Image of toddler outside in sweater with loose threads pulling apart a dandelion

How to remove and prevent sweater pilling.

Last Updated: August 11, 2021

Sweater pilling may be inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be dreadful. Read our guide on how to prevent and remove stubborn pilling on sweaters and more.

In almost all kinds of fabrics, wear, tear, and friction can lead to the dreaded, fluffy pill. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to handle pilling on clothes. With a few tools and tricks, we’ll tackle those fuzzy pills and get clothes looking as good as new in no time.

What causes pilling on clothes?

Pilling is a natural part of most clothes' life cycles. As their fibers get worn, strained, and yanked around, they eventually tear or fray.

These pulled fibers get tangled with other strands on the garment to create a pill. That’s why it's more common to see pills in high-friction spots where fabric rubs together, like in the armpit.

Fabrics that tend to pill are those with shorter, loose knits and threads, such as wool, cotton, polyester, acrylic, and other synthetics. Materials with tighter, longer fibers, like denim and linen, tend to pill less often.

4 ways to prevent fabric pilling

Of course, preventing pilling before it happens is a heck of a lot easier than dealing with it after the fact.

Lucky for us, there are plenty of different ways to slow and prevent pilling in all your favorite clothes.

1. Wash clothes inside out

The washing machine naturally causes a lot of friction between your clothes. Even on a gentle cycle, fabrics rub up against buttons, zippers, and each other.

Turn clothes—especially ones with buttons—inside out. This helps prevent friction and eventual pilling.

2. Hand wash clothes

As always, the best way to take care of your favorite articles of clothing is to hand wash them. This way, you prevent a lot of the friction that comes from machine washing.

Additionally, a gentle hand wash makes clothes last longer and is particularly recommended for delicate fabrics like cashmere and silk.

Grove tip: Line or tumble dry your clothes after washing to avoid pilling during drying too.

3. Separate heavy and light fabrics

A good practice for laundry loads in general is to separate heavier, thicker fabrics from thinner, more delicate ones.

Putting a thick fleece zip-up coat alongside a thin cotton blouse is a surefire way to end up with some pilling. Be sure to follow all washing and drying instructions for individual pieces as well.

4. Use a laundry detergent with enzymes

Wash pilled clothes with an enzyme-infused detergent. Enzyme detergents, particularly ones with cellulase, eat away at stray fabrics and get them to come off more easily. Not only that, but they deliver a great clean even in cold water washes.

Enzyme-based detergents are not recommended for delicate fibers like silk and linen, so be sure to separate your wash accordingly.

Mrs. Meyers cleaning products and Grove Co. cleaning caddy

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5 tools to depill a sweater and other clothes

Despite our best prevention techniques, pilling is inevitable and requires some hands-on action at some point.

Thankfully, just like with removing clothing lint, there are some amazing tools that make depilling easy.

Sweater comb

A sweater or lint comb is the perfect secret weapon against pills on all kinds of clothes.

First, lay the garment on a flat surface. Then use one hand to hold the garment in place and the other to comb the pill-y spots. Comb at different angles and directions depending on the garment.

Pumice stone

Despite originating from literal volcanic eruptions, pumice stones are gentle and effective pill-removers.

Just like with a sweater comb, lightly brush at the pilled-portion of the garment in multiple directions. Watch Danni Trester at Trester Tailors demonstrate good brushing technique.

Velcro hair roller

Velcro is great for grabbing loose pills off of more sturdy garments.

Lay the garment flat, roll the Velcro roller across the section with pilling, and let the Velcro grab loose pills for you. We prefer using a dedicated sweater or lint comb, but this method is great if you already have Velcro hair rollers around the house.

Fabric shaver

Fabric shavers are a lot like people shavers, but for your sweaters instead of your body!

With metal razors on the underside and a plastic guard covering them, a fabric shaver works to trim any pills or loose fabrics from your garments without yanking at the good stuff. Simply press and rub against the pilled area, and the shaver will trim those pesky pills right off.

Shaving razor

You can remove pills by using a shaving or safety razor, but we don’t recommend it.

Regular razors are no more effective than the other options on this list, and they run a higher risk of grabbing and cutting the perfectly good fabric on your clothes.

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