Do Luxury Linens & Sheets Pill?

 Pilling can occur with all bed linens... 

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Luxury linens rarely pill when properly taken care of, however, they, as with all bed sheets can... Nonetheless, lower quality bed sheets are more prone to pilling.

The below (enlarged) image shows a high quality (left image) and a low-quality (right image) cotton sheet.

  • The image on the right, has little nubs and loose fibers, these all represent future pills.
  • The lower quality sheet has very inconsistent thread diameters. If it doesn’t already have pills, it will soon. This sheet will feel scratchy and rough.

Luxury linens vs. department store quality linens

Cotton weaving has improved quite a bit sense the days of the spinning wheel, but the technique is for the most part unchanged.

  • Loose cotton fibers are continuously twisted and spooled, creating a long thread or yarn.
  • The spooled yarn is then woven in a loom to make the flat woven textile.

Modern textile loom

There are many factors that affect a textile’s propensity to pill; here are a few of the more frequent causes.

Loose weave:

  • As noted above, if the fibers in the yarn are not twisted tightly they can fray; over time these loose fibers can knot up causing small balls or pills.
  • With better bed linens, and specifically with luxury linens, the individual cotton fiber length is longer and the weave is tighter.
    • Bed linens in general are not as prone to pilling as say a sweater, but lower-quality cotton yarns not twisted tightly are more prone to pilling than those made from high quality tightly twisted yarn.

The length of the fiber used in the construction of the yarn:

  • Consider; one inch of yarn made from cotton fibers that are 1/4” long vs. one inch of yarn using 2” cotton fibers. The yarn made from the short fiber cotton would have 8 times more fiber ends. Short staple cotton is between 3/8” to 15/16” (.95 cm to 2.4 cm) in length
    • Cotton is graded on several different attributes, just considering length, here are two basic classifications:
      • Medium staple cotton is between 1” to 1-1/8” (2.54 cm to 2.86 cm) in length
      • Long staple cotton is between 1-3/16” to 2-1/2” (3 cm to 6.35 cm) in length

The elasticity of the cotton:

  • Cotton fibers have different elasticity characteristics. Regardless, when any of them are exposed to high heat, they become brittle. After repeated exposure to high heat the delicate fibers eventually break, causing more fraying and pilling.
    • This is why bed linens should not be over dried or ironed on high heat.

Exposure to harsh chemicals:

  • Many detergents used to clean your bed linens can adversely affect their life and cause pilling.
    • Many of the brighteners found in popular laundry detergents contain bleach derivatives, which can harm the fibers of the cotton.
  • Mild detergents are a much better choice. There are some detergents that are specifically formulated for linens such as Le Blanc Linen Wash, Dreft or Ivory are milder detergents and are great detergents for bed sheets. 

Abrasion: 

  • Some people shave their body hair, after a couple of days’ stubble appears. This stubble is abrasive.
    • A 200-lb. man that sleeps on his back, tossing and turning on top of a fitted sheet each night, will cause the fibers to fray. 

All of the aforementioned factors can adversely affect any type of bed linen. 

Luxury bed linens do cost more than department store sheets, but many think they are worth the price.

Here is a video, explaining how to proper care for your luxury linens.

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