Fighting the fuzzballs- how to find your anti-pilling solution
High end textiles are supposed to last longer. People pay good money for them, and expect their clothes, furniture and upholstery to maintain their qualities, -and in case of garments-even after multiple washing rounds. Yet, even the brightest textile manufacturers of this world can’t seem to completely solve that one problem: pilling. Despite their efforts, those tiny knots keep on appearing on the surface of their creations, sabotaging the soft touch and classy look they were after. Time to fix it. In this article, we take a deep-dive into the pilling process and hand you a chemical-based solution.
What happens when textiles pill?
Pilling occurs when a piece of textile fibre scrapes against another fibre. The fibres of the fabric get intertwined, resulting in this typical accumulation of fibres known as “pills”, little fuzzballs that stick to the fabric. Pilling is different from abrasion, as in that case the fibres actually break, but it’s still considered an issue as it makes textiles look worn out.
Does it happen to every garment?
Despite of what many people think, pilling is not a low segment issue exclusively. It’s true that low fibre quality can cause textile pilling, especially when the articles have endured friction, for example through intensive use. Pilling happens when the used fibres are too short, as this means there are loose fibre ends that can “grab” other fibres. Pilling is also more likely to occur when blends of fibres are used, even if they’re high quality. This is especially the case when one fibre is significantly stronger than the other: pills tend to form when the weaker fibre wears and breaks, and the stronger fibre holds the pills onto the cloth. The problem can also be caused by mechanical action, for example in washing machines used by the end-consumer. This means that many factors can contribute to pilling; a scary thought.
What can you do?
What’s less scary, is the solution to pilling. Because when you know why textiles pill, you can take the right anti-pilling measures and be done with it. Investing in the highest possible quality of your fibres is a good start to minimise the pilling risk. At the same time, pilling is most likely to occur on loosely knitted fabrics where the fibres have a lot of room to interact, which has nothing to do with fibre quality. Second, even high-quality fibres can get damaged along the way. This is why we advise to always protect the fibres throughout the entire production process. During pre-treatment, for example, we recommend replacing aggressive preparation chemicals with gentler ones, so fibre damage is minimised. Second, carefully examine your dyeing process and find a way to shorten it. The longer the fibres are exposed to high temperatures and mechanical action, the more damage.
The final blow: chemical treatment
The suggestions mentioned above go a long way but are only a part of the anti-pilling solution. If you want to reduce the pilling effect to an absolute minimum, chemistry can help. If you chemically treat the fibres in a way that you decrease their freedom of movement, you already minimise the chance of pilling. Keeping the fibres in place even during friction will decrease the chance of them interlocking with other fibres. There’s one downside to this chemical solution, as this intervention does lead to compromised hand-feel and smoothness. You can (partly) solve this problem by adding a fabric softener.
Admittedly, anti-pilling is a compromise. If you decrease the freedom of movement of the fibres, they’ll lose their soft touch, but if you add a softener to fix that problem, you risk starting up the pilling process all over again. There’s a way to find the perfect balance though, which is taking your fabrics and auxiliaries to the lab to carefully test them. In the lab, you can determine the severity of the pilling on the fabric. The fabric then undergoes a standardised mechanical testing procedure. After this procedure, the fabric is assessed by a team of experts, which involves visual examination of the fabric surface. The higher the value according to this rating, the higher the quality and the lower the risk of pilling. It’s a visual test, yes, but it’s the golden standard among the pilling tests.
So there you have it! The story behind pilling, best ways to solve it and how to make sure you’re on the right anti-pilling track. Hungry for more? Read on about our performance solutions, like anti-pilling, our experts created in our lab.