Product Reviews

The Best Pillows, Based On Rigorous Testing

All of us, in some ways, are pillow experts. They are a household item that you interact with every day for hours at a time, and spend up to a third of your life sleeping on. While the best pillows may vary by person, after four weeks of sleeping on 15 pillows, the most consistent leader was the Coop Home Goods Original Pillow. It’s a pillow that’s comfortable right out of the box, but has the additional benefits of being adjustable, affordable, relatively easy to wash, and doesn’t hold on to heat or humidity. The best value pillow I found was the Amazon Basics Down Alternative Pillow, which was not only surprisingly supportive and a terrific value for the price, but also the easiest to clean of all the pillows I tried. For the best down option, I recommend the Parachute Down Pillow.

The best pillows, like The Original pillow from Coop, can have a major impact on your sleep.

Illustration: Forbes, Photo: Coop

What the “best pillow” means is up to how you sleep and what you prefer, and there are several different types of pillows on this list that may work for you. Dr. Eric Landsness, a sleep neurologist at Washington University, told me that while there’s no research proving that any particular kind of pillow has sleep benefits, it’s well-established that investing in your sleep environment can enhance the quality of your sleep, particularly your pillow and bed. “It’s worth investing in a good pillow. I like to tell my patients finding the right pillow is like finding the right pair of shoes,” he said. “Sometimes it takes multiple pillows until you find the right one, you can’t be afraid to try it for a couple nights and then return it.”

Based on research and interviews, I established certain parameters when trying to find the best pillows: They should be both soft and supportive, stand up to the wear and tear of washing and drying without coming apart and have a generous return policy that will let you give the pillow a proper trial. I also tested pillows for heat and humidity retention, noting which ones stayed cool and dry.

The following is a list of the best pillows that resulted from my monthlong testing:

My Expertise

Aside from being someone who really loves to sleep, I’m a journalist and reporter who has been covering the food, lifestyle and home space for more than 10 years for publications like New York Magazine, Food & Wine and Vox, among others. For my tests, I spoke to sleep and pillow experts including Washington University Sleep Neurologist Dr. Eric Landsness and John Spears, the general manager and pillow buyer of San Francisco’s Hotel Drisco, where each guest selects from a pillow menu. I also spoke to Lauren Fountain, product expert at the Sleep Foundation and Certified Sleep Science Coach.

How I Tested The Best Pillows

For the 15 standard sized pillows I tested, I slept on each one, and also asked my parents and my partner to sleep on finalists. While I slept on every pillow that I tested, I split up the other pillows according to the general material each tester preferred—down alternative, memory foam, and down—and took notes on how they liked each pillow. Once I determined each person’s favorite pillow, I then slept on it again to further assess. But since taking notes while asleep is notoriously unreliable, I also devised a series of objective tests for the most important factors of a good pillow.

First, I tested loft, a term that describes how tall a pillow is and how much it squishes down when you put your head on it. Some pillows sink down a good bit, and others stay relatively uncompressed. I was looking for a pillow that would still add cushion once the weight of a human head was applied, and would bounce back to its original loft relatively quickly, without leaving a giant divot in the pillow or needing a serious fluffing to get back into shape. The average weight of a human head is 11 pounds, so I used an 11-pound bowling ball as a proxy and measured how far each pillow sank after the ball rested on its surface for 30 minutes. I also measured how quickly the pillow sprang back once the ball was removed to determine how well the pillow could mold to, and support, a human head. Having that cushion is what provides you head and neck support. “The height is important,” is how Dr. Eric Landsness put it. That means it’s a pillow that won’t leave your head resting at an uncomfortable angle on the mattress, which can lead to aches and pains when you wake up.

I used an 11-pound bowling ball to approximate the weight of a human head in testing.

Margaret Eby

Pillows can notoriously retain heat, which leads to an uncomfortable, sweaty sleep—the cool side of the pillow is a sought-after quality for a reason. To test for breathability and temperature retention, I also put a hot water bottle with 99 degree water—as close as I could get to the resting human average of 98.6 degrees—on each pillow for half an hour. I measured how hot the pillow got, and used a humidity sensor to gauge how much humidity was on the surface of the pillow once the hot water bottle was removed, to see how cool a pillow would remain once resting on it.

