A pillow is a support of the body at rest for comfort, therapy, or decoration. Pillows are used by many species, including humans. Some types of pillows include throw pillows, body pillows, decorative pillows and many more. Pillows that aid sleeping are a form of bedding that supports the head and neck. Other types of pillows are designed to support the body when lying down or sitting. There are also pillows that consider human body shape for increased comfort during sleep. Decorative pillows used on people, couches or chairs are sometimes referred to as cushions.
In contemporary western culture, pillows consist of a plain or patterned fabric envelope (known as a pillowcase) which contains a soft stuffing, typically synthetic and typically standardized in sizes and shape. Pillows have been historically made of a variety of natural materials and many cultures continue to use pillows made from natural materials in the world.
The word pillow comes from Middle English pilwe, from Old English pyle (akin to Old High German pfuliwi) and from Latin pulvinus. The first known use of the word pillow was before the 12th century.
Construction and parts
Pillows consist of a filler material enclosed in a fabric cover or shell. Covers are made of cloth, such as silk, known as the pillow case or pillow slip. Some pillows have a fancier cover called a sham which is closed on all sides and usually has a slit in the back through which the pillow is placed. Rectangular standard bed pillow cases usually do not have zippers, but instead, have one side open all the time. Often, a zippered pillow protector is often placed around standard pillows with the case in turn covering the protector.
Fillers are chosen on the basis of comfort, resilience, thermal properties, cost and also for medical and ethical reasons. The most common synthetic fillers are materials derived from polymer fibers, such as polyester and memory foam. Synthetic fillers in general are inexpensive and in the case of memory foam can retain their form longer. Natural fillers have been used since antiquity. The most common are feathers, down, wool, latex, cotton (particularly in India), and buckwheat. More exotic materials have also been used including straw, wood, or stone. Down is usually the softer filler and offer good insulation, but is more expensive due to its relative scarcity. Down has been known to be plucked from live geese, but there are already cruelty-free certifications for down products. In India, traditional pillows are made with kapok, the fluffy, glossy fruit-fibres of the trees Ceiba pentandra and Bombax ceiba.
Lifespan, maintenance and waste management
The normal lifespan of a pillow is two to four years. Condition of the pillow can be determined by checking for lumps or folding it in order to see if stays in that shape. Replacement is recommended for sanitary reasons. All types of pillow covers should be laundered periodically since they are the part that is in contact with a person’s body. Pillows accumulate dust and microbes among the fill, even when washable pillows are washed. Manufacturers recommend tumble-drying for fifteen minutes every week to freshen them up, and for the heat to kill dust mites. Charities in most countries will not accept used pillows due to hygiene regulations. While some animal shelters accept forms of bedding, most reject donation of used pillows due to the mess they can cause.
Recycling of pillows, like most textile and bedding items, is expensive and has poor yield. As such, few are recycled and most end up in landfills. Their light weight means that they make up a low proportion of household waste by mass. Most of the few pillows collected for recycling are sent to India and Pakistan and used as low-cost bedding, or in South East Asia, co-mingled with other textiles to manufacture cheap bedding.
A pillow is designed to provide support and comfort to the body and head. There are three main types of pillows; bed pillows, orthopedic pillows and decorative pillows, with some overlapping of use between these. The appropriate size of a bed pillow depends on the size of the bed. Larger pillows than standard are available for queen- and king-sized beds.
The choice of bed pillow depends to some extent upon sleeping positions: one manufacturer recommends a thinner and softer pillow for sleeping face down, medium support for sleeping on one’s back, and a thicker and firmer pillow for sleeping on the side.
The classic bed pillow shape is usually a square or rectangle. In the US, they are common in these three sizes (in inches): Standard (20×26 inches), Queen (20×30 inches), and King (20×36 inches). In the US, a less common size is Jumbo (20×28 inches), which is larger than the Standard Size but smaller than the Queen Size.
Pillows are generally covered with a removable pillow case, which facilitates laundering. Apart from the color and from the material of which they are made, pillowcases have three contrasting characteristics:
Neck pillows support the neck by providing a deep area for the head to rest and a supportive area to keep the neck in alignment with the spine while sleeping. These can also be known as cervical pillows. Cervical pillows help patients to maintain comfortable positioning after therapeutic, orthopedic and surgical measures.
Travel pillows provide support for the neck in a sitting position. Their “U” shape fits around the back of the neck and keeps the head from slipping into an uncomfortable and possibly harmful position during sleep. However, U-shaped pillows can sometimes force the head forward, creating neck stiffness.
Doughnut pillows are firm pillows shaped like a torus, with a space in the middle to alleviate pressure on the tailbone area while sitting. These pillows are used primarily by individuals who have suffered an injury to the tailbone area, or who suffer pain from hemorrhoids or another ailment of the colon.
Lumbar pillows are designed to support the inward curve of the lower back, filling the space created between the lower back and the back of the chair when in a sitting position. These pillows are generally used to support the lower back while driving or sitting, such as in an office chair. Orthopedic pillows are similar to memory foam pillows.
Decorative pillows serve a dual purpose. They often have fancy cover material which serves to decorate the room where they are found. Since decorative textiles are commonly 54 inches in width, many decorative pillows finish about 17×17 inches. (54/3 = 18, less seam allowance) When used to decorate a fully made up bed, decorative pillows are likely thrown aside at bedtime, since they are not covered with a washable pillow case, thus, while found on the bed, they are primarily there for decoration, hence they fall under this category. These pillows may be custom made, as well as made by freelancers.
Decorative pillows are also found on furnishings in more public parts of the home, such as sofas, chairs and window seats. Here, their common use may overlap both orthopedic and bed pillows. For example, unless a person has some particular medical condition, they will likely use a handy decorative pillow for lumbar support, as needed, while seated on a sofa. Likewise, for the occasional nap, decorative pillows are handy for supporting the head or neck, even though they may not be covered with a pillow case, as are bed pillows.
There are five common synonyms for decorative pillows which are descriptive of their use in the home. “Accent” pillows emphasize or accent some other part of the home decor. The terms “sofa pillow” and “couch pillow” refer to the place these decorative pillows are likely found. The terms “toss pillow” and “throw pillow” may refer to the way they generally arrive in their places.
Novelty pillows are shaped like humorous objects (a banana, tweety bird, a human leg, a chainsaw, a dill pickle, a former president) and are meant to brighten up and add humor to a room or lounge area.
Tent-flap pillows are placed at the front of a stack of pillows decorating a bed. This pillows have a separate flap of fabric that is attached at the top of the pillow and folds down over the face. The tent flap can be loose or tacked down; if the flap is loose a decorative tassel or bead is usually used to weigh the flap down so it hangs properly.
Floor pillows are another subset of decorative pillows. These pillows often finish 26×26 inches (one half of the width of the textile, less seam allowance)
A combination pillow is a pillow which is for those sleepers which are sleeping in a combination of positions and would like to use their pillow to hug or play.