What to Look For in King Size Pillows: A Comprehensive Buying Guide

woman hugging king sized pillow

When investing in a king-size pillow, you want to consider all your options and choose the best pillow for you. It’s important to start with knowing what to look for in a king-size pillow. Knowing what to look for in king-size pillows can be the difference between a fantastic night’s sleep and a trip to the chiropractor.

Key factors to take into consideration when purchasing a king-size pillow include your mattress, fill and cover material, loft, firmness, temperature regulation needs, and your preferred sleeping position.

Sleeping Position

Start by considering your favorite sleeping position. If you are a side sleeper, you will have different needs when it comes to pillows than back sleepers or stomach sleepers. If you sleep on your back, you should look for thinner pillows that will allow your head to sink deep to stay lined up with your spine. Too much thickness and not enough softness, and your head will be too elevated to have a good sleeping experience.

Side sleepers should look for the thickest pillows that offer the firmest support. If you sleep on your side, you need to make up for the gap between where your shoulder meets the mattress and your head. A thicker king-size pillow will offer more support and keep your neck aligned throughout the night.

Stomach sleepers have the most specific requirements when it comes to pillows. If you prefer to sleep on your stomach, look for the thinnest and softest king pillows available. These will allow you to bunch the pillow up under your head while keeping your spine aligned with your head.

king sized pillows on a bed

Mattress Type

One feature that is often overlooked when choosing a king-size pillow is the type of mattress that you sleep on. Like pillows, mattresses have different firmness ratings that will affect how much support you will need from your pillow. People who sleep on a firmer mattress should invest in a fuller bed pillow. Since a firmer mattress won’t allow you to sink into it, you will need a fuller size pillow to keep your neck aligned with your spine. However, if you prefer a softer mattress, you should invest in a thinner pillow, since you will be sinking deeper into the mattress while you sleep.

You should also think about the size of your mattress when buying a king-size pillow. If you have a king-size bed, then a king-size pillow will be right at home among your pillow arrangement. If you have a smaller bed, a body pillow or a decorative pillow may be the best pillow for you.

Fill Material

The next thing to consider when buying a king-size pillow is the fill material. There is a wide variety of potential fill materials from which to choose, from classics like down, all the way to alternative pillow fillings like buckwheat. Picking the best pillow fill material for you is essential to finding your perfect king-size pillow.

Down and Feather Pillows

Down is one of the oldest and most recognizable pillow fillings you can find. Soft, interior feathers from ducks and geese are used to create a very soft, comfortable pillow. These pillows are not as firm as memory foam or cotton, but if you are a stomach sleeper, the softness will allow you to sink deep into the pillow while you are sleeping and still keep your neck and spine in alignment. If you have allergies, it may be best to try a non-feather pillow, as down can sometimes aggravate allergy symptoms.

If you do have allergies, but still want the softness of a feather pillow, consider a synthetic alternative pillow filling. Polyester down will be slightly firmer than a standard feather pillow, but will still offer the same soft comfort without worrying about allergies.

four king sized pillows on a bed

Down and Feather Pillows We Like

King Size Pillows Set of 2
$44.98 ($22.49 / Count)

by viewstar 

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Cotton and Wool

Cotton and wool are firmer than other natural materials like feathers and are typically hypoallergenic. If you want a natural material to sleep on that won’t compress easily, pick up a cotton or wool king-size pillow. These natural fillings are also resistant to mold and mites, making them a great, long-term pillow to pick up.

Memory Foam

Memory foam is currently one of the most popular fill materials for pillows. A king-size pillow that uses memory foam is going to provide a lot of support while you sleep. The foam contours to your head and neck, providing excellent support for your head and neck while you sleep. Consider this pillow filling if you sleep on your side for the extra support on your head and neck.

