Despite the abundance of modern-day synthetic pillows on the market, traditional feather pillows continue to reign supreme. Those who value their sleep prefer these pillows for the comfort and durability they provide.
What Is a Feather Pillow?
A feather pillow is a pillow made from natural quilled feathers taken from the wings and backs of ducks, swans, and geese. These feathers are flat and have a quill in the center (imagine quill pens of bygone times).
It is not to be confused with Down pillows, which are made of fluffy, quill-free feathers plucked from the birds’ chest and underbelly.
Because of the quills, feather pillows are firmer and heavier than Down pillows, but they provide better support for the head and neck.
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What Does Sleeping on a Feather Pillow Feel Like?
Feather pillows offer a plush experience for sleepers. The firm structure of the feathers allows the pillows to conform to the shape of the sleeper’s head and neck, providing optimal support. Their fluffiness, on the other hand, makes for exceptional comfort.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Feather Pillows?
Listed below are the advantages and disadvantages of feather pillows:
- Optimal temperature control
- Suitable for all sleeping positions
- Emit odor
- Retain moisture
- Collect dust mites
- Prone to going flat
- Quills tend to poke out
- Difficult to wash and dry
- Believed to cause allergies
- Unsuitable for neck and back issues
- Unsuitable for people sensitive to noise
Are They Suitable for Backpacking and Camping?
Because feather pillows are lightweight, portability is never an issue. If you’re an avid traveler looking for a good night’s sleep in a hotel, feel free to carry one with you.
These pillows, however, are typically avoided by backpackers and campers due to the dust, dirt, grime, and sweat that accompany their adventures. Cleaning a feather pillow is difficult, which is why it is frequently left off most lists of camping pillows.
Check out the best backpacker and traveler pillows
Are They Safe for Toddlers?
Some parents avoid letting their toddlers sleep on feather pillows, fearing the quills will poke out and hurt their little ones. Others think these pillows are unsafe due to allergy concerns. While the former can surely be a potential hazard, true feather allergies are rare.
Pillows aren’t recommended for infants and toddlers anyway due to the risk of suffocation. Dr. Maria Melendres, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins University who specializes in pediatric sleep apnea, believes a normally developing toddler should be introduced to pillows only around the age of 2.
Are They Good for Side Sleepers?
Side sleepers may benefit from feather pillows, especially if they cuddle their pillow frequently. Because of its moldability, the fill material can conform to varying body shapes and help you sleep better.
Keep in mind, however, that feather pillows flatten faster. Because side sleepers usually require a higher loft, these pillows may fail to keep the head and neck properly aligned in the long run.
Furthermore, side sleepers who are overweight (130 pounds or more) or have broad shoulders may find the loft of feather pillows to be too low and, hence, uncomfortable.
Are They Good for Back Sleepers?
Back sleepers typically require medium-lofted pillows that conform to the head and neck shape and keep them aligned properly. For this reason, feather pillows are an excellent choice for them.
However, as is the case with overweight side sleepers, these pillows might also be uncomfortable for back sleepers who are on the heavier side.
Are They Good for Stomach Sleepers?
Stomach sleepers will benefit from the softness and low loft of feather pillows, which are required for neutral spinal alignment while sleeping.
Are They Good for Hot Sleepers?
Hot sleepers who sweat a lot or are easily overheated while sleeping would surely love feather pillows. Compared to other fill materials, quilled feathers trap less heat, which, in turn, keeps sleepers cool and comfortable.
Are They Good for Sleepers Who Are Sensitive to Noise?
If you’re sensitive to noise, avoid sleeping on a feather pillow. You will never like how the feathers rustle when they shift about.
It’s no less than a curse for people with excellent aural abilities (imagine someone with Jaime-Sommers ears). Especially if you have a rare hearing disorder such as Hyperacusis, a feather pillow can easily turn into a nightmare the moment you rest your head on it.
Are They Good for Neck and Back Pain?
Sleeping on feather pillows is not recommended if you suffer from neck or back pain, because the feathers cannot provide you with the loft and support you require.
Do They Cause Allergies?
Freshly plucked, unprocessed feathers might trigger allergies because of the animal dander, bugs, and microbes present on them. For this reason, before stuffing them into pillows, manufacturers thoroughly clean and sterilize them to ensure all allergens are removed.
At the risk of repeating, we would also like to remind you that true feather allergies are extremely uncommon. Feathers are considered anti-allergenic in nature because they don’t usually attract dust mites and germs rapidly.
In fact, natural feathers are less permeable to house dust mite allergens compared to standard synthetic fill materials. Keeping all these aspects in mind, it is safe to say that feather pillows themselves do not cause allergies as such.
