What’s the big deal about latex pillows?
What’s so special about them compared to all the others on the market?
Buying a pillow is a bit like buying a new car in that it doesn’t matter what type you get, it will do its job. A pillow will help get you through the night and a car will help you get from A to B. For some transcendent folk it’s as simple as that. Any pillow will do, any car will do. ‘Where are the lentils, man?’
For most people though, it isn’t quite like that.
Everybody knows the difference between a Lada Riva and a Rolls Royce. They know that all Rollers are ever so comfortable and reliable and long lasting and a dream to drive. While the Lada only has heated rear windows so you can warm your hands while pushing - and doubles in value when you fill it with petrol.
Apart from the obvious fact that cars are expensive, over their lifetime the average driver will cover enough distance to take them to the moon and back 3 times and spend a total of 4.3 years sitting behind the wheel, so buyers tend to be discerning. They think about price range, quality, reliability, economy, comfort, size, shape, colour, aspiration and suitability; knowing that the more research and effort that goes into choosing, the greater the likelihood of ending up with the right car.
And so it should be for anything to do with your bed, which is where you spend a whopping 26 years of your life. 6 times longer than in your car. Good sleep is vital to the health and wellbeing of all living creatures. Bats are grumpy if they get less than 20 hours sleep per day, while giraffes are happy as Larry with only 2 hours per night. The ideal for gorillas is 10 hours, while we humans need 7 or 8 hours of quality sleep.
There are a number of things that determine the quality of your sleep. What you do during the day is important. Looking after yourself with a sensible diet and reasonable exercise is a good start. Unwinding before going to bed and keeping regular hours will also help. A quiet, well ventilated and dark bedroom is a must. But the real key to good sleep is your bed and bedding.
A good quality, really comfortable mattress that is supportive in all the right places to keep your spine in alignment is vital. Choosing bedding that keeps you at your ideal temperature all night long is also tremendously important. But the one ingredient that is often given little thought and yet will make all the difference in the world is your PILLOW.
A good pillow supports and cradles your head and neck and works in conjunction with the mattress at keeping your spine in alignment. A good pillow can also provide supreme comfort. A good pillow can be the icing on the cake that can turn a reasonable night’s sleep into superb, healthful sleep at comparatively little extra cost. Why on earth would you sleep on a Lada, when you can afford to sleep on a Rolls-Royce?
And here’s the thing – most people in Australia spend night after night trying to sleep on broken down old Ladas! For 26 years of their lives. They buy $10 pillows without really thinking about it. Or maybe pay $20 or even $30 for virtually the same pillow under a well-known brand label that advertises and promotes. They don’t think about what the pillow is made of, what is inside it, how much support will it provide, how long will it last, how high is it, how firm or soft is it, how healthful is it – and ultimately is this really the best value I can get for my money?
For most of my life I’ve slept on one model Lada after another. When I was a kid there wasn’t really any choice, my father worked for the British Colonial Service in what was then Tanganyika and we all slept on government issued kapok fill pillows and mattresses. Remember the ubiquitous old striped ticking design?
Actually this wasn’t such a bad pillow in that kapok is all natural, hypoallergenic and naturally antimicrobial – but it is lumpy and bumpy and flattens down, so offers poor support to the neck and shoulders. At boarding school aged 7, part of the morning ‘making the beds’ ritual was giving the pillows a good shake to get some loft back into them. Imagine 12 boys to a dormitory; the urge to pillow fight was too often irresistible, with kapok flying everywhere. And then big trouble from Matron McBride who was a lovely old duck, but handy with the strap.
Other popular fillings for pillows back then were also natural – cotton fibre and wool, both with similar properties to kapok - and feathers, which tended to include mainly larger feathers that scrunched and the quills poked through. Ouch.
Then, as I got into my teens, synthetic fibres invaded the world of pillows and have pretty much ruled ever since because, for less cost, synthetic fibres create more loft and comfort than natural fibres. The most commonly used fill fibre for pillows is polyester, which is produced directly from polymer, an oil derivative. Polymer is the end result of oil being ‘cracked’, then ‘oxidised’ with air, and hydrated.
