their firmness, buckwheat pillows are ideal for back sleepers. Such pillows provide excellent neck and body support without letting the head sink too deeply into the fill material. Nevertheless, a back sleeper must add or remove hulls to achieve the desired loft.
Are They Good for Hot Sleepers?
Buckwheat pillows are a hot sleeper’s haven. The smooth hulls’ triangular, cupped shape creates multiple tiny air pockets, which promote airflow and keeps the head cool. The hulls only fit together tightly when compressed. Furthermore, they do not absorb, trap, or radiate body heat, promoting even more cooling.
Can They Prevent Snoring?
Using buckwheat pillows might help in reducing or preventing snoring caused by poor posture when sleeping. It should not, however, be used as a preventative measure to alleviate disruptive snoring, which is usually caused by other underlying issues.
Can They Alleviate Migraine?
Sleeping on a buckwheat pillow can help alleviate migraines caused by spinal misalignment. Moreover, improper and uncomfortable head placement when sleeping often results in migraine headaches, which these pillows can prevent.
Are They Noisy?
Buckwheat hulls rustle and crunch when moved. If you’re sleeping for the first time on a buckwheat pillow, you might notice this soft sound, especially if you’re in a quiet environment.
Most people eventually get used to it. However, if you are a light or restless sleeper, you will most likely be disturbed and label the pillow “noisy.”
The good news is that most pillow manufacturers address this pain point by mixing the hulls with other fill materials such as kapok and cotton. Doing so significantly reduces the friction between the hulls, ergo the noise.
Do They Make Good Camping Pillows?
Buckwheat hull stuffing doesn’t work well for camping pillows for three reasons:
- Difficulty in cleaning
These pillows can weigh up to 12 pounds, making them unsuitable for campers, especially ultralight backpackers. They rustle and may be bothersome if you choose to camp somewhere quiet.
Most importantly, it is difficult to remove the dust, dirt, and sweat from a camping trip that the pillow will attract. The buckwheat hulls inside your pillow cannot be washed.
If you’re wise, you’ll choose pillows made specifically for outdoor sleeping. Check out our list of camping pillows to find the best products.
Do They Get Dust Mites?
According to manufacturers, buckwheat hulls are naturally resistant to dust mites.
In the section about the hypoallergenicity of buckwheat hulls, we discussed how they are believed to be dust mite-resistant due to their inability to create a suitable environment for their growth.
There is, however, no scientific evidence to support this claim. On the contrary, there is sufficient scientific evidence to demonstrate that the hulls are not resistant to dust mites.
The findings of a comparative study of buckwheat and synthetic pillows were reported in the Journal of Korean Medical Science, where the amount of dust mite allergens found in both types after three months of use was the same.
Buckwheat pillows, in fact, were found to have higher levels of endotoxins (bacterial toxins), which can easily contribute to asthma.
Do They Get Mold and Mildew?
Buckwheat hulls should be resistant to mold and mildew because they promote good airflow. Manufacturers often use this logic when claiming mold resistance for buckwheat-stuffed pillows.
However, if you wash a buckwheat pillow, the hulls inside will not dry completely. As a result, mold and mildew might begin to grow inside the pillow.
Furthermore, according to a study published in the Journal of Industrial Microbiology, buckwheat hulls are fully capable of being contaminated with mold-borne mycotoxins.
Do They Have Bugs?
Buckwheat pillows are unlikely to have bugs, despite the fact that buckwheat can and does attract them. This is due to the fact that, while edible seeds are ideal breeding grounds for insects, empty hulls, particularly those cleaned and processed for use as pillow stuffing, are not.
Do They Get Lumpy?
Buckwheat hull pillows do not become lumpy easily. They can be refilled even if they sag.
Do They Go Flat?
Buckwheat-filled pillows have the disadvantage of easily flattening. Over time, the hulls are crushed, breaking down and eventually flattening out.
The process is accelerated by use and exposure to humidity. Given that such pillows aren’t fluffy at all, the degradation and flatness would become more apparent over time.
