Fabric's pilling, the most feared garment's enemy - Manteco

Fabric's pilling, the most feared garment's enemy

Discover what pilling is, how it occurs, how to prevent and remove it

Fabric pilling is the most dreaded phenomenon on our garments, but it does not necessarely put an end to the use of your garments

With some tips you can easily extend its life and avoid wasting materials. And that’s not it, you can also learn how to make better purchases and buy garments that will not pill easily. Fabric Pilling can be removed from cloth in many ways and with many available tools, and some fabrics are less likely to pill than others. In clear terms, fabric pilling  occurs at different levels, and this depends on some specific factors.

But first, what is pilling? What causes it? Which part of your garment are the most affected by it?

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Pilling appear on garments when groups of short or broken fibers become tangled together in a tiny knot or ball, also known as a “pill”. To put it simply, pills appear on clothes whose quality has degraded due to wearing, rubbing, washing, exposure to light, air and weather.

It goes without saying that fabric pilling occurs on the garment’s part that receives the most abrasion in day-to-day use,  such as the collar, the cuffs, the thighs, and, in most cases, the rear parts of trousers; but it can happen anywhere on fabric.

PS Brands know about their product’s pilling resistance, they require their suppliers to run many durability tests on their materials. However, there is currently no regulation that oblige them to declare pilling resistance levels on their garment’s care labels. How about that?

Pilling is a very complex phenomenon because it is affected by many technical factors that define the overall quality of textiles, let's see some of them here below:

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Type of fiber used

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 removable with simple tools. 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 fibers.

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Lenght of the fiber used

Short length fibers are prone to pill easier than longer fibers. This is because long fibers have greater resistance to friction and don’t pill easily.

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Composition of the fabric used

When a fabric is made from a blend, where one fibre is strong and one is weak pilling will be more noticeable, because the weaker fibre wears and breaks, while the stronger fibre holds the pills to the cloth.

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Type of yarn used

If the yarns are more compact (highly twisted), they will have a low level of pilling than a loose yarn (with low twist).

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Structure of the fabric used

Knitted fabrics will pill easily, as they have a loose structure, while woven fabrics and fabrics made from tightly twisted yarns are less likely to pill, because the fibres are held tightly in the cloth. So, the closer the structure of a fabric, the lesser it is prone to produce fluff. The purpose of purchase is still very much important though.

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Type of finishing used

Fabric finishing treatments exerts a large effect on the pilling properties. As the surface of the fabric changes hence the pilling properties also changes after finishing. For example, the ordinary compact fabrics with a flat surface are stronger and more capable of withstanding friction than a rough and brushed surface.

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Can you prevent pilling to occur? Well, some degree of pilling is always possible, but there are some ways you can help slow down or prevent it.

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When washing your garment, first check the care label to know what's the best setting to go for

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Sort laundry properly before washing.

Washing delicate items in the same load as jeans or heavy garments will cause more abrasion and harm to the surface of fabrics.

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Turn garments inside out while you wash them, so that the face side does not rub against other clothes

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Don’t overload the washing machine, otherwise your clothes will rub together and cause more friction.

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Choose short, gentle, cold water wash cycles or even hand wash your clothes

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Skip harsh cleaners and damaging bleach which can weaken fibers causing them to break and pill.

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Use the right amount of detergent, if it's much it's going to damage your garments

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Consider using fabric softener to help protect clothing fibers

The ingredients in fabric softener coat the fibers of the fabric so that abrasion is lessened.

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Avoid using the dryer, prefer air drying

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About Manteco, Italian premium textiles and circularity since 1943

After decades in the fashion world, in 2018, we have created the Manteco Academy project, through which we  give webinars, in-person lessons and workshops on eco-design, circular economy and sustainability to numerous fashion schools, technical universities and brands worldwide. Thanks to this educative commitment and our heritage, we are often invited as guest speaker at events, panels, podcasts and conferences about sustainable fashion and circular economy.

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