How to Buy a Down Pillow

You pillow shouldn't be a pain in the neck. A down pillow might be the answer to waking up less than rested, as if you parked your head on a board or a brick. Down is the fluffy, insulating cluster of soft feathers lining the chest of a duck or a goose, under the feathers. A bed pillow stuffed with down is a luxurious investment in pure comfort -- as long as you're not allergic to feathers. Do your homework to ensure that you get the down pillow of your dreams.

Upside of Down

Woman resting her head on pillow in bed.

Pamper your head with a pillow that feels like a cloud -- the more down in it, the more like a cloud it feels. Many pillows are down and feather blends; that's OK if the blend is at least 80 percent down and only 20 percent feathers. More feathers equal a stiffer, less-insulated pillow with more quills to stick you and escape from the pillow cover. Higher feather counts mean lower quality and lower cost. Pure down, the optimal head rest, can be expensive, depending on the type of bird who contributed the down. Read the label to see the mix of down, feathers, goose and duck that will determine how dreamy your down pillow is.

Duck, Duck, Goose

Save some money by buying duck down. Ducks are easier to raise than geese, more widely available, and can produce high-quality down, so a duck down pillow could be an economical compromise. Goose down is larger and denser than duck down. Geese are big, cold-weather birds, and their down clusters reflect their greater size and need for strong insulation. Goose down is fluffier with bigger clusters that weigh more, cushion more and last longer than smaller clusters of down. That translates to higher quality and higher cost.

Down and Dirty

You can wash a down pillow, but you'd better be sure you get it completely dry because down is prone to mold and mildew. A damp or wet down pillow can collapse in less than a day, and you can't revive it. If you've washed your pillow -- carefully, following the instructions on the label -- dry it for 4 hours on medium heat in a dryer. Monitor it and don't crank the heat setting too high, or you'll scorch your investment. But err on the side of too dry rather than chance a damp pillow. Protect that down pillow with sensible behavior. Don't wash your hair and go to sleep with a wet head; skip night creams, and use a pillow protector under the pillowcase as a barrier against body oils and sweat. Never air your pillow outside in a humid climate or on a damp day. Change your pillowcase frequently.

Flat or Fluffy

A stiff neck needs a better pillow. Harvard Medical Center says the best sleeping positions to protect your neck are side or back sleeping. The best pillows are feather or down, but some might last only a year or more. A collapsed pillow that no longer springs back when you squeeze it needs replacing. So factor in fluff when making your selection. Fluffier means better air circulation in the pillow and a longer lasting, better sleep experience. Check fill power for pillow longevity and comfort. Note that 600 fill power is usually duck down with smaller clusters and a shorter life. It's also firmer. Down termed 700 is medium cluster size, better longevity and medium firm. And 800 fill power and above is you and Marie Antoinette, dreaming deep. Larger down clusters from mature geese last for years, loft higher and mean a lighter, softer pillow.

About the Author

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .