What Is A Down Pillow? Would You Use One?

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Pillows come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. While shapes and sizes are pretty straight forward, navigating the differences between the materials used to fill pillows can often be confusing and difficult. For example, you may be wondering, what is a down pillow? Don’t worry though, we are here to help cover the basics.

This article reviews what down is and how it is used as filling in pillows. It will also teach you what down alternative is, what down-filled means, where down comes from and how its harvested, how it differs from feathers, and what you can expect from a pillow made out of one so you can decide if is the right filling for your pillows at home.

What Is Down?

hands holding feathersFirst things first, what is down feather and where does it come from? Down for pillows is most commonly sourced from ducks and geese but can also come from swans.

Down is the under plumage or undercoating on a bird and can be found beneath the layer of feathers, close to the bird’s skin. Down grows in wispy clusters that are comprised of many soft filaments growing in every direction. Down is primarily located on the chest region on a duck or goose.

Down filling in pillows is bound together in order to create a breathable, soft, cushion that contains pockets of air for added comfort and breathability. Down can also be found in coats and other types of bedding like blankets or comforters because it has insulating properties. While it is particularly warm when packed tighter and thicker, down pillows do not retain much heat. They are not particularly cooling, but they do not retain heat like traditional memory foam either.

Down Alternative Filling

When asking yourself, what is a down pillow made of? You probably didn’t realize how complex the answer could possibly be. For example, what is down alternative filling? Down alternative is made from synthetic fibers to resemble and perform just like natural down. Its ability to actually mimic down varies greatly from pillow to pillow. Quality should be prioritized when shopping for a down alternative pillow.

Down alternative pillows are often less expensive than natural down pillows which can be a benefit for those on a budget. Of course, it should be noted that a down alternative does not last as long as natural down and will need replacing more frequently. Additionally, down alternative filling will not shift and move as natural down would. Down alternative is also a great choice for people who do not enjoy products sourced from animals, like vegans and animal rights advocates.

Duck Down vs Goose Down

Both duck and goose down are used in pillows and both have their strengths.

Goose Down

For the most part, goose down is considered to be superior out of the two. Goose down is great for pillows because the down comes in larger clusters and are from older birds which mean they are more resilient and often more comfortable.

Duck Down

Duck down feather pillows have been criticized for having a more potent smell. This is due to the eclectic diet of ducks which frequently manifests itself as a smell in the feathers.

Down Pillow FAQs

cute girl with her head on a pillow1. How Do Down Pillows Feel?

Now that we know how down pillows are made, let’s talk about how they feel. A down pillow is fluffy and soft. It can easily be shaped to fit snugly against your head and neck to create the perfect contour on any person. A down pillow also allows for adaptable support throughout the night so you change sleep positions with ease. It is very plush and has a luxurious feeling. Its adaptability makes it a great choice for guest rooms as it can easily accommodate varying shapes and sleep positions.

2. What Is a Down-Filled Pillow?

A pillow that uses the specific term down-filled, refers to the blend of materials used on the inside. More specifically, a down-filled pillow contains 90% down filling blended with 10% feather filling.

The addition of feathers allows for less clumping inside the pillow while also making the pillow slightly stiffer and crunchier. Although they do not normally clump, they can form flat layers and compress differently causing the need for frequent fluffing. Overall, a down-filled pillow is still very soft, plush, and malleable however, feathers are more likely to stick through the pillows encasement and poke you and your face while sleeping.

3. What Is Fill Power?

children having a pillow fightWhen looking to buy a down pillow, it is likely you will see labels describing the “fill power” of the pillow. The fill power denotes the overall lifespan and potential durability of the pillow. More specifically, fill power describes the amount of volume an ounce of down occupies. The higher the fill power number, the larger the down cluster. The smaller the fill power number, the smaller the down cluster.

The typical range falls between 500 to 800 fill. A down pillow with 800 or more fill power is very high quality and durable.

4. How Are Down Pillows and Feather Pillows Different?

Feathers used in pillows are generally sourced from the back and wing part of ducks or geese. The difference between down and feather pillows is quite noticeable. Aside from feather pillows being less expensive, they are not as soft or malleable, and feathers contain hard quills in the center of their structure which easily poke through pillow material and become scratchy on your skin. Whereas down does not contain quills, instead they have plumes for the center which are soft and round.

So when it comes down to feather pillows vs down pillows, down pillows are the best choice when it comes to bedding because they are more practical, last longer, and are more comfortable overall. The additional price is well worth it if you prefer a fluffy cloud-like pillow.

Feather pillows are considered to be better used in decorative pillows because they are not likely to poke your face, at least not as often. It is also common for feather pillows to use a small percentage of down to soften the overall feel and to help maintain loft. Make sure you check the label to determine if feathers are the only filling, or just a large percentage of them so you can get exactly what you are looking to purchase.

5. How Is Down Harvested?

geese family with goslingsDown is collected and harvested mainly using two different methods: the down can be harvested after birds are slaughtered for meat, or by plucking feathers and down while the bird is alive. Many reviews from different people state that they find these processes to be unpleasant at best and some even consider down harvesting to be inhumane and do not support it.

6. How Firm Are Down Pillows?

Each type of pillow discussed in this article is available at varying levels of firmness. Whether it’s down, down alternative, down-filled, or feather, the firmness depends on the amount of filling contained within the pillow. The more filling, the former the pillow. Adversely, less filling equals a softer pillow.

Pros and Cons of Down Pillows

What is a down pillow? By now, you should no longer be asking this question because you have learned so much. Just like other types of pillows, down also has its pros and cons. We hope that this can help you determine if a down pillow will suit your specific sleep needs and priorities.


  • Lightweight
  • Cuddly, soft, and cloud-like
  • Easily malleable so your pillow contours perfectly to your natural head and neck shape
  • Long-lasting and durable up to 15 years


  • Quality down can be costly
  • Some people are allergic to down
  • Extremely difficult to clean
  • Require consistent and repeated fluffing
  • Down is not firm, if you prefer that feel in a pillow
  • Not exceptionally animal-friendly for those who support such causes

Let’s Get Down to It!

What is a down pillow? After reading this article you should have a good grasp on the answer to this question but let’s quickly review.

Down pillows are durable and super soft. They are malleable and contour to the shape of your head and neck with ease. Down pillows are generally sourced from ducks and geese. Many down pillows are blended with feathers to create a different, crisper feel and as a result of the blend are also less expensive than a 100% down pillow. Lastly, the higher the fill power of a down pillow, the higher the quality and durability you expect from the product.

I personally sleep on a down pillow and have most of life. Every time I try to switch to a different filling, I am let down and wind up returning to a down pillow because I love how soft and comfortable they feel. They work very well for someone who sleeps in all positions or switches sleep positions frequently, as I do.

Now that you are armed with all the basics, have fun shopping for your new pillow, even if you have decided down is not the ideal pillow filling for you. We’d love to hear from you. Share your down pillow reviews in the comments section.

Additional Resources

Emily Alexander
Emily Alexander

Emily Melynn Alexander was born on the east coast of the USA but has called Colorado home since 2000. She has a degree in English and Political Science from Metropolitan State University of Denver. She enjoys sleeping in locations all around the world.

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