Best pillows 2021 – 9 picks for every sleep position and filling preference

We’ve slept our way through plenty of pillows, covering all the favourite fillings and various sleep styles, to seek out the very best currently available…
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  • Let’s talk pillows. Most of us have a favourite filling type – often based on what we grew up with – and don’t think much further than feather versus microfibre when shopping for new pillows. If we do notice the odd back pain or twinge when we wake up, it’s usually the mattress that gets the blame, and the up-grade. But, actually, your choice of pillow can have a huge impact on spine alignment and overall support and switching up to a more suitable style is a much easier, not to mention cheaper, solution. To ensure continued support and hygiene, experts recommend replacing your pillows every one-two years. So when you do, you will want to make sure they are the best pillows for you.

    Start by thinking about how you sleep and choose a firmness rating to suit. Side and back sleepers generally benefit from firmer support, while front sleepers require a softer pillow. For true spine-aligning, back-boosting support, we’d recommend a foam-based pillow, while high levels of goose down will provide hotel-grade, cloud-like luxe. Wool and microfibre are both great options for allergy suffers and younger children. If body-heat is an issue, there are pillows that can help absorb heat from your head, moving it away from your body and allowing cool air to take its place, while you snooze. Pair any of these with the best mattress for you and sleep comfort should not be an issue again.

    Keep reading for our carefully curated pillow menu. To earn a place on our shortlist, each pillow must represent exceptional quality for the price, live up to specific claims made by the manufacturer and, above all, provide several really good nights of sleep.

    Best pillows for a restful sleep

    1. Brook + Wilde Marlowe Goose Down Pillow

    Best pillow overall

    Brook + Wilde Marlowe Goose Down pillow

    Size: Standard
    Filling: Goose down
    Support: Medium or Firm

    Reasons to buy:

    • Wildly luxurious
    • Retains plushness
    • You deserve it

    Reasons to avoid:

    • Not a buy for those on a budget

    Let’s start with the elephant in the room: the price. There’s no getting around the fact that Brook + Wilde’s Marlowe pillow is an expensive pillow. But is it worth it? We think so. Imagine sleeping on an actual cloud (but dry) with exactly the right amount of support and bounce. It’s the kind of pillow you might expect to find at Claridges or The Lanesborough, except you get to enjoy sumptuous, blissful sleep every single night.

    The secret to the Marlowe’s superior comfort is a game of two parts. Firstly, exceptional ingredients, namely a blend of Masurian goose down and European goose feathers, both responsibly sourced and of the highest quality. Secondly, construction. Three separate chambers allow the pillow to adapt perfectly to the shape of your head. The feathers are in the inner compartment, with the two outer compartments filled with the softest down imaginable. All three chambers are then covered in 380 thread count 100% Egyptian cotton, which is fresh and breathable, while preventing painful pointy quills poking out. We found it gets more comfortable as it adapts to your head, which is pretty impressive given how sumptuous it feels at first flop.

    We love that the feathers and down are all certified to comply with Zero Tolerance Standards, ensuring they don’t come from live animals and are not obtained by cruel means. This pillow can also be machine washed at 60 degrees and tumble-dried, so cleaning couldn’t be easier. Of all the pillows we have tested, including memory foam, the Marlowe performed best when it came to supporting the head and neck in ALL sleeping positions. Including front sleeping, which is often best without any pillow at all, until you wake up that is.

    We tested the Medium but choose Firm if you prefer more height. If the price is still off-putting, it’s worth keeping an eye out for Brook + Wilde’s regular sales and offers. Better yet, think of it as a really good investment in your health and happiness, one that will outlast any luxury holiday – especially if you pair it with the Brook + Wilde Ultima mattress which we reviewed and loved, too.

    Ideal Home rating: 5 out of 5 stars

    2. Simba Hybrid Pillow

    Best pillow for customisable comfort

    Simba Hybrid pillow

    Size: Standard
    Filling: Foam
    Support: Adjustable

    Reasons to buy:
    • Height and firmness can be adjusted
    • Temperature regulating
    • Cotton and recycled foam filling offer animal-product free comfort

    Reasons to avoid:
    • Not the best for front sleepers

    The Simba Hybrid Pillow is great for those who struggle to find the right pillow thickness, or change their sleep position from time to time. The pillow has an inner case of foam nanocubes inside a cotton cover that can be unzipped meaning you can remove stuffing to get the pillow to your desired height. Included is a small bag to store surplus cubes and Simba also sells spare foam cubes should you need more or to replace some.

