Bobbling, and linting are common terms for pilling. They refer to the little bits of fabric that stick to sheets, towels, socks and other items of clothing. Pilling is caused by damaged fibres that have separated from the rest of the fibres.
Natural fibres like cotton, linen, or wool may also be subject to pilling but the separated fibres don’t tend to stick like man made fibres do and so are commonly washed away. It’s possible that with mixed fabric loads, the bits from natural fibres can stick to the man made fibres such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon.
The cause of pilling is abrasion. The fibres simply get damaged by friction and abrasion through either wear and tear, or whilst being washed.
Dealing with pilling (or bobbling)
Bobbling can often be removed by brushing, cutting or picking bobbles from the fabric. Try using something sticky like Cellotape or one of those sticky rollers to remove surface pilling. I’ve also heard that some people have had success by brushing with a wet nailbrush although I’d be careful with that. Alternatively there are specifically designed lint shavers that you can buy.
Tips to avoid pilling (or bobbling) whilst washing
Avoiding the problem in the first place is by far the best policy. Wash laundry that’s likely to be affected inside out. Also try to buy better quality garments. The better the quality of the fibres the less pilling you are likely to get
Make sur eyou always use a fabric softener in the washer or dryer to lubricate the fibers. However, I’m not sure exactly how much this can help because fabric conditioner is not introduced until the very last rinse after the agitation and rubbing during washing has already taken place. It may help in allowing some of the pilling to come away from the laundered article by stopping it sticking so easily.
Another tip is for delicate items try using a washing net to protect the fabric from much of the friction (find wash nets for washing machines). You could also try spraying starch or fabric finish on collars and cuffs whilst ironing. Finally, don’t put your clothes in the dryer. Line dry and light iron if you need it.
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Miele honeycomb drum
This would be an expensive way of trying to prevent pilling but I mention it in case you are considering buying a washing machine and have the money to buy a Miele. Many Miele washing machines are fitted with Miele’s unique honeycomb drum, which has a sculptured surface instead of the normal punched holes. A thin film of water forms during washing which cushions the garments and reduces fibre breakage and pilling. Miele claim this drum is very much more gentle on laundry.
Related: If damage is happening to wool or silk garments check this article out – Biological washing machine detergents can damage woollens & silks (cause holes)