Fabric Care 101: How to Depill a Sweater

Don't throw it out--clean it up

Why is it that by April, that sweater you unwrapped during the holidays has those pesky pills under the arms and along the sides? Pilling occurs when fibers break down, separate, and then clump together in little balls. Pilling can occur on wool, cotton, cashmere, even polyester garments, usually at a point where two fabrics rub together.

To prevent pilling, turn a sweater inside out before washing, on the gentle cycle or by hand, using a detergent that rinses clean and does not contain any dyes. Air-drying a sweater by laying it flat is best. Here’s how to make sure it doesn’t stretch: After washing, lay the wet sweater on a flat towel. Roll up the towel and sweater from the edge closest to you, like a jellyroll. This squeezes out excess water. Unroll the towel, lift the sweater off, and lay it flat on a dry towel. Be sure to carefully bring the sweater to its original shape.

If you already have pills on a sweater, you’ll have to be patient and remove them one at a time. Place the garment on a flat surface and then use either a small pair of scissors or a razor blade to carefully remove the pills. If you’re worried about damaging the sweater, you can be resourceful and use something that will lift the pills from the garment, such as a fine-tooth comb, pumice stone, or even a fruit zester.

There are also special gadgets that are designed to remove pills with no threat of harming the garment’s fibers.Consider buying a sweater comb or a battery-operated electric fabric shaver, a hand-held device that generally sells for less than $20. It will come in handy not just for sweaters but for pills that build up on wool blankets and throws, towels, furniture, even the dog’s bed. It can also safely remove pet hair, loose threads, and lint, keeping fabrics and garments looking like new.

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