Pilling 101

What is Pilling?

Pilling is caused by abrasion on the fabric's surface and is considered an unsightly occurrence on furniture. 

Loose fibres naturally tend to move to the surface of a piece of fabric, where they are subject to friction, which causes them to twist together into small balls. Fibres that are still secured to the fabric are also twisted into the ball so that the pill is secured to the surface of the material.

Friction is caused in the normal course of people using the furniture, rubbing against the fabric’s surface. Laundering also causes friction – washing machines agitate fabric, causing the surfaces to rub together.

Pilling is more noticeable on man-made fibres. This is mainly because natural fabrics shed loose fibres easily and less noticeably, while man-made fibres are notoriously strong, so the pills are anchored firmly to the fabric.

Pilled fabric

Two important things to remember.. pilling is not a fabric defect and pilling is easily treatable

What Triggers Pilling?

There are many variables that can trigger pilling, including climatic conditions, atmospheric purity, and user environment. Even specific clothing types (fleecy tracksuits, blankets etc) can transfer pills from clothing to furniture fabric. As the fabric surface is rubbed, a single or small group of loose fibers on the surface begins to twist upon itself, forming tiny balls or pills. Often the catalyst that starts this process is a foreign fiber or speck of dirt. ‘De-pilling’ removes unsightly loose surface fibers and does not affect fabric performance.

When a fabric is made from more than one fiber type, where one fiber is strong and one is weak (for example, poly/cotton) pilling will be more noticeable, because the weaker fiber wears and breaks, while the stronger fiber holds the pills to the cloth. It’s important to understand that fabrics consist of either long fibers or short fibers and, generally, short fibers — like cotton — are more likely to pill. There are more tiny ends (as opposed to one long, continuous fiber, like silk or linen) that can get tangled together and create pills, which usually happen when the fabric is rubbed or abraded somehow.

How to Remove Pilling?

The quickest and most cost-effective approach is to use a battery-operated pill shaver to remedy the situation. These small, cheap appliances are available in most sewing stores or the sewing area of large department stores. A pill comb is also effective and performs the same task manually.

If pilling reoccurs, it can simply be shaved off again. This may occur several times, but the pilling will diminish and eventually cease once the excess fibres are removed.

Pilled fabric

Can you prevent pilling?

Realistically, no. However, you can avoid a couple of things to mitigate the likelihood of pilling.

Don't rub stains. Often, the first reaction upon finding a stain is to squirt some stain remover on it and rub the fabric together until the stain disappears. But this is another instance of rubbing that can cause pilling, and it should be avoided. To treat stains on fabrics that pill, place the stained fabric on top of an old towel or clean rag. Apply a stain remover of your choice, and then blot the area with a clean towel. The stain will transfer to the towel below without causing friction.

Keep fabrics away from Velcro. Velcro is very sticky, and it can attach itself to the yarns in clothes and other fabrics. When this happens, the Velcro can pull shorter threads loose, and then they're at risk of pilling. If you have clothes with Velcro on them, always keep the Velcro tabs closed, especially when you wash the garment.