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8 Ways You Can Prevent Fabric Pilling

July 18, 2023

You’re about to put on your favorite sweater when you notice tiny balls of lint on the sleeves – aka the clothes pilling up.

What are pills? They’re tiny fibers that become tangled together on the surface of clothes. What causes them? Abrasion due to normal wear.

Washing, more specifically, the agitating motion inside the machine, can also accelerate the process as it can damage clothing fibers. Over time, these knots will clump together to form the tiny balls of lint that are on your clothing.

Fabric Fibers Matter

how to prevent fabric pillingThe type of fabric also determines how likely a garment is to pill. For example, short, loose fibers and knitted fabrics tend to pill more easily- that’s why knitted tops are more prone to pilling.

Clothes made from cotton, wool, acrylic, polyester, and other fabrics are also more likely to develop fabric pills compared to clothes made from sturdy fabrics such as linen, denim, or silk, which are made of much longer fibers.

Woven Fabrics are More Likely to Pill

Generally speaking, tightly woven fabrics are also prone to developing fabric pills as the weaker fiber will often break and wrap around the stronger fiber. Some examples of woven fabrics include flannel and chiffon.

Generally speaking, once a shirt has started to pill, it will only get worse with time. Why? The knot will attract other, loose fibers and threads, including those from other garments, and the two will eventually become entangled in the wash.

While there’s no way to prevent pilling or get rid of pills completely per se, there are a few things that you can do to prevent them from developing in the first place- and that’s what we’ll be going over below. Keep reading to learn how you can prevent fabric from pilling!

How to Prevent Pilling on Clothes – 8 Laundry Tips

We’ve compiled our best practices to help prevent fabric pilling on your sweaters, leggings, and other clothing. Follow these tips and your clothes will be less likely to pill and will look new for longer.

1. Always Wash on aDelicate Cycle

One of the best ways to prevent pilling is to use the delicate cycle when you’re doing the laundry. The shorter wash time and slower agitation will prevent the fibers from becoming damaged.

This is especially true for clothes that are prone to fabric pilling such as knit sweaters or leggings and yoga pants. Or if you can, wash them by hand. That will be even more gentle on your clothes.

2. Turn Your Clothes Inside Out When Washing

Turn your garments inside out before washing them- whether you’re putting them in the machine or washing them by hand. That’ll prevent fabric rubbing against your other clothes, which will minimize the risk of fabric pilling.

This is especially important if you’re washing them together with clothes that have hardware such as buttons or zippers.

3. Use a Mesh Laundry Bag

If you’re machine-washing your clothes, be sure to put them in a mesh laundry bag. It’ll act as a physical barrier and protect clothing fibers from them from friction damage during the cycle (ie. there will be a lower chance of fabric pilling).

If you don’t have a mesh bag, you can improvise with a clean pillowcase. Place your clothes inside and tie up one end with an elastic band.

Just don’t overfill the bags. Ideally, each item should have its own.
what causes fabric pilling

4. Sort Clothes Before Doing Laundry

If you’re trying to prevent pilling, be sure to sort clothes before throwing them in the washer. This means separating them based on color and fabric type. For example, you wouldn’t want to wash your jeans with delicates such as underwear and sports bras as the rough fabric can damage the fibers.

Also, it’s a good idea to wash lint-producing fabrics (e.g. terry cloth) separately. That way, they won’t get on your other clothes.

5. Don’t Overload the Washing Machine

Don’t overload the washing machine when you’re doing the laundry – it might seem more productive as you get to wash more things but it can actually damage them.

For one thing, the garments need space to move around during the cycle.

If the washer tub is filled past its capacity, the clothes won’t be able to move around and that can damage the fibers, which can result in fabric pilling. Given that, they should be distributed loosely and evenly inside.

As a general rule, the washer tub should never be more than three-quarters full- even for large loads. That’ll give your clothes enough room during the wash cycle and will help prevent fabric from pilling on the clothes itself.

6. Use the Right Laundry Products

Avoid using harsh chemicals such as bleach as they can weaken the fibers, which will cause them to break apart during the wash cycle and pill. The type of laundry detergent that you’re using also matters. Ideally, you want to use an enzymatic formula such as ACTIVE Detergent as they can help break down cotton pills.

You can also add some fabric softener during the final rinse cycle- it’ll coat the fibers and prevent broken clothing fibers. Keep in mind, however, that fabric softener shouldn’t be used for synthetic fabrics (e.g. workout clothes) as they’ll hinder their moisture-wicking abilities.

7. Don’t Tumble Dry

does the dryer cause fabric pillingThe clothes dryer may be convenient but it’s not the best thing for your clothes; the high heat can easily damage the fibers. Some fabrics such as polyester and nylon are particularly prone to heat damage and that can also result in fabric pilling.

Instead of using the dryer, line-dry your clothes on a flat surface or use a drying rack. If you must use the dryer, choose the lowest heat setting and shortest cycle and remove your delicate items as soon as possible. That’ll prevent pilling due to additional friction damage from other garments.

8. Use a Lint Roller Regularly

Make a habit of brushing your clothes with a lint brush or lint roller. That’ll prevent knots and pills from accumulating on the surface of the fabric.

How to Remove Fabric Pilling From Your Sweaters, Leggings & Other Clothes

There are a few ways to remove those tiny lint balls from your clothes. If anything, you just have to put in the effort. Here’s how!

Use a Pill Remover or Fabric Shaver

how to fix fabric pilling shaver

One of the best ways to remove pilling from clothes is to use a battery-operated pill remover. Just press the button on the fabric shaver and it’ll shave the pills from the surface of the fabric.

If you don’t have a pill remover, you can use a disposable razor. Start by placing the fabric on a flat surface. Using your hands, pull the fabric tight. From there, you can use the razor to shave away the knots. As long as you’re careful, there won’t be any rips or tears.

Trim Away the Knots with Nail Scissors

Lay the garment on a flat surface. Pull the fabric with your hands so that it’s taunt and carefully trim away the tiny knots using a pair of nail scissors. Be careful not to cut the fabric in the process. The key is to go slow so that you won’t accidentally damage the garment. Holding the scissors close to the fabric also helps.

Use a Fabric Comb

Fabric combs are designed to remove fuzz and lint from all sorts of fabrics from wool to acrylic. They’re different from regular hair combs in that the teeth are much smaller and closer to fabric surface, which allows them to remove fabric pilling on clothes.

Start by laying the garment on a flat surface. Hold the comb over one section and use quick and short strokes to gently scrape the knots off.

Try Using a Pumice Stone

Pumice is a type of abrasive stone that’s often used to remove dead skin. That’s not all, it can also be used to remove pills from your clothes. Simply rub the stone over the pilled area of the fabric. The rough texture of the stone will automatically get rid of the lint.

Alternatively, you can use a sweater stone, which is essentially a pumice stone that’s designed to remove pilling on clothes.

And there you have it – eight ways to remove pilling from clothes. As you can see, it’s not that difficult. If anything, you just need the right tools to tackle the fabric pilling on your clothing!

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Sophia Grant

Sophia Grant brings her extensive knowledge of laundry and clothing care to the masses with her intensive cleaning guides. Her thorough understanding of fabrics, detergents, and washing techniques helps readers master the art of maintaining their wardrobe. Sophia's advice ensures that anyone can achieve professional-level results at home, keeping their garments looking pristine and lasting longer.

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