The Secret to Keeping Your Throw Pillows Fluffy

decorative throw pillows

It’s hard to keep your pillows nice and fluffy in a world that just wants to smash and flatten pillows.  My family is the chief family of pillow abusers.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I think decorative throw pillows are much happier being used that being protected as if they are an endangered species.  Even though we call them decorative throw pillows the truth is, they are there to serve us, not just look pretty.

I’ve been meaning to tell you this well-known secret.  And then I got a reminder in the form of a comment on this post about Tracy’s home::

cheap throw pillows

Crystal, there is a secret.  You know how I show you all my yard sale and thrift store items but then I also talk about investment pieces?  Like how I think a rug is really worth paying good money for?  Same goes for a bed–you spend a big percentage of your life on a bed, get a good one.  And an upholstered pieces, especially the family sofa should be the best you can afford.

I feel the same way about pillows, or at least, what goes inside a pillow.  But, the best thing about pillows is that good ones don’t necessarily cost more. I grew up with a mom who was conscious about the shape of pillows, I’m guessing she didn’t know the secret so she had to be all “Gary, don’t lay on those pillows on the sofa they’ll get flat, you are ruining them”. Because of my upbringing, I  had flat pillow worry syndrome. Maybe you have this condition as well?  I have a little love of pillows and I certainly didn’t and don’t want them to get flat or lumpy!

decorative throw pillow insertsRestoration Hardware

The cure? Feather inserts. You know how you have a pretty fabric on the outside of the pillow but the outside isn’t the only part of the pillow.  There is something inside too. Sometimes I’m in a thrift store and I hopefully pick up a pillow and it’s all weirdly lumpy and eerily close to only being two-dimensional.  Oftentimes it’s a homemade pillow that someone stuffed with batting.  Batting is okay for stuffed toys or a decorative tooth fairy pillow for your daughter’s bed.  But batting won’t hold up to men laying their heads and other such things on them day after day.  And batting certainly won’t fluff.

My guess is there is some type of synthetic alternative out there that people love, but I haven’t found it yet.  My favorite, most fluffable, abuse-taking pillows have always been feather filled. The kind where every now and then, you’ll feel a sharp end of a feather poking through the insert into a fleshy part of your body.  That’s the stuff.

cheap decorative throw pillowsPottery Barn Synthetic Pillow Inserts…hmmmm

Feather pillows will take all of your (and your husband’s) abuse and then obediently fluff back up every time.  For years. I’ve washed my inserts in the washer and dried them in the dryer. You can be fancy and order feather inserts from a store or do what I do and next time you are at Home Goods buy a few pillows you like but make sure they are feather pillows with removable covers.  Check for a zipper on the outside pillow cover to make sure you can easily remove the insert once you are sick of the outside fabric.  That way you get a pretty, non-losing-its-shape pillow now, and a great insert for years and years.

throw pillow cover

I’ll still buy a pillow if it doesn’t have a zipper because I know one day I can cut off the cover and still have the feather insert.  If I LOVE a pillow but the insert is cheap and not feather I may still consider purchasing it IF the cover is removable. But, I almost always refuse to waste my money on a new pillow if it’s not a feather pillow and if the cover can’t be removed so I can put a feather insert in it when I get home.

decorative pillows

*Disclaimer, I’ve been known to purchase non-feather filled, beautiful pillows from Target but they are always second string, protected and maybe put on our bed–not my first line of defense.  I wouldn’t fill our sofa with 5 non-feather Target pillows and expect good results.  But ONE non-feather pillow among feather pillows will survive because naturally, your husband will reach for the cushy feather pillow over the non-feather one.  The gray and jute pillow on our bed is from Target (polyester filled *cringes*) but since it’s purely for looks, it’s getting along just fine.

It’s just a waste for me to use a pillow that I can’t have with feathers.  Because it will go flat and ugly in a week here at my house.

So that’s the secret.  It’s not about how you abuse your pillow, it’s about putting the right thing inside them so you can abuse them. Use feather inserts. I even look for them now when I’m thrifting.  Sometimes you’ll find an ugly $1 pillow but inside is a lovely feather pillow insert.  I’ll buy that right up and get home and throw away the ugly cover and wash the insert in super hot water and dry it and it’s as good as new.

decorating blog

More Good Reads

My pillow Policy

How to simply and quickly make your own pillow covers@Love Some (I HATE to sew, but I’d even do this one, and then put a feather insert in it, of course!)

