Understanding Fabric Pilling

The pilling and fuzzing phenomenon of fabrics is a concern for consumers. So it’s an important aspect to consider in the product design and production process for textile manufacturers. Reading this article will provide you with a deep understanding of the causes, mechanisms, and testing methods of fabric pilling, and you will find it beneficial.

What is Pilling on Fabrics?

Pilling on fabrics refers to the formation of small, fuzzy balls on the surface of textiles. As you know, the basic unit of fabric is yarn. During processing, yarns undergo carding, stretching, and friction, resulting in a surface that is not smooth and inevitably develops fuzz. With continued use, fabrics are subjected to external forces, gradually pulling out the fuzz or individual fibers from the surface. When the height and density of the fuzz reach a certain level, continued friction from external forces causes the fuzz to entangle into balls, protruding from the fabric surface. If the material is relatively rigid, these pills remain attached despite friction and eventually form bobbles.

Pilling on fabrics can affect the appearance of the fabric and reduce its performance. Therefore, the resistance to pilling is one of the important quality testing items.

The definition of fuzzing and pilling

Fuzzing

A noticeable change on the fabric’s surface is caused by protruding fibers or the extension of fiber ends forming fuzz.

Pilling

Balls are formed by entangled fibers that protrude from the surface of the fabric. These are dense and prevent light from passing through, creating a shadow. Changes in fuzzing and the formation of pills can occur during washing, dry cleaning, wearing, or use.

pilling on fabrics

Let’s go through some factors that influence fuzzing and pilling in fabrics!

Influence of Fiber Properties on Fabric Pilling

Fiber Length and Fineness

Longer fibers have fewer ends per unit area in yarns and fabrics, leading to less fuzz on the surface. The friction and cohesion between longer fibers are greater, making it difficult for them to slide out and form fuzz or tangle into balls. Therefore, fabrics made from short-staple yarns pill more than those made from filament yarns.
Finer fibers are more prone to pilling. The finer the fiber, the more ends are exposed on the yarn surface, and the softer the fibers, thus, they tangle more easily into balls. Coarser and stiffer fibers are less likely to form pills.
Fiber Surface Smoothness and Cross-Sectional Shape:

Fibers with a circular cross-section and smooth surface easily slide to the fabric surface and are prone to pilling. Irregularly shaped fibers like flat, triangular, or polygonal, due to larger contact areas between fibers, reduce the chance of sliding out and forming fuzz, thus lowering the tendency to pill.
Mechanical Properties of Fibers:

Generally, low-strength fibers have poor wear resistance and can easily break after certain friction, accelerating the shedding of pills and significantly reducing their number. Fibers with strong resistance to repeated bending and wear are less likely to shed after forming pills.

Pilling Tendency of Common Fabrics Based on Fiber Properties

You may often be asked whether the following common types of fabrics are prone to fuzzing and pilling. Let’s take a look at the answers!

Silk: Silk is a natural filament fiber with a smaller cohesion force and a nearly circular cross-section, so it is relatively less prone to pilling.
Linen: Linen fabrics rarely pill, except in areas of frequent friction such as cuffs.
Cotton: Cotton fabric can pill, especially after the surface has been brushed to create a layer of soft, comfortable fuzz that sticks together.
Polyester: An important variety of synthetic fibers, polyester tends to pill but sheds quickly, making it less noticeable.
Wool: Wool inherently pills due to its nature. High-quality or treated wool has more refined and better-fitting scales on its surface, making it less prone to pilling.
Cashmere: Although cashmere is a very precious fabric, it is prone to pilling because the fibers are shorter.

The influence of yarn properties and structure on fabric pilling

Yarn Twist

Yarns with a higher twist are less likely to expose fiber ends on the fabric surface and form fuzz under friction. Inconsistencies in yarn thickness can lead to areas with lower twist where the fibers are loose and protrude, making them more prone to form fuzz and subsequently pill.

Surface Smoothness of Yarn

Yarns with a smoother surface are less likely to pill. The smoother the surface of the yarn, the shorter and fewer the surface fuzz, making it difficult to form pills.

Yarn Structure

Shorter fibers tend to concentrate on the surface of the yarn, making it more prone to fuzzing and pilling. Fabrics made from fancy-twist yarns and expanded yarns with a lot of fluff are more likely to fuzz and pill. Filament yarns with fewer fiber ends are less likely to pill. Deformed filament yarns are fluffy and untwisted, and when they break, the fiber ends bend and protrude, easily tangling into balls.

Synthetic Fibers

Synthetic fibers have poor cohesion, leading to fuzz formation on the fabric surface under friction. Synthetic fibers with high tensile strength and wear resistance, poor moisture absorption, and a tendency to generate static electricity can result in fuzz that, under repeated friction, form into pills that are difficult to shed. Generally, the more synthetic fibers in a textile fabric, the more severe the fuzzing and pilling.

