How to Prevent and Remove Pilling on Clothes and Furniture, According to a Textile Expert

published Feb 12, 2023
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Pills on the heather blue tee-shirt cotton knit fabric. Bobbles on the knitwear.
Credit: photohampster/Getty Images

Even if you take the best care of your clothes, it’s inevitable that they’ll eventually show signs of wear and tear. Pilling, which happens when bits of fuzz accumulate on a fabric’s surface, is one of the most common examples. While some pilling is par for the course on most garments, and you may not be able to prevent it altogether, you can take steps to help your clothes (and furniture) look good again. 

To learn more about what causes pilling and how to deal with it, we spoke with textile expert Frej Lewenhaupt, CEO of the textile care company Steamery. Here’s what we learned. 

What causes fabric pilling on clothing and furniture?

Pilling is formed when excess fibers — essentially tiny balls of lint — emerge on the surface of a fabric. Pilling can happen on any part of fabric, but “it’s typically found in the spots with the most wear and tear, such as on shirt cuffs or under the arms, as the friction causes the excess fibers to rise,” Lewenhaupt says. 

Certain fabrics are more susceptible to pilling than others, he adds. Knitted fabrics naturally pill more than woven ones, because it’s easier for the textile fibers to rise to the surface. Knits containing acrylic fibers (common in sportswear) are known to pill because the fibers that make them are short and straight. This process can make the garment look older and worn over time. 

How to prevent pilling

It’s tricky to prevent pilling on clothes and furniture since pilling is a natural process that happens to most fabrics — even the most luxurious ones. Pilling doesn’t necessarily mean that the garment is made of a poor-quality fabric, nor is it a reason to throw away the garment or return it. A few sweeps with a fabric shaver, Lewenhaupt says, can often completely revive the garment. 

When buying a new piece, make sure you start by reading the care label to see what material it’s made of. Synthetic blends tend to pill more than natural materials, and the pills are hard to remove, while pills on natural fabrics are easily removed. Cashmere is among those natural fabrics that will pill quite a lot, but it’s not a sign of bad quality. If you consistently remove pilling from your cashmere clothes, Lewenhaupt says less pilling will appear over time.

How to remove pilling

It’s natural for pilling to occur on well-loved clothes and furniture, and it can be easily managed with a fabric shaver (Lewenhaupt recommends the Steamery’s Pilo 2). “Fabric shavers can help quickly de-age your furniture by shaving off superficial signs of wear and tear,” he says. 

Good fabric shavers are efficient but still gentle. If you’re using them on a delicate material, like a cashmere sweater, make sure to put the garment on a flat surface, and remember to be gentle when sweeping the fabric shaver over the garment, do not push it down.

If you want to spruce up your old knits and give them a new life, start with using a fabric shaver to remove all pills. Finish off with steaming the garment and spritz some fabric spray on it and your knits should feel good as new again!