    The cotton outer is made with Simba’s Stratos material – a space-inspired fabric that regulates temperature. This is paired with a soft fibre padding that also helps to dissipate heat and a mesh edge material that aids airflow. All in all, it leads to a cool and comfy night’s sleep and no need to turn over for the cold side of the pillow. The other advantage of the cotton outer is that it can be removed and is machine washable up to 40 degrees celsius. It can also be tumble dried so keeping the pillow clean and allergen free is easy.

    We like that this pillow offers so much flexibility and is not made from down which is a must for those who don’t want to use animal products. The only thing we think would stop you from buying this pillow is if you like a very very low and soft pillow, then it might not be suitable. While the nanocubes are removable and you can make the pillow whatever height you like, after you get below about 50 per cent full, the shape of the cubes can be felt through the cover. This means it might not be great for those who sleep on their front. As a side sleeper it is very comfortable and has seen me go from two medium pillows to just the one Simba Hybrid which is far better for proper head and neck support. The foam has bounce, but allows your head pleasantly sink into it, too.

    Do note that while the pillow is 50x75cm which is standard, it is quite plump in normal pillowcases but perfectly sized for Simba’s pillowcases (no surprises there). These come as part of a bedding set and while investing in the pillows and bedding might set you back a pretty penny, the brand is very generous so look out for the regular Simba deals on offer.

    Ideal Home rating: 5 out of 5 stars

    3. The White Company Pyrenean Goose Down Pillow

    Best for big beds

    The White Company Pyrenean goose down pillow

    Size: Standard and Super King
    Filling: Goose and duck feather and down
    Support: Medium/soft or Medium/firm

    Reasons to buy:
    • Generously filled
    • Super king option
    • Two-year guarantee

    Reasons to avoid:

    • If feather is not your thing

    If you love down but you can’t quite stretch to Brook + Wilde’s Marlowe, this Pyrenean Goose Down pillow is a very worthy alternative – and you can bag two for the same money! The price difference mainly comes down to the cheaper duck feathers in the core of this pillow, but the outer filling is 90% white (naturally white, not bleached) goose down mixed with 10% small feathers, so you won’t miss out on plushness.

    As you might expect from The White Company, the cover is made from cool, crisp 280 thread count cotton with beautifully stitched edging. We tested the Medium/Firm and it is exactly as advertised; not too firm, but not too soft either. Crucially, it maintains height well – perfect for reading the paper in bed with a cuppa – yet with enough resistance that you don’t feel too elevated at the neck once you get fully horizontal. We found it most comfortable sleeping on our sides and back. If you sleep on your front, try the Medium/soft version.

    One big benefit of this pillow is that it also comes in a super king size (90cm wide instead of 75cm), which means you won’t have an annoying gap between pillows like you do with standard dimensions if you sleep on a super king mattress. It can also be machine washed at 60 degrees and tumble dried, on a low setting, but The White Company recommends professional laundering for best results.

    Ideal Home rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

    4. Feather & Black Tempur Cooltouch Cloud Pillow

    Best for back pain

    Tempur Cooltouch cloud pillow

    Size: Standard
    Filling: Foam
    Support: Soft

    Reasons to buy:

    • Cooling properties
    • Supports spine alignment
    • Three-year guarantee

    Reasons to avoid:

    • ‘New foam’ odour

    Unlike Tempur’s ergonomic pillows, which are made from sculpted solid foam, the Comfort range is filled with Tempur micro-cushions. We’re essentially talking hundreds of foam granules that act like shape-shifters to support your head, neck and shoulders. So, instead of being forced into one position, the Comfort range offers the same pressure relief as Tempur’s solid foam designs but is more flexible, with easier movement and a more familiar pillow experience.

