How to Stop a Sweater From Shedding

When you wear your favorite sweater, do you shed as much as your pet?. Peter Titmuss/Shutterstock

Now that the cold weather is here, it’s time for cozy sweaters. But with that warmth and fluff often comes shedding and pilling. Your nice snuggly sweater either leaves behind a trail of hair like your dog or starts to collect a pile of nubs in spots.

No one likes that pilling, shedding look and you can’t just replace a sweater once it starts to look a little worn. Here are some tips for fixing those irksome issues and keeping sweaters looking like new.

Stopping pilling and shedding

Wash gently. Washing can help whisk away loose hairs, but be sure to read the label and follow care instructions. In most cases, you're safe to wash by hand in tepid water with a very gentle detergent. Let your sweater soak in the mixture for about 20 minutes, but don't knead, as that can change its shape. Plus, the less movement, the less chance for pilling. Rinse with cool water then gently roll the sweater in a towel to absorb most of the water. Shape the sweater into its original shape and dry it on a clean towel or mesh drying rack.

Stop rubbing. The main cause of pilling is abrasion, points out REI, so the main thing you can do to stop it is to avoid rubbing. Try not to carry a backpack or purse in the same spot if you're trying to protect your sweater and avoid wearing something on top of your sweater that will also cause friction.

Freeze it. Fold up your sweater and place it in a zip-top freezer bag. Freeze it 3 or 4 hours then take it out and give it a good shake. The belief is that this freeze-and-shake method will cause all loose hairs to fall out all at once instead of just gradually as you wear it, says WikiHow. You have to do this each time you wear it so some people suggest just storing shedding sweaters in the freezer. (How you will find room in your freezer is another matter.)

Turn it inside out. When you wash your sweaters or even when you store them, make sure to turn them inside out. Pilling is most likely to happen when a sweater rubs up against something else. By turning it inside out, according to Good Housekeeping, it has less of an opportunity to develop pills either in your closet or in the washing machine.

Removing pills

Woman using pill shaver to shave fabric pilling on a sweater
A sweater shaver zips over the surface, slicing off all the pills. Africa Studio

It can be tempting to just pick off pills by hand as you find them on your sweater. But the problem with tugging pills is that you can do more damage, pulling the fibers out even more. Here are some safer suggestions.

Small scissors — Remove pill one at a time, using a small pair of scissors or a razor blade, suggests MarthaStewart.com. Don't cut too close to the surface of the fabric or you risk cutting a hole in the sweater.

Sweater shaver or comb — These devices run over the surface of a sweater, nipping those pills as they go. Shavers are typically battery-operated, while combs are manual. They come in various sizes. Blades in the shaver dice up the pills and dump them into a compartment. Be sure to empty it often if you have a lot of fuzz.

Pumice stone — Gently rub a pumice stone over any area of your sweater that's starting to pill, suggests WikiHow. The rough stone — often used for pedicures — will snag the balled fibers. But don't rub too hard. When you feel the sweater pulling away from the stone, remove the pills. You may need to also use a scissors if the pills are snagged and don't come off easily.

Velcro — Don't have a pumice stone? Hello Glow says Velcro does the same thing. Again, be careful you don't pull too hard.

Shaving razor — Take a shaving razor and gently run it over the surface of your sweater, suggests One Good Thing. Make sure the razor blade is new and preferably doesn't have moisture strips. It works the same way as a sweater shaver. You may want to follow up with a lint brush to pick up all the fuzzballs that will be left behind.

The next time you shop

sweater label
Check out the label before you buy because blends are more likely to pill. hiphoto/Shutterstock

If you're frustrated with your sweater collection, here are some suggestions for the next time you shop.

Choose tightly woven fabrics. The looser the weave on a fabric, the more likely it is to pill, Good Housekeeping points out. For example, tightly woven nylon will be less likely to develop pills than fuzzy fabrics like fleece, wool and flannel, says REI. For shedding, just take a look at the sweater. If hairs are already poking through and falling off when you first touch the garment, well, you know what to expect when you wear it.

Avoid blends. Check the label before you buy. Fabrics made of several fibers are more likely to pill. Those that are a combination of natural and synthetic fibers are particularly susceptible, according to Good Housekeeping. It's especially a good idea to skip fabrics that are a mix of three or more fibers.