Few things are more soul-destroying than finding your favourite jumper covered in bobbles. Those tiny balls of knotted fabric can ruin the whole look of a garment. Particularly frustrating if you are trying to be environmentally minded and keep your clothes for longer.
What causes bobbles on clothes?
Those little bobbles (which some people call pilling or linting) are essentially damaged fibres that are pulled or torn from your clothes and then get caught back up in the fibres of your garments while tumbling through the washing machine or dryer.
Washing machines work using a process of abrasion. As they are spun around, your clothes rub against each other and essentially scrub each other clean. It is not dissimilar to the old washboards of laundries past.
It is natural for fibres to be pulled out of your clothes during this process. It is a frustrating but unavoidable side-effect of machine washing. Short of washing your clothes by hand, there is little that can be done to avoid this, although you can take steps to stop the bobbles from re-forming on the surface of your fabrics. We will learn more about that below (or click here to skip straight to it).
Which fabrics are the worst for bobbling?
Without doubt, man-made fibres are the worst culprits. This is because man-made fibres are usually plastic based. This all gets a bit scientific. We will keep it as simple as possible!
Things like polyester are very quick to build up a negative electrical charge when they are rubbed against each other. Because charged particles attract other particles of the opposite charge (opposites attract, remember), your synthetic fibres act like magnets for the debris floating around in your washing machine.
That is a simplified explanation of why those little lint balls end up re-attaching themselves to your clothes in the first place. But what makes them so difficult to remove is just entanglement. Once they have been attracted to the surface of your fabrics, they continue to be spun around in the washing machine where their fibres become entwined with those of your clothing. Hence the frustrating hard-to-remove bobbles that we all know and hate.
How can you stop clothes from bobbling in the wash?
Although it is nearly impossible to stop bobbling completely, there are a few steps you can take which will really make a difference.
Wash fabric types separately
This is not the most environmentally friendly approach. So you need to decide whether you think the extra energy and water wastage involved is offset by the fact your clothes will last longer.
Essentially, because natural fibres like wool and cotton are less susceptible to developing either a negative or positive charge (see above if you skipped it), they are less likely to emerge from the wash bobbled and pilled.
By washing them separately from synthetic fibres, you can reduce the number of loose fibres in the machine and, as a result, the amount of fibres available to cause those frustrating bobbles.
Use a gentle detergent (liquid, not powder)
There are already plenty of reasons why you might want to use a gentle, natural laundry detergent. As well as being better for the environment and potentially helping your clothes to last longer without fading, they could also reduce the effect of bobbling on your favourite cardigan.
An advantage of liquid detergent over powder is that powdered detergent can lead to lots of small gritty particles flying around in the machine and causing even more of the abrasion which causes the fibres to be town from clothing in the first place.
For a natural, gentle detergent that you can use without concern; try our Clothing Wash. We make it by hand in Norfolk using the very finest botanicals and essential oils.
Air dry your clothes (avoid the tumble dryer)
Tumble dryers have their place. They are fast and convenient. But they can also cause severe damage to your clothes.
The continued strain and abrasion of a drying spin cycle doesn’t just shrink clothes and pull them out of shape. It can also tear bobble-causing fibres out.
Instead, hang your clothes out on a line or clothes horse. It takes slightly longer but your clothing will thank you.
Wash your clothes by hand
One of our most popular articles is about hand washing clothes.
It is not something that everybody has time for and certainly is not essential to ensuring the longevity of your clothing. But if you do have a little bit more time available to you, it can help to almost completely eradicate the problems of bobbling and pilling on your clothes.
Wash your clothes inside out
Because you can’t completely stop your clothes from bobbling in the washing machine, you can do your best to minimise the visual impact.
By turning your clothes inside out, the bobbles will form on the inside, not the outside.
How can you get rid of bobbles and pilling from your clothes?
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, those annoying little bobbles will appear. Often, you don’t notice them until you are in a rush to get out of the door and your planned outfit is ruined!
Don’t worry, though. Bobbles and pilling are relatively easy to remove from your clothes if you know what you are doing.
Use a fabric shaver
Without doubt, the easiest (and fastest!) method is to use a fabric shaver or cashmere comb. These devices cut the bobbles off at their root, leaving fabric looking smooth and lint-free.
Use a razor blade
This is perhaps the most common technique that you will hear discussed. Taking a razor (either a disposable one or an old-fashioned naked blade) and gently running it along the surface of your fabric to remove the bobbles.
This is slower than the fabric shaver technique but it does work. Of course, it comes with the added danger of slicing either the clothing or yourself.
It is not a technique that we would particularly recommend, particularly with the ready availability of cashmere combs, but if you’re in a pinch and this is the only option available, it will likely get the job done.
Use a brush or lint roller
Brushing and lint rolling your clothes is a great way to remove all sorts of things. From pet hair to pilling. Although it might not be the most efficient solution to the latter.
Aside from the wastage caused by lint rolling (those sticky paper tear-offs aren’t usually recyclable), the bobbles on your clothes are often too well attached to be removed so easily.
A good clothes brush is a helpful investment. It will certainly help keep your garments looking their best. But it is unlikely to be the best tool for this particular job.