Myth Busting: Why We Don’t Use Anti-Pill Treatments On Our Fleece Fabrics

Let’s take a minute and get real: pilling fabric stinks. Like in a very major way. There is nothing worse than popping on your favorite fleece pullover, longing for your hands to move faster through the armholes, you manage to make it out the other side of the sleeve, your hands are fractions of seconds away from making contact with the softest material you swear mankind will ever create, just to be kicked in the knuckle by a series of hard as rocks, rough as walnut shells, pills. That’s right, your go-to pullover, your most favorite cuddly warm thing, is now riddled with pills. From under the armholes all the way to the bottom edge of the 1×1 ribbing. You’re furious. You’re devastated, Your knuckles are chapped from the abrasive micro-specs (well maybe not, but then again why not give this narrative extra “oomf”?). The entire reason you went with the this pullover, one that mind you is slightly too large for you and not even your favorite color, was because despite its flaws it offered one incredible attribute presented loud and proud on its sales tag: “anti-pilling” – that seemed worth pushing the sleeves up a little and going outside of your normal color palette comfort zone. But now here you stand, covered in obnoxious pills after a mere ten washes later. 

So what happened? Why did a company’s marketing efforts out and out lie to you? In their defense, they may have wholeheartedly believed in the magic powers of an anti-pill treatment on the garment they were representing. Most people do. Then consumers like us read the tag, one of the key features is that it is specially treated to prevent pills & BAM – sold. What we want to explore is not only the reality of anti-pill treatment of clothing, but the impact it has on our environment.

 

So What Is An Anti-Pill Treatment 

Put on your goggles. It’s time to get sciency. An anti-pill treatment is typically made up of a combination of chemicals that can vary depending on the specific product and manufacturer. However, some common chemicals used in anti-pill treatments include:

 

  1. Silicones: These are synthetic compounds that can be used to coat the surface of the fabric and prevent fibers from becoming entangled, which can cause pilling.
  2. Resins: These are synthetic polymers that can be used to bind fibers together and reduce the likelihood of pilling.
  3. Enzymes: Some anti-pill treatments may contain enzymes that can break down the loose fibers on the surface of the fabric and prevent them from forming into pills. (Learn more about enzymes and how they can be used to treat blood stains on certain fabrics in our blog: Surprisingly Simple! Learn How To Remove Blood Stains From Fabric Based On Fiber Type.)
  4. Chemical crosslinkers: These are compounds that can be used to chemically bond the fibers together and create a stronger fabric surface that is less prone to pilling.

It is worth noting that some anti-pill treatments may also contain other additives, such as surfactants, solvents, or preservatives, depending on the specific formulation. What does this all mean and how does it affect the garment itself,  you the wearer, as well as our entire world as a collective? The news, my friends, is not good. 

 

How Does An Anti-Pill Treatment Affect My Fabric?

Let’s start by taking a look at how these types of anti-pill finishes affect the actual material itself. Will they stave off the pilling process longer than those fabrics not treated? Possibly, most likely in most instances. The truth is that no matter what the substance used to treat the fabric, the fabric will, at some point in its life cycle – pill. Period. So really anti-pilling is a myth. It’s a marketing lie meant to give you a false sense of comfort and hope, reassured by the fact that your garment has been treated to make it stay looking new for the rest of time. This will never and has never been the case. So for a limited time of no pilling you sacrifice the following in the fabric/garment:

  1. Reduced softness: Anti-pill finishes often involve treatments that can make the fabric slightly stiffer, which can compromise the softness of the fleece fabric.
  2. Reduced breathability: Anti-pill finishes can also reduce the breathability of the fleece fabric by clogging the pores in the fabric, which can trap moisture and heat.
  3. Increased cost: Applying an anti-pill finish to fleece fabric can increase the cost of production, which can make the final product more expensive for consumers.
  4. Environmental concerns: Some anti-pill finishes may contain harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde, which can be harmful to the environment and may pose a health risk to those who come into contact with the fabric.
  5. Reduced durability: While anti-pill finishes can prevent pilling, they may also reduce the overall durability of the fabric by weakening the fibers over time.

Environmental Impact

Alright, you’re already wearing your science goggles – so let’s go deep. Let’s take a look at how each of the aforementioned surface treatment types affect our environment. Let’s start with Silicones. Here are the environmental drawbacks to using silicone finishes on fabrics. Get ready to have your world rocked.

