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Save Your Sweaters! How To Deal With Pilling

If you were to see a $400 cashmere cardigan on sale at half price, you would probably want it. There's just one problem with spending hundreds on a sweater: you can never be sure how pill-resistant it will prove to be. Costly sweaters can be just as vulnerable as inexpensive ones. If your confidence in the pilling resistance of an expensive sweater turns out to be misplaced, it could well end up in your gardening or dog-walking wardrobe.

Why Does Pilling Occur?

But Why?

Pilling happens when open-ended fibers on yarn tangle up with wear and friction. Long, strong fibers such as Merino wool tend to resist pilling better than fine, fuzzy cashmere. On some sweaters, however, fibers are seen to work themselves up to the surface over time, even when there are no loose fibers in evidence at first. Some manufacturers apply pill-reduction treatment to the clothing that they make, and large retailers often ask them to test their lines for proneness to pilling before agreeing to carry their products. None of this guarantees freedom from pilling. However, there are some things you can do to avoid the problem.

Give the Sweater a Rest

Give It a Rest

The more wear an article of clothing gets, the more quickly it is likely to pill. It is possible to keep most sweaters free of fuzz for longer, without simply deciding not to wear them often. The longer an item of clothing is kept at rest after wear, the longer it has to recover, and the less likely it is to pill.

Moisturize Your Sweaters


Lanolin, one of the most commonly found ingredients in skin moisturizers, is obtained from natural wool. It is removed from wool and then sold to the beauty products industry. When cleaned of lanolin, wool fibers can get rougher and more prone to tangling. It isn't unlike the way unconditioned hair behaves. If you can restore some of the lanolin to the wool of your natural-fiber sweaters, it will help moisturize it, and make it tangle-resistant and pill-free. All you need to do is to mix a teaspoonful of lanolin in water, soak your sweaters in the water, and then spread them out to dry.

Avoid the Bad Pill Removers

Avoid the Bad

Although there are plenty of ideas for pill removal, it's never a good idea to try one unless you understand how exactly it works. A common recommendation, for example, is to apply sandpaper or a disposable razor to pilled-up sweaters, to rip the pilling off. Ripping a pill off can result in loss of strength in the yarn that it is attached to, however. You end up weakening the sweater. An electronic pill remover may seem exactly the right tool for the job, but it can damage the halo seen on expensive cashmere or mohair, the highly valued fuzz of fine fiber that such material comes with. Products such as D-Fuzz-It, with their fabric-specific attachments, and the stones sold by the likes of Sweater Stone, tend to work best. The best way to a wardrobe free of pilling is to try to buy products tested for resistance to them. The best way to a wardrobe free of pilling is to try to buy products tested for resistance to them. Since you can never be sure, however, it makes sense to treat your sweaters with care.

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