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How to recognize, avoid, and remove pilling

Pilling – small bobbles that appear on your knitted garments are the reason why many garments are returned to the stores. Is pilling a sign of poor quality? Should I return a new garment that has attracted pilling? How do I get rid of them without destroying the garment? Frej Lewenhaupt, textile engineer and head of product development at Steamery, will enlighten you about pilling.

Do some textiles attract more pilling and lint than others?

– Pilling – or pills – are excess fibers that travel to the surface of the garment. How much pilling a garment will attract depends on the quality and the features of the fabric: short textile fibers will generally pill more than long fibers, straight fibers will pill more than curly. And new garments will pill more than old, since new clothes have more excess fibers. Knitted fabrics will pill more than woven fabrics, since woven fabrics encapsulate the textile fibers and make it harder for them to travel. Pilling is typically found where there is more abrasion – wear and tear – like for instance on cuffs or on the sides.

What do I need to consider when buying knits?

– Start by reading the care label. There is a difference between synthetic pills and pills on natural fabrics. Synthetic pills are almost impossible to remove, while pills on natural fabrics are easily removed. Synthetic pilling often erupts in loose threads when you try to remove them, and that’s a problem you won’t have with garments made of natural fabrics.

– All knitted garments containing acrylic will attract a lot of pilling, since acrylic is made of very short and very straight fibers. Acrylic may look nice on the store hanger, but it’s a fabric that doesn’t really age with dignity. Cashmere is among those natural fabrics that will pill quite a lot, but it’s not a sign of bad quality.

Should I return a new cashmere sweater with pills?

– No! Definitely not. Every year a great deal of cashmere is being unnecessarily returned to the stores. Pilling is part of the natural process of cashmere fabrics – and all cashmere will pill – especially when it's new. If you can’t stand removing the pills we recommend avoiding cashmere altogether. Removing pills from cashmere is a part of the care advice.

Are pills a sign of bad quality?

– For some fabrics this is true. Acrylic, and blends containing acrylic are extremely prone to pilling. All cashmere will pill, but obviously lower quality cashmere (made of shorter textile fibers) will pill more than higher quality cashmere.

How to remove pills

There are many different methods for removing pills, some more successful than others.

Use a fabric shaver
Our Pilo Fabric Shaver will draw in in the fabric and cut off the pills. It’s both effective and gentle. The razors rotate about 10 000 times per minute, while other pill removers you’ll find in the electronics department will rotate about 3 000 times. The extra power makes for a clean cut, thus reducing the risk for loose threads afterwards. The Pilo is made to remove pills on both synthetic and natural fabrics, synthetics pills are much harder to remove with a satisfying result.

The only downside is that you have to pay attention to the battery capacity. A Pilo that is about to run out of battery will rotate with a slower speed, more like a “regular” pill remover. Also don't forget to clean your fabric shaver. The container needs to be emptied quite often if the garment has a lot of pilling and lint or it will start to run slow.

Shaving off pills with a disposable razor
The razor does the trick for some garments but is hazardous to others. It’s effective against pills on so-called “high density woven fabrics', like for example a woolen coat with pills around the armpit. Using a razor on knits is basically sealing their fate; they will be destroyed just after a few times.

Comb off pills with a cashmere comb
It works alright for cashmere, as the name states. The pills on cashmere are very special. The downside is that the comb will tear out the pills from the fabric and that is a harsh process. We don’t recommend that you comb your cashmere on a regular basis. The comb is also inefficient for any other fabric than cashmere.

Specialized pill razors
The pill razor is actually quite interesting and works pretty well on woolen coats (and other high-density fabrics). Unfortunately, it will destroy knitted garments and we recommend you use it with care.

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