Q: Why do some cotton sheets pill?
A: Pilling occurs when fibers in the fabric break, tangle, and “ball up.” The shorter the fibers used in the fabric, the more likely the chance for breakage. The more brittle the fiber, the more breakage will occur. Cotton sheets may pill for a variety of reasons.
Generally, the longer the cotton fiber, and the tighter the twist of the yarn, the more stable the fabric will be and the less chance there will be for pilling. Long staple (long length) fibers reduces pilling. However, even the finest of fabrics can pill without proper care, handling, and laundering. Disregarding care instructions may cause fabric to wear and pill. For instance, using chlorine bleach and excessive fabric softener can weaken the fibers, and drying at high heat levels can cause fibers to break.
As an individual sleeps, the act of tossing, turning, and moving against weakened fibers creates friction. Over time, this friction can cause these fibers to break (and then, to pill). This is why fitted sheets tend to pill more heavily at the foot of the bed, where the most abrasive and frequent movement occurs.
The best way to prevent pilling is to follow the care instructions. For the care of fine linens, we recommend a short wash cycle with gentle detergent. Then, use a low-heat setting during the drying cycle and remove the bedding while still slightly damp. Please take note that even the agitation of the washing machine or the tumbling of the dryer can cause breakage, so never overfill the washer or dryer to avoid additional friction during these cycles. Also, avoid laundering your sheets with other items, such as towels, for the high nap on a towel may cause a breakdown of the cotton fibers. To be safe, launder sheets separately.
It should be noted that, because of the differences in construction, Percale weaves have less of a tendency to pill than Sateen weaves. So, if in doubt, go with a Percale weave.