Do They Turn Yellow?
A yellow buckwheat pillow is one whose shell has turned yellow. Buckwheat hulls do not turn yellow on their own. Neither does their natural color bleed through the fabric. Check out our in-depth article to learn more about why pillows turn yellow.
Do They Smell?
The buckwheat hulls in your pillow will have a natural, earthy smell that is more aromatic than obnoxious. In fact, this scent is thought to be calming to the person sleeping on the pillow.
Even if you can’t stand it, don’t worry because it will eventually dissipate. Some manufacturers roast the hulls before filling the pillow with them to remove the odor.
Other odors in a buckwheat pillow could be caused by how it was packaged and stored. A musty smell in your old buckwheat pillow might also indicate mold growth.
Can They Be Microwaved?
Buckwheat hulls will slowly roast and eventually burn if heated in the microwave. This is a bad idea because the hulls are incapable of retaining or conducting heat. There’s no reason to do it unless you want to ruin the hulls.
Can They Be Washed?
Buckwheat pillows should never be washed, let alone put in the machine. There are three major reasons for this:
- Water breaks down the hulls and degrades them.
- The hulls will take a long time to dry completely.
- Mold grows on wet hulls.
If you spill water or another liquid on your pillow, remove the hull and spread it out evenly in the sun to dry or gently circulate air indoors.
How to Deodorize Them?
To deodorize your buckwheat pillows, place them in direct sunlight for 2 to 3 hours every 2 to 3 months. Do not use sanitizers or alcohol-based deodorizers directly on the hulls, as this will ruin them.
How Long do They Last?
On average, buckwheat pillows last up to 10 years if properly cared for.
The thickness and quality of the hulls used determine the longevity of such pillows. Furthermore, the shell fabric must be thick because constant friction against thin material degrades the hulls even more and even the fabric.
The seams of the shell should be well-sewn because the hulls are heavy. Also, it should come with a zipper so the hulls can be taken out and refilled whenever required.
Should You Put Them in a Pillowcase?
It’s a good idea to put your buckwheat pillow in a pillowcase. This will shield the shell and hulls from outside elements such as dust and dirt. The hulls will be kept in good shape, and the shell will be stain-free.
How Do You Spot Clean Them?
Follow these 4 steps to spot clean a buckwheat pillow:
- Remove the hulls from the shell and place them in a dry, moisture-free plastic bag.
- Hand-wash or machine-wash the shell.
- Spread the hulls out on a clean cloth to air-dry or sun-dry.
- Once dry, place them back in the shell.
Are They Better Than Down Pillows?
Buckwheat pillows are the exact opposite of Down pillows, which are the epitome of luxury. Buckwheat hulls aren’t soft and fluffy, but they are hard and firm. They are more durable than Down, but way heavier.
There’s no better or worse. Each has its own qualities. However, when it comes to combatting neck pain, there’s only one winner: Buckwheat pillows. People with neck pain must avoid Down pillows like the plague.
Are They Better Than Down Alternative Pillows?
When comparing buckwheat pillows to Down alternative pillows, we must keep the nature of their fill in mind. The former is entirely natural, while the latter is entirely synthetic.
Down alternative has the soft, supple, and squishy feel of Down feathers but lacks firmness and durability. Although bulky buckwheat pillows lack the luxurious feel of Down alternative pillows, they are still a winner when it comes to maintaining proper spinal alignment.
People with neck pain must avoid Down alternative pillows just as much as they avoid Down pillows. They can, however, welcome buckwheat pillows to their beds.
Are They Better Than Feather Pillows?
Buckwheat and feather pillows are both filled with all-natural materials. However, the former is firmer than the latter. Feather pillows are lightweight, soft, and comfortable. Buckwheat pillows are bulky, hard, and yet, comfortable.
Although getting used to buckwheat pillows takes some time, they are still a better option for those suffering from neck and back pain. However, pillows stuffed with buckwheat have been scientifically proven to cause allergies whereas those stuffed with feathers don’t.
