There is a difference between down & feather

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Updated 1/2020
Down and feathers are found on virtually all birds. There is, however, a difference between down and feather.
The difference is mainly in their structure. As shown below, feather has a distinct quill and is uniform in its physical makeup. Although a cluster of down does have a quill, it is very small and may be undetectable. The structure of a down cluster is very undefined. The fibers are not connected or aligned with each other, as they are with feathers. 

Feather has a define quill

Feathers are denser than down. As a result, feather is heavier, and when used on an item such as a sleeping pillow, it produces a firmer and heavier pillow.

  • Because down lacks this structure, down is very soft and malleable. As well, with this undefined structure, a cluster of down traps air and is an excellent insulator, which is why it is found in garments such as coats, mittens, and down comforters.
  • Down is also an excellent filling for sleeping pillows.
  • Down pillows are much softer and lighter than a feather pillow.
  • Combinations of down and feather are used to produce pillows that fall somewhere in the middle of firmness levels, dependent upon the ratio of each.
  • Both down and feather pillows provide excellent neck and head support unlike some other types of pillows.

With regard to which level of firmness is right for you, there is no rule. It simply boils down to personal preference. However, we have found that overall, women tend to prefer a softer pillow, and men seem to enjoy firmer ones. We think this is because men, on average, have broader shoulders, so the distance between the side of a man's face and the mattress is larger than a woman’s, and a firmer pillow does not sink in as far as a softer down pillow when someone lays on it.

Men's shoulders are wider than women's

  • Down found in garments and bedding is typically from waterfowl. This is due to the abundant availability or population of waterfowl.
  • Feathers are found throughout a bird and are found in various sizes. With regard to their use in pillows, smaller feathers are used. Lower quality pillows may contain crushed feather, which are large feathers that are cut into smaller pieces.
  • Down is less plentiful and found tucked under feathers on the bird’s body, primarily in the breast area. Because there is far less down on a bird than feather, down is typically 3 times more expensive than feather.
  • The process of sorting down from feather is a simple method that has been virtually unchanged for decades and is not exacting. Both down and feathers are loaded into a large chamber, air is then pumped into the bottom of that chamber, and the down and feather are blown around inside the chamber. Once the air stream is shut off, the heavier feather falls to the bottom of the chamber, the down then settles at the top. The down is then separated from the feather.

Down is sorted from feathers

  • down pillows and comfortersThere are many different types of fillings used in pillows, but we think it is safe to say that down and feather are the most popular pillows are the most used and sought after kind of pillow. Down is the filling for comforters.

Other benefits of down and feather:

  • Down and feather never bunches up or becomes lumpy as do many other types of filling.
  • Both down comforters and feather/down pillows are washable.
  • Down and feather bedding items are reasonably priced and durable.
  • Down is a natural fiber, so it breathes better than synthetic materials (better for sleep and skin).

Vero Linens has a variety of soft down, feather, and feather/down sleeping pillows, as well as cozy warm down comforters available in three different warmth levels. We also feature fine bed linens, luxury duvet covers, and much more. When you are ready to start sleeping in luxury, check out all the elegant linens at Vero Linens.  

You may also enjoy the following articles:

Down and Feather FAQ 

What is the difference between duck and goose down?

  • For the most part, there is little difference, duck down is more plentiful, as a result, can be less costly.
  • Some think duck down is inferior. The reality is the finest down in the world is Eiderdown. Eiderdown comes from the Eider duck, found in Greenland and Iceland. Because the Eider duck is a protected species, the down has to be collected by hand after the female has left her nest. An Eiderdown comforter can cost over $10,000.
  • Learn more by reading our article, “the difference between down and feather.”

What is fill power?

  • Fill power is the number of cubic inches that one ounce of down occupies.
  • Learn more in our article “what is fill power.

What is the best way to clean a down pillow?

  • Washing it in a laundromat is the preferred method of cleaning a down or feather pillow.
  • Dry-cleaning is not recommended as the cleaning solvents made leave a residue on the down or feather.
  • Read our article on "how to launder a down or feather pillow."

What is the best way to clean a down comforter?

  • Washing is the best method.
  • We don’t recommend dry-cleaning them as the down will absorb the cleaning chemicals leaving a residue that you will be breathing in as you sleep next to your comforter.
  • We recommend washing them at a laundromat.
  • To learn more, read our article “how to clean a down comforter.”

How long should a down comforter last?

If you take really good care of your down comforter, it could last as long as 20 years or more, depending of course on its quality. Here are some things that will reduce the life of your down comforter, so try to avoid them if possible:

  • Restless sleeping
  • Lying on top of it
  • Washing, dry cleaning or cleaning it too often
  • Harsh chemicals.

How long to sleeping pillows last?

  • A pillow may last as long as 10 to 15 years.
  • Because pillows can get very dirty, some recommend replacing them every year to year and a half.
  • Down pillows can be laundered.
  • Read our article, “when is it time to replace your sleeping pillow.”