 Pillow Pinboard on Pinterest

Have you had a great experience with non-down/feather pillow inserts?  What about for people allergic to down?  We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments…


  1. Wow, I am thrilled. You answered my question on your website. Yahoo.
    Thanks for your time and great effort in explaining the pillow syndrome that “yes” I do have.
    I especially like the explanation of our husbands and putting their heads or other parts of their
    body on the pillows. I don’t nag hopefully, and my husband does understand the new Christmas pillow getting crunched, and he admitted he should put it on the side. Hasn’t happened yet.
    But you know what, I love him and that is ok as long as I can buy another pillow:) I don’t like the little feathers fluttering around and stabbing me, but I do agree, they look great in a case.
    So, off I go to seek and hunt those feathers!

  2. This is super helpful and something I hadn’t really thought about! Something that I am learning about throw pillows is to always buy bigger than I think I need- somehow they look so tiny when I get them home and I end up with a confetti of pillows all over the sofa :)

    • “confetti of pillows” that is so good! yes, you are so right, you rarely see pillows on a sofa and think they are too big but often, they could be bigger!

  3. I have never used anything else and have had my pillows for years! If you want to get that “English Cottage Look” down cushions in chairs and sofas will get it, of course covered in chintz!

  4. So…what do those of us do who are terribly allergic to feathers?

    • I think that’s a great question, that I do not have an answer for, hopefully someone can answer it here in the comments, I’ll update the post to ask!

    • I’m not allergic to down, but I cannot stand the smell so I avoid down filled pillows at all costs! I use synthetic down inserts, and while they are not as good as real down, they are almost as good! They have almost the same “slouch” that real down does, and I haven’t had any problems with them bouncing back… and my family is definitely guilty of pillow abuse! Hope this helps!

  5. I totally agree! Feather inserts are the best! Have a great week.

  6. This is sooo me! I discovered about 2 years ago that the pillows I buy with feather inserts look good for years longer than the ones I bought with polyester inserts. Now i scour thrift shops and clearance sections for good deals on down inserts. I know I can always recover them in something cool! Thanks for such a great post!

  7. I just bought two hideous $1 pillows at the Goodwill outlet for their luscious down inserts to add to our collection. It makes SUCH a difference. We are down people at our house.

  8. I agree completely, my favorites are from Ikea for $6.99 for 20 x 20 – I would have never believed how great they are until I tried them!

  9. I cannot believe I’m letting the cat out of the bag. But Target has a great big pillow clearance every August. And some of their pillows are down filled. I buy all the ugly end of season pillows there!! Last year I got some 20″x20″ pillows for $6. They are high quality inserts with hideous covers that I toss!

  10. Poor Gary, I’m glad I’m not the only one that grabs the GW pillows and takes them home to the washer. We have so much in common.
    ps. are you magazine ready? can’t wait =)

  11. OH HOORAY. I cannot thank you enough for posting this. I, too, suffer from flat pillow syndrome and my husband bears the bulk of my complaints/nagging – whatever you want to call it! Love it! Thanks again.

  12. I have some feather pillows that I love and I have one that I ordered online and it is lumpy – you can feel the hard part of the feather and they poke you. Any ideas on how to be sure that I get the soft feather pillows?

    • hmmm, it seems like usually there’s a mixture of tiny downy feathers and then also some larger feathers with stems? that is so gross, I’m sure feather-ologists are rolling their eyes at me? Anyway, in my totally made up research I’m guessing the feathers with stems help the insert hold its shape? Even my featherbed has stemmed feathers but, once it has the mattress cover and sheet I only get pricked about twice a year. Same with my pillows, it seems like if I take a pillow cover off I see a few stems, but when they are on, they rarely poke out.

      anyone else have a solution?

  13. I love down inserts as well and have switched over to only down throw pillows in our family room. Mine are in need of a wash…can I wash them in my ancient washer that still has an agitator, or do I need to throw them in someone else’s where they will tumble?

  14. I never knew you could wash feather pillows. You have just opened up a whole new world for me! Thanks for the insight!

  15. Your timing is impeccable! When I had the sewing business I got my pillows from wholesalepillowinserts(dot)com. They have several down/feather options. I was just on their site yesterday to order some large ones for my bedroom redo. I love the weight of a good quality insert!