If the pillow was adjustable, like the Coop Home Original Loft Pillow, I experimented with taking out and putting filling back in to see if it made a significant difference in the pillow composition (and if the filling, once adjusted, clumped up or otherwise became difficult to manage). Finally, I washed and dried each pillow according to their instructions to determine how well they stood up to wear and tear, noting whether the seams of the pillow seemed worn or otherwise strained by the trip through the washer and dryer. I also evaluated how easy the pillows were to clean, and whether they required a good deal of fluffing to return to their original shape.

Best Pillow Overall

Adjust This Supportive Pillow To The Loft That’s Just Right For You


Coop Home Goods Original Pillow

Fill: Shredded Memory Foam | Firmness: Adjustable | Warranty/Trial Period: 100 Days | Price: $72 |

Best for:

  • People who want to try out shredded memory foam and want a good trial period
  • Sleepers who want to customize the firmness of their pillow
  • People who tend to sleep hot and would like a pillow that doesn’t get heat

Skip If:

  • You’re not a fan of shredded memory foam
  • You want a more affordable option

Of all the pillows in all the different materials I tested, the Coop Home Goods Original Pillow stood out as a clear winner. This pillow uses shredded memory foam rather than a solid piece of foam, which means the materials can shift and mold to your body. It compresses when you put your head (or a bowling ball) on it, but still provides enough support to cradle your head and neck. It cooled off quickly and didn’t retain humidity, and it stood up well to washing without developing lumps, off-putting odors, or frayed seams. It’s comfy without the added expense or upkeep of down.

The Coop Home Goods Pillow was also one of the more comfortable memory foam pillows I tested. The solid Sleepnumber Ultimate Comfortfit Pillow was lumpy and didn’t conform to my head. And the Tuft and Needle Original Foam Pillow didn’t have as much loft in testing, either. The Comfort Revolution Blue Bubble Gel Pillow did better in tests and conformed well into different shapes, but several reviews show the blue bubbles melting into a glom.

The best part of the Coop Home Goods Pillow is that it’s adjustable. It comes with an additional bag of the shredded memory foam it’s stuffed with, meaning that you can add or take out fill in order to adjust the firmness to your liking (and the brand has recommended heights for side, back, and stomach sleepers). The pillow is constructed with two covers—one a quilted outer layer, the other a polyester inner layer—so there’s no chance of that fill leaking out. Adjusting the fill level can be a bit messy, but it’s far and away the easiest system for changing the pillow firmness level of any of the ones I researched.

The Coop Home Goods Original won best pillow overall because it’s adjustable—it comes with extra … [+] foam to tweak the pillow’s height.

Margaret Eby

The ease of adjustability set the Coop Home Goods Original Pillow apart, and it was exactly what Dr. Landsness suggested looking for when I spoke to him. Because finding the right pillow firmness for you is, as he put it, “a Goldilocks game,” discovering a pillow that you can also change the softness of, albeit manually through taking out and putting filling back in, was a huge draw. “Variable firmness would allow you to optimize your pillow as needed,” Dr. Landsness said. “In a pillow you’re stuck with one setting and one setting only.” But not with the Coop Home Goods OriginalPillow. Though other shredded memory foam options performed solidly in testing, this added feature is what put the Coop Home Goods over the top.

In heat and humidity testing, the Coop Home Goods Original Pillow proved to be particularly breathable. The humidity meter read just 38.6% humidity on the pillow’s surface, while the ambient humidity of the room I was testing in was 43%. It also springs back to its original form without coaxing—several other pillows that didn’t make the cut stayed compressed until I shook them out—which is a nice feature if you don’t want to spend time fluffing pillows. I’m usually a stomach sleeper, but recently I’ve been trying to sleep on my side to help with back pain, and I found that the Coop Home Goods Original Loft Pillow was the easiest pillow I found to make that transition. My mom called it “the marshmallow pillow,” and requested that I hang on to it for her future visits to my house.

In my testing, I noticed that many pillows took hours to dry, or smelled funny after a wash. This pillow took an extra dryer cycle, but that was better than an extra two cycles that other memory foam pillows required. Plus, wIth a 100 day trial period, you can easily return the Coop Home Goods if it’s not to your liking.

