+ Tips and Tricks

Tips and Tricks: A Fix for Pilly Sweaters

Sweater pilling is a scourge upon humanity.  Every day, I walk the marble halls and see women and men with small granules of cloth covering their clothing. Not only does pilling make a sweater look old, it makes it look poorly cared for, like unshined shoes or unhemmed pants. 

Some bloggers will tell you that you need to buy a sweater shaver or a sweater stone to remove the pilling.  But this simply isn’t the case.

If your sweaters are looking a little pilly, all you need to fix them is an inexpensive safety razor.  Simply pull the fabric taught and glide the razor across the surface.  Just like when you shave your legs, make sure to keep the razor tilted at an upward angle.

This tip can be used on pilly sweaters or wool skirts and pants that have seen better days.  So don’t spend $5 or $10 on a specialty tool, just grab your old razor out of the shower and get to work.  Problem solved.



  1. DB says:

    I was meaning to send in an Ask Belle about this. Does it matter how many blades the razor has? For some strange reason I feel like more blades might actually make sweater-shaving more difficult…

    January 24, 2012/Reply
  2. Anita says:

    FWIW I use the cheap free razors (with just two blades) from the locker room at my gym and they work pretty well.

    January 24, 2012/Reply
  3. Belle says:

    I use the Soleil razors, and I think they have two blades, maybe? Either way, I would save the four and five blade razors for my legs.

    January 24, 2012/Reply
  4. Katie says:

    Is there any way to stop sweaters from pilling? I hand wash all of my sweaters and they still end up pilling

    January 24, 2012/Reply
  5. Katie says:

    …and a quick Google search says pilling is inevitable. I don't know why, but it bothers me that I have to shave my sweater :

    January 24, 2012/Reply
  6. norwegianette says:

    When you use a razor, be careful around the seams, because even when you pull the fabric taut that part tends to pop up a little and you cut a couple of crucial threads and create a hole if you're not careful ­čÖé

    January 24, 2012/Reply
  7. MM says:

    A piece of fine grit sandpaper works well too (just rub it over the surface of the sweater), if you happen to have that around.

    January 24, 2012/Reply
  8. LT says:

    This is only vaguely tangentially related — but here goes:

    When a sweater has reached the end of its life and no amount of pill-shaving will bring it back to life, do you immediately send it to the goodwill pile? I've been seeing a lot of “purge your closet – start fresh!” posts in the new year, and this question always comes up — what do you do with the items that are “every wardrobe MUST haves” (say, a black cardigan) that are shabby and ready to be replaced? Do you purge the immediately (and risk not having that 'basic') or keep it until you replace it (and look/feel less than your best everytime you wear it)?

    January 24, 2012/Reply
  9. Maharani says:

    Pilling is primarily a yarn quality issue-if the yarn is made from longer (more expensive) fibers, it wont pill.. Thus, better quality woolens rarely pill the way US knitwear does. Being English, I know this from experience. I no longer buy knitwear here in the US-buy it in the UK or online from woolen mills. It IS expensive but in my opinion worth the price. I have one pullover I knitted in the mid 80s and wear/wash regularly and it has no pills, and another my mother knitted me (alpaca)-which is also pill free. THis is a topic were I think more info would be of interest to readers. When I was growing up in the UK nobody shaved sweaters and I dont ever recall seeing the wholesale pilling you see today. But then we made /bought sweaters of the highest quality “pure new wool” as it was advertised…..

    January 25, 2012/Reply
  10. Maharani says:

    If anybody is interested in high quality classic knitwear that wont pill, check out House of Bruar. They ship to the US and you can order in the US for delivery to the UK. Their shapes are classic with a country life in mind, but their knits work for urban lifestyles too. My niece has a cream merino cardi I sent her-she is 19 and not yet into fine clothing maintenance (alas) -but it goes in the washer and is pill free after 3 years. The cardi goes with everything so it gets a lot of wear, besides which winters in the UK are very cold. One might say the same of summer…..

    January 25, 2012/Reply
  11. Marie-Christine says:

    I second Maharani, and I'd add that the fundamental problem of pilling is acrylic. Many 'sweaters' pill before they're even out of the store. If you want the real look, you have to buy the real thing, which means wool. And yes, from a spinner's point of view, longer fibers pill less. But it's not that firm a rule, good cashmere won't pill but is very short-stapled.

    January 25, 2012/Reply
  12. Maharani says:

    I agree-good quality cashmere wont pill either. I have a cashmere sweater dress made by Pringle that I bought (on sale) for 5GBP in 1977 or 78 (at the St. Andrews woolen mill) that I wear every winter, that does not have a single pill. After 35 years! I worry more about MOTH. I just tried the dress on again tonight with different belts, opaque tights and boots and it looks so modern. It is slightly above the knee, cream cashmere, with a fine pale grey horizontal stripe, V neck, 3/4 length wide sleeves. Ive worn it over skirts, pants, and on its own and it is so classic it still looks good. And I am 56!! One of the best buys I ever made. Cashmere of this quality looks good for a lifetime. It is pricey, but in my opinion, worth every penny you pay for it.

    January 26, 2012/Reply