What is Fabric Pilling and How to Fix It

Many people prefer fabric over leather (or faux leather) when it comes to furniture upholstery. Fabric has a cozier feel and it offers a wider variety of styles and designs. Of course, fabric comes with its own requirements of general upkeep. Nasty spills, lingering odors, eventual fading. These are all common issues we face with fabric.

There is one problem, however, that stumps furniture owners more than anything. This problem is the annoying occurrence of fabric pilling. But what it is pilling, and how can it be fixed?

Fabric pilling is when tiny tufts or strands of fiber sprout out of the fabric. These strands remain attached to the fabric, so trying to pull or pick it away tends to worsen the problem. To fix pilling, use a fabric shaver, an electronic tool specifically designed to remove loose fibers without harming the fabric.

Because fabric pilling remains a bit of a mystery to most of us, we’ve done some research and provided the basics so you can learn what causes it, what it means about the quality of your furniture and other helpful bits of information.

What Causes Fabric Pilling on Furniture?

Over time, small fibers within the fabric break loose, especially in areas that experience frequent contact. When these fibers make their way to the surface, they’re exposed to all of rubbing and friction from regular use. Once this occurs, it doesn’t take long for the fibers to tangle together, creating those patches of little fuzzy balls, or “pills”. Because the loose fibers become entangled with the secure fibers, the pills remain stubbornly attached to the fabric.

Another common cause of pilling on furniture fabric is when the cushion covers are removed and thrown in the wash. This is why so many of us are afraid to even attempt this procedure.

How to Remove Pilling from Furniture

Removing pilling is an easy process once you’ve got the right tool for the job. If pilling is a frequent nuisance for you, then we highly suggest investing in an electric pill shaver. With one of these in hand, it’s as easy as pressing the “on” switch and rubbing the afflicted spot. This is my recommended way to remove pilling from furniture.

Pumice stone pill removers and pill combs are two other popular tools. A lot of people swear by them. However, they can be tedious to use, and they’re not effective for all cases of pilling. It is more common to use these stone bars on pilling clothes rather than pilling furniture.

One final method you can try is using a basic, disposable razor. With short, gentle strokes, shave away the pills, applying very little pressure at first to make sure you don’t damage the fabric. Tape can be used to lift away the shaved pills. This method can be a bit nerve-wracking, and we do suggest considering one of the above methods if the fabric is thin. Using a razor can slice through your material surface causing much more serious problems.

*Warning: It is not a good idea to trim or cut away pilling with scissors. Nor is it a good idea to try to burn away any loose fibers. And, whichever tool you use, be sure to take your time and go easy.

What Is The Best Fabric Pill Shaver?

Conair Battery Operated Fabric Defuzzer

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There are quite a few electric fabric shavers that will do the trick, but the general consensus suggests that the Conair Battery Operated Fabric Defuzzer is the best way to go.

This device runs on AA batteries and it works on a variety of fabrics. It takes off any level of fuzz and piling, and it’s great at eliminating hard-to-get-to lint. With a lot of brands of pill shavers out there, many are ineffective and short-lived. The Conair Defuzzer is proven to do the trick and last for years.

Steamery Pilo Fabric Shaver

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I have a Steamery Pilo Rechargeable Fabric Shaver and it is ideal because I can just plug it in when I am finished, then I know it is ready for use! It works great, you simply click the top button and its ready for shaving. The bottom of the shaver has a smooth steel surface and behind it sits the blades that shave the fabric.

It has a unique Scandinavian design because it looks so modern and sleek you can keep it out as a decorative piece if you want to. It is also available in 4 colors, blue, pink, black, and grey.

Furniture Pilling FAQs

Is Fabric Pilling Considered a Defect?

Not at all! As unsightly as pilling may be, there’s nothing to be ashamed of and there’s no need to complain to your furniture manufacturer.

You might see pilling with a new piece of furniture as the fabric is still shedding fibers that came loose during the manufacturing process. These pillings will diminish over time.

Also, because pilling is the result of frequent use, your older pieces of furniture might suddenly become afflicted. This doesn’t mean the fabric is falling apart irreparably. It’s simply a natural occurrence with no need for alarm. Simply shave the pills away!

Read Related: What is Slubbed Fabric?

Can You Prevent Pilling on a Couch?

One measure of pilling prevention is trying to limit the amount of rubbing and friction that the fabric is subjected to. If you have frequent spills, consider finding a gentle cleaning process that requires less scrubbing. Also, if you toss your cushion cover in the wash, turn it inside out first to keep the surface from coming in contact with other fabrics.

Does Scotchgard Prevent Pilling?

A coating of Scotchgard will slow the pilling process by protecting the fabric from friction. This certainly isn’t a cure-all, but it’s worth an occasional quick spray.

What Furniture Fabrics Pill the Most?

Synthetic fabrics (such as polyester, acrylic, nylon) retain “pills” more often because the fibers are so strong they hold on tight to anything that’s come loose.

Also, fabrics that are made with more than one type of fiber (such as polycotton) are more suspectable to pilling due to the weaker fibers breaking off and entangling with the stronger fibers.

What Furniture Fabrics Don’t Pill?

Unfortunately, pilling is bound to happen to any fabric, especially in well-used areas. Furthermore, it’s hard to predict which furniture fabrics will pill the least. Even high-quality fabrics will sprout little fuzz balls.

Natural fabrics are said to have fewer pilling issues, but this can be misleading because natural fabrics made with short fibers and lose weaving will pill up right away.

Some manufacturers will treat the fabric such that any loose fibers will adhere to the secure fibers. Also, some fabrics go through a singeing process that burns any loose fibers. While these pilling-prevention measures do limit the amount of pilling you’ll see, these are not 100% pill-proof.

Final Thoughts

Fabric pilling, especially on furniture, is often accepted as an unsightly problem without an easy solution. As it’s sometimes seen as a sign that the fabric is old or faulty. But with the right tools and the right knowledge, it’s one of the easiest things you can do to spruce up your furniture.