Solid polyester fibre is quite dense and flattens quickly, so hollow fibre, imagine tiny miniature macaroni, was developed that resists flattening. From there companies like DuPont and Honeywell developed all kinds of polymer based fibres with two holes, three holes – all the way up to seven holes in each tiny fibre. Other innovations included siliconizing fibre in a bath treatment, to make it softer and further improve loft recovery; and crimping to make it frizzy. Fancy marketing names were applied to add extra sizzle. Think Dacron, Tencel, Modal, Coolmax, Tactel, Fortrel and most recently, Microfibre.
It was soon discovered that a big problem with fibre fill pillows is that they are a brilliant medium for cultivating bacteria. Almost unbelievably, after only 2 years use, over 30% of the weight of your pillow could be made up of bacteria, bedbugs, dust mites (and their faeces), fungi, mould and dead skin. How horrible. So manufacturers started spraying fibre with chemicals to combat bacteria, microbes and dust mites. Sanitized, Healthguard and Ultrafresh are well known registered brands of these chemicals, which vary in degrees of necessary toxicity - and are only effective for a limited amount of time anyway. The biggest pillow manufacturer in this country, Tontine, strongly recommends renewing fibre fill pillows every two years!
Close up of a hungry dustmite.
Today over 95% of pillows sold in Australia are synthetic fibre filled. Some fibres obviously perform better than others and this is reflected in the price, but health issues aside, all fibre fill pillows lose loft after about two years and may still be reasonably comfortable, but no longer provide the required support to your head and neck.
By now my career had taken me from 25 years running a clothing business to a sourcing role in homewares which involved finding suppliers for finished goods and raw material componentry for various products including mattresses, manchester, quilts and pillows – under some of the best known and most loved brand names in Australia.
We marketed pretty much every type of pillow there is and my wife was delighted we were afforded a golden opportunity to discard our horrible Lada’s to try sleeping on every Rolls Royce model pillow there is. I was also exposed to years of extensive pillow research – and what a revelation that was!
Once you go past fibre fill there are three pillow types that stand out as being superior. Feather and down, memory foam, and latex. They are all significantly more expensive – but well worth taking the leap (like most people, something I probably would never have done had I had to pay normal retail price).
Feather and down makes a great pillow so long as it is good quality and the feathers have been properly processed to remove any odour. This entails washing in very hot water umpteen times (no toxic chemicals).The best of these have three chambers with lovely soft down at top and bottom for comfort, and the middle chamber filled with small feathers for loft. Feather is naturally antimicrobial so there is no need for any nasty chemicals. They retain height very well, but the only drawback is they do need to be regularly fluffed up.
Health professionals like memory foam pillows. They sink inwards with the weight of the head to create neutral skeletal alignment and reduce pressure points. Then, almost by memory, they slowly return to normal height. They are long lasting, antimicrobial and hypoallergenic. Manufacturers love talking about how memory foam was developed by NASA scientists for the comfort of astronauts during space travel. Fans love them.
I am not a fan. Memory foam is visco polyurethane – an oil derivative. They are heavy. People can have difficulty breathing through the nose because their heads sink in so far. Memory foam cannot breathe so sleeps hot and has a chemical odour. They are simply not for me.
I have a great love for my latex pillow. I can’t sleep properly without it and take it on holidays. It is not just any latex pillow – it is 100% natural TALALAY process latex. There is a huge difference. Natural talalay latex is chemical free. It can breathe so sleeps cool. It is antimicrobial, dust mite resistant and hypoallergenic. It will perform as good as new for about 15 years. Most of all it is wonderfully supportive and comfortable. Choose the height and firmness that best suits and you are away. You won’t look back. Trust me. Or if you don’t want to trust me, ask your chiropractor. TLC could have specialised in any type of pillow, but we chose Talalay latex, because they are the real deal. The best. Chuck out the rest.