Best Value Pillow

An Affordable Down Alternative Pillow That Aced My Tests


Amazon Basics Down-Alternative Pillows

Fill: Down Alternative | Firmness: Medium | Warranty/Trial Period: 30 Days | Price: $37 for two

Best for:

  • People looking for a more budget-friendly pick than the Coop Home Goods Pillow
  • Sleepers who want to avoid down but don’t like memory foam
  • People looking for a pillow that washes and dries easily

Skip if:

  • You prefer a pillow made of down or memory foam
  • You’re looking for a pillow with more loft
  • You want a longer warranty or trial period

To my pleasant surprise, the Amazon Basics Down Alternative Pillow consistently aced my testing, and it was the most inexpensive option I tried. When I set out to test the best pillows I didn’t think much of the Amazon Basics option. I’ve been burned by very cheap pillows before—they start out fine, and end up flattening out, or they provide an uncomfortably sweaty sleep experience. But the Amazon Basics was one of the pillows I kept gravitating to even after testing was done, and one of the pillows that both my parents liked the best in their testing, so much so that they ordered some for their house.

Of all the down alternative pillows I tested, the Amazon Basics Down Alternative topped the list. It’s supportive but still has a good deal of give to it. In comparison to down options, I found it was just as soft without flattening down too much. It doesn’t end up compressing into a crumpled ball on the top of your bed, like other inexpensive pillows I tried.

Despite being one of the least expensive pillows I tested, the Amazon Basics Down Alternative was … [+] one of the most comfortable.

Margaret Eby

In my tests, the Amazon Basics was more breathable than pricier pillows, too. It retained slightly less heat and humidity than the Brooklinen Down Alternative Pillow, which costs twice as much and can’t go through the washer or dryer. It also stayed cooler than most foam or down options, so this pillow could be a great choice if you sleep hot.

The Amazon Basics pillow washed and dried easily and quickly without shrinking or clumping, and required zero fluffing. Unlike other pillows, it didn’t require an extra cycle (or two) in the dryer. This will make it a great option for a guest pillow, or a pillow for a kid’s room that might need more frequent cleaning.

At 30 days, it has one of the shorter return and trial periods—some pillows I tested offered a 3-year warranty. But these pillows are so affordable that they’re less of a risk to buy; if they don’t suit your fancy, you can repurpose them for a guest room (or give to your neighbor).

Best Down Pillow

This Supportive, Lofty Pillow Is Filled With 85% Down


Fill: Down | Firmness: Medium | Warranty/Trial Period: 3 Years | Price: $149

Best for

  • If you just prefer a down pillow
  • People looking for a long warranty period
  • A pillow that comes with firmness options

Skip if

  • You want a less expensive pillow
  • You want a pillow that maintains its shape

Of all the down options that we tried, the best was Parachute Down Pillow. It comes in three firmness options: soft, medium and firm. (For this pillow and all the down pillows that had firmness options, I tried the medium firm one). Most down pillows I tried had these options, and a nice thing to have if, for example, you prefer the softness and warmth of down but would like a firmer choice.

Down pillows tend to be more expensive and require more upkeep than pillows stuffed with other material, but many people prefer their softer feel. John Spear, general manager of the Hotel Drisco, noted that of all the selections on their pillow menu, down was by far the most popular. Down is the traditional material of luxury pillows: it’s great at insulation, so it retains warmth, and it’s very soft. On the other hand, down is not not so great if you’re a hot sleeper. There are also animal welfare concerns with down, since it comes from geese and ducks. While some people may think they have a down allergy, they might actually be reacting to dust mites living inside the down or feathers in their pillow, and prefer a foam option.

A note about down: There’s no such thing as a truly 100% down pillow, because of how difficult it is to separate down and feathers. The Parachute Down Pillow is filled with a minimum of 85% goose down, which is 10% more than is required by law for a down product. Down labeling is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, so any down pillow you buy will have a label indicating the percentage of down that is in its filling. Because down is a natural material that comes from ducks and geese, down clusters are always mixed together with feathers. Separating the down from the feathers is challenging and expensive—the higher percentage of down a pillow is, generally the more expensive it is, too. To be sold as a down product, the filling must be at minimum 75% down (the rest is feathers). Usually that down product will have more down than that minimum percentage, but modifying the fill content label is onerous, and so it isn’t unusual just to keep the minimum down label even if the actual percentage of down is higher.

Once you get into the world of down there are various gradations—goose down is usually more expensive than duck, and duck down is more readily available. Geese are also bigger birds, so the clusters of their down tend to be bigger, meaning they can trap and distribute more warmth. Goose down has higher fill power, meaning the number of cubic inches it occupies under lab conditions. Bigger clusters means higher fill power means more warmth trapped by that down.

