We are regularly asked 'Will this jumper pill?" We have to respond that it is a possibility. Pilling is a complex phenomenon. pilling can occur with most fabrics.
Pilling (sometimes referred to as bobbling) is the formation of fuzzy balls on the surface of the sweater, and often results in an unsightly or worn out appearance. The primary drivers of pilling are the physical characteristics of the textile (including both the initial fibre, and the way in which it is processed during manufacturing), the personal habits of the textile's wearer, and the environment in which the textile is used.
It happens when washing and wearing of fabrics causes loose fibers to begin to push out from the surface of the cloth, and, over time, abrasion causes the fibers to develop into small spherical bundles, anchored to the surface of the fabric by protruding fibers that haven't broken. We also need to remember that wool is not a smooth fibre like silk or possum.
Pilling is generally caused by rubbing during wear and, although it can occur in any parts of the sweater, the most common areas are around the elbows, armpits, sleeves, belly and the sides of the sweater where, during wear, the arms of the garment are constantly coming into contact with the body of the sweater.
Because pilling is so complex, nobody can guarantee that it won’t occur, but there are a number of ways that the chances of pilling can be minimised. There are also methods to remove pills if they have been formed.
The good news is that wool pilling diminishes over time as non-tenacious wool fibers work themselves free of the fabric and break away
Minimising the risk of pilling
To reduce the risk of pilling occurring, always turn a sweater inside out when laundering. Any migration of fibres due to abrasion during washing or tumble drying will cause protruding fibres, which can result in pilling, to be formed on the inside rather than the outside or face of the sweater.
If you apply a domestic softener or conditioner in the final rinse stage during either hand or machine washing, then only add a minimal amount. The presence of excessive softener or conditioner on the, already very soft, Merino sweater can assist in migration of the Merino wool fibres out of the yarn structure and to the fabric surface which invariably will result in the formation of pills.
Advice on removal of pills
If not too many pills have been formed then they can usually be removed by hand. This should be done routinely after drying, such as during or just prior to ironing. A comb can be used to remove pills, but this should be done very gently and carefully so as to not damage the sweater which may lead to the formation of holes. Small battery operated pill and lint removal devices known as either “de-pillers” or “fabric shavers” are low cost and generally very effective at removing pills and giving your sweater an “as new” appearance again
Overall to maintain your sweater looking great, if pills occur, routinely remove them using one of the methods described above.