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Understanding Filler Materials: Polyfil, Pellets, Microbeads, Beanbag Filler, Foam & More

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"There's more than one way to stuff a pillow." I've never actually heard that used as an expression. But when I look at all the materials now available for filling pillows, it really rings true.

From natural fillers like feathers and fiber to the latest high tech fluff, you can choose a stuffing that's perfectly suited to your situation.

Cheapest Doesn't Always Save in the Long Run

If you're thrifty like me, you might be tempted to buy the least expensive pillow stuffing you can find. After all, it's just there to fill out the pillow cover, right? Not exactly. A number of times, I've used the cheapest polyester filler (sometimes in a pre-made pillow form) for a throw pillow and was eventually disappointed.

The pillows looked great when I first tossed them onto an overstuffed chair, but after being leaned on for a while, they flattened out and there was nothing I could do to fluff them up again.

My new rule is to use cheap polyester only if the pillows will be strictly ornamental – like throw pillows on a bed. Otherwise, I like to use something you can easily reshape, like down.

Choose a Filler to Enhance Your Pillow Experience

Not every pillow gets to sit there and look pretty. Some have a job to do. If you're making a travel pillow or even a regular sleeping pillow, you can choose a filler to maximize your comfort and even give you other health benefits.

Some people are looking to avoid artificial fibers and choose feathers, natural latex or even green tea to stuff their pillow. Others need their pillow to be truly hypoallergenic and so choose the latest in synthetic fibers. For example, a pillow filled with millet seed will conform comfortably to your head and, as an added bonus, will release soothing compounds while you sleep.

Some Popular Pillow Fillers to Consider



This is the most popular and most budget-friendly. It's non-allergenic. You can wash it. And it's easy to find. Fairfield (see "Where to Find" links below) now makes a fluffier version of their original Polyfil with fibers that better resist flattening. You can also get polyester/cotton blends to give you added firmness.

Polyester Pellets

These look like little droplets of plastic and are often used by crafters to fill stuffed animals. But you can use them in little neck pillows all the way up to big floor pillows.


Think of them as extra small pellets. Manufactured to be almost perfectly uniform, these little beads slide easily against each other. Because they can be shaped and give support, they're often used to make therapy pillows.

Beanbag Filler

These are tiny polystyrene (that stuff they make cheap ice chests out of) beads. They're light and fluffy, and can be easily reshaped. They're designed for big beanbag chairs, but you can use them in other pillows as well.


You can find a lot of different kinds of foam, from the classic stuff they make chair pads out of to high tech Memory Foam. If you like the solid feel of foam but don't want artificial, you can get natural latex rubber. It does a nice job of conforming and supporting your body.


Down and Other Feathers

Made from the soft under feathers of ducks or geese, down has remained very popular through the years. It's even better now as improvements have been made in feather-proof casings and removing dander in the down. It's great for sleeping pillows and sofa pillows that will be sat on. Washing a down pillow is not recommended because it's difficult to dry the feathers properly. So you should make a removable cover.


This traditional filling takes advantage of the fiber's ability to stand up to years of wear without losing shape. A good pillow liner can make wool feel as soft as cotton.


Not just for cowboys. This natural fiber made of stiff mane hairs is naturally springy and retains its shape well. It makes a dry pillow texture – great for people who sweat while they sleep.

Natural Shredded Rubber

It's easy to forget that real rubber grows on (or in) trees. When shredded, natural rubber looks a little like cottage cheese, but has the nice firm feel of memory foam.

Seeds and Herbs


This grain seed has been used in therapeutic pillows for years. Buckwheat gives firm support to small pillows. People like it for neck pillows or other travel pillows. Buckwheat can be noisy in a full size pillow.


Supposedly quieter than buckwheat, millet seeds are finer and give better contouring. They also contain silicic acid, which is released from the hulls via body heat and is reported to have numerous therapeutic properties.


Used in small therapeutic pillows. You can make a long neck pillow with flaxseed and heat it in the microwave for soothing warmth. Flaxseeds don't give off an odor, which is to some people's liking.


