All Things Fabric Pilling: Causes, Prevention, & Treatment of Fabric Pilling
March 22, 2021
Imagine you have just bought a brand new sofa! The cushions are subtle, the silhouette is crisp, and the fabric is soft to the touch.
After only a couple of months of enjoying your new sofa, you start to notice some fuzzy-looking balls come to the surface of an otherwise pristine piece of furniture. The fuzzballs resemble something you would see on a worn-out pair of sweatpants or a raggy old t-shirt.
Immediately you start to panic; it was quite the investment after all! How could your brand new sofa be wearing out already?
These fuzzballs that you may be familiar with are formally known as fabric pilling.
As a reputable retailer of comfortable, quality, and stylish upholstery products for over 90 years, our clients at La-Z-Boy often have questions about fabric pilling on their upholstery furniture.
In fact, although this issue is universal among upholstery furniture, fabric pilling is listed as one of the Top 7 Problems with La-Z-Boy Furniture.
Given customers have identified it as a top concern, there are many misconceptions about the causes and treatment of pilling fabric.
This article will debunk fabric pilling by answering all of your questions and explaining the proper way to treat pilling fabric.
Common Questions About Fabric Pilling
What is Fabric Pilling?
Technically speaking, fabric pilling is defined as loose strands or balls of fiber that form on the face of a piece of fabric. Essentially, excess fibers within the fabric have risen to the surface.
Pilling can occur in any type of fabric including upholstery, clothing, and rugs.
Does this look familiar?
What Causes Fabric Pilling?
The cause of fabric pilling can be explained by understanding how the fabric is made.
Years ago, before the age of fuzzy blankets and velvety sofas, the fabric tweeds produced in mills were harsh and rough. I don’t know about you, but I would not be pleased to lay my head on a sand-paper-pillow.
Eventually, fabric makers came up with a solution for this issue by changing the weaving process. They began adding an excess of very fine hairs or microfibres within the weave of the fabric. This had an immense impact on softness and overall comfort.
The loose additive fibers within the fabric have a natural tendency to move towards the surface of a piece of fabric when subject to rubbing and friction. The friction causes the excess fibers to twist together into small balls but is still secured to the material. These balls are what we recognize as pilling.
This friction is caused by the normal use of furniture. When you take a seat on your sofa or lay back into your recliner, you are bound to rub against the surface.
How to Prevent Fabric Pilling?
With an understanding of the cause of pilling, it is clear that there is no way to prevent fabric pilling. Although, purchasing a leather product is a way to ensure that pilling does not occur.
So don’t kick yourself for the cozy nap you took earlier or blame the kids for their wrestling matches. The fabric pilling found on your furniture could not have been avoided!
Whether you enjoy your sofa daily or only once a month, the excess fibers within the fabric will eventually find their way to the surface.
Does Fabric Pilling Indicate Poor Quality?
It is important to note that fabric pilling is NOT a fabric defect or fault, nor does it indicate poor quality.
Fabric pilling can be compared to the shedding experienced when purchasing a new sweater or a new carpet. A newly installed carpet or a new fluffy sweater is constantly shedding loose fibers over the first few months of use. This is completely normal and will reduce once the excess fibers are gone.
Moreover, pilling does not indicate that your fabric is wearing away or disintegrating. Pilling is a normal occurrence caused by regular use of the product but does not affect the overall durability or functionality of the fabric.
With this, it is important to be able to recognize the difference between fabric pilling and the wearing of the fabric.
If your fabric is wearing or disintegrating, this can be detected as loose fibers shedding off in the form of strands. Further, disintegrating fabric is noticeable when the fabric begins to appear translucent and eventually forms into a hole in the fabric.
What are the Worst Fabrics for Pilling?
It is extremely difficult to determine if a fabric is going to pill prior to the occurrence. In fact, you can never know 100% if a fabric will pill or not until you start using it.
Given that all fabrics have the tendency to pill to a certain extent, the possibility of it happening should not be the main concern when choosing upholstery fabric.
With this being said, there are some fabrics that are less likely to pill than others. Smooth, tightly woven fabrics and fabrics made from tightly twisted yarns are less likely to pill because the fibers are held tightly in the cloth.
Alternatively, fabric that is made from more than one type of fiber will produce pilling that is more noticeable. The weaker of the two fibers will eventually wear and break, ultimately rising to the surface while the stronger fibers stay intact.
Miriam Reniva is our experienced Service Department Supervisor at La-Z-Boy Cyrville. In her years of involvement, Miriam has noticed that pilling is most commonly reported in patterned and chenille fabric.
Is Fabric Pilling Covered by Warranty?
Given that fabric pilling is not a defect nor an indication of poor quality, pilling is not covered by La-Z-Boy’s manufacturer’s warranty.
Fabric pilling is entirely treatable by a simple process that will cease pilling from occurring on your furniture altogether if repeated a few times.
How to Treat Fabric Pilling: Tips from an Expert
With all of this important information about fabric pilling under your belt, the most important takeaway from this article will be how to treat fabric pilling.
John is a senior technician at La-Z-Boy Ottawa & Kingston has shared some expert tips on how you can successfully treat pilling yourself!
First, John emphasizes the importance of differentiating pilling from wearing. A simple difference to keep in mind is that older furniture may wear while newer furniture may pill. If your fabric is wearing, this treatment will not work but you may consider fabric reupholstery instead.
If fabric pilling is what we are dealing with, the next step will be to purchase a proper fabric shaving machine. There are many options available in the market but John recommends purchasing a high-quality machine that is at least 3-4 inches wide. The larger and superior the machine, the more effective your treatment will be.
A common and affordable option, approved by John himself, is the Conair Extreme Fabric Defuzzer. You can find this at retailers such as Walmart and Canadian Tire for about $24.
With the machine in hand, begin to approach your piece of furniture in the area of pilling. Use the machine to shave the pilling in a gentle circular motion. John mentions that you should not apply too much pressure to the fabric. Do so one area at a time and pass your hand over the treated surface to feel the fabric return to its original smoothness.
After the first treatment, do not be alarmed if the fabric pilling reoccurs. It typically takes 3 to 4 treatments for all the excess fibres to be released, and with this, the pilling will never occur again.
So there you have it, fabric pilling is nothing to be afraid of!
Pilling is not only common but expected in upholstery products. And better yet, it is 100% treatable.
Don’t let the fear of pilling deter you from buying that new comfy sofa you’ve had your eye on!
If you are interested in purchasing new furniture, at La-Z-Boy we have a large selection of upholstery products that are comfortable and quality-crafted. This includes chairs, recliners, sofas, loveseats, sectionals, and more.
Everything at La-Z-Boy is customizable with a choice of over 800 different leather and fabric options. The choices really are limitless.
Visit us at a local Ottawa or Kingston showroom to begin the shopping process with one of our expert consultants.