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What is Fabric Pilling?

by Martha's Furnishing Fabrics

07 April 2022

Whilst it can be unsightly, pilling is not a fabric defect or flaw.

What is Fabric Pilling?

You’ve no doubt had clothing, furniture or blankets that have developed ‘pills’ over time, or little lint balls, that can make the fabric look worn. This undesired texture is caused by loose or broken fabric fibres that rise to the surface and knot together after being rubbed or subjected to any friction. The loose fibres that are bunched into balls also bring in strands that are still secured to the fabric itself, thus the balls stick around on the exterior. Even though people are dismayed to see pilling on their items, understanding fabric pilling helps to prevent and remove these bothersome balls. 

 

Example of Pilling


Causes of Fabric Pilling

What does it mean when fabric is pilling? Pilling is a result of normal wear and tear that causes friction on the fabric. Simply wearing clothes, using your couch or otherwise rubbing up against the material gives the possibility of pilling. Washing and drying clothes or fabric can also speed up the pilling process as it causes multiple surfaces to rub together fairly quickly and for a long period of time.

Sometimes you can have pilling that differs in colour to the base fabric as multiple coloured fibres have migrated and twisted together. Although not desired, a little decorative perhaps?

Pilling is more noticeable on synthetic fibres.  This is mainly because natural fabrics shed loose fibres easily and naturally slip away so they tend to not become matted into balls. However, synthetic fibres are extremely strong, so it will pill and then remain strongly attached to the fabric. 

Pilling can also occur more frequently on fabric blends, for example polycotton. If the fabric blend is made up of fibres with varying strengths, pilling tends to be more noticeable because weaker fibre wears and breaks, while the stronger fibre grips on and keeps the pill from falling off.

 

Fabric Pilling is Not a Fabric Fault or Defect

Even extremely high-quality material has the potential to develop these pesky little pills because pilling is not a fabric defect or fault. It is fabric fibres’s natural reaction to friction being applied through normal wear and tear.

New fabric has an excess of these stray fibres or is more susceptible to fibres being broken when it’s first released into wild on your clothing or couch. Once the majority of loose fibres have pilled, they can be removed and the worst of the lint balls should be over.

 

How to Remove Pilling

Is your fabric pilling? No need to throw away your fabric or completely re-upholster your couch! Pilling can be easily removed to restore your material to its original lint free state.

One of the most effective ways to remove pilling from fabric is to purchase a fabric comb or battery-oprated fuzz and pill remover device. They can be fairly inexpensive and kept in your drawer to spot fix any future pilling problems before they get too stubborn.

Another simple solution can be to find a manual lint remover to comb over the surface and drag those little fuzzy balls off your items.

 


Now you’ve learned that pilling isn’t something to dread, and rather just a natural reaction from fibres, you can be assured that your fabric is still high quality and just needs a little TLC to keep it looking fresh.

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