    If you’ve ever tried a Tempur mattress, you’ll know they take a bit of getting used to (at least 90 days in our experience), especially if you’ve only ever slept on sprung mattresses. While this breaking in period isn’t anywhere near as lengthy on the Comfort Pillow, you do need to keep an open mind – or rather keep the faith – because it doesn’t feel like any other pillow out there. For a start it’s very heavy, which is actually a good thing as it stays in place all night long but does feel a little weird to begin with. Then there’s the sinky-ness. This pillow moulds to the shape of your head, neck and shoulders to ensure your spine is always neutrally aligned, no matter how you lay. Once you’ve settled into place, you realise the benefits but getting there is, again, a little weird. However, just like it takes a couple days to get used to a new car, once you’ve slept on this pillow for a couple of nights, your muscle memory adjusts, and it starts to feel much more normal. In a very good way. We slept excellently in all positions, and although it’s marketed as Soft, the support is unparalleled.

    Besides pressure relief and comfort, this pillow boasts cooling powers, thanks to its CoolTouch cover. As the name suggests, it genuinely feels cool to the touch. To really appreciate the cooling benefits in full, you’d need to sleep without adding a pillowcase, which is perfectly feasible as it comes with a seriously soft cover.

    In terms of care, you can’t wash the inner foam insert but the thickly padded cover is removable and machine washable at 40 degrees. Although a bit of a squeeze, it does fit inside a standard pillowcase. We used a linen one, which has more give than cotton, allowing the pillow more room to move. We’d recommend this pillow if you suffer from back, neck or hip pain or just find it hard to settle in one position all night.

    Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    Buy now: Tempur Cooltouch Cloud Pillow, £99 at Feather & Black

    5. Piglet Merino Wool Pillow

    Best for natural allergy-relief

    Piglet Merino wool pillow

    Size: Standard and super king
    Filling: Wool
    Support: Soft, Medium and Firm

    Reasons to buy:

    • Temperature regulating
    • Naturally hypo-allergenic
    • Biodegradable and sustainable

    Reasons to avoid:

    • Need airing

    Wool is fast gaining fans in the pillow sector, particularly amid those seeking a natural alternative to feather and down. Previously, anyone who didn’t get on with feathers (usually allergy related) would be stuck with either microfibre or foam. Wool offers a third, more natural option, with some great additional benefits. Like hollowfibre and foam, wool is hypo-allergenic (unless you’re allergic to wool that is), but naturally so – dust mites hate it. Wool is also naturally temperature regulating, meaning it’s cool in the summer and warm in winter. And it doesn’t trap heat, so you’re unlikely to wake up with a sweaty neck or your fringe stuck to your forehead.

    Piglet’s wool pillows are made from Merino wool, humanely sourced from Italy-based flocks of Merino sheep. If you’re considering a wool filled pillow, Merino is one of the finest, softest varieties, which translates into excellent comfort and bounce under your head. In truth, the wool pillow we tested felt very similar to a high quality hollowfibre at first touch – i.e. light, bouncy and soft. After sleeping on Piglet’s wool pillow for a few nights, it does flatten somewhat, but you still feel well supported and comfortable. Fluffing the pillows a little in the morning is all it takes to expand the wool fibres back into shape. We tested the Soft pillow, which is filled with 600g of Merino wool, but if you prefer more height and firmer support, the medium has 800g and the firm a positively sturdy 1000g.

    We slept easier in the knowledge that no sheep were harmed in the making of this pillow and wool in general is a far more environmentally friendly choice compared to man-made alternatives. It’s worth noting that Piglet only recommends machine washing in an absolute emergency (vomit or tea spillage perhaps) so a pillow protector could be wise. Ideally, wool pillows should be aired in the sunshine, at least four times a year, to retain freshness and longevity. Easier said than done in the UK!

    Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    Buy now: Piglet Merino Wool Pillow, from £89 at Piglet

    6. Dorma Hungarian Goose Down Pillow

    Best for front sleepers

    Dorma Hungarian Goose Down Pillow

    Size: Standard, Continental Square and king size.
    Filling: Goose down and feather
    Support: Soft

    Reasons to buy:
    • Generous fill
    • Good range of sizes
    • Three-year guarantee

    Reasons to avoid:

    • You are vegan

    There’s a LOT of love for this feather-packed pillow amongst Dunelm’s customers and we can see why. Absolutely rammed with the softest Hungarian goose down and feather (70/30% split), it cradles your head in a nest-like bed of airy plumpness. At £70, it’s the least expensive feather-based pillow on our list, but that’s still a reasonable outlay, which is reflected in the quality and feel.

    So, what do you get for your money? The reassurance of the Dorma brand for one thing. This long-established British brand has a solid reputation and has been producing fine quality bed linen since 1921. Thus, this pillow is encased in 300 thread count jacquard cotton, with beautifully stitched piping that gives it extra structure and durability. It’s worth noting that Jacquard cotton is thought to be temperature-regulating but is tightly woven to keep feathers contained. We did a thorough inspection for errant escapee feathers and couldn’t find a single one over several nights’ sleep.

    In comfort terms, this is a soft pillow aimed at front sleepers, but we found it really comfortable when sleeping on our sides as well. We wouldn’t recommend this pillow for back sleepers. It is positively cloud-like with excellent rebound and loft, which means it doesn’t flatten to a dense puddle during the night, and barely needed plumping when making the bed come morning. Maintenance is a simple 40° machine wash, and warm tumble dry. The care label warns to expect a slight odour from the natural feathers, which will disperse in use, but the one we tested was entirely pleasant to sniff!

    Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    7. Silentnight Geltex Pillow

    Best for hot heads

    Silentnight Geltex Pillow

    Size: Standard
    Filling: Foam and hollowfibre
    Support: Firm

    Reasons to buy:

    • Excellent pressure relief
    • Breathable
    • Two-year warranty

    Reasons to avoid:

    • Hand wash only

    Aimed at side and back sleepers, this high-tech pillow is designed to deliver on two scores: coolness and support. Inside, a thick layer of gel-infused foam wrapped in bouncy hollowfibre really does offer optimal support. It’s a fairly high sleeping position when you first rest your head but that does settle down to a more comfortable level within minutes as the foam compacts. If you’re familiar with foam mattresses, expect a similar cushioning experience. We agree that it is best suited to side and back sleepers, especially those who prefer medium-firm support, but anyone sleeping on their front will likely find it too high.

    This pillow also lives up to its cooling promises. Breathability is encouraged at all levels, from the new generation open cell foam core, which literally has holes through the middle, to the air mesh walls around the perimeter of the cover. This latter detail is a popular feature from Silentnight, also available on toppers and duvets, and is designed to allow the fillings to fully breathe, dispersing the heat from your head while you sleep. Of course, you can’t see most of what makes this pillow work, but all you really need to know is that it does. We tested this pillow during a stuffy hot week in June and didn’t sweat once, from above the neck anyway.

    The only area this pillow does fall down a tad is on the cleaning front. Wipe clean is the official advice, which is understandable given that foam is almost impossible to dry, but it would be much better if the thick, quilted cover zipped off for washing. A pillow protector is recommended.

    Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    8. Soak & Sleep Soft As Down Microfibre with Silk Pillows

    Best for luxury for less

    Soak & Sleep Soft as down microfibre with silk pillow

    Size: Standard and super king
    Filling: Microfibre and silk
    Support: Soft/Medium or Medium/Firm

    Reasons to buy:

    • Lightweight
    • Moisture wicking
    • Two year guarantee

    Reasons to avoid:

    • If you need firm

    Microfibre pillows are often considered inferior to luxe fillings like goose down and only chosen by the asthmatic and those allergic to natural materials. They are also prone to lumpiness and sagging over time. This pillow may not be our absolute top choice, but it is certainly a worthy contender and lives up to its ‘Soft As Down’ claim. The airy softness and loft really does mimic the sensation of sleeping on a high quality down pillow. When we asked four people to blind test this pillow against a goose down pillow with the same soft/medium firmness and height, not one could identify the faux down.

