How to Get Rid of Pilling on Upholstery

Chris Stevenson

Upholstery pilling is the result of groups of small or tattered fibers twisting together to form little knots. These knots, or "fuzz balls," gather in areas where the upholstery or fabric undergoes abrading or scuffing repeatedly by human contact. This happens primarily when people sit or scoot across the upholstery.

Since pilling occurs on any woven material with fibers and results from normal wear, it is common. You can use a variety of techniques and tools to prevent pilling and remove it permanently.


Before washing slipcovers, check the tags to ensure they are washable. Some slipcovers may shrink and not fit the upholstery after washing. Do not pull up pill snags to the point of unraveling the fabric material. Use small, sharp scissors to cut the pill loose near the base.

  1. Remove the upholstered slipcovers from your couch, love seat, ottoman or other upholstered furniture. Unzip them from the foam cushions, or unclasp the Velcro liners. Turn all covers inside out. Place them in the washing machine. Add a good quality fabric softener to the soap and water. Set the machine for a slower agitation speed and use a lower washing cycle time. Dry the slipcovers under normal settings, but remove them immediately after drying -- do not let them sit in the dryer.

  2. Turn the fabric right side out and stroke the upholstered fabric with a sweater stone, made of pumice. If the upholstery has a corduroy fabric style, run the sweater stone in line with the weave grain, using straight motions from one end of the upholstery area to the other. Pick the largest pieces from the stone, and rub over any persistent pills. Pick stray pills with your nails.

  3. Roll a lint tape brush over the pill area, using back and forth motions. Rub in straight lines and then continue along another line. Replace the tape roll when it loads up. Pull up on any persistent pills and snip them free with a pair of sharp manicuring scissors.

  4. Use a plastic depilling comb to shave the surface of the upholstery. Hold the comb at a slight angle over the fabric and push forward in a straight line. Lift up on the comb to detach pills when you hit them and then continue level across the fabric.

  5. Run an electric sweater shaver or a small beard trimmer over the upholstery material, for heavy pill accumulations. You must have sharp blades in the device and the batteries must be fresh to get the full cutting action. Pinch the upholstered fabric in your fingers and pull up to stretch it tautly. Run the shaver uphill toward the pill accumulations. If the shaver hits a hard snag, stop and let the cutting blades shear through the tangle before continuing.

  6. Wipe a pad of ordinary soap-free steel wool over the affected pill areas. The steel wool fibers will catch and snag the pills, pulling them up from the fabric.