Q&A: Why do some cotton sheets pill?


A: Pilling occurs when fibres in the fabric break, tangle, and “ball up.” The shorter the fibres used in the fabric, the more likely the chance for breakage. The more brittle the fibre, the more breakage will occur. Cotton sheets may pill for a variety of reasons, however it is more common in lower quality fabrics, which use inferior cotton.

Generally, the longer the cotton fibre, and the tighter the twist of the yarn, the more stable the fabric will be and the less chance there will be for pilling. We use only long staple (long length) fibres at Au Lit Fine Linens. However, even the finest of fabrics can pill without proper care, handling, and laundering. Disregarding care instructions may cause fabric to wear and pill. For instance, using chlorine bleach and excessive fabric softener can weaken the fibres, and drying at high heat levels can cause fibres to break. 

As an individual sleeps, the act of tossing, turning, and moving against weakened fibres creates friction. Over time, this friction can cause these fibres to break (and then, to pill). This is why fitted sheets tend to pill more heavily at the foot of the bed, where the most abrasive and frequent movement occurs. 

The best way to prevent pilling is to follow the care instructions. For the care of your Au Lit linens, we recommend a short wash cycle with gentle detergent (like Sunlight). If possible, we recommend hanging to dry, but if you insist on using the dryer, use a low-heat setting during the drying cycle and remove the bedding while still slightly damp. Please take note that even the agitation of the washing machine or the tumbling of the dryer can cause breakage, so never overfill the washer or dryer to avoid additional friction during these cycles.  Also, avoid laundering your sheets with other items, such as towels, for the high nap on a towel may cause a breakdown of the cotton fibres. To be safe, launder sheets separately. 

It should be noted that Cotton Satin sheets must be washed in cold water for the first wash in order to set the fibres, because of the differences in construction, Percale weaves have less of a tendency to pill than Cotton Satin weaves. 

Information via Sferra Linens