Memory foam can cause problems if you move around a lot while you sleep, or overheat easily. The foam’s contouring takes some time to hold its shape, and if you move around a lot the pillow can feel lumpy as it works to find your new position. The density of the foam also serves to trap heat and can cause your head to feel warm during the night. Shredded memory foam pillows offer the benefits of a memory foam pillow while minimizing the drawbacks. Chunks of shredded memory foam can more easily re-contour to your head and shoulders while you are sleeping, and allows for greater airflow between the bits of foam. A king-size pillow that uses shredded memory foam often allows you to add more shredded foam or take some out, allowing you to customize the pillow’s loft to your comfort.

Memory Foam King Pillows We Like

Amazon product

Latex Pillows

Latex is another material to consider when buying a king-size pillow. While latex does contour similar to a memory foam pillow, it is more responsive, allowing you to toss and turn to find the right position. Latex also dissipates heat easier than memory foam, allowing you to keep cool while you sleep.

king sized pillows on a bed

Latex Pillows We Like

Fiber Water Pillow

by Mediflow 

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Buckwheat and Kapok Pillows

Buckwheat pillows are popular for those who want a natural material that contours well. While memory foam forms a solid block of foam to support your head and neck, buckwheat pillows are made of tiny, dried seeds, allowing for more airflow through the pillow. However, the dried seeds do rustle around if you shift in your sleep, making for a noisier experience. If you shift around a lot in your sleep, consider a foam pillow that won’t make so much noise.

Consider a Kapok filling for your king-size pillow if you are looking for a quieter sleep. Another alternative to feather pillows, this material is made from seeds coated in a natural wax that helps pull moisture away from you while you sleep. If you overheat and sweat while you sleep, consider a king-size pillow filled with Kapok to keep you dry through the night.

Buckwheat and Kapok Pillows We Like

Water Pillows

Finally, water is a less popular, but still viable option for filling your king-size pillow. Water pillows include a refillable bladder of water that cushions your head and can be filled or let out to customize the amount of loft your pillow has, similar to how shredded memory foam pillows allow you to add and remove material.

One of the large downsides to using a water-filled pillow is the potential for leaking. Fear of waking up with a flat pillow and a soaked fitted sheet turns many people off of this type of filling, but there are people out there who swear by water as the best filling for pillows.

Water Pillows

Fiber Water Pillow

by Mediflow 

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Pillow Case

Next, consider what pillowcase or pillow protectors are going to be best for your king-size pillow. Cotton is the most common material used to make pillowcases, but bamboo pillowcases are another popular alternative.

Cotton is breathable and does an excellent job of absorbing sweat while you sleep. Use a cotton pillowcase if you like the contouring of a foam pillow and need to stay cooler and drier while you sleep.

A bamboo pillowcase offers a similar comfort level to cotton. It is made from bamboo pulp that is processed into the fabric and woven into a pillowcase. Bamboo has natural anti-microbial properties that prevent mold or germs to grow on your pillowcase. It is also easier on allergies than other natural fibers used in standard pillowcases.

four king sized pillows on a bed

Pillow Cases We Like

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The “loft” of a king-size pillow simply refers to the thickness of that pillow. The loft is important when considering which pillow you should buy for your specific sleeping position. Buying a king-size pillow with the right amount of loft is crucial for keeping your neck aligned with your spine as you sleep. When considering how much loft you need in your pillow, the main consideration is sleep position.

The highest loft pillows are at least 5 inches or thicker. These are best for people who sleep on their side. This kind of sleeper needs extra support to make up for the difference between their head and shoulder.

A back-sleeper, on the other hand, would want a pillow with medium loft, between 3-5 inches of thickness. Back sleepers typically don’t need as much support to keep their neck aligned, and should use either a medium or a low-loft pillow, less than 3 inches.

Stomach sleepers require pillows with the least amount of loft. Stomach sleepers need to sink deep into their mattress to keep their neck and spine in alignment, and therefore require a thin pillow that is soft enough to allow them to bury themselves into it.

Density and Firmness

The density and firmness of your king pillow will indicate how deep your head will sink into your pillow. The material your pillow is made of is the largest determining factor of your pillow’s density, but pillow size will also play a role in your pillow’s density. The best king-size pillow for you will have the right amount of density to keep your neck aligned while allowing air to flow to your head.

