Choosing the Right Healthy Pillow for You

A bad pillow -- too fluffy, too flat, or just plain musty -- can leave you more restless than that princess on the pea. Since you spend one-third of your life with your head buried in a pillow, choose one with a chemical-free filling for the most healthful sleep. 

Your ideal pillow filling will depend on the sleeping position you find most comfortable, says Donna Arand, Ph.D., of the Kettering Sleep Disorders Center in Ohio. 

Side sleepers require firmer support, back sleepers a medium amount, and stomach sleepers very little. With any new pillow, you'll need a few nights to adjust.

Now it's possible to find everything from buckwheat to memory foam (if you simply must have it) with no volatile organic compounds. Read on to learn what these eco-pillows are made of, and which one suits your sleeping style.


What's in Your Pillow?
The best materials for your health (and the planet's health), pictured here from top to bottom:

  • Natural Latex
  • Buckwheat
  • Memory Foam
  • Kapok
  • Organic Wool
  • Organic Cotton

Natural Latex
Our pick: Earthsake latex contour pillow
Made of 100 percent naturally hypoallergenic latex. $92; earthsake.com

Best for: Side sleepers
The firmness and contoured shape help support the neck and keep the spine aligned.

Care: Hand-wash the latex in warm water with a mild soap, blot with a towel, and let air-dry; machine-wash the case.

Our pick: Gaiam organic buckwheat pillow
Includes a layer of organic wool to muffle the rustling sound. $99; gaiam.com

Best for: Floppers
The hulls move and mold to the head. A zipper lets you add or remove them to adjust the thickness.

Care: Machine-wash the organic cotton case; the hulls can be rinsed in a tub of cool water, drained, and left to air-dry.

Memory Foam
Our pick: Keetsa tea leaf contour pillow
A greener spin on the favorite foam, with no VOCs. $73; shop.keetsa.com

Best for: Side or back sleepers
A contoured shape, combined with practically zero resistance, works for side or back recliners.

Care: The bamboo case can be machine-washed, but the foam is highly absorbent and should never get wet.

Our pick: Earthsake natural kapok filled pillow
Stuffed with silky fibers from renewable ceiba trees. $49; earthsake.com

Best for: Back sleepers
Much softer than cotton and similar to down, kapok is fluffy and offers minimal resistance.

Care: Machine-wash two at a time with warm water on a gentle setting. Put in a dryer on cool with a few tennis balls until fully dry.

Organic Wool
Our pick: Heart of Vermont Soft wool pillow
Shorn from organically fed sheep; cleaned without toxins. $85; heartofvermont.com

Best for: Side sleepers
The firm wool fibers will better support the neck and provide more elevation than a pillow of cotton or kapok.

Care: Spot clean with one part vinegar and two parts water. Fluff in a dryer (on a cool setting) with a tennis ball for 10 to 15 minutes.

Organic Cotton
Our pick: Purerest organic cotton pillow
Its chemical-free filling is covered with organic cotton damask. $58; purerest.com

Best for: Stomach sleepers
A flat pillow is best for a twisted neck, and the cotton will compress, making the pillow thinner over time.

Care: Cotton will shrink if it gets wet, so keep this pillow out of the washer. Spot clean the cover with vinegar and water.

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