You’re putting the finishing touches on a killer outfit and are about to pull on your socks when you see them: little bumps working their way up the ankle of your fine hosiery. Bummer! Why did this happen? Can you fix it? How can you prevent it in the first place?
Wool socks, like any other piece of fine knitwear, are subject to pilling. What, exactly, is this? Pilling is, essentially, a clump created by fabric fibers rubbing together against not only other fabrics, but also against your skin. It can be exacerbated not only by body heat but through mechanized tumble drying. Through repetition- dress socks rubbing against a wool trouser leg when you walk, or through tumble drying, threads ‘stick’ together, creating what amounts to a tiny lint ball.
It's important to note pilling isn’t necessarily indicative of superior or inferior quality. Indeed, many mass-market and fast fashion brands finish their garments with certain chemical compounds to limit pilling. Counter productively, this process may compromise the piece’s longevity.
In short, yes. While you can’t ‘unpill’ socks that have pilled (put the fibers back where they came from), you can de-pill a sock much the way you can a fine cashmere sweater. Here are a few strategies.
This can be done with or without a partner to help. If you’ve got some help, have them gently stretch the sock taut on a flat surface. Then, use a (previously unused…but you knew that!) disposable razor blade to work gently, in a single direction, down the ribs of the sock.
If you don’t have a partner to hold for you, place the toe end under a heavy object (books work great here) and then stretch gently. Repeat the process exactly as you would otherwise.
You can use an electric de-pilling tool on your socks just the same way you would on knitwear. The process for securing your sock is the same as the razor blade method. If you’ve got a partner, have them hold it. If not, use a book. Start in an inconspicuous area, either at the top of the sock where it would be covered by a pant leg or at the bottom where a shoe would cover it. Set to a fine setting and work your way, gently, down the rib of the sock.
One of the best ways to take care of pilled socks is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Here are a few tips and tricks to mitigate your risk.
First, use a laundry bag! Boardroom’s sock laundry bags keep your high-quality socks in one place. This mitigates the amount of rubbing that can happen in the washing machine. Simply turn them inside out and wash accordingly.
Using a garment bag not only stops you from losing your socks, but it can encourage smaller loads of laundry. Less laundry in the machine= less fabric rubbing and less pilling.
Another option is to avoid the dryer entirely. As a natural product, wool and long-staple cotton socks will air-dry perfectly well and, in my experience, faster than some of my fluffy polyester boot socks. Simply wash your socks in the garment bag, take them out, and hang-dry them on a rack. If you’re working in smaller loads, of course, this is much easier.
In short, a sock is just like any other knitwear. Pilling is not indicative of quality, but you can prevent it by washing in smaller loads, keeping your socks together in a garment bag so they don’t rub up against other articles of clothing, and avoiding the dryer when you can. But, if you must machine-dry, tumble dry on low heat.
If your socks do pill, gently using a single-use disposable razor or an electric de-piller will work just fine. For more tips, be sure to read our article on how to wash wool socks.
Cover photo credit: Hiking Geek
Our editorial staff is comprised of menswear experts dedicated to providing you with helpful information. Sharing everything from style tips to sock care instructions, these gentlemen are a wealth of knowledge for both our customers and the Boardroom Socks team.
by Editorial Staff December 07, 2023
by Editorial Staff December 01, 2023