Is a Shredded Memory Foam Pillow Better?

Memory Foam Pillow

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.

This magical memory foam characteristic is called visco-elasticity.

Memory foam has the viscous properties of water, but the elastic feel of traditional polyester foams. These unique characteristics are what makes them so popular. If you rest your head on one, the memory foam will compresses and conform perfectly 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 pressure points.

Traditional memory foam pillows are 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 you and your sleep position like you can with other pillow types.

Shredded memory foam pillows, however, ARE moldable.

Shredded Memory Foam Pillow Filling

Shredded memory foam doesn’t taste like popcorn.

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 ordered some shredded memory foam to try for myself.

I already had a nice zippered pillow case, so I just ordered a bag of shredded memory foam to fill it. I got the filling for $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 pillows strictly based upon price, you should know that you’ll pay a bit more more for shredded memory than polyester 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 familiar with. Although this shredded memory foam I purchased wasn’t as ridiculously foul-smelling as the pillows I’d tried previously, its odor 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 to high heaven. 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 memory 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.

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.

Some of the memory foam “magic” was lost.

Shredded memory foam offers moldability at the cost of some support. Being torn into individual pieces seems to negate a bit of memory foam’s unique ability to conform to your head and neck. 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.

Neck pain from sleeping wrong

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. Rolling to a slightly different position caused it to feel too thick. In either circumstance, my pillow required some readjustment.

Does that meant that shredded memory foam is inadequate? Nope. Compared to traditional memory foam pillows, support is slightly diminished, but the ability to mold my shredded memory foam pillow into the shape I wanted was far more significant a benefit to me. It was simply 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. Conversely, a breathable pillow filling will allow warm air to escape while being replaced with fresh, cool air.

Fortunately shredded memory foam offers improved breathability due to the individual pieces of filling. 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 pillow. It certainly isn’t as breathable as buckwheat hulls or microbead pillow filling, but it isn’t an uncomfortable obstacle to good rest either. My stay-cool rating: Meh… C+

Shredded Memory Foam Verdict

I thought that my shredded memory foam pillow was far superior to traditional one-piece memory foam pillows. The compromise in support was easily worth the benefits gained. It was moldable, stayed cooler, and was still more supportive than most types of pillows.

The off-gassing and potential toxicity of memory foam is the deal-breaker for me unfortunately. I am simply not willing to risk spending 1/3 of my life on something that might not be completely safe. The crazy chemical smell pouring out of it is a constant reminder of this potential danger.

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