    The key to this pillow’s luxe feel could well lie in the addition of Mulberry Silk, which is spun by silkworms fed exclusively on Mulberry leaves and considered the highest quality silk available. Although silk only represents 10% of the filling, with the remainder a fine denier polyester fibre that’s lightweight and soft. The cover is 260 thread count jacquard cotton and is neatly sewn with piped edges and double-stitching, which means you can expect it to last well.

    We tested the Soft/Medium and found it more soft than medium, but it did support well at the shoulders when sleeping on our sides and was also very comfortable on our fronts. If you sleep on your back or just want a firmer pillow, opt for the Medium/Firm. However, don’t expect it to be very firm. Several online reviewers noted the Medium/Firm is much softer than they were anticipating. We found it held its shape well, only requiring a quick plump in the mornings when making the bed.

    Washing can often prove the death nell for microfibre pillows, and result in incurable lumpiness. So, while this pillow can be washed at 30 degrees in the machine and tumble-dried, Soak & Sleep says a professional wash – once or twice a year – is preferable and we concur with this advice. If you do machine-wash, take extra care to make sure it’s 100% dry before use to prevent clumps forming.

    This is definitely not your average microfibre pillow of the type you see piled high in supermarket bargain bins. But, while we can’t comment on its long-term durability in our relatively short test period, after several nights’ sleep, we can confidently say this pillow is special and unlike any microfibre pillow we’ve tried – ‘Soft as Down’ is indeed a credible claim.

    Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    9. Otty Deluxe Pure Pillow

    Best for eco-conscious side sleepers

    Otty Pure Deluxe Pillow

    Size: Standard
    Filling: Foam
    Support: Medium

    Reasons to buy:

    • Naturally hypoallergenic
    • Cooling cover
    • Sustainable materials

    Reasons to avoid:

    • Boxy looks

    This is Otty’s newest foam pillow, and it doesn’t hold back on the bells and whistles. First up is the presence of bamboo viscose, both in the cover and memory foam core. Earning top eco points, this on-trend textile is technically man-made, but created from natural materials that are fast-replenishing and thus highly sustainable. Bamboo viscose is also soft, very soft, which is always welcome when it comes to bedding.

    Next up, there’s the presence of charcoal, which promises to neutralise odours and regulate moisture. While this might be the first bamboo and charcoal pillow made in the UK, the combination is already hugely popular in America, where it’s heralded a miracle for hot-headed sleepers (admittedly Americans have hotter conditions to handle). And we’re more than ready to jump on that band wagon. We tested this pillow in the hottest temperatures 2021 is likely to witness and it performed exceptionally well on the coolness front.

    Finally, there’s the presence of hypoallergenic protection – from both the bamboo viscose and charcoal, which are naturally dust mite resistant and antibacterial. The cover is a mix of polyester and bamboo viscose and fully machine washable at 40 degrees, which is always a bonus if dust is not your friend.

    On the comfort front, we’d rate this pillow medium, and found it extremely supportive on both head and neck. It was most comfortable sleeping in every position, even that hard-to-settle front sleeping position, but especially good for side-sleeping. Another point worth making is that this pillow looks and feels really luxurious – you won’t be disappointed by the quality on offer. If we had one gripe, it was the blocky shape, which doesn’t look so great in a pillowcase, but that’s true of most foam pillows. Oh, and while you can return this pillow after 14 days if it doesn’t suit, bear in mind that you will have to cover the postage.

    Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    How to buy the best pillows

    B&M cbd pillow

    Image credit: B&M

    Pillow preference will be dictated by a few things including how you sleep, what you slept on as a child (and have become used to) and also what kind of fillings/materials you want or can afford within your bedding budget. There is a lot of choice after all, so we have broken the options down to help you decide.

    What firmness of pillow do I need?

    Selecting the right firmness often comes down to what position you sleep in.

    Front sleepers: Opt for soft to medium. You will need a lower pillow to avoid strain on your neck, so avoid anything deeper than four inches.

    Back sleepers: Medium to medium firm is best for a back sleeper, though some may prefer a deeper, but softer pillow. Three to five inches is the optimum height to support your head without putting your neck in an unnatural position.

