What is the difference between feather & down pillows?

Written by nina kramer
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What is the difference between feather & down pillows?
Pillow may be made of down, feathers or a combination of the two. (hotel beds image by Albert Lozano from Fotolia.com)

There is significant differences between down and feather in pillows, though both come from ducks and geese. Generally, down is considered the better material for pillows. The highest-quality of down lasts far longer and is much softer than feathers. Pillows with a mix of feather and down are also available. There are different qualities of down as well as different methods of obtaining it.


Ducks and geese have outer feathers that protect them from the icy chill of winter water and give them their colourful plumage. These feathers contain quills--small pointed feathers that can make their way through thin fabrics and sometimes even heavier fabrics. Because feathers are not multidimensional, as down is, they don't hold the heat as well. The quills in feathers make pillows flatter, heavier and less soft. Feathers repel water and make pillows non-washable.

What is the difference between feather & down pillows?
Feathers are found beneath on the top layers of geese and ducks. (geese image by Chris Roselli from Fotolia.com)


Down makes up the layer that lies beneath the feathers of ducks and geese. Down is multidimensional: it consists of tiny fibres radiating around a small, cotton-ball-like centre called a plumule. These fibres link to other plumules and this linkage allows it to trap heat. Providing deep insulation, it is found mainly on the chests of these birds and makes up about 12 to 15 per cent of a bird's total weight.

What is the difference between feather & down pillows?
Down exists in these birds in a layer beneath those of feathers. (geese image by Chris Roselli from Fotolia.com)


Much more heat is trapped in down pillows than in feathers ones. Down pillows are washable, where feather pillow are not. People allergic to feather pillows, are not allergic to down ones. The clusters in down, absent in feather pillows, make them extremely soft. Clusters also turn the heat of summer into moisture that leaves the down pillow cool. Down contains no quills, as feathers do.

Obtaining Down

The best, and most expensive, down is obtained by hand from Siberian white geese. It comes from older geese grown in the very cold climate of Siberia just for down harvesting. The down is harvested by hand three times a year. Because of the hand-harvesting and the bird's extremely large clusters, trapping a maximum amount of heat, this goose down is the most expensive. It will last a lifetime if cared for properly.

Down and Feather Mix

Some pillows are made with a mix of down and feather. Feathers, which vary in size from 5cm to several inches, provide some insulation in pillows but are mostly added for support. The quills in feathers are often used.

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