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Understanding Filler Materials: Polyfil, Pellets, Microbeads, Beanbag Filler, Foam & More

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"There's more than one way to stuff a pillow." I've never actually heard that used as an expression. But when I look at all the materials now available for filling pillows, it really rings true.

From natural fillers like feathers and fiber to the latest high tech fluff, you can choose a stuffing that's perfectly suited to your situation.

Cheapest Doesn't Always Save in the Long Run

If you're thrifty like me, you might be tempted to buy the least expensive pillow stuffing you can find. After all, it's just there to fill out the pillow cover, right? Not exactly. A number of times, I've used the cheapest polyester filler (sometimes in a pre-made pillow form) for a throw pillow and was eventually disappointed.

The pillows looked great when I first tossed them onto an overstuffed chair, but after being leaned on for a while, they flattened out and there was nothing I could do to fluff them up again.

My new rule is to use cheap polyester only if the pillows will be strictly ornamental – like throw pillows on a bed. Otherwise, I like to use something you can easily reshape, like down.

Choose a Filler to Enhance Your Pillow Experience

Not every pillow gets to sit there and look pretty. Some have a job to do. If you're making a travel pillow or even a regular sleeping pillow, you can choose a filler to maximize your comfort and even give you other health benefits.

Some people are looking to avoid artificial fibers and choose feathers, natural latex or even green tea to stuff their pillow. Others need their pillow to be truly hypoallergenic and so choose the latest in synthetic fibers. For example, a pillow filled with millet seed will conform comfortably to your head and, as an added bonus, will release soothing compounds while you sleep.

Some Popular Pillow Fillers to Consider

Synthetic

Polyester

This is the most popular and most budget-friendly. It's non-allergenic. You can wash it. And it's easy to find. Fairfield (see "Where to Find" links below) now makes a fluffier version of their original Polyfil with fibers that better resist flattening. You can also get polyester/cotton blends to give you added firmness.

Polyester Pellets

These look like little droplets of plastic and are often used by crafters to fill stuffed animals. But you can use them in little neck pillows all the way up to big floor pillows.

Microbeads

Think of them as extra small pellets. Manufactured to be almost perfectly uniform, these little beads slide easily against each other. Because they can be shaped and give support, they're often used to make therapy pillows.

Beanbag Filler

These are tiny polystyrene (that stuff they make cheap ice chests out of) beads. They're light and fluffy, and can be easily reshaped. They're designed for big beanbag chairs, but you can use them in other pillows as well.

Foam

You can find a lot of different kinds of foam, from the classic stuff they make chair pads out of to high tech Memory Foam. If you like the solid feel of foam but don't want artificial, you can get natural latex rubber. It does a nice job of conforming and supporting your body.

Natural

Down and Other Feathers

Made from the soft under feathers of ducks or geese, down has remained very popular through the years. It's even better now as improvements have been made in feather-proof casings and removing dander in the down. It's great for sleeping pillows and sofa pillows that will be sat on. Washing a down pillow is not recommended because it's difficult to dry the feathers properly. So you should make a removable cover.

Wool

This traditional filling takes advantage of the fiber's ability to stand up to years of wear without losing shape. A good pillow liner can make wool feel as soft as cotton.

Horsehair

Not just for cowboys. This natural fiber made of stiff mane hairs is naturally springy and retains its shape well. It makes a dry pillow texture – great for people who sweat while they sleep.

Natural Shredded Rubber

It's easy to forget that real rubber grows on (or in) trees. When shredded, natural rubber looks a little like cottage cheese, but has the nice firm feel of memory foam.

Seeds and Herbs

Buckwheat

This grain seed has been used in therapeutic pillows for years. Buckwheat gives firm support to small pillows. People like it for neck pillows or other travel pillows. Buckwheat can be noisy in a full size pillow.

Millet

Supposedly quieter than buckwheat, millet seeds are finer and give better contouring. They also contain silicic acid, which is released from the hulls via body heat and is reported to have numerous therapeutic properties.

Flaxseed

Used in small therapeutic pillows. You can make a long neck pillow with flaxseed and heat it in the microwave for soothing warmth. Flaxseeds don't give off an odor, which is to some people's liking.

Lavender

When harvested and dried, lavender buds give off a soothing aroma. You wouldn't want to sleep directly on a lavender-filled pillow (it's a little too crunchy). Instead, you can make a tiny lavender pillow to tuck under your regular pillow, where you can still enjoy the benefit of the pleasing smell without the annoying crunch. I mix a quarter cup of dried lavender with flax seed to fill a small lavender pillow.

Other Fillers

From silk to hemp, you can find dozens more things to stuff a pillow. A hand-made pillow stuffed with a natural or therapeutic filler makes a memorable gift.

