How to prevent pilling {& 10 Easy Sweater pilling removal tips}

When you buy a garment there is a big chance that it will be a dud – that is the risk you take with beautiful things. Even the best looking dress that fits you beautifully, in a color and cut that enhances your best features can turn out to be a disappointment after a wash or one or two wearings. The small fuzzy pilling balls that sprout out on your clothes that can make you look shabby super fast is the killjoy here.

how to prevent pilling on fabric

Can you keep your clothing looking great by avoiding pilling and shedding and even when they do eventually appear, can you remove them and return it back to the previous glory?

To answer this question, you have to know certain facts about pilling, why it happens etc. Pilling can take away the attractiveness of the garment. The clothing soon looks old and dead tired. To prevent dismay and disappointment from this, read on.

What is pilling? Why are my clothes pilling?

Pilling happens when loose fabric fiber breaks away from the fabric and then matt together with existing fibers to form unattractive tiny fuzzy loose strands or balls of fiber on the surface of the fabric.

It is caused by abrasion of a fabric with another surface or another fabric. It could be due to usage or during cleaning.


Even under the same circumstances, not all fabric pill – It depends on the yarn and fabric construction. Soft fuzzy fabric surfaces like that of sweaters pill more than others.

What really causes the pilling – Pilling occurs when the fibers of the fabric are exposed and in contact with other surfaces. For eg when an area is continuously rubbed by another surface like a seat belt across the sweater bodice. As a result of the abrasion some of the naturally escaping loose fibers (Shedding) tangle and form tiny balls but instead of getting off the surface of the fabric they settle on the surface of the fabric itself or more horribly on other fabric surfaces, twisted with the already anchored fibers of the fabric. 

So Which fabric pills more?

remove pilling on sweaters

I see the maximum pilling when I take out Sweaters for winter wear. With yoga pants, leggings, cheap rayon dresses, some polyester clothing, wool suits, scarves, and fleece hats – these pills are my pet peeves on all of these. 

All fabric pill and shed but wool, knits, jersey, sweaters, fleece and polyester blended fabrics pills more than others. And they all pill in varying degrees. Some fabrics have only a slight fuzziness due to pilling and some have all over coverage with distinct pills all over the surface. When pills start to cover the surface of your fabric – that is when the nightmare starts, as it gets really ugly then. 

Densely/ tightly woven fabric rarely pills ( Have you seen pills on Denim, ever? Never). But loosely woven or knitted fabric will pill badly.  That is the general consensus. 

Fabric made with short fibers will pill more, like a cheap variety of rayon made of short, low-twist yarns.

Man-made fabric is more likely to pill or at least it is more noticeable on them. Natural fabrics like cotton, linen, silk do not pill or even when the loose fibers get away, they get away, rather than stay tangled and fixed on the surface of the fabric.

Natural protein based fibers like Cashmere, Angora etc pill like crazy if made of short fiber yarns.  But good quality cashmere, merino and alpaca wool will not have much of a pilling problem. Check out some tips on Cashmere care here

Blended fabric with different types of fiber weight can pill. Acrylic and acrylic blends always pills. Woolen and polyester blend fabric will pill a lot and are difficult to salvage once pilling starts.

Price can be an indicator. Cheap Knit fabric especially the thin variety that the leggings are made of usually pill.

Fabrics made with more number of strands twisted together (like  4 ply vs 2 ply) will pill less. Loose and fluffily spun fashion yarn/sweaters made from single ply (One strand) will pill a lot. So check the label.

How do you stop fabric pilling?

First and foremost look carefully at the fabric you are buying – if it shows even a small sign of pilling DO NOT buy. The pilling will be greatly increased with use.

How do I stop my blankets from Pilling? This is the most often asked question in any fabric forum. I would say to buy fabric that is densely-woven/knit; chances of it pilling is less. 

Be educated about the kind of fabric that has the potential to pill, so that you know which fabric should be maintained and cared for to prevent pilling. You can also choose alternative fabrics that pill less, if you cannot be bothered to maintain pilling fabrics. There are industry tests that evaluate a fabric’s propensity to form pills – in this test fabric is brushed with a nylon bristle brush for 4 minutes to create fuzzing and then rubbed face to face for 2 minutes to create pilling and then it is graded according to the severity of pills formed.

Choose fabric made of long fiber yarns like Merino wool in place of Angora wool that may pill. Buy branded wool that assures that it will not pill.

Check the label on woolen clothes for information on ply which tells you the number of strands twisted together. Choose fabrics with more ply as they pill lesser

When storing pilling clothes, store them separately from other clothes/ fabric to avoid pilling. Beware of rough fabric, metal parts of your bags, accessories, belts that can cause pilling.

Contact with rough surface creates the pills. So cover rough accessories etc with soft fabric and keep it between your pilling clothing and the rough surface.

Be aware of the potential areas where pilling occurs – like elbows, seats of pants, skirts, sides of dresses where your arms rubs against. Protect them from too much abrasion consciously

If you are knitting your own sweater, make it closely knit which will pill less.

Washing tips to prevent pilling.

To reduce the likelihood of fabric pilling during a wash, turn the fabric inside out ie. right side should be inside so that the direct abrasion during the washing process is reduced. Hand wash or wash in a very gentle cycle on the washing machine. Use liquid detergent rather than soap or powder. Do not machine dry – this will increase pilling and shedding.

How do you remove pilling from wool and other clothes?

To remove persistent pills on the surface of your favourite clothing there are some easy techniques. Some of these are home remedies and can update the finish of your sweaters and other clothing naturally.

But be forewarned that you should not be too enthusiastic in your use of these – as with all these, essentially you are removing fibers from the fabric. Too much, and you will be leaving holes. Do not use these remedies too close to the fabric surface.

  1. Best method to remove pilling is to manually pluck the irritating balls off your clothing, one by one. Yes,You can do it.
  2. Use a razor and shave off the balls. An inexpensive disposable razor can be used to remove these unwanted “hairs” off your clothing.
  3. Use a thin sharp scissors to cut off the annoying fuzzy balls
  4. Take the clothing for dry cleaning. They have special techniques to remove pilling. Some dry cleaners do not, so enquire before giving.
  5. Use a special fabric comb to brush the small pilling balls out – you will get them under names like Cashmere comb. These are great with less dense lightweight fabrics with pill.
  6. Use a lint roller to remove the pills. Check out this post on removing lint from clothes
  7. Use a pill remover/shaver to shave off the pills. Search for Fabric Defuzzer. These batteries operated pill shavers will have a place to collect the pills that they take out. So convenient.
  8. Use Pumice stone ( or branded products like sweater stone) to remove the pilling.
  9. If you find that the natural fabrics like cotton and linen are pilling just iron them to reduce the effect
  10. Here is an article with the best hack to prevent sweaters from shedding and ultimately prevent pilling – keep them in the freezer. Who would have thought!.

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