How to Prevent and Remove Fabric Pills from Your Favorite Garments

Follow these tips for getting rid of fabric pills so you can keep wearing your favorite sweaters.

Have you ever pulled out your favorite sweater only to find that it's covered in pesky little fuzzballs? Known as fabric pills, these small fuzz or lint balls form on the surface of a fabric as a result of rubbing, machine-washing, and regular wear and tear. Pilling is not limited to clothing, either; you might also notice it on upholstered furniture, bedding, or rugs.

But what causes pilling, is there anything you can do to prevent it, and how can you remove fabric pills? We're here to answer all these questions to help you protect and restore your clothes and furniture.

pile of colorful folded sweaters
Lisa Weigert / EyeEm / Getty Images

What Causes Fabric Pilling?

Depending if it's clothing, furniture, or bedding, as fabric is worn or sat on, its fibers begin to loosen and clump together to form pills. Some fabrics pill more than others, though this doesn't necessarily mean that those that pill more are of lower quality. Synthetic fabrics and garments made from a blend of multiple fibers are more likely to pill, as are those made with a looser weave.

You might also notice that the pills on your sweaters or sofa are slightly darker than the original fabric color. This is caused by dirt and dust getting into the pills and darkening them.

How to Prevent Fabric Pilling

Although much of fabric pilling is the natural result of everyday use and abrasion, there are steps you can take to lessen and, in some cases, even prevent it.

When it comes to clothing, start with the way that you do laundry. The best option is hand washing. However, that's not always feasible for everything in those heaping laundry piles, so hand-wash items that are delicate or made from fabric that's likely to pill. Although it might be tempting to throw shirts, sweaters, and jeans in the same load, sorting your laundry is key, as more abrasive materials can cause damage and pilling on softer garments.

When using your washer, set it to a gentle cycle and turn items inside-out before throwing them in to minimize surface contact. For extra-delicate pieces, you can also use mesh laundry bags for added protection.

Despite the majority of clothing being dryer-safe, heat and garments coming into contact with one another for an extended amount of time can cause pilling. Hanging laundry to dry is a good way to prevent pills. If you do use the dryer, make sure the loads aren't oversized, dry like items together, and pull out those that are more likely to pill as soon as they are dry.

As for pilling on upholstered furniture, there really is no way to prevent it since regular use naturally leads to fabric pilling. There are, however, simple and inexpensive ways to remove the pills and restore your sofa or armchair to their pill-free condition.

How to Remove Fabric Pills

One of the best ways to remove fabric pills is by using an electric fabric shaver that's specifically designed for this task. There are many versions available at retailers as well as online, most at a price tag of less than $20. Some have multiple speeds designed for different types of fabrics and a compartment to hold the shaved pills for easy, mess-free disposal. Gently use the shaver in a circular motion over the pilled areas, not pressing too hard so as not to damage the fabric.

Another option is using a disposable razor without any liquid. If you are de-pilling a cardigan, for example, place it on a flat surface and hold the area you're working on. Pull it taut with one hand and use the razor with the other. Be careful not to cut or snag the fabric. Once you're done removing pills from clothing, use a lint roller to pick up all the shaved fuzzballs.

For a less common but very affordable and effective way to remove fabric pills, use a pumice stone. Softly glide the pumice stone over the pilled surface and repeat until the fabric becomes smooth, then pick up the pills with a lint roller.

If you use one of these tools to de-pill fabric, make sure that you don't do it too frequently. Wait until there are enough pills to complete a large area. While these tools don't damage the fabric, they can begin to weaken it over time if used too often.

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