How to Keep Sweaters from Pilling

Last week, our customer Katrina reached out to us with a question about sweaters:

“I’m so annoyed — I spend $20 on a sweater at Forever 21 and over $100 on a nice cashmere sweater and within a month, the cashmere sweater is just as pilly as my cheap one! I don’t know how to tell in the store what’s going to pill or not. Can you help?”

It’s frustrating to spend money on expensive items and have them begin to pill after only a couple of wears. And similarly to what Katrina said, even garments that advertise themselves as higher quality fabrics can often still pick and pill easily. Follow these troubleshooting tips to choose the right materials and care properly for your sweaters to prevent pilling.

Pilling forms when yarn fibers in a woven garment break and become tangled — usually in areas where you get the most wear like under the arms. You can start by shopping for fabrics which are less likely to pill like merino wool. Also, while they’re hard to resist, don’t purchase sweaters that are silky soft to the touch. Sweaters with a super soft hand-feel have been washed repeatedly by the retailer to break the material in, making it quicker to wear and pill.

Once you’ve purchased a new sweater, there are other steps you can take to ensure it stays in the best condition possible. You can use lanolin or a specialized conditioner to soak the sweater in. Lanolin is a naturally occurring product in sheep’s wool that helps condition and cleanse the fur. It’s taken out during the manufacturing process but can be easily purchased online. Mix a little bit in warm water, rinse the garment, then allow to air dry.

To remove existing pills, don’t use the common razor blade solution. While seemingly effective, razor blades actually further damage and thin fabrics. It’s better to use a special made sweater stone. Sweater stone’s will safely remove the pills while keeping the garment’s fabric intact.