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What is Pilling? What Do I Do About it?

Fibers and Yarns

Pilling is an characteristic of any man-made fibers. Fabrics containing fibers such as acrylic, nylon, or polyester have a tendency to pill. Abrasion from normal wear and cleaning causes the fibers to unravel and the loose ends ball up on the fabric surface. Natural fibers like cotton, linen, or wool may also pill at times, but the balls of fibers are usually removed during laundering.

When short staple fibers are used in the formation of yarns, the degree of twist is another important factor. Tightly twisted yarns composed of short staple fibers are considered more secure than loosely twisted yarns composed of short staple fibers. Usually the higher the twist of the individual fibers, the moiré securely they are bound and the less likely they are to pill.

Construction of the fabric

The construction of the fabric is also important in determining its susceptibility to pilling. A very tight, compact construction, such as denim, usually pills very little. However, a loosely knitted or woven fabric will show more pilling with both wear and cleaning. Pilling is often more noticeable on knitted fabrics, such as sweaters, than on wovens. Lint often becomes tangled in the little balls of fiber which makes the pilling appear more obvious.

Suggestions for minimizing pilling:

  • Turn susceptible garments inside out before laundering.
  • Load the washer loosely to provide free circulation and minimize abrasion on the garment.
  • Use a shorter wash time for permanent press, knits, and delicates unless they are heavily soiled.
  • Wash permanent press, knits, and delicates in separate load from articles that have a tendency to lint.
  • Use a fabric softener to reduce static and prevent lint from clinging to the fabrics.

Information taken from publications of the Soap and Detergent Association and the Maytag Consumer Education Department

Submitted by Sharon Stevens, HES Extension, College of Human Environmental Sciences,
University of Missouri-Columbia