How to Prevent Pilling on Flannel Sheets

There are a few things as comforting as slipping between super soft, comfy flannel sheets on a cold winter night.

But not all flannel is created equal. The problem with flannel and other raised fiber fabrics like fleece and knits is the heartbreak of “pills” — those little raised balls that develop, creating a lumpy surface.

The solution to the pilling problem with flannel sheets is twofold: Opt for high-quality flannel, and take steps to prevent pilling.


Quality flannel is not cheap. You could spend the outrageous price of $400 or more for a set of high-quality flannel sheets with a luxury brand name, or you could opt for what I’ve determined to be the Best Inexpensive flannel sheets: JCPenney Home Solid Flannel Sheet Set. These flannel sheets are nicely manufactured, have excellent quality and are resistant to pilling, and they routinely go on sale at the end of the season!

Flannel sheets are not measured by thread count but rather by the weight of the material. Look for flannel sheets that are rated at least 155 gsm (grams per square meter, which is the metric measurement of fabric weight).


There are three main enemies that can lead to the pilling of even the highest-quality flannel:

1. Friction. The physical rubbing of the flannel fabric against itself during a vigorous wash cycle is the main culprit that causes pilling of flannel sheets. Low-quality flannel will pill almost immediately, while higher-quality goods will do so over time. To prevent this, when washing flannel, make sure to turn the pillowcases inside out and opt for a gentle cycle. The agitation will be much slower, reducing the amount of friction on the fabric.

2. Hot water. Flannel should be washed in cool to warm water, never hot water, which opens the fibers to pilling.

3. Liquid fabric softener. You may think adding a liquid fabric softener to the rinse cycle will result in softer flannel sheets, but just the opposite is true. Liquid fabric softener increases the likelihood of a pilling effect because it breaks down and weakens the fibers. Instead, add 1/2 cup white vinegar to the final rinse (simply pour it into the liquid softener reservoir). This helps to fully rinse away all detergent. When any detergent is allowed to remain in sheets, towels and other laundry items, those items can come out of the dryer feeling stiff and scratchy.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/ . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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