If you like to wear sweaters, you’ve noticed the problem: pilling. I’ve lost some beautiful articles of clothing over the years to excess pilling, all of which I miss dearly. The problem is that there’s no way to prevent it, other than leaving all of your clothes on the shelf. Which is impractical.
It’s not the most serious problem facing consumers, but it’s an annoying one. The Wall Street Journal examined the problem and some of its possible solutions.
Pills form in spots where fabric rubs against itself or against anything. Your armpits where cloth rubs against cloth? Pills. The spot on your shoulder where your favorite messenger bag sits? Pills. The areas on your forearms that rub against your desk while you type? Pills.
You should be able to avoid the unsightly fiber blobs by purchasing better-quality knitwear, though, right? Not so fast. Fabric pills form when the ends of fibers in the yarn that forms your clothing are exposed to friction and tangle with each other. That means that fine fibers like cashmere and sheep wool are more likely to form pills than longer fibers, explaining the lint scourge on woolen winterwear like sweaters and coats.
In general, there are a few ways to sort of prevent the problem. Materials with longer fibers resist pilling better than than materials with shorter fibers. Constant price pressure in the clothing industry mean that companies use cheaper materials, which might generally have shorter fibers. Sometimes a pricey sweater only lasts a few washings before turning into a pill-laden mess.
The best solution: don’t wear your favorite items as often. Yes, that’s counter-intuitive, but when a garment is in constant use, the fibers are always experiencing friction and tangling up. Let your favorite items rest for at least 24 hours between wearings.
Other solutions include lint shavers, disposable razors, and combs. One expert explained to the Journal that all these methods do is cut the fibers, possibly causing even worse pilling. One promising method is using a Sweater Stone, a pumice stone that removes fiber balls from your sweaters instead of dead skin from your feet.
How to Prevent and Fight Sweater Pilling [Wall Street Journal] (may require subscription)