A pillow is a support of the body at rest for comfort, therapeutic, decoration or play. Pillows are used by many animals including humans. Pillows that aid sleeping and 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. Decorative pillows used on beds, couches or chairs are also referred to as cushions.
In contemporary western culture, pillows consist of a plain or patterned fabric envelope (pillowcase) which contains a soft stuffing, typically synthetic. Pillows have been is historically made of a variety of natural materials and many cultures continue to use pillows made from natural materials.
There are also throw pillows (also called toss pillows or pillow shams in different worldwide dialects of English), which are pillows that are mainly decorative and not designed for support or comfort. A cushion is a soft bag filled with air or padding such as hollow fiber, feathers, foam or rubber. In the United Kingdom, pillows used on chairs and sofas are called cushions or throw cushions, with the word pillow used only for pillows on a bed. In the UK, cushions are usually square, while bed pillows are oblong.
A apanese pillow filled with plastic tubes in a mesh sack
Ceiba pentandra, the fluffy, glossy fruit-fibres of silk-cotton tree is used as filler for traditional pillows in India
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, cost and to a lesser extent for ethical and health reasons. The most common synthetic fillers are foam, synthetic plastic fibers (typically polyester) and viscoelastic foam and latex. Synthetic fillers are more common as they are comfortable, inexpensive and retain their form longer. Natural fillers have been used since antiquity. The most common are feathers, or down, wool, cotton (particularly in India), buckwheat (in Asia). Historically, materials have included straw, wood or stone. Feathers and down are usually the most comfortable and common; they offer the advantage of softness and their ability to conform to shapes desired by the user, but are the most expensive. Down has been known to be plucked from live geese. There are currently hypoallergenic and cruelty-free varieties of down pillows to allow people sensitive to down to enjoy the comfort of feather or down pillows. In India, traditional pillows are usually made with plant-borne materials, such as the fluffy, glossy fruit-fibres of silk-cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra and Bombax ceiba).
The normal lifespan is two to four years. 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 almost all end up in landfill.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.