Samples of many of the Bella Dura fabric colors and designed, organized by color.

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What Is Pilling?

While many people see pilling as a sign that a material is at its end, this is not true. Pilling is a common issue with some fabrics. It is the formation of small balls of fiber on the surface of certain fabrics. This can affect various types of materials, especially those consisting of synthetic blends or fibers.

Factors like abrasion from everyday use, material or textile type and other environmental conditions contribute to pilling. Understanding how this occurs, which fabrics tend to pill more and how you can safely remove pilling can help extend the life of most materials.

How Does Pilling Happen?

Pilling is caused by friction and happens when loose fibers on a fabric surface tangle together to form small lint balls, clusters, or breaks. So why does fabric pill? Several factors can lead to pilling in certain fabrics. The primary causes include:

  • Friction: Friction during wear can loosen fibers, forming pills. You can see this, especially in areas prone to contact, like the seats on upholstered furniture. 
  • Laundering: Washing fabrics with harsh detergents, aggressive cycles or high temperatures can weaken certain fibers, leading to pilling.
  • Environmental factors: High humidity or frequent exposure to rough surfaces can cause fibers to break and tangle easily, accelerating pilling.

Is Pilling a Sign of Bad Quality Material?

No. Pilling can happen no matter how well you look after your furniture, blankets or pillows. Even cashmere will pill a lot, and this is a high-quality material. It is more noticeable on fabrics made from tightly woven materials or those containing shorter fibers. High-quality material with longer fibers or tighter weaves will show less pilling, and removing pilling from these fabrics is easier.

Which Fabrics Are Easy to Pill?

Determine which materials are more prone to pilling by understanding the content of various fabrics, like synthetic, woolen and cotton. Fabrics made from synthetic fibers or blends may pill more than natural fibers. Synthetic fibers are often shorter, making them more prone to breakage and entanglement, which leads to pilling. Lower-quality fabrics or fabrics with loose weaves are also prone to pilling. Here are some specific materials that are more prone to pilling:

  • Wool blends: Wool is durable, but the material may pill if the yarn is loosely spun or blended with synthetic fibers.
  • Some cotton blends: Any cotton blend containing synthetic fibers is prone to pilling when exposed to friction.
  • Synthetic blends: Any material containing acrylic, nylon or polyester fibers is susceptible to pilling due to their smooth surfaces, low moisture absorption and shorter fibers.
  • Fleece: When fleece fabrics are made from polyester or other synthetic fibers, they pill after extended wear or frequent washing.

Are There Methods to Detect Fabric for Pilling?

Start with reading labels if you want to opt for less prone-to-pilling fabrics. Synthetic fiber pills are challenging to remove, as they easily create loose threads. Conversely, natural fiber pills are easier to take off. Look for knitted material with acrylic, as these short, straight fibers also create a lot of pills.

Manufacturers use three test methods for fabric pilling:

  • The Martindale test: A fabric sample is rubbed against a standard fabric in this test. The level of abrasion will show the fabric’s pilling resistance through fuzzing, pilling and matting.
  • Circular Locus method: This method has a fabric sample cause friction against itself in a circular motion. The pilling level is then determined with a rating scale.
  • Pilling box test: Fabric samples are made to simulate wear and tear by placing them in a rotating box with abrasive materials. Samples are evaluated after a certain number of rotations, and the degree of pilling is examined.

Are There Pill-Resistant Fabrics?

Performance fabrics are made to endure frequent use and exposure to tough demands. Our Bella Dura™ and Bella Dura™ Home fabrics are durable and pill-resistant. We use our exclusive proprietary solution-dyed polyolefin yarn, which is pill-resistant, unlike competitor fabrics like acrylics. Additionally, this fabric is woven in the United States, starting as a by-product and ending as a fully recyclable fabric.

How to Stop Fabrics From Pilling?

While you may be unable to prevent fabric pilling altogether, you can delay it. Addressing the causes of pilling is essential to maintaining the appearance and quality of your fabrics. The likelihood and severity of pilling depend on fabric quality, care and construction. To lessen pilling on materials, use these methods:

  • Follow care instructions: Follow the care instructions on labels to reduce fiber damage. These instructions can include gentle washing cycles, lower temperatures and mild detergents.
  • Washing machine loading: ⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠Avoid overloading your machine. A machine that is too full causes friction between items, which leads to pilling.
  • Prepare items: Turn everything inside out and close any fasteners such as zippers, buttons and hooks before washing. This helps to minimize friction and abrasion on a fabric’s surface.
  • Air dry: Use lower heat settings on your dryer or bypass tumble drying entirely to help materials maintain their integrity.
how to stop fabrics from pilling

How Can You Remove Pilling?

Natural fabrics’ pilling is some of the easiest to remove. Removing any pilling you see regularly can help to lessen the occurrence over time. You will notice that newer fabrics may tend to pill more than older fabrics because new material has more excess fibers. You can try these methods to get fabrics to look as good as new again:

  • Fabric shavers: Look for a fabric shaver that removes pilling gently. Pushing down on the device while you clean off pilling can damage the material.
  • A razor: If you have no choice, use a disposable razor. Without pushing down on the material, gently glide the razor across the material’s surface to nudge the pilling off. Using a razor increases the risk of damaging the fabric surface, though.
  • Pill razors: Specialized pill razors work well on high-density fabrics like wool but not on knitted material.

Removing pilling is often time-consuming, but the results are worth the effort. After removing the pilling from the material, steam it and spray some fabric softener mixed with water. Doing this will leave the fabric feeling as good as new.

Contact Swavelle Group for Pill-Resistant Fabrics

Pilling can affect various items, from furniture and bedding to curtains and rugs. When you understand what causes pilling, you can work toward preventing this from happening. Additionally, you can choose materials less prone to pilling or offer easy pill removal.

Swavelle Group produces durable upholstery fabrics. Companies use our products in home goods, corporate settings, health care facilities and more. We use multiple sustainable manufacturing practices for custom-made textiles. Enjoy one-on-one attention, excellent services and quick turnaround times when shopping with Swavelle Group. Contact us today for fabrics or to learn more about our services.

contact Swavelle Group for  pill-resistant fabrics