Feather vs. Down Pillow: Side-by-Side Comparison

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When searching for a new pillow, the number of options on the market can seem daunting. With a wide range of materials to choose from, you may find it challenging to settle on a pillow that will work for your specific needs. With this in mind, we’re going to look at two of the most popular materials for pillows: down and feather, to find which one is going to be perfect for your dreamiest sleep yet.

First, we’ll go over the difference between down and feather pillows and then describe which material might be better suited for different types of sleepers.

down vs feather

Down vs. Feather Pillows: Definitions

What is a Down Pillow?

A down pillow is a luxury pillow filled with the soft, fluffy clusters collected from the undercoat of ducks, geese or swans and does not contain stiff quills. These clusters are known as plumules which trap air to keep the bird warm and the same principle applies when down is used in a pillow. Hungarian goose down is often considered the best quality (also the most expensive) down material.

down pillow filling

Pros of Down pillows:

  • Exceptionally plush (or soft), malleable, lightweight, fluffier with a high loft and durable.
  • Squishy can be moulded into any shape for personalised comfort and quickly regain their original fluffiness.
  • Provide more comfort and little to no pushback – immediately sinks when you lay your head down, which some may like and others may not.
  • The higher fill power indicates higher loft and, broadly, better quality down pillow.

Cons of Down pillows:

  • It is expensive but lasts longer than feather, polyester, and some memory foam pillows.
  • Due to the natural insulating property, down pillows sleep a bit warmer. If you tend to sleep hot, a down pillow might not be ideal.
  • The support the down pillows offers depends on the loft, fill power and ration of down/feather content, but in general, down pillows aren’t as supportive as memory foam or latex pillows. 

There are also down alternative pillows which mimic the feel of natural down but are made of synthetic or natural materials like polyester, bamboo, cotton or wool. These are usually more affordable, sleep cooler and a good option for those allergic to down feathers. However, they don’t last as long as genuine down pillows.

Goose Down Vs. Duck Down:

While shopping for a down pillow, you may come across goose or down filling with goose down being more expensive. 

Personally, I feel there is no significant difference between the two in terms of feel or durability.

 Geese down is generally warmer with higher fill power than duck down. However, unless you’re picking a pillow with fill power greater than 800, there isn’t going to be a meaningful difference between goose or duck down. Also, some may say duck down has a slight odour but, this is not usually the case unless it’s low-quality down that hasn’t been cleaned properly.

Tl;dr: There is not much of a difference between goose or duck down. Get whichever is more affordable for you.

Feather pillow filling

What is a Feather pillow?

Feather pillows are filled with the quills and soft plumage from the wings and back of a duck or goose. The feathers have stiff quills running through the centre, making them less plush than down but more supportive. The major downside of feather pillows is that the quills may poke out of the pillowcase and cause discomfort from time to time. Over time, feathers may also start to come out of the pillow and the pillow may start to feel lumpy.

Most feather pillows are mixed with varying amounts of down to give them the required loft and fluffiness. Higher feather content in the pillow means better support, while higher down filling makes the pillow loftier. Usually, higher the down content also means a higher price.

Pros of Feather pillows:

  • Soft but not as soft as down.
  • Feathers are heavier and offer better support than down.
  • More affordable than down pillows but not as durable as down.
  • Doesn’t trap heat as much as down.

Cons of Feather Pillows:

  • It contains quills, which may poke out and cause discomfort.
  • They are not as fluffy as down but are fluffier than polyester and memory foam pillows.
  • Due to the flat shape of the feathers, it easily collapses and needs to be regularly fluffed.

Down vs. Feather Pillows: Similarities and Differences

Now that we know the basics of down and feather pillows, let’s see how they compare.

Main Similarities:

  • Both are natural materials (feathers are from the bird’s wings and back while down is from the undercoat).
  • Both are fairly durable, albeit down has a longer lifespan (3 to 4 years).
  • Both are relatively more expensive than standard pillows and comparable to memory foam pillows.

Main Differences:

  • Down pillows are loftier and fluffier, while feather pillows tend to be flatter and crisp.
  • Down pillows feel airy and overall plusher, while feather pillows are a bit firmer and offer more support to the head and neck.
  • Down pillow springs back to its shape quickly once compressed, while feather pillows take a little longer to regain their shape.
  • Feather pillows sleep relatively cooler than down due to the air pockets between the quills. So if someone sleeps hot, a feather pillow or down alternative pillow would be a better option.
  • Down pillows have a longer lifespan than feather pillows. 
  • Down pillows are 30 to 50% more expensive than feather pillows. Typically a good quality down pillow can cost $100 to $150, while feather pillows are usually priced under $70.
  • You can wash down pillows, but feather pillows are usually not washable.
Down Feather
Feel Soft/Airy Firmer/More Supportive
Loft Fluffier Flat & Crisp
Durability Very durable Not as durable
Lifespan 3 to 4 years 18 months to 3 years
Thermoregulation May trap heat Sleeps a bit cool
Care Does not easily lump May lump, quills may poke and start coming out
Washability Can be washed Not recommended to be washed
Price Expensive Affordable

Down vs. Feather Pillows: which one should you pick?

Down and feather pillows are both excellent choices but you need to consider factors like sleeping habits and preferences to decide which one is right for you

Here we’ve described the factors to help you make an informed call:

  1. Cost: Feather pillows are more affordable than down. If you’re on a budget, a feather pillow is a way to go.
  2. Comfort & Feel: Down pillows are plusher, voluminous and have a snugglier feel, while feather pillows are flatter and offer more support. Feather pillows may slightly sleep cooler than down pillows but that also depends on the type of outer pillowcase used.
  3. Sleep Position: Your sleep position is probably the most important factor.
    • If you sleep on your stomach, you want to use a thin pillow or no pillow. A low profile down pillow with low to medium fill is better for stomach sleepers.
    • Back sleepers need a pillow with medium loft and fill to maintain the natural S-shape of the spine. A medium profile down pillow or a 60:40 mix of feather and down would be ideal for back sleepers.
    • Side sleepers need a pillow with a high loft and medium fill to naturally align the head, neck, and spine. A high profile down pillow or an 80:20 mix of feather and down is recommended for side sleepers.
    • For combination sleepers, a down or feather pillow with medium loft and fill would be a good option as it offers the right amount of support in all positions.
  4. Durability: Feather pillows are not as durable as down, but they are more resilient than polyester pillows. A good quality down pillow can last 3 to 4 years, while feather pillows have a lifespan of 18 months to 3 years.
  5. Care: Both down and feather pillows need to be regularly fluffed and aired out to maintain their shape and loft. However, feather pillows should never be washed (unless there is an emergency), while down pillows can be hand or machine washed and dried. The down pillows must be 100% dried before use; otherwise, they may mildew.

The Bottomline

Down and feather pillows are often sold (or missold) as interchangeable, but subtle differences can make a big difference in comfort and support. While down pillows are some of the finest pillows out there and offer unmatched luxury and cosiness, not everyone would appreciate them. On the other hand, feather pillows are a good compromise offering a balance of comfort, support, and affordability.

We hope this guide has helped you understand the key differences between down and feather pillows and decide which one is right for you. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and we’ll be happy to help.

Happy pillow shopping! 🙂

James Lee

James Lee

James is the content director at WhatASleep, a certified sleep science coach from Spencer Institute and our in-house sleep product expert. Over three years, he's personally tested hundreds of mattresses. He likes to keep his reviews simple, objective, and straightforward so that the readers don't have to go through decision fatigue which is often the case while shopping for sleep products.

He hails from Sydney and has a journalism degree from the University of Queensland and an MBA from Melbourne Business School.

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