 

  1. Persistence in the environment: Silicone-based compounds are not easily biodegradable and can persist in the environment for long periods of time. This can lead to accumulation in soil, water, and wildlife, potentially causing harm to ecosystems.
  2. Production and disposal: The production of silicone finishes requires significant amounts of energy and resources, which can contribute to carbon emissions and other environmental impacts. Additionally, the disposal of fabrics treated with silicone finishes can be challenging, as these finishes can resist breakdown in landfill conditions.
  3. Water pollution: Some silicone finishes may contain chemicals that can leach into waterways during the manufacturing process or after disposal, potentially contaminating aquatic ecosystems.
  4. Health concerns: While silicone finishes are generally considered safe for use on fabrics, some studies have suggested that exposure to certain types of silicone compounds may be linked to health risks, such as hormone disruption and developmental effects.

Suddenly a few pills on the elbows of your favorite pullover aren’t looking that bad. Just wait, there is so much more. Next let’s take a look at the environmental impact of using resins as surface treatments on fabric. With these the following drawbacks occur:

  1. Use of toxic chemicals: Some resin finishes contain toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde or phenols, that can be harmful to human health and the environment. These chemicals may be released during the manufacturing process or during the use and disposal of the finished product.
  2. Water pollution: Resin finishes may also contribute to water pollution, as some chemicals used in the finishing process can be released into waterways through wastewater or runoff. This can harm aquatic ecosystems and potentially contaminate drinking water sources.
  3. Energy and resource consumption: The production of resin finishes often requires significant amounts of energy and resources, contributing to carbon emissions and other environmental impacts.
  4. End-of-life disposal: Resin finishes can make fabrics more difficult to recycle, as they can interfere with the separation and processing of different materials. This can increase the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, where it can contribute to environmental harm.

So far, not so good. This is heavy stuff. We are talking about completely destroying Mother Earth and harming her living beings all to try and get a hoodie to look like new a few washes longer. Speaking of washes, notice how so far in each instance water pollution has been named. Keep that in mind, we will circle back around to that idea and how it affects you directly after we review the impact of the final two finishes. Next let’s catch our breath from the evils of toxic chemicals and take a look at enzymes. Now enzymes are not a bad thing, they are a type of protein molecule that acts as a biological catalyst, facilitating chemical reactions within living cells. Enzymes accelerate chemical reactions by lowering the activation energy needed to initiate the reaction, making it easier for the reactants to come together and form products.

Enzymes are highly specific, meaning that each enzyme catalyzes only a particular type of chemical reaction and interacts with a specific substrate, or reactant. Enzymes are also able to perform their catalytic function repeatedly, as they are not consumed in the reaction and can be used over and over again.

Enzymes play a critical role in many biological processes, including digestion, metabolism, and cellular signaling. They are essential for the proper functioning of the body and are involved in a wide range of physiological and biochemical reactions. Enzymes are also widely used in industrial applications, such as in the production of food, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals. Compared to the other surface treatments, enzymes are the least “evil” , though being more environmentally friendly does not mean that they are completely safe and without drawbacks. Here are some of the impacts from finishing fabrics with enzymes:

  1. Energy consumption: The use of enzymes in the finishing process requires energy to produce and apply, which can contribute to carbon emissions and other environmental impacts.
  2. Water pollution: Enzyme finishes may contribute to water pollution if the enzymes are not properly treated before being released into the environment. Some enzymes can cause harm to aquatic organisms and ecosystems if they are present in high concentrations.
  3. Biodegradability: While enzymes are biodegradable and do not persist in the environment, some of the other ingredients used in the finishing process may not be biodegradable or may be slow to break down. This can lead to the accumulation of waste and pollution in the environment.
  4. Resource depletion: Some enzymes used in textile finishing are derived from natural sources, such as plants or bacteria. The extraction and production of these enzymes can require significant amounts of resources, potentially contributing to environmental degradation and depletion.

Finally we have chemical crosslinkers, possibly one of the worst environmental offenders in the group in terms of toxicity. Take a look at the drawbacks of using this type of finish:

  1. Toxicity: Some chemical crosslinkers can be toxic to humans and the environment. These chemicals can cause harm if they are released into the environment during the production or disposal of treated fabrics.
  2. Resource consumption: The production and use of chemical crosslinkers require energy and resources, which can contribute to carbon emissions and other environmental impacts.
  3. Water pollution: Some chemical crosslinkers can leach into waterways during the manufacturing process or after disposal, potentially contaminating aquatic ecosystems.
  4. End-of-life disposal: Chemical crosslinkers can make fabrics more difficult to recycle, as they can interfere with the separation and processing of different materials. Just like with resin finishes, this can increase the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, where it can contribute to environmental harm.

There you have it. The long-term consequences of using anti-pilling treatments on fabrics can be significant for the environment. One of the primary concerns is the impact on ecosystems and wildlife. For example, as you can see, some anti-pilling treatments contain chemicals that can be toxic to aquatic life if they are not properly disposed of or if they enter waterways through runoff or other means.