When harvested and dried, lavender buds give off a soothing aroma. You wouldn't want to sleep directly on a lavender-filled pillow (it's a little too crunchy). Instead, you can make a tiny lavender pillow to tuck under your regular pillow, where you can still enjoy the benefit of the pleasing smell without the annoying crunch. I mix a quarter cup of dried lavender with flax seed to fill a small lavender pillow.

Other Fillers

From silk to hemp, you can find dozens more things to stuff a pillow. A hand-made pillow stuffed with a natural or therapeutic filler makes a memorable gift.

A Few Places to Find Fillers Online


Comments (53)

Brookee said:
Brookee's picture

What would be the best filling for the couch pillows. The big ones that line the back of the couch

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Brookee - There is no one right answer to your question as it depends on the final look you're after. Often these are foam wrapped with high loft batting. Sometimes they are an actual pillow form. High end sofas can be down-filled. If you want the pillows to hold their shape the longest, you'll want some sort of core.

Kirubel said:
Kirubel's picture

Hello, Could you please lead to me the most firm material that is used to stuff floor pillows. I am looking to make a Moroccan style floor pillow that will endure lots of use. Thanks in advance

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Mike - it's hard to tell from the photo, but it doesn't look like anything we've come across before. It almost looks like some kind of shredded celluose.

Joe ecosapien said:
Joe ecosapien's picture

Hi, have you heard about "Kapok" fiber as a filler? I am told it comes from pods of Ceiba tree found in rain forests but the fiber is said to be commercially available. It is supposed to have "bounce" unlike any other filler. This bounce makes the pillows stay fluffy for long periods of time. Any help on further info would be appreciated.


Linda G. said:
Linda G.'s picture

Can we mix feathers and fiber fill for pillows or will they separate and become lumpy ?

lwoodl01 said:
lwoodl01's picture

you can and most retail chains do it. We have pillows from pottery barn and they are all a mix of polyester and down. Down alone doesnt hold shape and the polyester helps. I have found over time I have to buy for polyester fill to fluff up the pillows. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Linda - We haven't tried mixing fillers. In general, I'd probably advise against it since they would indeed be different textures and weights and I just don't know if they'd settle differently. 

TerryVal said:
TerryVal's picture

For those who choose goose down, I would stress the importance of finding a supplier that sources down humanely.  Most goose down is obtained by literally ripping the breast feathers off a live goose (imagine having the hair ripped off your head), then letting the feathers grow back and doing it again in a few months.  If a company sources its down humanely (e.g., from dead geese slaughtered for food), it should volunteer this information.  I obtained my down pillow from Ogallala Comfort Company, which combines humanely-sourced down with milkweed fibers - creating Monarch Butterfly habitat at the same time.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ TerryVal - thanks for weighing in - we always appreciate knowing about animal-friendly options

Deborah C. said:
Deborah C.'s picture

I am making Melly and Me stuffed toys for a quilt shop and would like them to look the best they can possible be.  On their blog, they suggest Birch which comes from Australia.  These toys are firmly stuffed to get the best appearance.  I want to avoid clumpy stuffing and willing to pay for the best.  Are all polyester fills created equally.  What would you suggest that is readily available in the United States.  Thank you.

Pogo said:
Pogo's picture

I am sewing small bean bags for tossing to put in the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Dried beans, rice, grains cannot be used. I wanted to know if the PolyPellets could be mixed with Polyfill to add some weight and not be so costly. I usually make about 80.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Pogo - neither the polyester filler not the pellets have any real weight. You can often find big bags of inexpensive beads or buttons at craft stores -- that might be an option to mix with the pellets. 

dmetz said:
dmetz's picture

Hello. We are making small camp pillows with our Girl Scouts, the final pillow size will be about 14 inches by 10 inches, how much poly fil will I need for 70 pillows?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ dmetz -- there are several variables, so I can't give you an exact amount -- there really isn't a specific formula. Your best bet would be to make one prototype out of the exact fabric and to the size you want all of them to be. Stuff that one to the "plumpness" you like. Then, weigh the prototype and multiply by 70 (or by 69 if you count the one you already made). Fiber fill is sold by weight, so you can then figure out how much weight to buy - not perfectly scientific, but certainly close enough. We prefer PolyFil® brand polyester fiberfill. Since you need quite a bit, you should be able to find it in a large box, it will be cheaper that way - we've seen 10 lb boxes and even 25 lb boxes. 

