How to stop sweaters from pilling

Model 2 wearing a Fisherman's Jumper from Samuel Windsor

Your sweater will look perfect for longer if you avoid ugly pilling
Image source: Fisherman’s sweaters from Samuel Windsor

It’s great when you discover your ideal sweater, in a color and style that looks terrific on you. But a common knitwear menace can quickly spoil your laid-back styling – pilling. 

We’re talking about those annoying miniature balls of fluff that pop up under the arms of men’s sweaters making them look scruffy and worn. Luckily, we have the solution. Here’s how to make your tired old sweaters look as good as new and prevent your new favorite woolens from pilling.

What is pilling?

Jumper with bobbles

Pilling is caused when two fabrics rub together
Image source: Miyuki Satake/Shutterstock

Pilling is a collection of tiny balls of fuzz that turn up in friction hotspots, such as where your arms rub against the sides of your sweater or in the armpit area. Even though they’re really small they can make your sweater look tired, old and worn.

Pills are caused when fibers rub together, gradually become loose before breaking and matting together to form little tangles. It can happen while you’re wearing your knitwear, or when it’s in the washing machine or tumble dryer.

One pill quickly leads to another, and their felted texture allows them to grow quickly as they attract multicolored stray filaments from coats, jackets or pants, or whatever they rub against during the laundry cycle.

There’s no sure way to forecast if your knitwear will felt up or not, but some yarns are more vulnerable than others. Pure wool is less prone to pilling than a sweater made from mixed fibers. If one of the threads is tougher than the rest, the fragile ones are likely to fracture first and wrap around the strongest to form the classic pill.

How to avoid sweaters pilling

Dark green Aran knit sweater from Samuel Windsor

A pure wool sweater is less at risk from pilling than blended synthetics
Image source: Aran knit sweaters from Samuel Windsor

You can guard against pilling by giving your knitwear a bit of special attention. Here are eight tips to help you look after your sweaters:

  1. Turn your knitwear inside out before washing so that any sneaky fuzz balls develop on the wrong side of the garment.
  1. To machine wash your sweaters, use a “delicate” setting. That means a short and gentle wash cycle and a slow spin speed.
  1. Don’t use your normal laundry powder. Buy a liquid detergent that’s designed to be kind to knitwear.
  1. Never wash your knitwear with other sorts of clothing, especially heavyweights like jeans, or items with zippers or buttons – they can damage fragile fibers.
  1. Avoid overpacking your washer – give your clothes some space. If you jam them in they will be more inclined to pill as the machine agitates.
  1. Wash your sweaters by hand if you can – it’s the kindest and safest way to care for them.
  1. Don’t put your knitwear in a hot tumble dryer or you’ll risk serious pilling.
  1. Deal with stray fluff before it develops into an irritating ball. Make it a regular habit to roll a lint remover over your sweaters, or give them a good brush.

How to eliminate pilling

Model 2 wearing a Navy Crew Neck Wool-mix sweaters from Samuel Windsor

Routinely running a lint roller over your sweaters will pick up any loose fibers
Image source: Wool-mix sweaters from Samuel Windsor

All is not lost if your favorite sweater is already covered in pills – you can get it back into peak shape pretty easily.

Getting rid of the annoying fuzz is simply a case of cutting it off – very carefully, of course. Some folks advise using a razor blade, but that runs the risk of severing more fibers. The best tools to use are a purpose-designed pilling comb or a battery-operated pill remover. A sharp pair of nail scissors would also get the job done.

Never pick the pills off with your fingers or you’ll snap more threads and make the problem worse.

You’re now well-equipped to keep your sweaters looking as good as new. If you have any top tips, leave a comment below or come and share it over on our Facebook page.

Posted in Men's Style Guides.

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