Fabric pilling is the formation of small, fuzzy balls on the surface of a fabric. It detracts from the appearance of the fabric, making it look old and worn, and it is often difficult to restore a garment with fabric pilling to its original condition. Certain types of fibers and weaves are more prone to fabric pilling than others, but it is often a normal part of wear and tear.
Short or loose fibers on the surface of a fabric tend to tangle together, leading to fabric pilling. Fuzzier fabrics, like angora, are particularly prone to fabric pilling, since they are characterized by plentiful loose fibers. In other textiles, fabric pilling occurs either due to the natural tendency of fibers to migrate to the surface of a woven fabric or as a result of friction on the fabric surface, which loosens fibers and tangles them. This friction may be a result of wear and tear, or of improper laundering techniques. Fabric pilling is more likely to occur in areas of the clothing that experience more friction, such as under the arms and on the sides of a sweater.
To avoid fabric pilling, choose smooth, sturdy, closely woven fabrics. Poor quality cotton is more likely to experience fabric pilling than high thread count cotton, for example. Some fabrics, like denim or spandex, are particularly resistant to fabric pilling.
In some fabrics, such as cotton, pills can fall off on their own, sometimes so soon after formation that they are hardly noticed. Other fabrics, however, have strong "anchor" fibers that keep the pills on the fabric surface. The only way to deal with fabric pilling once the pills are formed is to somehow remove them.
Fabric pilling can be prevented to some extent by proper clothes washing and care. Wash your garments inside out on a shorter wash cycle with gentle agitation and remove them from the dryer promptly. To remove fabric pills, stretch the fabric over a curved surface and carefully cut or shave off the pills.