    • Thanks Tracy, I might need some larger ones so I’m so glad you sourced them!! Also? you are the queen of all things fabric and pillow!

      • Ha! I was sorry I never ran across a black velvet for you that was a gazillion dollars a yard or almost but not quite black. I’m guessing you’ve found something fabulous by now any way :)

  16. I, too, have a down allergy – my mother-in-law has to pull the down comforter and pillows off the guest bed whenever we visit :( I’ve always avoided down like the plague, so I’ve never considered the difference between down and generic stuffing. This was very informative, and I will have to keep my eye out for synthetic down inserts on the cheap!

  17. Hi Nester —
    We use kapok filled pillows at our house. It is a very dense natural fiber and the ones we got came with organic cotton cases. (They’re available on Etsy and other internet stores). They are nice and fluffy but do slowly flatten over time (husband and dog abuse). Then I just put them in the dryer with my dryer balls and they fluff back up. I recommend them for those who are allergic to down. Here’s a post I put up that shows the pillows (with cases on).
    Hope this is useful! Cheers – CT

  18. Oh my goodness, I couldn’t agree more! I sell pillow covers in my Etsy shop and I ONLY use feather inserts for shop photographs. Even a fresh, new synthetic insert looks pretty, well, synthetic in pictures. I am that weird woman who walks through the thrift store squishing all the pillows in the entire place in search of any with feather inserts. It’s like finding buried treasure! :)

    • How can you tell by squishing, Anna, if you don’t mind my asking?!? :)

      • If you squish the pillows pretty hard you’ll feel the individual feathers (almost like tiny sticks) in a feather insert, but a synthetic insert will feel much more uniform and stiff. Also, feather inserts will take on the shape that you want them to much more easily, like that sorta dent in the top that you see in magazine photos. Synthetic won’t really do that at all. Hope that helps :)

  19. I absolutely agree — you cannot beat feather inserts. They make my world “spin” much better on its axis!

  20. I answered this question before I read your answer, ha! I LOVE the feather pillows. They are just the best. I get mine at IKEA.
    Happy new year!!!!!!

  21. I would have to agree. I have tons of feather pillows and I change out the covers for the season. Only thing is, my poor husband is allergic to feathers, so I just make sure I have a mix on the couch just for him to pick and choose from.

  22. Stephanie Oh says

    I never gave much thought to this, thanks for the tip! I’ve been borrowing another idea you mentioned a while back to use a standard size pillow sham and insert on the sofa and so far that’s been saving my throw pillows. I never would’ve thought of it and it’s now our favorite pillow.

  23. I saw you pinning lots of pillows on Pinterest. I love that tutorial and it’s super easy, even for people like me who hardly ever sew! I have feather inserts and they are way better than batting so I totally agree with you! Thanks.

  24. I was excited about this post, and then devastated that my pillows will never look right because I have a really bad allergy to feather….so sad in my pillow misery.

  25. I never knew you could wash and dry them! I always thought they needed dry cleaning. This opens up a new world of pillows in my house!

  26. I have used feather pillows for years also, and have found all are not created equal. I went cheap and got inserts from the craft store. They are terrible! My 4 year old daughter makes a game of pulling the feathers out–lovely. At any given time, there are at least a dozen feathers sticking through, which is super uncomfortable. It seems the nice ones have multiple layers of fabric casing or something, to prevent feathers escaping, and they probably use a higher ratio of down to feather. I had resigned myself to spending a fortune to avoid ths. I’m going to look for better quality ones that aren’t too expensive now. I never thought to look at Target! Thanks Nester and all you awesome readers!

  27. I haven’t had a feather pillow since I was a kid…ugh to poking feathers in my ears. :D But, I do remember that they would get as flat as a pancake and then look all pretty on my bed. I hate flat pillows and by reading the comments too, I see there are lots of ways to get them at a great price. But…the tip that did it for me was that I could wash the feather inserts. Seriously….why did I never know this? Thanks for the great tips Nester!!!

  28. amen! a couple of years ago i bought memory foam pillows from target for my bed. they are 10x the cost of standard polyester pillows but totally worth it! it’s way better than having to go out and buy all new pillows every couple of months.

  29. I’m a feather pillow addict as well… I’ve been known to buy non-feather pillow only if the insert is removable… And I’ll use a feather insert instead of the synthetic one after only a few months! My cat caught fleas last summer and every single pillow (from sofa, beds, chairs…) went to the washing-machine and is doing perfectly fine. I just had to throw away the two synthetic pillows that were left in the house!