All that to say, the Parachute minimum of 85% goose down is impressive, particularly for the price. By contrast both the L.L. Bean and Garnet Hill pillows had a minimum of 75% down on their tags—the actual down content was perhaps higher for both, but you’re guaranteed more with the Parachute pillow. The higher amount of down filling also likely contributed to how well the Parachute pillow released heat.

The Parachute pillow also excelled in loft and cleaning tests compared to other down pillows. While other down pillows sunk down immediately, providing little cushion between your head and the mattress, the Parachute down pillow maintained a supportive structure. It also washed and dried the best of any down pillow option though, like all down pillows, it required some fluffing. And it comes with a three-year warranty, one of the best return policies of any of the pillows I tried.

Other Pillows I Tested

I tested 12 additional top-rated pillows that didn’t make the final cut.

L.L. Bean Down Pillow: This pillow was one of the most expensive we tried at $269, but the down provided the least amount of cushion compared to other pillows I tested. The bowling ball—and my head—felt like it was resting on the mattress instead of a pillow.

Tuft and Needle Original Foam Pillow: This solid memory foam option did well in my loft and heat tests. But the people who slept on it felt slightly claustrophobic, reporting that their heads sank into the memory foam base.

Nest Easy Breather Pillow: The Nest Easy Breather is a solid choice if you want a memory foam pillow that doesn’t have the adjustability feature of our top pick. The Nest took several hours in the dryer to return to its original shape, however, while the Coop Home Goods took just one hour.

Sleepnumber Original Comfortfill Pillow: Though comfortable and supportive, the Sleepnumber had a lingering chemical odor after washing and drying, so it didn’t make the cut.

Garnet Hill Down Pillow: This pillow comes with a lifetime warranty, which was attractive, but it wasn’t as supportive or comfortable as the Parachute Down Pillow..

Original Casper Pillow: This down alternative pillow did an OK job in our loft and heat retention tests, but is twice the cost of the Amazon Basics Down Alternative pillow, so I ruled it out.

Comfort Revolution Blue Bubble: As a solid memory foam pillow, this is a good pick.The blue bubble gel felt mostly like a gimmick, however, and reviews that mention that it can deteriorate over time.

Purple Harmony Pillow: This novel pillow has a hexagonal grid of hyper-elastic polymer at its center rather than memory foam, down, or down alternative filling. But at $145, it’s on the more expensive side, and the material was distracting to sleep on—my partner said it was like trying to sleep on a very soft subway grate.

Brooklinen Down Pillow: Since this pillow is spot clean or dry clean only, it’s more difficult to care for than the Coop Home Goods pillow, so it wasn’t a winner.

Brooklinen Down Alternative Pillow: Like its down counterpart, this pillow was dry clean/spot clean only. In contrast, the Amazon Basics pillow was easy to throw in the washer and dryer.

Sobel Westex Belleazure DuoDown: Sobel Westex is a huge supplier of linens and pillows to hotels, including Disney resorts and Hard Rock hotels. I wanted to try it because when I spoke to pillow suppliers for hotels, they mentioned Sobel Westex is also the white label supplier for other big brands and hotel linen brands. It tested well, but the Parachute was easier to wash and dry, and retained slightly less heat and humidity.

Sobel Westex Sahara Nights: This is a comfortable down alternative pillow—another one of my parents’ favorites—but it had a little less cushion and trapped heat much more than our pick. This is a comfortable down alternative pillow, but it fell in the middle during our testing—and the Amazon Basics is ultimately more affordable.

How To Pick A Pillow

Choosing a pillow from the vast field of options might feel daunting, and what’s right for you will depend on all kinds of factors. As Dr. Eric Landsness told me, “It’s a combination of your personal preferences, like whether you sleep on your side or your back, and it varies from one individual to the next.”

There are four main types of pillow filling: down, down alternative, solid memory foam and shredded … [+] memory foam.

Margaret Eby

Most of the best pillows come with a trial period, and Dr. Landsness recommended doing your own sleep testing to find out which pillow is best for you by tracking how well it works for you over a period of time. There will always be some degree of trial and error in finding the right pillow for you. To help narrow down your choices, here’s what to consider.