Emily said:
Emily's picture

hi ! may i know what kind of materials will you suggest for the outer layer for a neck rest pillow for travelling , as i have skin allergies   . thanks alot for your help

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Emily - We don't know you're specific skin allergies, so there's no way to make a definitive suggestion for you. You could certainly look into the organic cottons. We like Cloud9 Fabrics' selection: http://cloud9fabrics.com/

They have a "where to buy" section on their website.

W. Moore said:
W. Moore's picture

I have an older sofa with 3 back cusions and 3 seat cushions. The back cushions have begun to droop to the bottom and won't stand tall like they used to. They currently have either shredded foam or shredded rubber (I can't tell the difference). Anyway, I have extra horse hair from a chair and wondered if I could open the case with the filler and add horsehair to it instead of purchasing something else, or should I get all new stuffing for it?  Thanks for your help.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

W. Moore  - It sounds as if you are able to take off the cushion covers to reveal the inner form. If that's the case, it seems you could certainly test your theory of adding filler without too much trouble. Give it a try, put it all back together, and see if it gives you the look (and feel) you want. What would likely be the thing to give you trouble is ending up with an uneven texture by adding/mixing new filler with the old. However, upholstery fabric is often thick enough to mask a bit of uneveness. I'm not an upholstery expert by any stretch, but I'm going to guess most would suggest new filler for the very best outcome. But if it's easy to try your idea, go for it. If it doesn't work, you're only out a bit of time and elbow grease. The next step would then be to update the filler. For that, you probably would want the advice of a re-upholstery expert 

ila said:
ila's picture


any suggestion to fill handmade pouffe? I have found a few materials, such as beanbag, foam chips or hollow fiber but I don't really know which one is better...Do you have any advice? 

Thank You 

Agnes_M said:
Agnes_M's picture

Hi, to make cushions, I thought of using bean bag fillers - EPS. Can I dip them in lavender essential oil before using them as stuffing? I just want my cushion to have a soothing scent for sleeping well. Are EPS and styrofoam balls similar? Will dipping them in essential oil cause the fillers to be oily, in humid weather, etc? thanks

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Agnes_M - I'm afraid this is not something we've tested, so we don't have any guaranteed information for you. The EPS fillers are a foam derivitive and there are both pure and recycled options. A bean bag is a pretty large item to fill and I would, as you do, have some concerns about the adsorption. I could suggest dipping a few handfuls and creating a tiny prototype beanbag. Obviously you can't leave it through several seasons of weather, but you could at least let it sit for a couple days and see what happens. In addition - perhaps a spray of the oil would be better than dipping.

majeed said:
majeed's picture

dear Friend 

can you  please guide if this item posisble to fill in pillows and quilts ?

please answer me  at     majeed@worldovergroup.com

• Chestnut

  1. (n.) The tree itself, or its light, coarse-grained timber, used for ornamental work, furniture, etc.
  2. (n.) The edible nut of a forest tree (Castanea vesca) of Europe and America. Commonly two or more of the nuts grow in a prickly bur.
Agnes_M said:
Agnes_M's picture

Thank you so much for your reply. Spray sounds wonderful - I will take note. Do you think EPS goes well with felt cushion? I am not looking at doing a big cushion or bean bag but rather a felt cushion, so wondering if it matches well if I use EPS as stuffing? I have some leftovers from my last project and thought I can use them. Thank You!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Agnes_M - I don't know. We don't use the pellets much, preferring the smooth feeling of batting wrapped foam or polyester fiber fill. If the felt is thick enough, the pellets will probably be find. Again, we also test with a tiny prototype to see if we like the feel. 

Stephanie E. said:
Stephanie E.'s picture

Can you tell me where I might find synthetic bead filler for use in hot/cold packs?  The filler would have to be microwaveable... Thanks.