  30. I bought a sectional a couple of years ago that came with tiny, (not my taste) hard as rock pillows, so when I made my own, I ripped open the little rocks to reuse the fill. It was actually chopped up foam of sorts. I have found this to be an awesome (feather free, for those of us with allergies) alternative. If I had been smart, I would have put the foam in an insert instead of shoving it into pillow and sewing it up…. always rushing to get it done! :p

  31. I totally agree with you! Great secrets…. also, how do you wash the pillow inserts? I am always afraid to wash my down inserts. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    • I just wash ’em like I wash clothes. Just all together in one batch. I’ve even washed them on super hot before to get them super clean.

  32. If you overlap the fabric on the ‘back’ of your pillow cover, when you make one, you can slip the pillow insert in and out easily to wash the cover. Think how you wrap a package and you overlap the paper on the back and tape it – just leave enough for a 3 or 4 or 5 inch overlap and there is no need for a zipper or hand stitching. The tutorial may have tried to demonstrate it but I am not sure.

    • yep, I”m pretty sure that’s what the tutorial was (I’m not very sewy though so I can’t guarentee it) but it was an envelope closure. Poor zippers they are gonna go on strike!

  33. Amen! My motto, Feather Feather Feather! Never can go wrong with them. And I have also been known to buy a pillow @ the big box stores knowing the insert is worth more than the cover, and cheaper than if I went to a supplier! If the size & shape & PRICE (sale) is right I buy it & donate the cover!

  34. Well here’s my take on the discussion. There are all down, all feather and a combo down/feather pillow inserts. Of course the down is the most costly and the feather the cheaper of the fills. Feathers will start to work through the covering if the fabric isn’t a ‘tight weave’. And I have found that feathers usually have a scent and can be quite strong. Possibly from the handling and treatment of the feathers while the scent for all quality down is less or not at all noticable. I would be cautious washing expensive down-filled jackets or vests. I stopped machine washing my down comforters when after a few washings the down shifted enough that it no longer had the loft and of course warming factor. I will try washing cheap pillow inserts as a test run.

    • if my pillows had a smell, I’d have already burned them! YUCK, yes, by all means, don’t silently suffer a smell you don’t like in order to have a fluffier pillow! great info about down vs feather!

  35. Are the feather inserts only best for decorative pillows or do you use them on your bed for sleeping on? Thanks for not rolling your eyes at my question.

    • bed pillows are PURELY a personal preference, I sleep on two pillows, one feather, one foam, because I am 89 years old and picky about my pillows. For looks, I love how a feather pillow looks WITH an overstuffed cheapo pillow. I have two large cheep pillow forms for our bed that I pull out and use when if we are doing a photo shoot, but we never use them or sleep on them so they hold their shape and stay unnaturally fluffy.

  36. So excited about this! I didn’t know that feather pillows were washable. I would think that would fix the allergy aspect of it all. I’m willing to try. Our Marshalls had an adorable collection of feather pillow from Tommy Bahama. They were still pricey though–even there.

  37. Yep. And feather pillows are heavy enough to not fall right off of a leather couch, too. Now, if you have any tips on getting my teenagers to KEEP them off the floor, that woud be amazing :o)

  38. Melissa McIntyre says

    Well….that just burst my bubble :-( Can’t do feather in my house, we have sinus allergies AND skin allergies (eczema) I guess I’ll forever be fluffing pillows! Though I did make a few a couple years ago for our old couch that held up really well even through washing. I used 2 layers of thin fabric foam with batting smooshed in between. I guess I’ll probably have to rip open my new couch pillows that I bought (and LOVE) a few months ago, and insert some foam. Sigh. I was really hoping for some magical secret though! ;-) However, I still love ya Nester!

    • aww man! but if you used something that worked for you, no matter what it was, just keep doing it!

      • Melissa McIntyre says

        Thanks for the pep talk :-) I was just hoping to NOT have to rip open my pillows! lol! I’m more in the zone for: buy-some-new-chairs-find-a-livingroom-rug-paint my-bedroom-re-arrange-the-girls-room! Got my eyes open at Joss & Main, and the thrift store! For now, pillow surgery is low on the list :-) but I’ll get there!!