Are They Better Than Memory Foam Pillows?
A buckwheat pillow is entirely natural, whereas a memory foam pillow is entirely synthetic. However, both are extremely supportive and contour the head and neck to ensure proper spinal alignment. But there are differences.
Unlike a memory foam pillow, a buckwheat pillow cannot “spring back” to its original shape immediately after use. Instead, it rapidly flattens.
Memory foam, on the other hand, typically does not allow for good airflow, which is why pillows stuffed with it do not suit hot sleepers. Buckwheat pillows, on the other hand, promote adequate airflow and keep the head cool.
In a nutshell, both types have advantages and disadvantages. Neither is superior to the other.
Are They Better Than Kapok Pillows?
Kapok and buckwheat, both are natural, eco-friendly pillow filling materials. However, when compared, kapok pillows are significantly lighter. Buckwheat pillows, on the other hand, provide superior support due to the strength and firmness of the hulls.
Kapok pillows are fluffy; sleeping on one feels like resting your head on a cloud. Buckwheat pillows, on the other hand, have zero fluff; sleeping on one feels like your head is resting on a mound of sand.
To call one superior to the other would be unfair. Your sleeping preferences would determine which pillow suits you best.
Are They Better Than Latex Pillows?
Buckwheat and latex pillows are both firm and provide excellent support. However, when it comes to being noiseless and washable, latex pillows take the cake.
Are They Better Than Wool Pillows?
Buckwheat pillows are superior to wool pillows in terms of providing support and comfort to people suffering from neck pain.
Wool pillows, on the other hand, outperform buckwheat pillows in terms of hypoallergenicity, dust mite resistance, and mold resistance. They are also softer and springier than buckwheat pillows.
Are They Better Than Cotton Pillows?
In terms of firmness and durability, buckwheat pillows outperform cotton pillows. Cotton pillows, on the other hand, would outperform buckwheat pillows in terms of lightweightness, fluffiness, and quietness.
When comparing the two types, keep in mind that buckwheat pillows, unlike cotton pillows, never become lumpy.
How Do you Choose a Buckwheat Pillow?
When choosing a buckwheat pillow, keep the following factors in mind:
- Zippered shell for loft adjustment
- Firmness based on your sleeping preferences
- Standard or traditional sobakawa-style shape
- Shell made of heavy fabric, preferably cotton
- Price that is neither too low nor too high
How Do you Know When it’s Time to Replace it?
Don’t be concerned if your buckwheat pillow has flattened or sagged. You won’t have to replace the entire pillow. Simply refill it with new hulls. As a general rule, you should do this at least once every 3 years.
On the other hand, if the fabric of the outer shell is torn or yellowed, consider replacing it with a new shell, preferably with zippers. This will ensure that the hulls inside last for a long time.
How Much Does a Buckwheat Pillow Cost?
A queen or king-size buckwheat pillow of good quality usually costs between $50 and $200. Traditional saobakawa would cost lesser. You will also have to consider the price of buckwheat hulls available in bulk, which you will need for refilling. The cost varies from $5 to $20 per lbs (16 oz).
Why Are These Pillows So Expensive?
Buckwheat pillows are expensive because they are generally handmade. for the majority of buyers, these pillows are a one-time purchase. Their durability is unparalleled.
Yes, they do tend to flatten over time. However, they are back on track once refilled with new hulls, which aren’t very costly. These are the reasons buckwheat pillows are totally worth splurging on.
Are They Worth it?
Buckwheat pillows are worth every penny because of the support they offer and the durability they exhibit. Additionally, they make for an eco-friendly option of filling pillows and usually do not end up at a landfill.
Yes, they are difficult to clean and maintain. However, their beauty lies in their disadvantage. When the hulls inside have died, simply refill them and breathe new life into the pillows.
Where to Buy the Best Buckwheat Pillows?
To buy the best buckwheat pillows online, visit the following sites:
Do you have more questions about buckwheat pillows? Let us know in the comments below.