Written by AJ Durtschi

Pilling: Why Do Cotton Sheets Pill?

Why Do Cotton Sheets Pill


Pilling is an annoyance that can plague most types of cloth, mostly aged and low-quality cotton sheets, turning them into something much less desirable and very uncomfortable. By definition, a “pill” is a surface defect made up of a small ball of fibers. Though nearly all fibers can experience pilling, cloths such as silk and linen are less likely to pill than others.

The following are some of the causes of pilling and a few strategies to help you deal with and prevent it from happening to sheets.

What Causes Pilling?

Bed and Breakfast Bedroom

Cotton sheets and other types of delicate fabrics that go through long-term usage and repeated washings will experience frayed fiber endings. These can often become tangled, leading to tiny knots or pilling that can pick up lint, dust, and other ripped and tangled fibers.

Any fabrics made from shorter fibers, such as cotton, will experience a higher likelihood of pilling.

Cotton sheets from a mixture of blended fabric, such as cotton-polyester, are more likely to pill than 100% cotton sheets.

Pilling occurs with many types of fabrics.

There are several factors that contribute to pilling, such as:

  • Abrasion
  • Low-quality fabrics (e.g., low thread count)
  • Inferior or poor weaving
  • Exposure to high heat
  • Harsh detergents, bleach, or fabric softeners
  • Poor drying methods or drying too long

Pilling is the result of loose fiber ends becoming twisted up, which results in little knots.

How Can You Prevent Pilling?

How To Remove Pilling

There are a few options available for you to prevent your sheets from pilling. Though you should consider doing this with all of your sheets and linens, washing sheets with a short wash cycle and gentle liquid detergent can help prevent pilling while extending the life of cotton sheets and other delicate fibers.

Another option to prevent pilling is to invest in sheets that will not pill, such as Egyptian, Pima, and Supine Cotton. These cotton sheets are made from long, high-quality fibers that won't be easily tangled or knotted. While these higher quality cotton fabrics can be costly, the trade-off is having comfortable, attractive, and long-lasting sheets that won't pill.

Many people assume it's the material of the sheets, but it's also the thread count as well. The higher the thread count on your sheets, the less likely that your sheets will pill.

Generally, sheets with higher thread count are more expensive because they are longer and tightly woven to minimize friction and movement. They also have a much longer economic life than lower thread count sheets. When there is an increased amount of friction placed on your sheets, this will often increase the pilling on your sheets.

How To Avoid Pilling

Pilling - Quality Bed Sheets

You can take practical steps to ensure a consistent experience with quality sheets and avoid sheets that show pilling.

  • Use better quality sheets. Yes, they will cost more, but it will be worth it in durability and time of use.
  • Avoid sheets claiming to be 1,000 thread count 100% Egyptian cotton that sells for under $125. It would be best if you assumed this is false advertising.
  • An excellent set of quality bed sheets will likely cost between $300 to $1,300. Of course, quantity purchases can affect pricing.
  • Make sure sheets are made from long and extra-long-staple cotton, which are exceptional grades.
  • Thread count is somewhat of a secondary consideration went it comes to bed sheets. It is more about the grade of cotton than thread count. As mentioned previously, look for long or extra-long-staple cotton. To better understand thread count check out this article.
  • Look at the country of origin. Italian bed sheets are the best overall. European bed sheets are generally the highest quality.