Alexa said:
Alexa's picture

i need an answer ASAP. it's that there are people complaining about the material used in this (not-be-named) therapeutic pillow, because everytime they put their face on that pillow (side view) they get a mark on their cheeks after a session. what material would be better to use for a pillow made to be used on the sides of your face.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Alexa - is this question regarding a pillow you made using a Sew4Home project? I'm afraid I can't troubleshoot long distance since I'm not sure what filler you are using now. And, if it isn't a S4H pillow project, chances are I may not be familiar with what went into its construction. 

DT said:
DT's picture

Need some about micro beads.  Want to make a neck pillow using them as filler, but how do you get them inside without then flying all around and becoming electrostatic??  Thank you.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ DT - we don't work with micro beads very often but I know what you describe can be a problem, however, I'm definitely not a micro beads expert. Your best bet might be to try to make a similarly-shaped lining and dump the beads right from the package into that lining "bag" ... actually inserting the end of the plastic bag the beads come in right into the lining bag so there's little chance they can get away. This lining bag o' micro beads would then need to be sealed shut and inserted into your neck pillow just as you'd insert a pillow form. You can't completely eliminate the problem but this may help minimize it.

BarbaraAnn said:
BarbaraAnn's picture

I used uncooked rice with some lavender mixed in for a therapeutic neck pillow allowing heating in the microwave similarvto flaxseed. It is heavier but a longer pillow can wrap around the neck/shoulders pretty well with the heated comfort from added pressure helping to relieve tension.

Michelle S. said:
Michelle S.'s picture

Hey Liz. I don't think my comment posted.  I apologize if this is redundant.  I have a slip cover sofa and love seat.  The back cushions are made out very cheap polyester fill.  The furniture is about 8 years old and is in great condition except for the back cushions.  What do you suggest to use to "fill" the slip cover?  I would like something that will hold its shape reasonably well, but also be comfortable.


Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Michelle S. - I don't consider myself an upholstery expert, so I may not be your very best resource. I would suggest either a better quality polyester fiber fill, like Fairfield's Poly-Fil or Nature-Fil. Or perhaps a shredded foam, which is what is used to make those popular floor cushion "poufs" you see everywhere. In both cases, I'd recommend making an inner pillowcase to keep the filler smoother against the outside fabric. When using fiber fill, we recommend picking and fluffing it prior to stuffing it, almost as if it were hair, to help keep it from clumping. Beyond this... I'd turn to an upholsterer for pro suggestions. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ Marvae Blanscett -- I had answered this question below for another visitor and I believe my answer would still be the same:

I did a simple Google search for "where to buy micro beads" and got tons of options. Try it from your computer and you'll get local stores as well as online options. Here was one results page. They seem easy to find:

Marvae Blanscett said:
Marvae Blanscett's picture
I am inquiring about trying to find large quantities of the poly-fil micro beads to use in crafts here in my home. Could you please direct me as where I can buy in bulk for this product? Thank you so much for your time and consideration in this matter.


Marvae Blanscett
Karlie Philpott said:
Karlie Philpott's picture
I have often wonder why some pillows are so cheap and other so expensive. Now I know it is the filler.
jfpasternak said:
jfpasternak's picture
I found if you use that electric carving knife, you never use to cut meat with anyway, is great for cutting slabs of foam. It cuts right through it!
Darlene C said:
Darlene C's picture
Can you tell me where I can buy micro beads, I need it for medical purposes.Thank You
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Nu-Foam comes in various thicknesses and is sold as pre-cut squares or in pre-determined widths on a long roll that can be cut to length. Measure the seat size on the chairs you would like to make cushions for, and check to see if a pre-cut NU-Foam insert would better suit your needs. Because it can be a bit of a challenge to cut, it may be easier for you to buy the pre-cut NU-Foam inserts per cushion, as long as the sizes they make will work for your chairs. If you need a specialty shape a metal straight edge and a serrated knife is your best bet. you can see how we handled the task for our Nature Brights Chair Cushions:

Dandy said:
Dandy's picture
What do I use to "cut" this poly-fil new foam? Scissors or a knife, cerated or straight blade?