A Few Places to Find Fillers Online

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Comments (19)

DT said:
DT's picture

Need some about micro beads.  Want to make a neck pillow using them as filler, but how do you get them inside without then flying all around and becoming electrostatic??  Thank you.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ DT - we don't work with micro beads very often but I know what you describe can be a problem, however, I'm definitely not a micro beads expert. Your best bet might be to try to make a similarly-shaped lining and dump the beads right from the package into that lining "bag" ... actually inserting the end of the plastic bag the beads come in right into the lining bag so there's little chance they can get away. This lining bag o' micro beads would then need to be sealed shut and inserted into your neck pillow just as you'd insert a pillow form. You can't completely eliminate the problem but this may help minimize it.

Eme said:
Eme's picture

What do you recommend for body pillows twice the size?

BarbaraAnn said:
BarbaraAnn's picture

I used uncooked rice with some lavender mixed in for a therapeutic neck pillow allowing heating in the microwave similarvto flaxseed. It is heavier but a longer pillow can wrap around the neck/shoulders pretty well with the heated comfort from added pressure helping to relieve tension.

Michelle S. said:
Michelle S.'s picture

Hey Liz. I don't think my comment posted.  I apologize if this is redundant.  I have a slip cover sofa and love seat.  The back cushions are made out very cheap polyester fill.  The furniture is about 8 years old and is in great condition except for the back cushions.  What do you suggest to use to "fill" the slip cover?  I would like something that will hold its shape reasonably well, but also be comfortable.

Thanks!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Michelle S. - I don't consider myself an upholstery expert, so I may not be your very best resource. I would suggest either a better quality polyester fiber fill, like Fairfield's Poly-Fil or Nature-Fil. Or perhaps a shredded foam, which is what is used to make those popular floor cushion "poufs" you see everywhere. In both cases, I'd recommend making an inner pillowcase to keep the filler smoother against the outside fabric. When using fiber fill, we recommend picking and fluffing it prior to stuffing it, almost as if it were hair, to help keep it from clumping. Beyond this... I'd turn to an upholsterer for pro suggestions. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ Marvae Blanscett -- I had answered this question below for another visitor and I believe my answer would still be the same:

I did a simple Google search for "where to buy micro beads" and got tons of options. Try it from your computer and you'll get local stores as well as online options. Here was one results page. They seem easy to find:

http://www.google.com/products/catalog?client=safari&q=where+to+buy+micr...
Marvae Blanscett said:
Marvae Blanscett's picture
I am inquiring about trying to find large quantities of the poly-fil micro beads to use in crafts here in my home. Could you please direct me as where I can buy in bulk for this product? Thank you so much for your time and consideration in this matter.

Sincerely,

Marvae Blanscett
marvaeblanscett@aol.com
Karlie Philpott said:
Karlie Philpott's picture
I have often wonder why some pillows are so cheap and other so expensive. Now I know it is the filler.
jfpasternak said:
jfpasternak's picture
I found if you use that electric carving knife, you never use to cut meat with anyway, is great for cutting slabs of foam. It cuts right through it!
Darlene C said:
Darlene C's picture
Can you tell me where I can buy micro beads, I need it for medical purposes.Thank You
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Nu-Foam comes in various thicknesses and is sold as pre-cut squares or in pre-determined widths on a long roll that can be cut to length. Measure the seat size on the chairs you would like to make cushions for, and check to see if a pre-cut NU-Foam insert would better suit your needs. Because it can be a bit of a challenge to cut, it may be easier for you to buy the pre-cut NU-Foam inserts per cushion, as long as the sizes they make will work for your chairs. If you need a specialty shape a metal straight edge and a serrated knife is your best bet. you can see how we handled the task for our Nature Brights Chair Cushions:

http://sew4home.com/projects/pillows-cushions/497-nature-brights-kitchen...
Dandy said:
Dandy's picture
What do I use to "cut" this poly-fil new foam? Scissors or a knife, cerated or straight blade?
Carmen Hollywood said:
Carmen Hollywood's picture
Liz, Hi and thank you for the great information. What do you think of using dried beans for the smaller pillows. Have you heard whether or not they would be good in the microwave? Can't say that I've actually put a dried bean in my own microwave smilies/wink.gif .

Your site is FANTASTIC!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Lilly - for something you plan to microwave, I would stay with seeds and herbs. The wool would probably stand up and possibly the horsehair, but I'd stay away from microwaving anything else. All the microwavable items I've seen seem to have used seeds, rice or millet. That said, I'm not an expert, so I'd suggest doing a bit more online research and testing a few options before making a whole pillow.
Lilly said:
Lilly's picture
I make therapeutic neck pillows and I would like to know if it is safe to microwave. I also put flaxseed and lavender for aroma and filler. Thank you.

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