When your favorite clothing starts looking a bit “pilly,” it’s not a good feeling! Pilling is the formation of tiny, lint-like balls on the surface of a fabric, and it can happen to any garment, from sweaters and T-shirts to dresses and skirts. If you’ve ever experienced pilling on a favorite clothing item, you know how frustrating it can be. The good news is there are ways to prevent and remove pilling from clothes and restore that like-new look to your beloved gear. But before we tackle how to do that, let’s look at what causes pilling in the first place.

Fabric Pilling: Why Does it Happen?

Pilling occurs when the individual fibers that make up a fabric break down and become loose. When these fibers rub against each other or other surfaces (like your skin), they start to form little balls of lint. The more a piece of clothing is worn and washed, the more likely it is to pill. That’s why you’ll often see pilling on well-loved clothes that have seen their share of wear.

Certain fabrics are more prone to pilling than others. For example, knitted materials are more likely to pill than woven fabrics because the fibers are bound together less tightly. Linen and silk are among the most pill-resistant fabrics. With cotton, polyester, or other synthetics, their tendency to pill depends on how tightly they’re woven (tighter weaves are less likely to pill). Unfortunately, just about any fabric can start to pill over time with enough wear and washing.

How to Prevent Clothes From Pilling

We’re guessing you’ve heard the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This couldn’t be more true when it comes to pilling. The best way to deal with pilling is to prevent it from happening in the first place. So here are a few tips to keep those annoying little fuzz balls at bay:

Use the Gentle Cycle

We’re big fans of the gentle cycle when washing clothes because the less agitation your clothes experience, the better. When your clothes are jostled around in the washing machine, the fibers are more likely to loosen and rub against other fabrics, increasing the risk of pilling. So, opt for the gentle cycle unless your garment is visibly soiled.

Turn Your Garments Inside Out Before Washing Them

This will help prevent pilling by keeping the fabric from rubbing against other clothes in the wash and help keep them looking newer, longer.

Sort Your Laundry

Rubbing against zippered pockets or rougher fabrics like denim can break fibers prematurely and lead to pilling. To avoid this, sort your laundry into similar fabric types before washing.

Steer Clear of Harsh Detergents and Bleach

Bleach and some chemicals in laundry detergents can be harsh on fabric fibers, making them more brittle and susceptible to breakage that leads to pilling. To play it safe, use a mild or natural laundry detergent.

Dry Your Clothes Carefully

Stay away from the hottest settings on your dryer. They can make fibers more brittle and likely to break during the tumbling of the drying cycle. Remove your clothes from the dryer promptly when they’re dry because over-drying leads to pilling as well. If possible, go easy on your clothes and line-dry them.

Use Fabric Softener

Adding fabric softener to your rinse cycle prevents pilling by coating fibers, making them softer and less likely to break.

Don’t Wash After Every Wear

Of course, we’re all about washing dirty clothes, but less is more when it comes to preventing pilling. Before washing, consider whether your garment really needs it. With outer layers like pullovers and jackets, hanging them up to air out after wearing is often enough to refresh them between washings.

Buy Quality Clothing

Higher-end fabrics are less pill-prone because the fibers are usually more tightly bound together. Although they’re more expensive up front, finer garb tends to significantly outlast its cheaper counterparts, which is actually easier on your wallet in the long run and better for the environment.

How to Remove Pilling From Clothes

No matter how careful you are, prevention only goes so far. For most of us, pilling is an inevitable part of life. Here are a few foolproof ways to remove pilling from clothes:

Use A Razor

We LOVE this one because it’s sooo satisfying. Plus, who doesn’t have a razor? Lay your item flat on a level surface and create a taught area. Then, using quick, even strokes, shave off the pills.

Pro tip: As they accumulate, lift away the shaved pills with masking tape or a lint roller. The downside? Tearing or cutting the garment is a risk if you’re not careful!

Use a Pumice Stone

This is an excellent alternative to shaving with a razor if you’re worried about damaging your clothes. Again, lay the garment on a flat, hard surface and rub the pumice stone over the pills in a circular motion until they’ve been removed. You might want to throw on some tunes because this one can be a bit time-consuming.

Use a Fabric Shaver

While we appreciate the above methods because they repurpose everyday household items, this is our go-to method for removing pills. Why? Because it’s quick and easy and there’s little risk of damaging your clothes. Be sure to read the directions that apply to your fabric shaver before using it, as there are slight variations between models. The downside? They’re not as cheap and readily available as a disposable razor or pumice stone. But they’ll save you money (and frustration) in the long run.


Pilling is a fact of life, but that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to looking like a lint ball. With some preventative care and a suitable removal method, you can keep your clothes looking smooth and new for longer. For even more great tips on keeping your wardrobe looking great, check out ZIPS Tips or peruse our blog!