The influence of fabric structure on fabric pilling

Fabric Warp and Weft Density

The tighter the fabric structure, the greater the friction resistance between fibers. This makes it less likely for fuzz to form during friction with external objects. Even if fuzz is generated, it’s less likely to slide to the fabric surface, thereby reducing pilling and fuzzing. Generally, knitted fabrics are looser in structure and more prone to pilling and fuzzing than woven textiles; fabrics made from fancy yarns also pill more easily due to their loose structure.

Fabric Construction

In fabric constructions where warp and weft yarns interlace frequently, the structure is tight and the yarns are firmly bound together. This reduces the chance of fiber ends sliding to the fabric surface to form fuzz, making it less prone to pilling and fuzzing. Conversely, fabrics with longer yarn floats and fewer interlacings have a looser structure. After friction, the fiber ends are more likely to slide out and cause pilling and fuzzing.

Fabric Finishing Processes

Singeing, shearing, and brushing treatments can remove fibers from the fabric surface that are prone to form fuzz, thus reducing the factors that lead to pilling. Fabrics treated with coatings have a smoother surface and are less prone to pilling and fuzzing. Polyester/cotton fabrics treated with heat setting or resin finishing have fixed yarn positions and increased sliding resistance, leading to a smoother surface and enhanced resistance to pilling and fuzzing.

Wearing Environment and Washing

During the use or washing of textiles, they often encounter rough surfaces. These external factors can promote fabric pilling and fuzzing.

What Fabric Pills the most?

Natural fibers like cotton, linen, and silk (excluding wool fabrics) have a lower tendency to fuzz and pill.
Common synthetic fibers like nylon (polyamide), polyester, acrylic, polypropylene, and regenerated cellulose fibers are more prone to being pulled out and forming fuzz and pills.
Synthetic fibers are blended with natural fibers, the degree of fuzzing and pilling is intensified.

Fabric Pilling Grade Chart

Pilling Grade Chart

The Standard Methods for Testing  Fabric Pilling

Martindale Method

Under a specified pressure, circular samples on the sample holder are rubbed against abrasives (either the same fabric as the test sample or woolen fabric) on the Martindale abrasion platform following a Lissajous curve. The samples are able to rotate freely around a central axis perpendicular to the plane of the sample. After a specified stage of friction, the fuzzing and pilling grade of the sample is assessed using a visual description method.

Martindale Abrasion Tester: YG(B)401T

Pilling Box Method

Samples mounted on a polyurethane tube are randomly tumbled inside a wooden box lined with soft cork at a constant speed. After a specified number of tumbling cycles, the fuzzing and pilling performance is visually assessed.

Pilling Tester: YG(B)511-IV

Random Tumble Pilling Method

The sample is placed inside the testing box. With the rotation of the impeller, the sample continuously and randomly rubs against the soft cork lining of the box. After reaching the set time, the sample is removed and rated.

Random Tumbling Pilling Tester: YG(B)512

Fiber Characteristic & Pilling Chart

Fiber Characteristics Pilling Chart

Conclusion

The mechanism of fuzzing and pilling in fabrics is quite complex, and the existing theories on fuzzing and pilling mechanisms each have their own shortcomings. Fuzzing and pilling greatly affect the wearability of fabrics, so proactive and effective measures should be taken at each stage of processing. This includes the sensible selection of fiber length, yarn twist, yarn spinning process, spinning methods, fabric structure, and fabric density. The washing standards established by companies should align with consumer consensus. Both are important in improving the phenomenon of fabric fuzzing and pilling and have significant practical implications for addressing these issues.

FAQ

Q: In clothing, the two most commonly used fabrics, pure cotton and polyester, are not easily prone to fuzzing and pilling. So why do most of the clothes we buy tend to fuzz and pill?

A: When cotton and polyester are blended together, they form what is commonly known as polycotton fabric, which is highly susceptible to fuzzing and pilling. Polyester is a chemically spun fiber, capable of being drawn into thousands of meters of continuous filament, and is considered a long fiber. Polyester yarns are very strong and not prone to abrasion-induced fuzzing. Pure cotton fibers, on the other hand, are very short, classified as short fibers. Ordinary cotton fibers are 28mm long, while long-staple cotton fibers are only 36mm. Cotton fibers are inherently weak and prone to shedding small fuzz before even forming into pills, which is why cotton T-shirts tend to shed fibers.

When cotton is blended with polyester, the easily shed cotton fibers interact with the strong polyester fibers. With continued friction, the small cotton fuzz wraps around the polyester, forming pills. This combination of shedding from the cotton and the resilience of the polyester leads to the formation of pilling in polycotton fabrics.

Q: Is Pilling a Sign of Bad Quality?

A: There is a common misconception that pilling indicates poor quality. Pilling is an unavoidable aspect of both natural and synthetic fiber fabrics.

Related resources

Martindale Abrasion Testers

Understanding Fabric Abrasion

Ultimate Guide to Martindale Test

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