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Smart Solutions: Fabric Pilling

From sweaters to upholstery, pilling is a fact of life. They’re annoying to the touch and they’re unsightly, especially because they tend to turn up in the opposite color of your upholstery. When you start to see little dark pills forming on your creamy white sofa, it tends to make the fabric look dingy, dirty and old. Luckily, Pottery Barn has the easy solution to rejuvenating your upholstered or slipcovered sofas, sectionals and chairs. We’ll give you a mini-crash-course all about pilling and how to eliminate an unsightly patch of it in a pinch. 



A pill is the result of tiny fiber or a miniscule clump of fibers loosening up in the fabric. The loosened fibers begin tangling up over time to create a hard nubby that remains annoyingly attached to your fabric. The pilling of your upholstery fabric doesn’t mean in any way that your fabric is defective. It’s just a byproduct of textiles. Wondering why those pills are always a different color than your upholstery? It’s because fibers from clothing, plus dust and dirt, have entangled with upholstery fibers to create that gray color. 



A pill forms on upholstered furniture over time when there’s normal wear-and-tear and gentle abrasion on the fabric. The abrasive action, whether it’s simply sitting on the piece or consistently brushing up against it, causes some fiber ends to begin the process of unravelling until they get caught up in a tight nubby knot that creates the pill. 



These teeny-tiny clumps tend to form even on top-quality fabrics and blends. Though it’s tough to tell which upholstery fabrics will pill more than others, typically it’s man-made fabrics, such as polyester or acrylics, and synthetic blends, which all tend to become nubby over time. In general, any fabric made with short fibers, such as synthetics or even some cottons, could pill, which is why you may feel pilling even on high-quality bedding. Another rule of thumb: the looser the weave, the more it may pill, which is why your sweaters are frequently victimized.



You can’t eliminate pilling, but you can zap away the pills. Many people use a sweater shaver or even razors (without the moisture strip) on furniture, but you want to make certain your tool has the right edges to keep your upholstery from being nicked or damaged. One popular tool, called the Gleener, contains three different fabric-safe blades, or edges, to trim and smooth big and bulky fuzz balls to finer fuzz balls, off any fabric.

If you’ve invested in slipcovers, you’ll want to depill those, as well, to keep them looking new. Washing slipcovers is an abrasion that may form pills. But all you’ll have to do is swipe the tool’s edge over the pills and they’ll disappear no matter how many times you wash your slipcovers. Whether you’re pulling pills from upholstery or slipcovers, simply vacuum your fabric after depilling to remove any other excess fibers that you can’t see with the naked eye.



There’s no need to obsess over pillage because shaving fabric too often may weaken fibers. Wait until nubbies build up before shaving. Grab your tool when you’re in your semi-annual deep cleaning mode. That way you’ll be sure to slice off pilling from fabrics while freshening up your house. Depill your upholstered dining room chairs before the holidays to make sure your furniture is entertainment-worthy. A couple of passes over the pills, and you’re done.

If you prefer avoiding pilling altogether, go for all natural materials, such as pure wool, or textiles made from long fibers, such as silk or linen upholstery fabrics. Tightly woven microsuedes and denims rarely seem to pill. If you’re looking to live with a piece that’s upholstered in a practical fabric, the correct tool will shoo those fuzzies away, keeping your family-friendly home looking beautiful and blemish-free for years.