Why does Pilling occur? Cause, Prevention & Removal

Why does Pilling occur – How to Prevent and Remove it!

You’ve finally found it – your new favorite sweater, which is wonderfully cuddly and suits you perfectly.

But soon follows the rude awakening! Thanks to unsightly nodules, the sweater soon looks kind of old. With fleece or wool clothing, pilling is a sign of poor quality. Yet only a few brand manufacturers recognize the unsightly fiber nodules as a reason for complaint.

Here you will learn how pilling occurs, its effects, and what you can do to prevent and remove it.

What is pilling?

Pillings are small, matted fiber balls or nodules that tend to form on fabrics with a roughened or fibrous textile surface, such as fleece fabrics or other knitwear.

Pilling usually occurs where the clothing is exposed to the most friction, for example, on the underarms, in the shoulder or waistband area.

Although the functionality of the fabric is not affected, pilling is annoying, especially because of the unsightly appearance.

Cause: Why does pilling occur?

Pilling forms at loose fiber ends that have come loose from the textile surface. Fabrics made of short fibers or loosely spun yarns that are cut open during the manufacturing process are therefore particularly susceptible.

Due to mechanical friction, during wear and especially in the washing machine, these fiber ends felt into beads, and the unsightly pilling develops.

Cashmere Wool Sweater

Which fabrics and fibers are particularly prone to pilling?

Modern Lint Fabric Shaver

Polyester fleece, but also knitwear made from short-fiber synthetic yarns, are particularly frequently affected by pilling.

Due to the smooth surface of the fibers, the ends come off more easily than rough natural fibers. Nevertheless, pilling also occurs in wool fabrics with a rough surface.

Unfortunately, pilling also occurs in fine wool fabrics such as Cashmere or Merino Wool – very rarely only in Alpaca.

Alpaca Throw Blanket - Hypoallergen

Alpaca - Sheep Wool Blanket

Alpaca Throw Blanket - Hypoallergen

 * Disclosure: Links marked with Asterix or some picture links on world’s-finest-wool are affiliate links.  All our work is reader-supported – when you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. The decision is yours – whether you decide to buy something is entirely up to you.

Effects: Why is pilling a problem?

First and foremost, pilling is a visual quality problem. Due to the fiber nodules actually, new textiles quickly look old and worn.

As a result, the clothing actually ages faster because the constant loss of material causes the fabric to gradually thin out.

On the one hand, this impairs functionality and insulation performance. On the other hand, the product life is reduced when holes ultimately appear in the particularly stressed areas.

Is pilling a reason for reclamation?

Not necessarily. Especially with very inexpensive fleece clothing, pilling is more the rule than the exception. Some textile manufacturers identify their fabrics as “anti-pilling fleece” or similar. In this case, it is worth asking.

If your new sweater shows pilling nodules after just a few washes, you basically have two options:

Either return the sweater to the store and hope for goodwill or do everything you can yourself to rid your wool piece of unsightly pills.

Blue Cashmere Sweater

Prevention: How to avoid pilling?

Prevent pilling before it can even develop. Some fabrics are already made virtually immune to small nodules and beads with special anti-pilling treatment.

Those who choose fleece jackets and sweaters with an anti-pilling guarantee can be sure that they will enjoy their garment for a long time, but unfortunately, the chemical treatment often comes at the expense of nature.

Proper care of garments is crucial to avoid pilling. The following tips are the best way to prevent pilling:

  • Turn inside out! Pilling is caused by mechanical friction. If you turn pilling-prone textiles inside out before washing, you protect the outside from abrasion.
  • Close all zippers! Open zippers and hook-and-loop fasteners pull on fabrics and fibers during washing. Therefore: Before every wash, close the Velcro and zippers of all garments neatly.
  • No fabric softener! Fabric softener wraps itself around the fibers like a film, making it easier for them to “slip” out of the yarn bond. In addition, fabric softeners can gum up or attack some fibers.
  • Mild care products! Functional detergents or – for wool garments – wool detergents -without protease! – are gentle on the fibers. Stain removers or bleaching agents should generally be avoided in order not to damage the fibers.
  • Low temperature! 30, maximum 40 degrees are sufficient for washing delicate clothing. Important: The only correct temperature is indicated on the sewn-in care label!
  • Less spinning! Spinning causes mechanical friction. While wool clothing is best not spun at all, it is sufficient for fleece jackets and the like to spin the clothing briefly.
  • No dryer! If you want to avoid pilling, don’t use the dryer. In the case of fleece clothing, the dryer helps to make the surface of the textile fluffy again. However, it only takes a few minutes for the fiber pile to “stand up” again.

Important: Every textile is different

The sewn-in care label tells you which ideal washing and care measures your fleece jacket or wool sweater needs.

The manufacturer’s care instructions are always based on the most sensitive component and provide information about the washing program and temperature.


Tip: If you prefer to remove care labels from your clothing, you should document the information, especially for sensitive clothing.

For example, by taking a photo with your smartphone. Alternatively, you can also file cut-off labels in a folder or similar.

Label - Washing Instructions

How to remove pilling?

Removing pilling involves a danger: new pilling. The annoying fiber balls should therefore not be plucked off by hand or with other aids such as Velcro and the like.

Although these methods remove the nodules, the pull loosens new fiber ends, which will become matted again during the next wash cycle at the latest.

It is, therefore, more effective to counter the pilling with a sharp blade. There are several ways to do this:

  • Lint shaver: These electric devices usually work with rotating blades that cut off pilling and protruding fibers. They are very efficient at this.
  • Disposable razor: The mechanical alternative is a new, sharp razor without “care additives” on the blade. This is carefully pulled over the fabric in short strokes. Caution is the keyword here so as not to damage the fabric.
  • Scissors: Coarse pilling can also be removed with sharp, fine scissors – for example, nail scissors for children with a rounded tip. Again, be careful not to damage the fabric!
  • Tip: Cut-off fiber balls can be collected well with an adhesive lint roller or a piece of adhesive tape. Since the adhesive tape also tugs at the surface, please approach the matter with moderation and feel!

Remove Pilling

Caution: It should be noted that the removal of pilling inevitably results in a loss of material, albeit a small one, and can promote the formation of new nodules despite all caution.

It is therefore important to weigh up how often you want to fight pilling.  Do not use lint rollers as they make the pilling problem worse in the long run.

There are also so-called sweater stones. These are designed to make your sweater look like new and eliminate pilling. A lint comb also aims for a pilling-free surface but is better used on longer fibers.

We hope with these tips and tricks; your precious wool sweater will stay like new for a long time and without those pesky little knots on the shoulders, waistband and sleeves.

Read Also: How to recognize Real Alpaca!


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