Most pillows have one of four kinds of material as their stuffing:

  • Down: This fill is made from soft clusters from ducks or geese. They’re very soft and insulate well, and are a traditional filling for pillows, duvets and outerwear. Down’s insulating properties can be a boon for keeping warm. On the other hand, down can be uncomfortable for hot sleepers. Some people also may be allergic to dust mites that thrive in down and feather pillows; others may want to avoid buying down products due to animal welfare concerns.
  • Down Alternative: Technically a “down alternative” pillow can be any pillow not filled with down, but in practice what it usually means is a polyester or microfiber fill developed to mimic the softness and warmth of down. These pillows are generally less expensive than down.
  • Solid Memory Foam: Memory foam is a low-resistance polyurethane foam that contours to the object placed on it. That means it will shift to support the shape of your head and evenly distribute its weight, and re-form to its original position when the weight is removed. A solid piece of it can offer a great deal of support, but it can also feel like it’s enveloping you, which can be a drawback if you get claustrophobic.
  • Shredded Memory Foam: Shredded memory foam fill is that same polyurethane foam cut up into bits of various sizes. It offers the same contouring benefits of memory foam, but also allows the pieces of foam to shift around, which creates less of a sunken-in feeling. Downsides can include a chemical odor when the pillow is first opened or when it gets washed.

Warranty and Return Policy

When buying a pillow, look for how long you have to return the pillow if it doesn’t work out. Some pillows offer generous trial periods so you can test them out. Others come with long warranties, so if a pillow goes flat too soon or springs a leak, you’ll be covered.


If you sleep on your back or stomach, you might prefer a softer pillow, whereas if you sleep on your side, you might be looking for a pillow with more loft. The good news is that many pillows come in three options: firm, medium and soft. An adjustable pillow like the Coop Home Goods will allow you to switch between those levels of support to figure out what’s right for you.

Washing and Drying

You can wash and dry most pillows at home, depending on the specific manufacturer’s care instructions. Typically, a pillow should be washed once or twice a year, or when you notice stains or odors. Most down and down alternative pillows can be washed on the gentle cycle using warm water and dried using low heat. Adding a couple wool dryer balls or tennis balls to the dryer will help fluff them up faster. The labels on solid memory foam pillows often advise you to avoid washing in a machine (the pillow material may fall apart), but you can wash shredded memory foam pillows similarly to down and down alternative options.

What About Hotel Pillows And Private Label Pillows?

If you’re a person who regularly checks the labels of pillows at hotels, like me, you’ve probably noticed one name pop up repeatedly—Sobel Westex. The brand claims they are the largest manufacturer of sheets and towels for the hospitality industry. In my research, I learned that Sobel Westex supplies pillows and bedding to Hard Rock Hotels, Four Seasons Hotels, Disney and many other properties. When hotels buy pillows, as general manager of Hotel Drisco John Spears explained to me, they typically partner with a large bedding manufacturing company to buy in bulk. Hilton Hotels, for example, partners with a company called Manchester Mills to produce the Down Dreams pillow widely available in their properties. If the partnership is significant enough—say, with a major hotel chain—then the pillow manufacturer can also manufacture a custom pillow for the hotel under their name. The Brooklinen pillow we tried says on the tag that it was manufactured by Westex International, a Canadian Down company that also sells pillows at Wayfair.

How Often Should I Get a New Pillow?

Lauren Fountain at the Sleep Foundation recommends replacing your pillow about every two years. If you’re waking up with aches and pains in your neck and shoulder, that might be an indicator that it’s time to replace your pillows. You should also replace your pillows if they stop offering support. Down pillows, for example, lose loft over time and get less comfortable. If your pillow is badly stained, that’s also a signal that it’s time to replace it.

How Many Pillows Should I Sleep With?

You should, of course, sleep however you’re most comfortable. But Dr. Eric Landsness suggests that many people prefer to have two pillows in combination to get the exact firmness or softness that they’re seeking. Elevating your head can also help with certain sleep disorders, like sleep apnea (pillows can’t replace medical treatment; check with your doctor if you’re having any medical issues). If you’re having trouble with your current pillow landscape, try adding another one into the mix before you replace it entirely. Otherwise, an adjustable pillow may work for you.

How Should I Pick A Down Pillow?

Not all down pillows are made equally—there are different gradations. When shopping for a down pillow, look for ones with the highest minimum percentage down that you can find. The Federal Trade Commission regulates down labeling, so any down pillow you buy will have a label indicating the percentage of down that is in its filling. A down product must have a minimum 75% down in the filling (the rest is feathers).

Based on research and interviews, I established certain parameters when trying to find the best pillows: They should be both soft and supportive, stand up to the wear and tear of washing and drying without coming apart and have a generous return policy that will let you give the pillow a proper trial. I also tested pillows for heat and humidity retention, noting which ones stayed cool and dry.


Read More Plush Pillows Product Reviews

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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