Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Laundry Tips - How to Prevent Pilling of Flannel Fabrics

Ahhh….flannel, so soft to the touch, perfect for newborn babies’ skin. Brushed flannels (like we sell at BobbleRoos) have a raised fiber surface that makes the fabrics so soft to the touch. However after washing several times, sometimes the fibers get mashed down or worse yet, begin to “pill”. Pilling, the little raised balls that create a lumpy surface, can be common with cotton, especially flannel fabrics and any other raised fiber fabrics (fleece, knits, etc). So how can I preserve my soft flannel blankets and sheets? We have several tips to help you out.

First, let’s look at the some common factors that can contribute to flannel pilling:

Pilling Problem - Friction
Friction can be from physical rubbing (think of the underarms of a flannel shirt or fleece sweater), or it can be caused during a vigorous wash cycle. When washing flannel fabrics, make sure you use a gentle cycle as the agitation of the wash is much slower than regular wash cycles, reducing the amount of friction on the fabric. You can turn our playard sheets and toddler pillow cases inside out to also help reduce friction on the outer surface.

Pilling Problem – Hot Water!
Another common cause of flannel pilling is improperly washing the fabric. Since flannel is commonly used for bedding items - sheets and blankets - many people wash these items in hot water because of dust mites, etc. However flannel items should be washed in cool or warm water – never use hot water!

Solution – Cold Water and Vinegar!
Yes, vinegar – just standard plain old fashioned white vinegar. We recommend trying ½ cup white vinegar added to the rinse cycle to help reduce pilling. If your machine has a dispenser for rinse cycle softener, use this compartment for the vinegar instead of a rinse cycle softener. You can also use one of the balls that you toss into the machine that releases the rinse cycle softener (in this case, vinegar) into the wash. Another great recommendation – when an item is new, for the first wash, use just cold water and vinegar to “set” the fabric as a preventative measure.

Bonus! An extra bonus of vinegar is that it can also keep any bright colors from bleeding. Another bonus - if an item has already started to form pills, try washing the item without detergent – just cold water and ½ cup vinegar and this may help restore the fabric to the original softness.

Vinegar? Thumbs up - I love when we can recommend a cheap and natural solution!

Commercial Rinse Cycle Softeners and Dryer Sheets – Yeah or Nay?
Some sources recommend using a commercial rinse cycle softener, however in a study done at the University of Nebraska, researchers found that when washing cotton flannel fabrics, rinse cycle softeners (liquid fabric softeners) resulted in an increase of fabric pilling as well as increased fabric breakage or weakening. Using dryer sheets did not seem to affect the pilling. Researchers also found that using laundry detergents containing the Cellulase Enzymes significantly reduces the pilling common with cotton fabrics. So “Nay” to the rinse cycle softeners, okay to dryer sheets if you like them.

So, for best results when washing our flannel products and other cotton items, wash on gentle, using cold water and 1/2 cup white vinegar for the initial wash. For future washings, continue to use cold water and a gentle detergent (preferably one containing Cellulase Enzymes*), plus ½ cup white vinegar during the rinse cycle, but avoid the use of commercial liquid or rinse cycle fabric softeners. These tips should help keep all of your cotton items (especially flannel fabrics) looking and feeling great for years to come.

*We've contacted several major detergent manufacturers to find out which brands contain Cellulase Enzymes. We do not recommend one brand over the other. We will update this list as more become available:

  • Most Tide powder varieties (HE and regular)
  • Tide TOTALCARE varieties
  • Ultra Tide Varieties (including HE) and Ultra Tide Free powder
  • Ivory Snow liquid and powder
  • Cheer brightCLEAN liquid varieties (but not powders)
  • Dreft HE Ultra Liquid
  • Dreft 2x Ultra Liquid

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