However, if your pillow is too old, has not been cleaned in a long time, is always encased in a dirty pillowcase, or is contaminated with mold and mildew, chances are you will end up getting allergies.
But, that’s true for every pillow out there, isn’t it?
Do They Cause Ear Problems?
Because of their softness, feather pillows are unlikely to cause “pillow ear,” a condition in which you wake up with a painful, swollen, and sore ear. However, there’s no denying that the quills could poke your ear. Nonetheless, they would never cause an ear infection on their own.
Pillow ear is a painful condition caused by the constant pressure on the ear cartilage while sleeping or resting against a pillow. The pressure activates the pain receptors on the outside of the ear (pinna), causing swelling and throbbing.
Feather pillows are firm, but they are also soft and moldable, so they are unlikely to cause this condition. However, if a feather pillow is constantly damp or hasn’t been cleaned in a long time, it can cause much more than just a pillow ear and contribute to an ear infection.
Are They Better Than Down Pillows?
Down and feather pillows are similar in many ways, yet different.
Feather pillows are slightly bulkier than Down pillows, but more scrunchable because of the quills. However, they are equally fluffy and, in fact, better at retaining their shape for a longer time.
Whereas Down is more of a cluster, a feather carries a flat shape because of which it can offer better support to the neck and head.
Nevertheless, quilled feathers always have the possibility of poking out through the pillow shell. This is why almost all feather pillows are filled with some amount of Down (usually 5 – 10%), at least on the topmost level.
Blending the two fill materials also helps in increasing the overall softness and loft of the pillow and prevents it from going flat rapidly.
Regarding costs, a feather pillow is less expensive than a Down pillow because it’s easier to source quilled feathers from the wings and back of birds in larger quantities. Another reason is the need for more quill-free Down than quilled feathers to adequately stuff a pillow.
Are They Better Than Memory Foam Pillows?
When it comes to fill materials for pillows, comparing feathers to memory foam is like comparing apples to oranges. Both serve distinct functions.
A feather pillow is softer, fluffier, lighter, more heat resistant, and made of organic material. A memory foam pillow, on the other hand, is firmer, heavier, heat-retaining, more resilient to shape changes, and synthetic out-and-out.
Feather pillows are your best bet for a luxurious sleeping experience. However, if you have neck and back pain and need more supportive pillows, memory foam pillows are the way to go.
Are They Better Than Wool Pillows?
Both feather and wool are natural, breathable stuffing materials for sleep pillows. Both are soft and fluffy, dust mite resistant, and hypoallergenic.
In fact, both have the same drawbacks, such as high cost, cleaning difficulty, and insufficient support for people suffering from neck pain. However, wool pillows far outperform feather pillows in terms of thermoregulation and wicking speed.
Are They Better Than Latex Pillows?
Latex pillows are much more springy and hold their shape better than feather pillows. When you sleep on one, your head might feel like it is bouncing on top of the pillow rather than sinking into it. This strange feeling is not present in feather pillows, which provide a higher level of comfort.
Are They Better Than Buckwheat Pillows?
Buckwheat pillows are completely filled with buckwheat hulls, giving them a noticeable hard and firm feel. Although the fill material will align the head, neck, and spine optimally, such pillows are unlikely to provide the softness, fluffiness, and comfort of a feather pillow.
How Long Do Feather Pillows Last?
A well-kept feather pillow can last between 3 and 5 years. Longevity also depends on the degree of usage, quality of the fill material, and other hygiene factors. To be on the safe side, replace your feather pillows every 1 – 2 years.
Are Birds Killed for the Feathers?
Quilled feathers are usually plucked ethically from live ducks, swans, and geese, or their nests. Proper measures are taken so no harm is caused to them during the process.
However, it is good to remember that these feathers are also a byproduct of the meat industry where birds are slaughtered and then their feathers removed.
Can You Wash a Feather Pillow?
Most feather pillows cannot be washed unless it’s an emergency. Under no circumstances should a feather pillow be tossed into the wash, and never with any detergent.
This is because, during the washing cycles, the vanes growing from the central shaft will stick to the quill. It’s difficult to dry them. Wet feathers can easily become the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew.
Always check the care instructions before gearing up to wash your favorite feather pillow. Most are likely to recommend dry-cleaning only. If at all, you must wash it, do it gently by hand.
Use an ultra-mild detergent (preferably use none) and cold water. Never punch or vigorously scrub it, lest you want to decrease its longevity or ruin it completely.
Most importantly, dry it thoroughly, preferably in the sun or in a dryer on low heat. For more information, check out our article on how to wash pillows.