  39. Thanks for the awesome advice!

    I’m obsessed with your green leather chair…any info on that one for us?

    ps check out my blog

  40. I love a down/feather pillow too, but I do have a couple pillows that act quite a bit like down, but they are filled with some small bits of foam. They are so comfortable to sleep on and they fluff up. I don’t know what that filler is called. I have tried to find similar pillows but they are hard to come by.

  41. I sew pillows for a living and down/feather pillows are the best and only what I use, but if you are allergic and making your own pillows or having someone do it for you, use a product called cluster stuff instead of traditional batting, it mimics down/feather much better. Also for cheaper feather pillows with a zippered cover, take the insert out and cover it with a second covering, a heavy drapery lining works well. Also the higher the down to feather ratio the pillow is, the softer it will be and less feather mess, they are harder to come by and cost a lot more brand new so if you see one at a thrift store don’t hesitate to grab it. Harris pillow supply will make any size pillow for you in any down/feather ratio you want if your not worried about cost. Their prices aren’t too bad, a lot of my customers use them. Hope that helps.

  42. Thanks so much! Somehow, I completely failed to realize I could WASH my feather pillows. My washer has a big task ahead…

  43. Sharon in Chicago says

    I still sleep on the feather pillow my grandmother made for me in the 1960’s. I did have the drycleaner put on new ticking in the 1990s, but the feathers still fluff!

  44. I can testify that this is true, ha! I only have 2 feather filled pillows, but they look as new as the day I bought them, 6 years ago!! Now I can see why, it wasn’t just a lucky purchase …I’m adopting your rule of feather inserts too! Thanks!!

  45. Here comes the expert-know-it-all answer: Just kidding. But i do work in a furnishing store (in Norway) and sell pillows etc. If you are allergic you are not allergic to feathers itself, but to mites (or actually the excrements of the mites. Yuck!!!). Mites can live in mattresses, pillows, dust… New down duvets and pillows are cleansed and have mite proof covers (at least here in Norway). If you are allergic it is best to wash your bedding often. Wash down hot, use detergent for wool or silk and tumble dry together with dryer balls. Hoover your mattresses often. Down and wool are natural products and no synthetic fiber is as good at insulating and to transport fluid away from the body.
    As to throw pillows, yes, feathers please. The last two years I slowly have exchanged all inserts with feather pillows…. I love them!

  46. Maria Costa says

    After taking a class from Miss Mustard Seed in December, I have been scouring the ARC and Goodwill stores in my area and feeling all the decorative pillows, not even looking at the outside of the pillow and have found 2 so far for $4.00 total. I took off the covers at the checkout and “donated” back the covers. I am on a search to replace all my existing pillow fills. LOL

  47. Nester,
    I love feather pillows and my wife and I have two pairs that are 25 yrs old . We had picked up a feather bed topper and took it to the drycleaners and they made pillows to our measurements. About 1 inch wider and 3 inches longer than standard. They fit standard cases nicely and don’t look so skimpy on a Queen size bed.
    We only recently tried washing a feather bedpillow that was spilled on, in our front load washer and dryer. perfect. no more drycleaner for us.
    I also noticed Kohl’s carries several feather bed pillows and Down Surround pillows with an inner core of feathers to keep firmness and shape and outer layer of down for softness. They have medium, firm, and extra firm, and the pillow all go half off many times during the year and there are always coupons to use too.
    I use the flatened polyester bed pillows to make my seat cushions for the wicker chairs on the porch. I cut to size and split them like a Pita, with shredded poly batting or cut off pieces from pillow, to make it thicker and ” stitch/tuft” it to keep things from shifting around. My way of re-using what I have.

  48. Sharon in Chicago says

    First, let me say I am NOT a Law of Attraction kinda gal, but I read this post this morning and this afternoon, while driving through St Louis on my way back to Chicago I found not just 1, but 2 feather and down filled removable covers matching pillows at HomeGoods. On clearance for $8 each. In the colors I’m redoing my bedroom in. (Funny how the car inately knows where every HG, TJM & M is between Columbia, Mo and Chicago)

  49. I hate flat pillows! I have to be careful because sometimes during parties at my house, I find myself nonchalantly picking up the feather pillows and fluffing them while guests are still sitting on the couch! Better quit that habit…

    I do need to relax and let the kids abuse them more. After all, they have become excellent pillow fluffers and know how to reshape them when they are done!

  50. I had absolutely NO IDEA you could wash feather pillows :)

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