Get Rid of Lint Bobbles and Fuzz-Balls: Stop Your Clothes From Pilling

Updated on December 22, 2017
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

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

All kinds of fabrics need to be cleaned carefully to avoid fabric damage.
All kinds of fabrics need to be cleaned carefully to avoid fabric damage. | Source

Do Your Clothes Have 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.

The cause of these lint bobbles can be puzzling, and some items of clothing are affected more than others. They occur during washing or where a piece of clothing is subjected to friction. For example, under the arms or on the spot where a seatbelt crosses the chest.

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.

Ways to Stop Your Clothes From 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
Prevents fiber damage
Avoid abrasion when wearing
Protect delicate fabrics from rubbing

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 from their spun state and therefore less likely to create pills. Lint pills are tight tangles of fibers that have become loosened from the main twist of yarn.

Lint bobbles can occur on any type of household laundry.
Lint bobbles can occur on any type of household laundry. | Source

Fabric Quality and Price Can Affect Bobbling

The price you pay for fabric can sometimes, but not always, be an indicator of quality of fiber. 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 material or origin.

Natural vs. Synthetic Fibers

Natural fabrics shed as many fine fibers as synthetics, but these two fibers 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.

Any type of material can suffer from pilling if it is mistreated.
Any type of material can suffer from pilling if it is mistreated. | Source

How to Test If a Fabric Is Going to Pill Before Buying

There is a simple way to 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, then pull it off and see if there are fibers sticking to it. Lots of fibers means it is vulnerable to pilling. Just a few fibers means you should have no problems if you wash and dry your clothes normally.

How to Stop Clothes From Pilling When Washing or Cleaning Them

Here are some tips to minimize abrasion of fibers during washing.

  1. Turn clothes inside out before washing them.
  2. Put vulnerable items into individual fabric laundry bags. This stops them from rubbing together and loosening fibers. I use Hopday delicates mesh laundry bags. They come in various sizes making them suitable for washing small lingeries items like bras as well as larger items like sweaters.
  3. Make sure the washing powder is completely dissolved in the water before adding the clothes, or better still use a liquid detergent. This will 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 tips 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.

When possible, protect delicate fabrics from friction when you are wearing them. For example, when driving, wrap a soft scarf around your seatbelt to prevent it from abrading your sweater.

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. Using a sweater shaver can be quicker than the other methods mentioned, but it's easy to shave off more than just the fuzz-balls and over-thin the surrounding material by mistake.

Name That Fuzz!

What do you call these lint pills?

See results


Submit a Comment

No comments yet.