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Stop Your Clothes Pilling (Lint Bobbles or Fuzz-Balls)

Updated on March 17, 2017
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Science graduate and business advisor, health educator and author, Beth writes articles on a wide variety of subjects.

Household laundry linens and clothing drying out-of-doors.
Household laundry linens and clothing drying out-of-doors. | Source

Ways to Stop Your Clothes Getting Fuzz Balls

Before buying
Use Scotch Tape test on fabric
Buy quality
Longer fibers are better
Buy natural fibers
Less likely to form surface pills
Protect when washing
Use individual laundry bags
Use liquid detergent
Prevents abrasion from washing powder
Air-dry clothes
Prevents contact friction
Dry knitted items flat
Prevent fiber damage
Avoid abrasion when wearing
Protect delicate fabrics from rubbing

What Are Pills, Bobbles, Lint or Fuzz Balls?

There are many names for the tiny balls of fiber that sometimes appear on clothes. Pills, bobbles, lint balls, fuzz-balls are just a few of them.

The pills give a rough texture to an otherwise smooth fabric. They occur after washing or where a piece of clothing is subjected to friction rubbing. For example, under the arms, or the line where a seatbelt crosses the chest. The cause of these lint bobbles can be puzzling as some items of clothing are affected more than others.

Most people agree that fuzz-balls are ugly. They make an otherwise fashionable sweater look old and scruffy. So you can either try and remove them, or better still, prevent them from happening in the first place.

What Causes Lint Pilling?

Fabric is made up of lengths of yarn that have been either woven or knitted to form a continuous mat. The yarn itself is a twisted rope of individual fibers. These vary in length according to their source. In general, the longer the fiber, the higher the quality of the finished yarn will be. Longer fibers are less likely to separate out from their spun state and therefore less likely to create pills. Lint pills or fuzz balls are tight tangles of fibers that have become loosened from the main twist of the yarn.

You can easily test a fabric to see if it is likely to form pills. Take a small piece of sticky tape (Scotch tape or similar) and press it gently onto the fabric. Pull it off and see if there are a lot or a few fibers sticking to it. Lots of fibers means that it is vulnerable to pilling. Just a few fibers and you should have no problems if you wash and dry your clothes normally.

Most Fabrics Can Suffer From Pilling

Any fabric can suffer from pilling if it is mistreated.
Any fabric can suffer from pilling if it is mistreated. | Source

Fabric Quality and Price

The price you pay for fabric can be an indicator of quality of fiber (although not always.) Longer yarn fibers don't pill as much as shorter ones. In the manufacturing process, longer fibers can get damaged and broken. These are then mixed in with the short fibers and incorporated into cheaper fabrics. The relative scarcity of unbroken long fibers increases their value and price.

Both fabrics made from natural fibers and ones made from synthetic fibers can suffer from fuzz balls. The length of the fiber in the yarn is the key factor, rather than its origin, when considering the likelihood of lint pills and fuzz.

Choose the right fabric when shopping and it could save you a lot of heartache in the future.
Choose the right fabric when shopping and it could save you a lot of heartache in the future. | Source

Name That Fuzz!

What do you call these lint pills?

See results

You know what I figure? If I can do laundry, there's nothing I can't do.

— Rachel Green

Protect Your Clothes When Washing Them

Here are a few tips to minimize abrasion of fibers during washing.

1. Turn your clothes inside out to wash them.

2. Put vulnerable items into individual fabric laundry bags. This stops them rubbing together and loosening fibers.

3. Ensure your washing powder is completely dissolved before adding it to the wash. Or use a liquid detergent to prevent your clothing being scratched by undissolved powder particles.

How to Avoid Lint on Clothing in Washer

Protect Your Clothes Against Pilling When Drying

Here are some useful ideas to prevent pills forming during drying.

1. Line dry clothes and use the tumble dryer as little as possible.

2. Dry knitted fabrics flat. This prevents fibers from being pulled as the garment stretches with gravity.

3. Where possible protect delicate fabrics from friction. For example, wrap a soft scarf around your seat belt to prevent it abrading your sweater.

Always dry knitted fabrics flat.
Always dry knitted fabrics flat. | Source

Natural v Synthetic Fibers

Natural fabrics shed as many fine fibers as synthetics but the fibers of these two sources have different physical qualities. The fibers lost from natural fabrics break off from the main body of fabric. On synthetic yarns these loose fibers form knots with fibers still attached and so are less likely to break off. These knots increase in size as other shedding fibers join the knot. These tangles are what we see as unsightly pills or bobbles on the surface of the fabric.

4 Ways to Remove Pilling From Fuzzy Sweaters

More Ways to Remove Bobbles and Pill Balls

Here are some quick ways to remove pill balls from your pants or sweater.

1. Run a razor gently over the fabric. Shave the tiniest amount you can otherwise you may end up making holes in the garment.

2. Use a very sharp pair of scissors to snip off each bobble individually. This can be time consuming, but if done well is the method least likely to damage the surrounding fabric.

3. A sweater stone is like a pumice stone but designed especially for clothing. Just like when you are removing rough skin from your feet, a sweater stone removes the rough parts from your clothes.

4. You can also buy a sweater shaver. These do exactly as their name suggests, they shave your sweater. Using a sweater shaver can be quicker than the other methods mentioned, but its easy to shave off more than just the fuzz-balls and over-thin the surrounding material by mistake.


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