In addition, many of these treatments are made from non-renewable resources such as petrochemicals (like the resins and silicones), which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The production and transportation of these materials 

can also require significant amounts of energy, further exacerbating their environmental impact. The total carbon footprint needs to be taken into consideration in this equation. 

Another issue is the potential for these treatments to accumulate in the environment over time. For example, some silicones and resins can take a long time to break down, and may persist in the environment for years or even decades. You read that correctly, DECADES. This can horribly impact  soil quality, water quality, and biodiversity. Which in turn impacts all of our collective quality of life in a negative way. 

But How Does It Affect Me?

Time to circle back around to how these finishes affect you directly. There are some concerns regarding their potential negative impact on other fabrics they come in contact with during the washing cycle. Here is a breakdown of some of the impact washing clothing that have an anti-pill treatment along with the rest of your clothing may have on you the wearer as well as you immediate environment:

  1. Chemical residues: As we have just gone over, some anti-pill treatments involve the use of chemicals that may not be fully removed during washing. These chemicals can potentially transfer to other fabrics in the wash, potentially causing irritation to sensitive skin or damaging the fibers of other garments.
  2. Microplastics and microfibers: Anti-pill treatments may involve the use of synthetic fibers or coatings, which can break down into microplastics and microfibers over time. When these fabrics are washed, these tiny particles can be released into the water, contaminating other fabrics and eventually making their way into the environment. This can contribute to the global issue of microplastic pollution.
  3. Abrasion and wear: While the anti-pill treatment can help reduce pilling on the treated fabric, it may increase the likelihood of abrasion or wear on other fabrics in the washing machine. The treated fabric may rub against other garments, causing them to wear down more quickly or develop pilling themselves.
  4. Reduced effectiveness of cleaning agents: The presence of chemicals or coatings from anti-pill treatments may interact with the detergent used in the washing process. This can potentially reduce the cleaning power of the detergent, leading to less effective cleaning of all the garments in the washing machine.

 

So Now What?

If anti-pilling treatments are the devil in a sundress, what can we do to prevent that favorite pullover we mentioned at the beginning of this blog from forming little rocky pills from elbow to edge? The answer is simple and it is two-fold (well, three-fold kind of but two go hand in hand). 

The first thing we can do is we can invest in the best quality fabric that is sustainably created and free of chemicals and toxins. We can then properly take care of that fabric when it is constructed into a garment and finally, we can have acceptance. Nothing is meant to last forever. Even the highest quality cotton fleece will pill over time. Embrace it and allow it to be a part of the life cycle of the fabric and garment. We know that is easy to say, but how is it done? Let’s dig a little deeper into this mind set and see what truths we can uncover. 

The durability of an anti-pilling treatment on a fleece fabric can depend on various factors, such as the quality of the treatment, the type of fleece fabric, and the frequency and intensity of washing. Generally, a good quality anti-pilling treatment can last for several washes, often ranging from 5-30 washes, before the fabric begins to show signs of pilling. However, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of the treatment can vary based on the individual fabric and the specific conditions of use and care. Regular washing and drying, as well as exposure to abrasive surfaces, can accelerate the pilling process, reducing the lifespan of the anti-pilling treatment.

How does this compare to fleece that has not been treated for anti-pilling in regard to the average number of washes it will withstand before showing signs of pilling? The number of washes it takes for an untreated fleece fabric to start showing signs of pilling can vary depending on the quality of the fabric, the type of washing machine used, the detergent used, and the frequency of washing. Generally, lower quality fleece fabrics can start to pill after just a few washes, while higher quality fabrics may take longer before showing signs of pilling. Additionally, washing fleece fabrics with abrasive items, such as denim or clothing with zippers, can accelerate the pilling process. In general, it is recommended to wash fleece fabrics less frequently and use gentle cycles with mild detergent to minimize pilling. 

The number of washes a high-quality 100% cotton fleece can withstand before showing signs of pilling can vary depending on the specific fabric and the care it receives. Generally, high-quality cotton fleece fabrics have longer fibers, which are less prone to pilling than shorter fibers. However, factors such as washing frequency, washing temperature, detergent type, and mechanical agitation during washing and drying can also affect the fabric’s durability.

In general, a well-made 100% cotton fleece fabric can withstand around 5-10 washes before showing any signs of pilling. However, with proper care and maintenance, including washing in cold water, using a gentle cycle, and avoiding abrasive fabrics or surfaces during washing and drying, the lifespan of the fabric can be extended.

