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Untangling the How, What and Why of Textile Pills

image of colorful material fabric rolls - texture samples

March 6, 2018

Have you ever had small tufts of fiber form on your clothing? If you say yes, then you have experienced fabric pill, an old English verb meaning to peel or strip off. Pills appear on the surface of fabric when groups of short, broken fibers become tangled together in a tiny ball. Short fibers, such as cotton, are more likely to pill along with loosely woven knits while tighter twists will resist the typical wear and tear on fabric.

Pilling often leads to consumer dissatisfaction and the disposal of the textile product. Fuzz, the untangled fiber ends that protrude from the surface of yarn, is another common problem with some fabrics, is the untangled fiber ends that protrude from the surface of a thread. However, pilling and fuzzing are not a fabric defect but the result of abrasions typically caused by everyday activities. That said, while a little fabric pilling or fuzzing might be acceptable over time, many consumers find it unacceptable when it occurs on recent purchases.

As with tensile testing, UL’s Softline lab in Bentonville, Ark. tests fabrics for the likeliness to pill. There are three standard tests performed: the Martindale abrasion test, the Martindale pilling test and the Mace snag test.

Martindale Abrasion Test

Abrasion resistance is measured by subjecting the specimen to a rubbing motion against a known Standard Abradant Fabric in the form of a geometric figure eight pattern under known conditions of pressure and abrasive action for a specific number of movements. Resistance to abrasion is evaluated by two specific methods of observation:

Option 1 – The end point is reached on a woven fabric when two or more yarns have broken, or on a knitted fabric when a hole appears.

Option 2 – The endpoint is reached when there is a change in shade or appearance that is sufficient to cause a customer to complain.

Martindale Pilling Test

Pilling and other changes in the surface appearance, such as fuzzing that occurs in normal wear are simulated on a laboratory testing machine. Circular specimens are mounted on the Martindale Tester, and the face of the test specimen is rubbed against the face of the same mounted fabric in the form of a geometric figure eight pattern under light pressure for a specific number of movements. The degree of fabric pilling or surface appearance change produced by this action is evaluated by comparison of the tested specimen with visual standards. The observed resistance to pilling is reported on a rating scale ranging from 5 (no or insignificant pilling) to 1 (very severe pilling).

Related , Standing up to the wear and tear of daily events

Mace Snag Testing

The test consists of a tubular specimen that is placed on a rotating cylindrical drum. Then a mace (Spiked ball) bounces randomly against the rotating specimen for 600 rotations. Snags are produced to a degree affected by a variety of factors. The degree of fabric snagging is then evaluated by comparison of the tested specimens with visual standards. The observed resistance to snagging is reported on a scale ranging from 5 (no or insignificant snagging) to 1 (very severe snagging).

While there’s no such thing as a pill-free fabric, the testing of materials before product creation allows designers and manufacturers to know how the fabric holds up to typical abrasions.

Follow these tips to help minimize fabric pills:

  • Wash garments inside out to help prevent abrasions to the fabric from other clothes, zippers and buttons.
  • Maintain proper loads in the washing machine (i.e., do not overload the machine) to allow clothes to freely move through the wash cycle.
  • Choose a laundry detergent that contains the enzyme cellulase as it helps break down and removes cotton pills.
  • Wash with like items - delicate with delicate, heavier fabrics with similarly weighted items and so forth.