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What is fabric pilling? (and how to remove pilling)

“Pills” are the name frequently given to small, firm balls of lint that form on the surface of fabrics like clothing, while “pilling” is the process that forms them. Thankfully, you can usually remove pills with a fabric comb or battery-operated pill/lint remover that cuts or scrapes them away. 

You can also learn how to prevent pilling on clothes, or at least reduce it, including how you wash and dry your fabrics. Read on to learn more about fabric pilling and prevention methods.

What causes fabric pilling on clothes?

These pesky fabric pills are the result of normal wear and tear—broken clothing fibers on the surface become tangled together. Over time, these threads clump together, forming the characteristic lint ball that is stuck to your clothing. During a wash cycle, they can attract loose micro-threads, speeding up the fabric pilling process.

Clothes pilling can also happen with everyday friction such as parts of your clothing rubbing together, a backpack or purse or even moving around on the couch.

How do you prevent pilling on clothes?

To prevent pilling, opt for sturdy fabrics that are tightly woven and made from durable materials. Clothes pilling is most common with looser, shorter fibers. Knitted fabrics tend to pill more than woven ones, and clothes made from wool, cotton, polyester, acrylic and other synthetics tend to develop pills more readily than silk, denim or linen.

We stress our clothes every time we wear them—therefore, some degree of pilling is always possible. However, there are some ways you can help slow down or prevent fabric pilling by reducing the friction or abrasion your clothes experience day-to-day. This could include avoiding wearing a backpack with your favorite top, reducing your layers to prevent fabrics from rubbing, or choosing a tightly woven fabric as your second clothing layer. These precautions won’t get rid of pilling altogether, but they can help slow down the process.

Can a washing machine cause pilling?

A washing machine doesn’t cause pilling on its own, but it can speed up or worsen it. However, you can reduce the amount of pilling caused by a washing machine by using smart tactics on laundry day. For starters, turn clothes inside out, fasten zippers, sort by type, and use cold, gentle cycles.

Learn more about how to prevent pilling on clothes in the washer:

  • Start with removing lint from clothes and getting fuzz off sweaters before you wash. Use a lint brush, fabric shaver or even just shake garments out before putting them in the washing machine.
  • Turn garments inside out so that only the inside rubs up against other garments
  • Fasten zippers, buttons and hooks—rubbing against these hard objects can damage clothing fibers.
  • Sort clothes by fabric type to help keep heavier fabrics from damaging lighter ones in the wash. 
  • Sort clothes by color—if pills are formed from contrasting fabric colors, they’ll stand out more. For example, fibers from a black sweater ending up on your white T-shirt.
  • Opt for a gentle, cold water wash or even hand wash your clothes. Learn more about how to choose laundry cycles.
  • Don’t overload the washing machine—if your clothes can’t move easily in the machine, they’ll rub together and cause more friction.
  • Use the right amount of detergent. We recommend Swash® Laundry Detergent, designed for your laundry by Whirlpool Corporation.1 Its Precision Pour Cap is designed to help you use the amount needed to clean, care and protect your belongings—no more, no less. 
  • Consider using fabric softener to help protect clothing fibers.

When the wash is done, use a gentle, low heat dryer cycle or hang up your clothes to air dry.

Can switching laundry detergents help in removing lint and pilling from clothes?

Your first line of defense to prevent pilling on clothes may come from laundry detergent. Some detergents use enzymes to help clean clothes, and one enzyme—cellulase—can help loosen and remove pills in the wash. Combined with a gentle, cold water cycle, switching to this type of detergent may help get rid of pilling.

Learn more about detergents including powder vs liquid laundry detergent.

How do you remove lint, pilling and fuzz from clothes manually?

You can remove pills, lint or fuzz from clothes by using a fabric comb or battery-operated pill/lint remover. Both of these methods help carefully cut or scrape away the fabric pills. This is also how to get fuzz and pills off sweaters which can show up on this loose fabric even after the most careful washing. When done correctly, you’ll end up with clothes that look as good as new.

Shop Whirlpool® Washing Machines featuring gentle cycles to care for your fabrics

Want laundry appliances that keep your family’s clothes in great shape? Discover how Whirlpool® Washers and Dryers help you care for everyone’s wardrobe. Select Whirlpool® Washing Machines feature a Cold Wash Cycle that gives your most vibrant colors the care they need and adjusts wash actions and time, combined with gentle temperatures, to provide optimal fabric care. Select top load washing machines feature an Automatic Presoak Option to tackle stains gently. Set your washer to soak for 15, 30, 60 or 120 minutes, then the washer will add water and detergent for soaking. The cycle will start automatically once soaking is complete.

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  1. Swash and the recommending brands are owned and distributed by Whirlpool Corporation.