Did you pick up on what that comparison just revealed? Pretty much it is saying that if you have a high quality fleece it will more than likely withstand nearly the exact number of washes to that of the anti-pill treated fleece before it starts pilling. This means that by buying into the belief that anti-pill treated fleece will give you a garment that stays looking new longer will result in all of the incredibly negative impacts of the treatment for literally nothing in return. We are harming ourselves and the environment for absolutely no reason. 

 

We Hear You! How Can I Prevent Pills Without Harming the Environment?

Now that you know the reality of anti-pill treatments you will probably be less likely to purchase fabrics treated with them, at least that is our hope. There is still the elephant in the room to address though – pilling, specifically on your fleece fabric. How can this be staved off as long as possible and the products made from your fleece be kept looking new? 

The biggest piece of the pilling puzzle to address in order to prevent your fabric from pilling for the longest amount of time possible is the laundering process. 

Here are some tips to help you avoid causing pilling on your fleece during the laundering process:

  1. Wash fleece separately: To avoid exposing your fleece to abrasive items, wash it separately from other clothing items, particularly those made from denim or other rough materials.
  2. Wash in cold water: Hot water can cause fibers to break down and weaken, making the fleece more susceptible to pilling. To minimize this, wash fleece in cold water.
  3. Use a gentle cycle: Choose a gentle cycle when washing fleece to avoid excessive mechanical agitation that can cause pilling.
  4. Use a mild detergent: Harsh detergents can strip away the natural oils in fleece, causing it to lose its softness and become more prone to pilling. Use a mild detergent designed for delicate fabrics instead.
  5. Avoid fabric softeners: Fabric softeners can also strip away the natural oils in fleece, causing it to become less soft and more prone to pilling. Instead, consider using a natural fabric softener such as vinegar or wool dryer balls.
  6. Dry flat: To avoid stretching or damaging the fibers in fleece, it’s best to air-dry it flat rather than using a dryer. If you do use a dryer, use a low heat setting and remove the fleece before it’s completely dry to prevent over-drying.

By following these tips, you can help to minimize the risk of pilling and prolong the lifespan of your fleece garments.

 

What Can I Do When The Pills Show Up?

We have made it clear that there is no magical solution to the pilling problem. As we stated earlier one of the key components to getting over the pill “hurdle” with your fleece fabric is acceptance. You must accept that at some point in your garments life-cycle it will start pilling. Acceptance is not defeat however and you do not have to live with pills on your garment and simply “be ok” with that. Here are some suggestions for the most effective and common de-pilling practices.

  1. Use a fabric shaver: A fabric shaver is a small handheld device that gently removes pills from the surface of the fabric. It works by using a spinning blade to shave off the pills without damaging the fabric. Fabric shavers are available at most fabric or home goods stores.
  2. Use a lint roller: A lint roller can be used to remove surface-level pills. Simply roll the lint roller over the surface of the fabric in one direction to pick up the pills.
  3. Use a fine-toothed comb: A fine-toothed comb can be used to remove pills by gently pulling them away from the surface of the fabric. Be sure to use a comb with small teeth to avoid damaging the fabric.
  4. Use a razor blade: A razor blade can be used to carefully shave off pills from the surface of the fabric. This method requires a steady hand and should be used with caution to avoid damaging the fabric.
  5. Hand wash: Hand washing fleece fabric can help to remove pills by gently rubbing the affected area with a mild detergent and cool water.

Regardless of the method chosen, it’s important to be gentle when treating pills on fleece fabric to avoid damaging the fabric. Additionally, treating pills may not completely restore the original appearance of the fabric, but it can help to prolong the life of the garment.

 

Wazoodle Fleece Fabrics

Here at Wazoodle Fabrics we have a variety of fleece fabric options, none of which have been treated with toxic chemicals or finishes. You will find recycled polyester, organic cotton, bamboo and proprietary polyester blend versions to choose from. 

By choosing eco-friendly fleece fabrics from Wazoodle, you the consumer are supporting a company that prioritizes ethical and sustainable practices in their sourcing, manufacturing, and distribution processes. Wazoodle Fabrics’ eco-friendly fleece fabrics offer advantages over anti-pill treated fabrics in terms of sustainability, reduced environmental impact, and natural resistance to pilling, while also providing enhanced comfort and breathability, and promoting ethical and sustainable business practices.

Now that you have the truth to bolster your decision to invest in the best fleece fabric available by purchasing our options, there really is only one final question – what will you make?

 

Questions? We Are Here to Help

Have questions about this blog or our fabrics? Feel free to reach out to us at support@wazoodle.com Our fabric experts are happy to guide you as you navigate your fabric journey. What you are doing matters and we are eager to help. Have a Zorb creation? Please share it on our Wall of Creations. We love to showcase all the amazing pieces our community of makers create.  

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Blog