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What is a Feather Pillow?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A feather pillow is a pillow stuffed with down, a special type of feather produced by some bird species. Feather pillows are famous for their loft and insulation properties, and for their softness and durability. Because down is very costly, feather pillows tend to be treated as luxury items, and they can last for decades if they are well cared-for. Department stores and stores which carry bedding stock feather pillows in a range of styles, and they can also be ordered from companies which specialize in down bedding.

Down appears in some waterbirds like eider ducks and geese. It consists of very soft, fine, short feathers which are found under the thicker layer of outer feathers. In waterbirds, the down keeps the bird warm, even on very cold days and in cold water. The down also provides an extra layer of insulation between the skin and potentially cold water. In some species, these feathers can only be collected by plucking the birds, usually after they are slaughtered for meat, although eider ducks actually pull out their own down to line their nests, allowing people to harvest the down after the ducklings hatch.

Down is very fine, but also very resilient. When it is packed into a feather pillow, it creates a dense mass which should not become compressed, although the feathers can tend to settle towards the bottom of the pillow until the pillow is fluffed again. Down also tends to escape from the pillow, so many companies add an extra layer of fabric to their feather pillows to keep the down firmly contained.

Unfortunately for allergy sufferers, a feather pillow is an ideal environment for dust mites, since the mites can eat shed organic materials like dead skin which filter through the pillow along with the down. Some people are also allergic to down itself, making a feather pillow a double helping of potential allergens. For people without allergies, however, a feather pillow can be a very comfortable and enduring bed accessory.

When selecting a feather pillow, it is a good idea to discreetly beat the pillow a bit to confirm that the down is tightly sealed inside. Some department stores frown upon this, fearing that it is merely a prelude to a pillow fight, in which case tugging gently at the seams of the pillow to confirm that they are tightly sealed is advised. A feather pillow should also always be used with a pillow case, because these pillows are difficult to wash. It can be a good idea to use a slipcover to cover the pillow and to layer a pillowcase over the slipcover, creating two layers to contain the down and prevent staining of the pillow.

PillowGuide is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PillowGuide researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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