A Short Essential Guide to Pillows

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A good mattress is half the battle in getting a good night’s sleep; the other half is a decent pillow. As well as being comfortable, the pillow should provide you with support and help you to maintain good posture when you sleep. That means keeping your head, neck and spine in alignment. This post is a short guide to pillows so you can choose the best type for you.

Knowing when to replace your pillow

No matter how you love your pillow, you can’t use the same one forever! The pillow has to serve its purpose: which is to support your head so you can get a good sleep. How do you know if your pillow is no longer any use to you? There are several tests you can perform:

  • Is it stained?
  • Is it torn?
  • Does it smell?
  • Does it spring back to its original shape if you fold it in half?

If your pillow doesn’t return to its natural shape and/or if the answer to any of the other questions above is a resounding ‘Yes’, your pillow must go. To keep using it will do you no favours.

Replacement and durability

You should look to replace your pillow every 18 months. However, memory foams pillows last up to three years and you don’t need to replace them as often. Note that a natural pillow will last longer than a synthetic one and a good-quality pillow will last longer than a cheap one.

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Choosing your pillow

When it comes to choosing your pillow, you have several different options. Here are some common types:

Pillow Types

Lifespan (years)

Machine Washable

Price (£)






1.5 to 3



Memory foam

3 to 4




1.5 to 2







Down or feather

Down pillows and feather pillows are soft, provide you with support and have natural fillings, so they last longer. However, you need to keep plumping them up regularly. The plus side of down pillows is that they don’t have hard quills that could poke through the pillow and jab you. Down pillows retain heat more. If you have a feather pillow, you don’t have to turn over to the cold side of the pillow as often.

If you’re looking for a down pillow, look for a ‘fill power’ of around 600 or more. This is a measure of the fluffiness of the pillow and indicates that the product is high quality and will last longer. Beware of sales pitches for down pillows. Just because a product has a high fill power, it doesn’t mean it will last you for a decade or for a lifetime, so don’t fall for false marketing claims.

Memory foam

Memory foam gets a little hot in the summer, but will offer you strong support. These pillows are easy to look after and the memory foam moulds to the shape of your body. This makes them terrific if you suffer from neck pain and need some relief. Some people find memory foam pillows too dense and too firm, however, so think carefully about whether this is the right pillow for you.


Pillows with a microfibre filling aren’t as breathable as others, aren’t as malleable and don’t last as long. That doesn’t make them bad, however. They’re good if you’re on a budget. They come in various sizes and heights and are hypoallergenic, giving you flexibility when you’re choosing a pillow. You can also wash them at home on a 30ºC wash.


Latex pillows are a good but less common choice because they’re expensive. If you can get past the expense, you’ll be buying a pillow that’s naturally hypoallergenic, breathable, durable and will last a long time. Latex pillows offer lots of support and hold their shape well. They feel similar to memory foam and will support your neck. Unlike memory foam, they don’t overheat and you’ll be able to maintain an even temperature.

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A standard size pillow will be fine for most people, but remember that your pillow should support your head and allow you to maintain a good posture while you sleep.

You can also get specially shaped pillows such as cervical or contoured pillows, which can help you if you have neck or back pain. Body pillows lend support, relief and stability for pressure points on the body.

Your sleeping position

The position in which you sleep habitually is a decisive factor in determining what type of pillow is right for you. Some pillows will be more suitable than others, depending on how you sleep:


If you sleep on your back, you want a thin pillow because it won’t push your head forward and place a strain on your neck. A pillow that has a medium level of firmness is appropriate to support your head. Here memory foam would be a good choice, too, since it will mould to your neck.


Experts advise against sleeping on your front. This position places you at more risk of straining your neck and puts pressure on your lower back. If you do prefer to sleep on your front, however, a thin, soft pillow would be better to keep your head and neck in line with your spine. Almost flat is good. You can avoid suffering lower back pain by placing a pillow under your stomach.


If you sleep on your side at night, a firm, a high pillow will be best. This will keep your head and spine aligned. It will also relieve the pressure on your shoulder because it won’t be bearing the weight of your body. Sleeping with a pillow between your knees can help to reduce pain in your lower back if you sleep in this position.

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Taking care of your pillows

Once you’ve bought your pillow, take good care of it. The more you look after it, the longer it will last and the more loyally it will serve you. You can do this by following the quick tips below:

Change your pillowcase(s) regularly

This is a no-brainer. You don’t want to be using the same pillowcase months on end. Ideally, you should change it once a week. If you sweat a lot in your sleep, change it more often than this.

Don’t forget to protect your pillow(s) too with a pillow protector, which offers a closed barrier against any dirt or oil that might get onto your pillow. Buying two protectors per pillow will allow you to rotate them when you put one in the wash.

Washing your pillows

You can actually machine wash some pillows, you know. Check the tag first and then remove the pillowcases. Evenly distribute the pillows in your washing machine, add your detergent and then start your washer on the necessary program. Put them through an extra rinse and spin cycle.

Drying your pillows

Some pillows, just as they’re machine washable, are also machine dryable. Pop your pillows in the dryer, add the dryer balls and, to stop your pillows clumping together, some dryer sheets. Set your dryer to a medium heat and check every 15 minutes to see if your pillows are dry. You can also hang them out in the sunshine to help them dry. Dry them completely before using them.

A good pillow is important for a good sleep. Not only should it be comfortable, but also, more importantly, it should support your head and keep it in line with your neck and spine. If a pillow doesn’t offer the right level of support, don’t buy it.