Do you have one sweater you just can’t live without? Mine is an oversized sweater I got in a Stitch Fix box. It’s the perfect mix of trendy and comfortable. But at the start of this winter season, I realized I’d just about worn the sweater out when I saw that it was coated in pills, those unsightly little balls of fabric that form on the surface of your clothes.
Pilling most commonly happens on short fibers, like wool, cotton, polyester, nylon, and acrylic due to friction that comes with normal wear and tear. But frankly, this sweater looked so bad that I put it back on the shelf; I even contemplated tossing it. Thankfully, before my beloved sweater made its way to the trash bin, I discovered the magic of a de-piller.
Remove sweater pilling with a motorized de-piller
A motorized de-piller essentially shaves the excess fabric off the surface of a garment, much like an electric face trimmer to hair. I tried the top-rated sweater depiller on Amazon with more than 1,000 five-star reviews and glowing sentiments about the Beautural Fabric Shaver being a “saving grace” and “the best product I ever purchased.”
Does it work? In short, no. The product looked promising—it’s sturdy and has multiple settings—but it just didn’t deliver. I followed the directions to a T, passing the little machine up and down the length of the sweater hoping to see the pills disappear. But after nearly 10 minutes and significant pressure on the garment, my sweater looked the same as it did when I started and there was very little fuzz in the collection chamber.
Remove sweater pilling with a sweater comb
A sweater comb is essentially a wooden block with two firm mesh screens on either side. It’s simplicity at its best—no batteries and no special settings. To de-pill a sweater (or, really, anything), all you have to do is lay your garment on a flat surface, apply medium pressure to the tool, and swipe one of the mesh screens over your garment.
Does it work? Like magic, the Sweater Comb pulled up all of those unsightly pills. Within five minutes, my sweater was wearable again. Did it look brand new? Not quite. But could I easily get another season out of my beloved garment and wear it without feeling self-conscious? Absolutely. The pilling—and the obvious sign of aging that comes with it—was definitely gone.
If there’s a downside, it’s that it takes a bit of pressure to see results. That said, it’s nothing the average person would struggle with—and it’s quick work. Just don’t go too quickly. I got a bit scrape-happy when I saw how well the Sweater Comb was working. As a result, I created a small snag in my sweater. I don’t think anyone else would notice it, but I know it’s there.
After reviving my favorite sweater, I wanted to take the Sweater Comb to everything. I’ve since de-pilled a chunky cardigan, a more delicate turtleneck, and a thick wool blanket. What can I say? It’s one of those weirdly gratifying things.
How to prevent pills on clothing
Of course, nobody has the time (or patience) to de-pill everything they own. Pilling is not completely preventable: no matter what you do, your arm is going to rub against your side. However, there are a few steps you can take while laundering clothes to minimize pilling:
1. Wash clothing inside-out
Because pilling is a result of abrasion and laundry rubs together during spin cycles, washing garments inside-out keeps the outward-facing side of your clothing fresh longer.
2. Use your washer's gentle cycle
Less agitation and a shorter cycle can do wonders for clothes prone to pilling. Of course, if you want to go the extra mile, hand washing is an even gentler option.
3. Sort clothes properly
Place delicate items, like leggings, in a mesh garment bag—or better yet, run them separately.
4. Don't cram your washer
Though many washing machines have huge bins, resist the urge to cram all of your clothes into one wash. The bin shouldn’t be more than three-quarters of the way full.
5. Choose the right detergent
Harsh detergents can prematurely break down fibers, leading to pilling. Try a gentle, high-quality detergent, or one with enzymes that break down stray fibers. You can also use a fabric softener, which coats and protects fibers from damage.