Down vs. Down Alternative: Everything You Need to Know

March 30, 2021 | Casper Editorial Team
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The primary difference between down vs. down alternative is the filling: while down is sourced from the soft undercoat of birds, down alternative is made from a synthetic polyester material that mimics traditional down’s natural softness.

Down and down alternatives are some of the most popular filling types for pillows and duvets. But which material is best for your specific needs?

While allergy-prone people might be more inclined to go with a down alternative because of its hypoallergenic properties, those looking for a lightweight, lofty feeling might prefer traditional down. Keep reading to learn the differences between down and down alternative, so you can decide which filling type is right for you. 

What Is Down?

Illustration of a down pillow

Known for its incredible softness, down is a filling feather gathered from the undercoat of geese, ducks, and swans. Because of its lightweight nature and lofty fluff, down is a great temperature regulator for people who sleep hot. 

Since down comes from animals, consider whether it is ethically sourced down and certified by the Responsible Down Standard (RDS). 

Who down is best for:

  • People who tend to sleep hot
  • People who are looking for a long-lasting investment piece
  • People who love fluffy, pillowy sleeping materials

What Is Down Alternative?

Down alternative pillow

Down alternative is a synthetic form of traditional down. But what is a down alternative fill made of? This innovative material is usually constructed with a polyester microfiber fill (not to be confused with the cheaper poly-fill) that simulates the pillowy feeling of authentic down at a fraction of the cost. 

Since down alternative doesn’t use animal-sourced materials, it’s an excellent alternative for people who are allergic to down but are looking for a pillow with a lush loft. 

Who down alternative is best for:

  • People who are allergic to down 
  • People who don’t want to purchase animal-based products
  • People who want a machine-washable option
  • Budget-conscious shoppers

Down vs. Down Alternative: How to Choose?

Down vs. down alternative pillows

Can’t decide which filling option to go with? We dive into everything you need to know about down vs. down alternative below. 

Fill

With down fill, you’ll want to look at the fill power to determine the quality of the down. Fill power is the amount of space one ounce of down occupies, and a higher fill power means the down has higher insulation properties. 

  • 400–600 fill: This fill level is great for people in warm climates who don’t have to worry about insulating themselves at night. 
  • 600–800 fill: This fill level is considered excellent quality and is ideal for people who live in colder weather or like to sleep in lower temperatures
  • 800+ fill: Fill of this level is ideal for people who live in freezing temperatures or need the extra warmth at night.

Down alternative fill is much more challenging to quantify since it can be made of several different materials. However, to reach comparable insulation levels, down alternative needs to be more densely filled, meaning that down alternative is much heavier than its natural counterpart. 

Best option: down 

Allergies

Since down fill is made from bird feathers, it can cause allergic reactions, especially for those with goose down allergies. Additionally, down feathers may trigger other bedroom allergies because they are more prone to trapping skin cells, pet dander, and dust mites. 

Down alternative fill is a great hypoallergenic alternative to traditional down. Since down alternative uses synthetic materials, it’s far less likely to collect allergens that cause bedroom allergies.

Best option: down alternative 

Breathability

Down fill is known for being exceptionally soft and breathable. Additionally, because of the lighter nature of down, you’ll be able to get that light, luxurious feeling without any of the added weight that you find with faux materials. Down material is great for breathability whether you’re using a down duvet or comforter.

Since the down alternative requires more fill to attain similar insulation levels, it may be less breathable than traditional down. If you tend to sleep cool, down alternative can be a great choice for keeping you warm and comfortable at night. 

Best option: down 

Cleaning

While down can be a bit more challenging to clean, some down items may still be machine washable. If you get a machine-washable down pillow, be sure to use a front load washer with non-chlorine bleach and a mild detergent. If you tumble dry your down, use dryer balls (or clean tennis balls) in the dryer to prevent lumps from forming.

Many down duvets or comforters need to be dry cleaned for the best results. To minimize the need for extra cleaning, be sure to use a duvet cover on your down duvet. Down alternative pillows are easy to clean since they’re machine washable. To wash your pillows, just place the down alternative pillow in your machine with cool water and a mild detergent. Be sure to use dryer balls or clean tennis balls in the dryer to prevent clumps and lumps.

Many down alternative duvets can be cleaned at home in a washing machine, making them an easy choice if you’re looking for low-maintenance bedding. 

Best option: down alternative 

Durability

If you’re looking for a long-lasting investment pillow, traditional down may be your best bet. Traditional down filling is more durable than its synthetic counterpart. With daily fluffing and careful cleaning, down pillows and duvets can last for years. 

Because down alternative is easier to wash at home, it can lead to more wear and tear. However, down alternative pillows and duvets can still last for years with proper care. No matter which material pillow or duvet you choose, you’ll want to make sure it has a warranty so you can sleep well knowing that you’re covered if anything happens. 

Best option: down

Cost

Because of how the materials are sourced, you’ll probably pay a bit more for down vs. down alternative. 

Because down is sourced from real wildfowl, the material is naturally more expensive. Our down pillows start at $125, but you can sleep with peace of mind that your down pillow has been sourced from birds who have been treated with care. 

Down alternative is a great budget-friendly alternative to down pillows. Our down alternative pillow starts at $65, so you can get the sleep of your dreams without breaking the bank. 

Best option: down alternative 

Comparison of down vs down alternative

Down vs. Down Alternative: Which is Better?

The decision between down vs. down alternative ultimately comes down to your personal preference. While traditional down provides a fluffier feel, a down alternative is a great choice for those looking for a comfortable, wallet-friendly option. 

Ready for some great sleep? Try out our down or down alternative duvets for the sweet comfort that dreams are made of.