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

Updated on November 10, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

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

What Are Pills, Bobbles, Lint, or Fuzz Balls?

When clothes have been washed without care you may see loose fibers appear on the surface of the fabric. The pills give a rough texture to an otherwise smooth fabric. There are many names for these tiny balls of fiber; pills, bobbles, lint balls, and fuzz-balls are just a few of them.

The cause of these lint bobbles can be puzzling, and some items of clothing are affected more than others. They occur during washing when a piece of clothing is subjected to friction. They can also be the result of fabric being damaged during wear by constant rubbing, for example, under arms or where a seatbelt crosses the chest.

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

How to Minimize Fuzz Balls During Laundry

  1. Before buying test the fabric with Scotch tape to test likelihood of pilling.
  2. Buy quality. Longer fibers may cost more but fare better when washed.
  3. Buy natural fibers. These are less likely to form surface pills.
  4. Protect your clothes when washing. Use individual laundry bags.
  5. Use liquid detergent. This prevents abrasion from washing powder granules.
  6. Air-dry your clothes whenever possible. This prevents contact friction.
  7. Always dry knitted items flat. This helps prevents fiber damage from stretching.
  8. Avoid contact abrasion when wearing. For example protect delicate fabrics from rubbing from seat belts.

This sweater has been washed incorrectly. Small lint bobbles have formed all over it.
This sweater has been washed incorrectly. Small lint bobbles have formed all over it. | Source

What Causes Fuzz Balls on Knits?

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. These tiny knots form on the surface of the fabric as you can see in the picture below.

Test to Check Likelihood of Fabric Pilling

Here is a simple test you can do before buying clothes.

Take a small piece of sticky tape (Scotch tape or similar) and press it gently onto the fabric. Pull it off smartly and examine carefully. If you see lots of fibers this means the material is vulnerable to pilling. If there are only a few fibers, you should have no fuzz problems providing the clothing is washed and dried according to its care instructions.

Manufacturers use much more accurate hi-tech methods to assess which fabrics are going to bobble. One of these electronic testing machines is demonstrated in the video below.

Electronic Brush Pilling Tester

How to Prevent 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 stop your clothing being scratched by undissolved powder particles.

How to Avoid Lint on Clothing in Washer

Protect Your Clothes Against Lint Balls 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.
  3. Where 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.

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

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?

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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.

Fabrics last longer if they are treated with care.
Fabrics last longer if they are treated with care. | Source

How to Minimize Fuzz From Cotton Clothes During Laundry

  1. Wash non-cotton items separately. Do not include any fluffy garments or items that will shed fibers.
  2. Turn clothing inside-out to minimize fuzz.
  3. Put delicate fabrics inside a mesh laundry bag to prevent abrasion.
  4. Use a lint-catcher in with the washing. You can make a DIY one as follows. Cut out a square of voile or netting (the kind of fabric used for a wedding veil.) Place it in the drum with your dirty washing and it will catch most of the fuzz and fluff produced during the wash.

Static electricity is making this child's hair cling to the plastic chair back.
Static electricity is making this child's hair cling to the plastic chair back. | Source

What Causes Static Electricity On Clothes?

Sometimes when you remove garments from the dryer you can get a small electric shock. The charge from the sweater can make the small hairs on your arm stand on end, literally.

Static cling also makes one item of clothing stick to the next. It is caused when garments rub against one another causing a friction charge to build. This is particularly noticeable if you have a washing load of synthetic fabrics.

Electricity always tries to discharge to earth. When you pick up the charged fabric it uses you as a conductor to travel to the ground. You may feel a slight tingle, but it doesn't hurt you.

To get rid of static electricity from your clean clothes, shake them well before folding them and putting them into the closet. You can also put your clothes on metal hangars to help discharge the static.

Will Dry Cleaning Remove Lint Balls?

Dry cleaning is not a good way to remove lint or fuzz balls. It is a method of removing stains and odors from clothes, not repairing damaged material. The process uses solvents to remove ingrained dirt and proteins. Dry cleaning is often recommended as the best way to clean delicate fabrics as it does not affect the physical structure of the cloth.


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