Down vs. Down Alternative: Is One Better Than the Other?

Written by
Purple Staff
Last Updated
October 31, 2021
min read

The main difference between down and down alternative is the filling. Down is from the soft undercoating of birds, down alternative is a synthetic material that mimics the feel of down material at an often much lower cost.

You have an important choice to make when deciding on sleep accessories for your bed: should you choose a down comforter, duvet, and pillows, or opt for a down alternative? Your answer should depend on the breathability, allergy protection, and durability you expect from your bedding.

It’s important to understand the difference between down and down-alternative bedding. While both options can deliver high-quality sleep, there’s likely one that better suits your optimal sleeping environment. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of both before deciding.

What Is Down?

Down pillows, comforters, and other bedding staples are made from authentic down feathers. These feathers are typically sourced from geese and duck underbellies, and can help trap heat and keep you warm no matter the temperature outside. It is commonly used to fill pillows, comforters, duvets, and individual blankets.

Down in sleep accessories makes your blankets and pillows especially comfortable and soft. Instead of a synthetic filling, these products feature only real feathers that provide a high grade of insulation. Down bedding is famously lightweight, with an especially fluffy nature that holds its composition well over time.

Down is ideal for:

  • People who have no ethical objections to products sourced from animals;
  • People who have less allergies;
  • People who need extra-warm bedding.

What Is Down Alternative?

Down alternatives use various fabricated alternatives to achieve the same effect as down. These pillows, comforters, and duvets are often made of cotton or polymers that mimic the qualities of down. Down alternative is not sourced from animals and is typically made of hypoallergenic materials.

Down alternative is ideal for:

  • People who may have allergies;
  • People who prefer products not sourced from animals;
  • People who want the comfort of down but are looking for a more affordable option;
  • People who find that too much warmth affects the quality of their sleep.


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Down or Down Alternative? How to Choose

When you’re faced with a down or down alternative when picking your pillows, duvet, or comforter, keep a few different factors in mind. Your available budget, preferred pillow replacement rate, and the sleep preferences of anyone else using your bed should all influence your decision.

Fill Power

Fill power — the relative “fluffiness” of your pillows or bedding — is one factor to consider. There’s no single ideal fill power; your goal should be to find the bedding density that contributes to your best night’s sleep.

Bedding with a high fill power can trap more air inside the down. If you prefer that your pillows, comforter, and duvet feel highly insulated, you’ll likely benefit from items with a high fill power. Sleep accessories with a high fill power also trap more heat, keeping you warmer while you sleep.

If you sleep better with pillows and blankets with a higher fill power, consider down bedding. Down typically has a higher fill power, since feathers can be packed more densely than synthetic filling.

Alternatively, sleep accessories with a lower fill power help sleepers achieve an opposite effect. If you prefer less insulated pillows or bedding, or if fill power isn’t an important factor in your sleep equation, down alternative is a safe option for you.


Allergies make most sleep-related activities feel more difficult. You need to consider your allergies when selecting a mattress, and sleeping with a stuffy nose can feel nearly impossible. Still, there are ways to achieve a comfortable night’s sleep despite any allergies you face.

If you find that allergies can interfere with the quality of your sleep, you might prefer bedding made from down alternative. Real down is filled with real feathers, which can cause allergic reactions and keep you — and your partner — up at night.

Since down pillows also contain a higher fill power, they can also trap additional allergens that might trigger a reaction.

Fortunately, down alternative is often made with hypoallergenic materials that promote a great night’s sleep. Its looser structure also shouldn’t collect as many potential allergens.


No matter how dense you prefer your bedding, breathability is still important. Air should be able to pass naturally through your pillows, duvet, comforter, and any other sleep accessories. This allows sweat to evaporate and any sleep-related smells to dissipate.

Despite its insulation, down filling features notable breathability. Air passes easily between feathers, creating bedding as soft as it is strong. Down pillows, covers, and duvets help keep breathability a priority as you sleep.

Many down alternative sleep products feature a high degree of breathability as well. However, artificial filling can’t quite parallel the breathability of authentic feathers. Since air has a more difficult time passing through filling, you can expect less breathability from down alternative.


No matter the type of bedding you choose, it's going to require a certain degree of maintenance. Your pillows, comforter, and duvet will naturally flatten, thin, and break down with use.

It’s safe to wash your pillows — and other bedding. Cleaning your pillows and sleep accessories in the correct way can actually help minimize wear over time. Even your sheets deserve special care during the cleaning process.

If you’re looking for the easiest bedding option to clean, down alternative should be your preference. Many sleep products made with down alternatives are washer-friendly; you can often throw your down alternative pillows and covers into a washing machine without any damage.

Check tags on your down products before washing them. Even though some down pillows and covers are machine washable, many aren’t. If your down sleep products are machine washable, consider using tennis balls or other insulated objects to prevent lumps.


Durability is an important factor for many shoppers that prefer to buy products that last, even if it means spending a bit more money in the process.

If durability is your most important priority when purchasing bedding, down is likely your best bet. Down is generally the longer-lasting material, with a longer life than artificial down alternative.

Down alternative can still last for years after you first purchase it. But the shorter life span of down alternative is often tied to its convenience. Because you can more easily wash it at home, it undergoes more stress in a shorter period.


Consider the amount you’re willing to spend. No matter the price tag on the sleep products you buy, you should feel proud of the purchases you bring home.

Investing in high-quality products is often worth a higher price. For example, authentic down will often outlast and outperform alternative products despite its higher initial price. In the same way, high-quality mattresses and sheets might carry higher price tags. However, the amount of time you spend sleeping — nearly one-third of your lifetime — means it’s certainly OK to spend a little more on products that will last.

Personal Preference

It’s also possible that you might simply prefer either down or down alternative more than the other. Both offer unique sleep experiences. Over time, you might come to prefer the dense nature of a down pillow, or the feel, easy maintenance, and hypoallergenic, cruelty-free nature of a down-alternative duvet or pillow.

Try out our down-alternative Cloud Pillow, TwinCloud pillow and duvet for a cloud-like comfort from dusk till dawn.

Duvet Purple

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