High-Firmness Pillows

Firm and medium-firm pillows provide the most support, as they do not allow your head to sink into the pillow too far. This type of king pillow is best for side sleepers, who need extra support between their shoulders, neck, and head. Consider a memory foam pillow, or a shredded foam pillow if you want some firmness under your head when you sleep.

king sized pillows on a bed

High-Firmness Pillows We Like

Medium Firmness Pillows

Medium firmness is the standard sleeping pillow firmness. A standard size pillow, as well as most body pillows, will be a medium thickness pillow. This type of king pillow is ideal for someone who needs a pillow that will move with them when they toss and turn trying to get to sleep. For a medium-firm pillow, consider a down feather pillow, or a synthetic alternative such as polyester or even latex. While this level of firmness is generally used by back sleepers, most people will be able to get a good night’s sleep on a pillow with medium firmness.

Medium Firmness Pillows

Medium Firm (Set of 2) Hotel Quality Pillow, King
$25.67 ($12.84 / Count)

by Cozy Bed 

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Low-Firmness Pillows

On the softer end, medium soft and soft pillows offer the least support and are the bed pillow most often used by stomach sleepers, and those requiring minimum neck support. Stomach sleepers will have the best luck looking for pillows made of down, shredded bits of memory foam, as well as alternatives such as Kapok. The right pillow for a stomach sleeper can be far too soft for most back and side sleepers. Stomach sleepers may have more luck looking for pillows that they can load and unload with filling to customize the thickness and softness to their own needs.

Low-Firmness Pillows

Temperature Control

After you consider how firm or soft you need your bed pillow, think about your temperature regulation needs. A standard pillow may be all that you need to keep cool and sweat-free throughout the night, but if you require additional cooling support, there are options out there for you. Pillows with gel inserts, or copper and graphite mixed into the filling can have a cooling effect, and keep your head feeling comfortable all night long. Combine a king-size pillow with a moisture-wicking pillowcase to keep your head cool and comfortable all night long.

five king sized pillows on a bed

Finding the Best Pillow

So, let’s say that you’re at the store, and you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the options laid out before you. Here are a few tests you can try on any king pillow, queen pillow, throw pillow, travel pillow, or any kind of pillow that is right for you.

Start with the squish test. Compress the pillow on a flat surface until it is about half of its original thickness. The amount of pressure that it takes to compress the pillow should give you a good idea of the pillow’s firmness and density. Imagine your head setting down in that pillow, and think about how much support you want to feel. Performing this test can save you the trouble of returning a pillow that is too firm or too soft for your comfort level.

After you compress the pillow, fluff it back out. This test is to see how well the pillow can return to its previous shape. This will give you an idea of how moldable the pillow is, and how well it contours. Remember that memory foam often will hold its shape too long if you shift around in your sleep. If you are looking for a king-size pillow that will hold its shape, look for a pillow that takes longer to return to normal. If you require a pillow that will move with you as you toss and turn, try a pillow that fluffs back up more quickly and easily.

Perform these tests at the store before you bring home your new king-size pillow. Taking the time to test all aspects of the pillow before you bring it home can help you be sure that you are buying the best pillow to match your specific needs.

Mixing Pillows

Combine a few different pillows on your bed to further customize your sleeping experience. When you arrange pillows on your bed, think about including a variety of shapes and sizes along with your king pillow. If you have a king bed, you will have lots of room to work with, and can experiment with different pillow sizes and shapes. You may find that you like a collection of softer pillows to stack on top of each other. Or memory foam underneath a softer, more movable down pillow. Mix and match your pillows to your liking. A king-size pillow along with a smaller euro pillow can give you a better sleeping experience than a single king-size pillow can.

When you’re shopping for a king-size pillow, don’t take any small feature for granted. Pillows get daily, or nightly, use, and although it may seem like a lot to consider when buying something like a pillow, small features can make a big difference in comfort. Considering your king-size pillow from all different angles will ensure that you make the best pillow decisions for your sleeping comfort.

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