How to Handle Pilling on Knit Socks

Knit socks are my favorite things to make, and I love snuggling up in them at the end of a long day or bundling up when it’s particularly chilly out. Unfortunately, because of how we use socks, they are sometimes more prone to pilling than other knits are. That’s why I figured this guide to handling pilling on knit socks might be helpful.


There are three main causes of pilling on knit socks, and usually they work together in concert. Pilling on your knits can be a result of fiber content, yarn construction, and/or friction. Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.

Fiber Content

Sometimes, a yarn will pill more easily because it is made of a fiber that has a shorter staple length. Certain kinds of cottons and animal fibers will be more likely to pill because the fibers are short. Longer fibers can wrap around each other in the spinning process, which will prevent them from popping out of the yarn later on and forming pills.

Yarn Construction

The more tightly spun the yarn, the less likely it is to pill, as a general rule. Most single-ply yarns are not well suited to making socks, even if they have a little bit of nylon mixed in because, even though the nylon does add some durability, the construction of the yarn is really loose. If you want a really durable yarn, you should look for a yarn with multiple plies in it that has been spun tightly. Two-ply is very common for sock yarn, but I love a nice, plump, three-ply or four-ply yarn when I can get one.


With the exception of the underarm on a sweater, I can’t think of a knit item that gets more friction than a pair of socks. Knit socks are usually worn inside shoes. Whether your shoes fit snugly or loosely, they are going to be rubbing against your socks, especially at the balls of your feet and the heels. Even if you don’t wear your socks with shoes, you’re still going to be rubbing your feet against the floor as you walk. So how do you remove pilling?

Using a Lint Shaver

Option one is to use a lint shaver, and that’s what I’ve used to de-pill the socks in this post. But lint shavers have a couple drawbacks. First, they’re noisy, because they have a tiny motor. Second, they operate by whirling three little blades very fast, like a helicopter. Although those blades are behind a screen that theoretically shields your knits, some people have caught their knits in a shaver and made holes.

Using a Sweater Comb

Option two is to use a sweater comb (affiliate link). Sweater combs are a classic option that use just a rough texture and the power of your own hand swiping it across the knit item. The shape is a little underwhelming in the hand, though. If you’re sensitive to textures or ridges or other tactile inputs, that’s worth thinking about.

Curious to learn more about knitting or to dig deeper into preventing and removing pilling? Click on through for tutorials, free patterns, technique tips, and more.

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