Solutions & Substitutions Pillow Edition

By Reena Nerbas

Dear Reena,

I have 40-year-old feather pillows my mom made. Can they still be used? Phyllis

Dear Phyllis,

Consider opening the seams and inspecting the feathers to make sure that they have not disintegrated. If the feathers are not black, the pillow should be fine after a good cleaning. Wash the pillows according to the directions on the label or hand or machine wash the pillows and dry well.

Fluffy Pillow Tips:

  • If a pillow is broken, badly stained or old, you are a candidate for a new pillow. A person who is not sleeping as well as they should may have pillow problems, shoulder and neck pain are good indicators.
  • To decipher whether a polyester pillow is worn out, fold it over and place a weight on it like a mug, if the pillow stays folded, it’s broken.
  • Check feather and down pillows for damage by folding the pillow over and squeezing out the air, if it pops open on its own, it is still good. King size pillows should be folded in thirds,
  • Many people agree that the most durable and luxurious sleeping pillow is down, which is made from the delicate tufts that cover geese beneath their feathers. Feathers are also very soft but not quite as fluffy as down, and provide firmer support. Down pillows are classified by fill power, or fluffiness, and weight. The higher the fill power and weight, the higher quality the pillow. Disadvantages to down pillows: they may feel hot, need to be reshaped, offer little support and can be a problem for those with allergies.
  • The best way to clean a feather or down pillow is by hand washing in a tub, gently, without agitation. Dry the pillow in a dryer on the no-heat setting. Tip: To freshen up these pillows, add half-cup vinegar when rinsing. Dry cleaning is also an option.
  • Synthetic fiber pillows are allergy free and offer firm head and neck support. They are washable and can last for years. However, they do not contour well and may need a week to “break-in”.
  • Pillows that can be machine washed and dried on low heat should bathe in a water temperature of at least 135 degrees to kill dust mites (unless otherwise specified). Tip: Put a couple of tennis balls in the dryer to fluff pillows. Tip 2: Freezing pillows outside or inside is another easy way to kill dust mites. Right now is a great time to lay pillows outside for a day!
  • Wool pillows may be dry-cleaned. Before attempting to wash wool pillows read the care instructions on the package. Wonderful qualities attributed with wool pillows, they are cool in summer and warm in winter. On the other hand, they are hard, heavy and do not easily contour to the body.
  • Buckwheat pillows conform to the body and give support to the head and neck. Buckwheat is natural and breathable but very firm (some may say too firm). Buckwheat is cool, dry and lasts about 10 years. It makes a sound as it is moved which may or may not be thought of as a disadvantage. The pillowcases can be machine-washed and tumble dried. Since it is almost impossible to dry soaked buckwheat hulls, cleaning the hulls is not recommended. The inner liner rarely needs cleaning, when it does remove the hulls from the zippered opening and wash the liner in warm water and tumble dry. Replace the hulls when the liner is dry.
  • Foam pillows are molded for specific neck, back and spine support. Foams pillows are springy and bouncy and must be contoured to precisely fit the user. “Memory foams” contour more readily, making a precise fit less critical, but are less supportive. Combination foam pillows are also an option; these use resilient foam for support, covered with memory foam or fibers for contouring comfort. Foam pillows contain chemicals, which can be a problem to those with allergies. Spot wash foam by hand with warm water and mild detergent. Rinse and gently wring out. Allow pillow to air dry prior to use. Do not machine wash or dry.
  • Cotton pillows are natural and absorbent and must be cleaned regularly. Some find these pillows heavy and difficult to bend. Others like the firmness of cotton pillows. Machine washable.
  • Ever tried a body pillow? A pillow that is the length of the body serves several functions for people who prefer to sleep on their side, as the top portion can be used to support the head and neck, while the bottom portion supports the knees and legs. Some people find this more comfortable than using separate pillows for the head and knees. In particular, women who are pregnant may find that a body pillow provides added support for the abdominal area.
  • Use two pillowcases on pillows to resist the accumulation of dust and bacteria, sweat, and other body fluids. Use a pillow protector as an additional barrier against dirt. Change pillowcases often because dirt penetrates the fabric and will end up on the pillow.
  • How much money should you spend on a pillow? Consider that you spend one third of your life in bed and that you will keep your pillow for many years. Buying a cheap pillow is not the best bargain, they only last six months to two years before replacement is necessary. Please don’t save your old deformed pillows for when company arrives (unless you don’t want them to return).

Note: Every user assumes all risks of injury or damage resulting from the implementation of any suggestions in this column. Test all products on an inconspicuous area first.

Reena Nerbas is a popular motivational presenter for large and small groups; check out her website: Ask a question or share a tip at