Read more about how to wash pillows here
What’s the Problem With Washing a Feather Pillow With Detergents?
Feathers in ducks, swans, and geese are designed to keep water away from the Downs and keep the birds warm during the winter. As a result, they come smeared with natural oils, making them quick-wicking.
Washing your feather pillows removes the oils from the feathers, making them brittle and prone to breaking with the slightest nudge. A broken feather is extremely sharp and can easily pierce your skin while you sleep.
Can You Clean It Without Washing It?
If you can unzip the pillow shell, remove the fill material and sun-dry it in a fine mesh cage. This will allow the feathers to dry more quickly without flying away. If the pillow shell isn’t openable, take your feather pillow to a laundromat or send it to a dry cleaning facility.
Can You Put It in the Dryer?
Putting feather pillows in the dryer is usually not advised because the quills risk breaking down and eventually impairing the firmness of the pillow.
However, if you live in a humid climate, such pillows tend to soak up moisture over time. You must then toss them in the dryer on low heat to fully dry them and prolong their life.
Remember to place a bath towel alongside to minimize the impact of the drying cycles.
Can You Bleach It?
You should never bleach your feather pillows, just as you should never wash them with detergent. Bleaching will remove the natural oils from the feathers, making them brittle.
How Do You Clean Yellowed Feather Pillows?
There is no way to clean a yellowed feather pillow without ruining it. Your only options are to wash it with a strong detergent or bleach it. Both these processes will damage the feathers and make them fragile.
Does a Feather Pillow Get Softer Over Time?
Because the quills flatten and align with each other, feather pillows soften and lose their loft over time, especially with use. The amount of softness will be determined by how clean the pillow is and how gently it is used.
The dirtier it is, the softer it will become. Frequently punching the pillow also softens it rapidly. Please keep in mind that this isn’t your typical soft; it’s more of a compressed, lumpy pillow. To redistribute the feathers, you would need to fluff up your feather pillow from time to time.
How to Fluff Up a Flat Feather Pillow?
Follow these 6 steps to fluff up your flat feather pillow:
- Grab the pillow at each end on the narrower sides.
- Squeeze slowly until you can feel the other ends.
- Rub the pillows in soft, circular motions to de-clump the feathers.
- Repeat this step multiple times.
- Whack the pillow gently on both sides.
- Allow it to sit in the sun for a while.
Does a Feather Pillow Smell?
New feather pillows may have a plastic-like odor. This is known as “storage smell,” and it is usually caused by the packaging materials and the space where they were previously stored. This smell fades quickly, no matter how strong it is.
The fill material itself is another reason a feather pillow stinks. Feathers carry the natural odor of the birds from which they were plucked, no matter how well they were processed. This smell, too, does not last long.
Unclean or damp feather pillows, on the other hand, are likely to emit a musty odor that smells like rotting wood. This smell, caused by mold and mildew, is often persistent.
How Do You Choose a Feather Pillow?
Consider the following aspects when choosing a feather pillow:
To keep the quills from poking out, the shell fabric should be tightly woven, well-stitched at the seams (look for double stitches), and of high thread count.
Firmness and Loft
Firmer pillows tend to have more feathers, which is a sign of quality. However, examine the firmness depending on your sleeping position. Back and side sleepers should choose a higher loft feather pillow, while stomach sleepers should choose a lower loft.
Pillows filled entirely with feathers do not last as long as those filled with a combination of feathers and Down.
High-cost feather pillows usually offer better comfort and durability.
Certification of feather pillows indicates that the fill material was harvested in a humane manner. Look for RDS (Responsible Down Standard) certification. It is the most widely used specification for down and feather pillows.
RDS-certified pillows do not contain feathers plucked from live or force-fed birds. Rather, the source birds are treated following the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury, or disease
- Ability to express normal and natural behavior
- Freedom from fear and distress
How Do You Tell When It’s Time to Replace Your Feather Pillow?
Consider replacing your feather pillow if…
- You wake up with neck and back pain every now and then.
- The pillow has gone flat or lumpy.
- It no longer offers the support it once did.
- You frequently suffer from headaches and migraines.
- You wake up sneezing, allergic, or with skin rashes.
- When folded in half, the pillow does not quickly return to its original shape.
- It is permanently stained.
- It has an odd odor.
In general, replace your feather pillows every 12 to 24 months.
How Much Should You Spend on a Feather Pillow?
Feather pillows come in a variety of quality and prices. However, you can easily find the best options within a price range of $50 to $180.
Where to Buy the Best Feather Pillows?
You can buy the best feather pillows online on the following sites:Best places to buy pillows online
Do you have more questions about feather pillows? Let us know in the comment section below.