Is a Shredded Memory Foam Pillow Better?

A woman's hand leaves an impression on a slab of memory foam

Magical space-age memory foam

Traditional memory foam pillow filling is pretty neat! If you’ve ever felt it, you know what I mean. It has a magical sort of texture that uniquely conforms to pressure.

Visco-elasticity is what makes memory foam so special.

Memory foam has the viscous properties of water. It also has the elastic feel of traditional poly foams. If you rest your head on one, the memory foam will compresses and conform to the shape of your body. When the pressure on the pillow is released, the memory foam slowly resets itself and changes back to its original rectangular shape.

This makes memory foam very good for:

  • providing even, comfortable support and
  • distributing your body’s weight, eliminating uncomfortable pressure points.

Traditional memory foam pillows are unfortunately NOT moldable.

Most mass-produced memory foam pillows consist of a single piece of foam. This is considered a substantial disadvantage by many users, myself included. No matter how you fluff, smoosh, squash, scrunch or sculpt this solid piece of memory foam, it will always revert to its original rectangular shape. If it feels uncomfortable, you can’t alter its shape to better accommodate your sleeping style like you can with other pillow types.

Shredded memory foam pillows, however, ARE moldable.

Shredded Memory Foam

As its name implies, “shredded” memory foam filling is simply torn into tiny pieces. The individual pieces of foam move independently, allowing the pillow to be moldable. You can sculpt it much like a down pillow—it will shift and change into whatever shape you desire.

I wanted to try one for myself. “What’s the best shredded memory foam pillow?” I wondered.

It turns out they’re kind of difficult to find. Most pillows filled with shredded memory foam don’t market them as such. Instead they’re “rayon pillows” or “cooling gel foam pillows” or “lion down pillows.”  I found most of my search results confusing and inconsistent. I didn’t need cooling gels or a magic rayon case.

*Note* Shredded memory foam pillows are often marketed as “bamboo pillows.” Why? Because bamboo sounds like an environmentally responsible, safe component to use in a pillow. Sellers use the word bamboo in their product descriptions because it appeals to eco-conscious consumers. So where’s the bamboo? The truth is in the fine print: apparently their rayon fabric cases are derived from bamboo.

Instead of a whole pillow, I ordered some shredded memory foam and filled my own pillow case.

I already had a nice zippered cotton cover, so I ordered a bag of shredded memory foam to fill it. It cost me $39.00 with shipping. I’m not one to complain about a few extra dollars for something that you spend a third of your life on, but if you’re shopping for pillow filling strictly based upon price, you should know that you’ll pay a bit more more for shredded memory than poly fiberfill or other more cost-effective fillings.

The shredded memory foam looked like candy-coated popcorn.

My shredded memory foam pillow filling came tightly compressed inside a plastic cylinder to reduce shipping charges. When I opened the bag it expanded to twice its volume. The multicolored pieces all varied in size; most were about 1/4 – 1/2 inches in diameter.

Memory foam is malodorous, funky, fetid and foul!

I opened the bag and my nose quickly reminded me of my previous experiences with memory foam — you might say it jogged my memory (foam). HA! 

The strong synthetic odor associated with memory foam is powerful. I’ve tried memory foam pillows before, so this unique chemical smell was something I was very familiar with. Although this shredded memory foam’s stink wasn’t as ridiculous as the pillows I’d tried previously, it was very hard to ignore.

What is this smell? Memory foam is manufactured using polyurethane and several other chemicals. Because of the volatile organic compounds contained, memory foam unfortunately stinks. This is often referred to as “off gassing.” It is a common and well-documented issue and is the most frequent complaint that consumers have with memory foam. The off gassing issue isn’t limited to the smell; there are various reports and studies which indicate that memory foam may be somewhat toxic. *sigh*

Shredded Memory Foam Pillow

A zippered case makes adjusting a shredded memory foam pillow easy.

Sleeping on a shredded memory foam pillow: my experience

I added what seemed to be an appropriate amount of filling and took my new pillow to my bedroom for a quick test drive. It was completely different than the traditional solid foam pillows I’ve tried. The shredded memory foam was considerably softer feeling. My head sank deep into the pillow — too deep.

I added a bit more filling and after a bit of trial and error, I got the pillow’s loft (height) just where I wanted it. The additional filling also made the pillow a bit more firm, preventing it from bottoming out under the weight of my head.

I should note that not all shredded memory foam pillows offer adjustability with a zippered opening. Personally, I think that the ability to adjust both the firmness and loft of your pillow is indispensable. When you buy something non-adjustable it’s quite likely you’re either positioning your head too high or low.

I slept on it for a couple weeks and formed some conclusions.

A bit of the memory foam “magic” is lost.

Shredded memory foam offers moldability at the cost of some support. Memory foam’s unique ability to conform to your head and neck is negated when it’s been torn into individual pieces. With a solid memory foam loaf, the material adjacent to the compressed area is all attached as a single uninterrupted piece. Traditional memory foam therefore reacts and compresses in coordination, allowing for a more precise “cradling” effect than the shredded memory foam can provide.

Conversely, shredded memory foam pieces each compress independently. This makes the pillow much more more soft and moldable versus firm and supportive.

The wrong pillow can cause neck pain

If your pillow doesn’t keep your head at the correct level, it is likely you will experience back and neck pain.

Because it was so soft, a slight change in my sleeping position caused the loft, or height of the pillow to feel inconsistent. Sleeping one way resulted in slightly more compression of the foam, which made my pillow feel too thin. Moving to a slightly different position caused it to feel too thick. In either circumstance, my pillow required some readjustment.

Does that mean that shredded memory foam is inadequate? Nope. Compared to traditional memory foam pillows, support is slightly diminished. However, the ability to mold my shredded memory foam pillow into the shape I wanted is a far more significant a benefit to me. It was much more comfortable than the traditional memory foam pillows I’d tried previously.

Shredded memory foam is more breathable than traditional memory foam.

Traditional memory foam is not very breathable. A single piece of dense foam doesn’t allow air to circulate freely so it will absorb and retain the warm humid air generated by your body. Alternatively, a breathable pillow filling type will allow warm air to escape while being replaced with fresh, cool air.

Fortunately shredded memory foam offers improved breathability. There’s considerably more negative space for air to flow freely between the pieces of filling inside the pillow. This prevents it from getting uncomfortably warm like a traditional solid-piece memory foam type. It certainly isn’t as breathable as buckwheat hulls or microbead pillow filling, but it isn’t an uncomfortable obstacle to good rest either.

Shredded Memory Foam Verdict

This was far superior to traditional one-piece memory foam pillows. The compromise in support is easily worth the benefits gained. Shredded memory foam is moldable, stays cooler, and is still more supportive than most types of pillows.

Unfortunately, the off-gassing and potential toxicity of memory foam is the deal-breaker for me. I am simply not willing to risk spending 1/3 of my life on something that might not be completely safe. The strange chemical odor pouring out of it is a constant reminder of this potential danger. That said, the danger could be exaggerated. If this isn’t a concern to you, then a shredded memory foam pillow is something you should try.

*Edit 5/16/17* The off gassing seems to be fading away more quickly than my previous memory foam pillows. Two months later, the smell is still noticeable, but substantially less obvious than it was. My previous memory foam pillow seemed perpetually stinky. It ended up in the trash after giving it several months’ opportunity to air out. Perhaps different memory foam manufacturing techniques result in differences in off gassing decay. Despite this positive development, I’m still not a shredded memory foam pillow convert.

*Edit 7/13/18* Having sat in a closet for over a year, I pulled it out for a sniff test. The filling’s chemical odor is no longer noticeable.