    Side sleepers: Medium to firm is going to most comfortable for those who sleep on their side – though you might want to go for a thinner pillow if you choose something firmer. Three to six inches will be a good depth, but this depends on how broad your shoulders are. The aim is to have your neck and spine well aligned, so don’t go too thick if you have a smaller frame unless the pillow is softer and allows your head to sink to a comfortable position.

    Pillow materials: how to choose the right one for you?

    Pillows can be made from natural and manmade fibres. Down has long been the Holy Grail of pillow fillings, associated with luxury, but for those who are allergic or don’t want to use animal products in their bedding, it isn’t an option. There are now some very good down mimics made from silk and hollowfibre, so if you want the feel of down without the ducks then check these out. You can also get down blend which is great if you like real feather, but can’t afford 100 per cent down.

    Wool is another good replacement for down. It repels dust mites so allergies aren’t an issue, but again won’t be one for vegans. It also needs airing fairly often, so if you want a low maintenance, or easy care pillow, look to synthetic materials. Bamboo is often used to make pillows too, though it tends to offer more of a foam like feel – so while natural it may not act like a direct replacement for things like wool and down.

    Hollowfibre is a wadding like material. It is one of the most affordable options and can be used to make every depth of pillow. However, it does not wash well and can become lumpy over time, so if you choose hollowfibre, use a pillow protector or find one that comes with a washable cover.

    Foam is the other most popular material used by pillow makers. It is either shredded to make a flexible filling or cut to shape and covered – the latter is common for memory foam pillows. The best foam pillows tend to have a lightly padded outer to help with air flow and shape, and these offer the convenience of being easy to remove and wash.

    Which pillow is best for a side sleeper?

    The best pillow for a side sleeper is something on the medium-firm side of three to six inches depth. They might prefer a deeper pillow though some side sleepers tend to use two pillows to achieve their desired depth. This is fine, but there are plenty of pillows on the market designed with side sleepers in mind, offering the appropriate thickness for comfortable head support. Most of the pillows on our list are well suited to side sleepers, and even some of the softer options have a firmer alternative in the range.

    What pillows are best for night sweats?

    There are a number of cooling pillows on the market, or pillows that help you regulate your temperature. A few on our list have this as an option and some also have cooling fabrics designed to help wick away sweat and feel cool to the touch. Look for any marked as ‘breathable’ to ensure your head and neck are kept cool. Pair these with the best cooling mattress pads for the most comfortable night’s sleep.

    Keeping your head cool will help lower body temperature, but don’t miss out on switching to the best duvet for the job either. You don’t necessarily have to choose a low tog rating for summer – there are a few duvets designed for year round use, with better insulating properties to stop you from getting too hot or cold.

    What pillows do 5-star hotels use?

    With down lauded as the ultimate luxury, many top rated hotels still use down, or down blend. However, with more people questioning extensive use of animal products, some hotels have switched to down alternatives to keep vegan customers happy.

    Hotels will of course want to use pillows that are easy to clean, so this is another reason down remains popular. And, down pillows are often the best all rounders when it comes to sleep position. So while memory foam options are really good for the individual buyer – especially the options that can be customised – they aren’t quite as versatile for multiple users.

    Washing pillows and keeping them clean

    You will get up close and personal with your pillow every night, so this does mean a wash is necessary from time to time. Experts say you should wash your pillows every three to six months so consider this when you buy. We love pillows with removable covers that can be tossed in the machine and even tumble dried as is common with many foam pillows. This means you can usually wash it, dry it and sleep on it by the evening. Great if you only have one set of pillows.

    Foam itself should not be washed and takes forever to dry if it is soaked. Bear this in mind if you think your pillows are at risk of undue soiling (perhaps by pets or children).

    Down does wash and dry well, but you will need several hours to get them dry enough to put back on your bed. They can be tumbled dried – just take them out and plump them every so often through the cycle. In fact, washing restores down to its former plumpness so make this part of your bedding change routine every few months.

    Hollowfibre pillows can go in the wash and will dry fairly quickly, but it will be at the cost of their texture. It is very hard to wash hollowfibre pillows without the filling becoming clumpy. Again, look for versions that are either a mix of materials to prevent this, or have a removable cover that takes the brunt of the dirt and can be flung in the wash with ease.

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