How to remove lint balls from sweaters and prevent pilling

Cosima Haas

Lint, fluff or pilling on clothing - there are many names for these annoying fibre nodules. What do they have in common? Hardly anyone is happy about the sudden discovery on their own clothes (especially on their favourite jumper). Effective tips for removing them are particularly important when you have to be quick in the morning. SANVT reveals helpful tips on how to get your clothes lint-free in just a few simple steps.

What is the difference between lint and pilling?

Most people are familiar with the term 'lint'. It refers to fibres that have come loose from the yarns of textiles and usually hang loosely on the garment. But what exactly is 'pilling'? While lint can usually be removed quickly with your fingers, pilling is felted fluff or fibre nodules that form on the surface of the clothing fabric. They are often still caught in the fabric and are more difficult to remove.

How do pillings form? 

Pilling of the fibres is caused by the mechanical rubbing of the fibres. This can be caused by wearing the fabric yourself or can also happen in the washing machine. Short-fibre fabrics and textiles made of wool, knitwear or fleece are particularly susceptible to pilling.

Tips for removing lint balls & pilling from sweaters

Wool-blend sweater from SANVT - 100% recycled, GRS-certified materials.

Since you can't avoid washing your clothes and it generally might just happen with time, it's impossible to avoid lint and pilling on your sweater. So every now and then you have to be prepared to make your sweater lint-free again yourself. This is not only more sustainable, but also reduces the cost per wear per garment. Find out more about how to determine the relevance of your clothes with this calculation method yourself here.

If you are already totally stressed by the idea of (spontaneously) removing lint balls, we can calm you. With the following tips, lint, fluff etc. can be removed in just a few simple steps and your clothes will look like new again.

Practical & inexpensive: the lint roller

As already explained, lint is less stubborn than pilling. They can therefore even be removed individually by hand, but it can be done much quicker: with a lint roller. These are available for little money in drugstores or supermarkets and their sticky surface removes unwanted fluff, lint, dust and hair in just a few seconds. Whether in mini format for travelling, homemade from adhesive tape or in a conventional form from the discounter - probably the best-known method for removing lint from sweaters should be found in every household.

Alternative to the lint roller: clothes brushes

If you want to avoid plastic and waste, you can also invest in a textile/clothes brush. If you opt for a brush with a wooden handle and natural bristles, this is not only more sustainable, but also gentler on your sweater. The clothes brush effectively removes (animal) hair, fluff and lint and also gets into deeper fabric structures thanks to the bristle structure. The unwanted textile (by-products) can then be removed and disposed of afterwards. If the brush is cleaned regularly, this handy household item will last for years.

Making sweaters lint-free with a disposable razor

If the lint on the sweater is heavily felted and pills have already formed, disposable razors can help. But be careful! Particular care must be taken here to avoid damaging the clothing. You should also make sure that you only ever use a razor with a new, fresh blade when using this method. To do this, drag the razor carefully and slowly from top to bottom over the sweater. It is best to always work in individual pieces of a few centimetres at a time and lift the razor again and again to remove the lint from the razor.

Electric lint shaver against stubborn pilling

When manual removal is no longer sufficient, tougher weapons have to be deployed: electric lint shavers. Most devices have built-in, rotating blades that efficiently and quickly cut off pills and all other protruding fibres. The electric lint shaver is one of the most effective methods of removing annoying pills from sweaters and virtually all fabrics and items of clothing. However, care must always be taken when using it.

Removing lint with the tumble dryer

Use a tumble dryer with a lint filter to get rid of the annoying pilling without any work on your part. A quick run through the tumble dryer can already work wonders. We recommend a low temperature to prevent the sweater from shrinking.

Prevention is better than cure: preventing lint from sweaters

The prevention of lint, pilling and the like starts with the right clothing care. There are therefore a few tips that can help to minimise the formation of fibre pills on sweaters:

  • Wash sweaters inside out. In most cases, pilling is caused by mechanical rubbing of the fibres. Turning the sweater inside out protects the surface of the outside.
  • Low spin speed. A high spin speed can not only put a strain on the fibres, but also on your energy bill. So set a low spin speed to protect the fibres and the environment. Knitted or woollen sweaters should ideally not be spun at all and should only be left to air dry flat.
  • Low temperature. In most cases, a lower temperature of 30-40° or cold is sufficient to clean your garments. If you are unsure, always check the garment's care label first.
  • Use a gentle washing detergent. While chemical fabric softeners can sometimes cause fibres to stick together, you should use a normal, mild all-purpose or wool detergent when caring for your sweater, depending on the fabric.
  • Watch out for metal zips. Velcro and zips can not only open fibres, but also damage textiles in general. We recommend placing the relevant items of clothing in a laundry bag when washing with other clothing to protect the clothing.
  • Use laundry bags. These little helpers are not only useful for zips, but can also be used when washing lint-attracting materials such as fleece or synthetics to reduce static electricity and therefore lint formation.

High quality clothing needs extra care. You can find more tips on clothing care, removing stains and repairing clothes in our carefully compiled Care Guide.

Protect clothing from lint: Conclusion

Whether it's a lint roller, clothes brush or razor - there are many ways to remove lint, pilling and fluff from sweaters and clothing in general. Even if most of the tips provide a quick remedy, it is important to always treat your clothing carefully to not damage it further.

To prevent lint from forming in the first place, we recommend paying just as much (if not more) attention to clothing care. The environment and your clothes will thank you for it.

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