‘But I really love my down pillow and cannot sleep as well on anything else!’ is something I hear a lot from clients, friends and family. And I was the same until I became vegan and found out about the atrocious cruelty behind down and feathers and all the beautiful alternatives.
There are many options out there, not all of them like-for-like down-feathery, but definitely one for every type of sleepy head. This is by no means an exhaustive list but let’s have a look at a few options that are popular with my clients to see what may be your first choice.
Starting with a man-made option, this material splits the crowd. ‘Recycled’ is always better than new so that’s a good start. Plastic remains plastic though, whether you use it once, twice or many times. Health conscious people may go for a more natural pillow with zero toxins however there are also big recycled plastic fans for the following reason: As PETA 2021’s Vegan Homeware Award winner for best down-free bedding Duvet Hog® based in the UK put it, “plastic from recycled PET bottles is spun like candy floss and folded until each duvet [and pillow] is light as a cloud and marshmallow soft”. Recycled PET options are hypoallergenic for sensitive skin, eyes and noses and keep plastic out of oceans and landfill. Duvet Hog® has a 60 nights trial which means you can try it out before you commit to buying it. Buffy in the US, famous for the ‘Cloud Pillow’ offer similar products and have a 7 nights trial.
Tencel is a eucalyptus fabric made from lyocell which a man-made fiber derived from a combination of eucalyptus and other wood pulps. It is very soft and pleasant to the skin and it is often blended with other fibers to improve the softness and comfort. It is a man-made fibre and not 100% sustainable or chemical free but out of all the man-made alternatives out there it is definitely a great option.
Kapok is a silk-like fiber that is lighter than cotton and does not compress as quickly which means that it provides a soft, supportive and fluffy feel and is ideal for pillows. Kapok fiber is extracted from the seed pods of the Kapok tree which grows in tropical rain forests and the Kapok fiber is naturally water resistant which means it wicks moisture instead of storing it. Overall kapok is a very sustainable and probably the healthiest alternative to down due to its organic, naturally hypoallergenic and non-toxic properties. You can order Kapok pillows online from Pillow Rebels and the fibre can be ordered online as well. The pillows are usually adjustable so that you can add or take out some fibre to adjust the pillow to the right firmness which is a huge bonus comfort-wise and also makes it last for decades.
For those who have never touched or slept on a pillow with millet, buckwheat or spelt it may seem a little absurd to replace soft, fluffy feathers with hard grain hulls. Buckwheat, millet and spelt are all natural renewable products and have been used in pillows for centuries so it’s not a new thing. They remain cool in summer and warm in winter and just like with kapok, they can be adjusted to suit individual needs by adding or removing the filling. It is definitely not a like for like alternative to down and it takes a bit of getting used to because the hulls mould around the head and make a soft sound while doing so but the firmness and level of comfort are very special. Buckwheat hulls are firmer and lock together to stay in place while millet hulls are much softer, quieter and more easily shaped. All organic grain hull fillings can provide healthy therapeutic head and neck positioning and Bean Products offer a dual sided buckwheat and millet pillow which gives you the best of both worlds and is really unique.
Swiss Stone Pine
Swiss Stone Pine is especially popular in Northern Europe but should really be used anywhere in the world. The Swiss Stone Pine, also known as the Queen of the Alps, is a high-alpine tree that grows from 1,500 metres above sea level and the wood has very pleasant aromas which are known for their calming and healing properties. In terms of comfort one may think that wood shavings are in no way as comfortable as down and feathers but the shavings are extremely fine and fluffy and the fact that Swiss Stone Pine pillows are used in high-end hotels proves that they are definitely not a rough and uncomfortable solution. Mostly available online from Germany and Switzerland, Sanct Bernhard ship pillows and duvets worldwide.
Together with natural latex, organic cotton pillows and duvets are a more common option. Organic cotton feels nice and soft, is very breathable and highly durable and unlike synthetic fibres, cotton does not cause static electricity, it will not pill over time and it is a great option for asthmatics because it does not negatively impact breathing or airways. Comfort-wise is a fairly average product compared to the above options.
If, and only if, latex is obtained from the sap of the rubber tree, it is biodegradable as well as mould, mildew and dust mite resistant which makes it a really great alternative to down because it is also really comfortable and a very popular choice. The problem with latex is that more often than not, the latex is not natural but synthetic or a mixture of both and synthetic latex is something to stay far away from. It is a man-made compound that mimics the properties of natural latex and is produced from petrochemicals. Also known as styrene-butadiene rubber, it contains the chemical styrene, which is highly toxic to the lungs, liver and brain and can cause a long list of health issues: headaches, fatigue, weakness, depression, hearing loss and increased risk of leukaemia and lymphoma. Another ingredient, butadiene, is known to harm the nervous system and cause eye and skin irritations as well as cancer. So something to be aware of when looking into latex pillows.
There are many sustainable, healthy and interesting vegan bedding options out there, it’s so worth exploring them!