How to wash sweaters

Sweater weather is approaching, and that means it’s almost time to dig all of your favourite cable knits, turtle necks, and cardigans out from the back of your closet. 

Lots of people struggle to know how to wash and launder their sweaters. The material, knit, and more will all play a role in determining how you should get them clean. Unfortunately, this often means sweaters that get warped or shrink in the washing process. Laundering a sweater properly helps preserve its quality and extend its lifespan. To save yourself from pulling a ball of shrivelled wool out of your laundry machine, follow some of our best tips:

Read the care label and get to know the material

Wool and cashmere are two popular materials for sweaters. And it’s generally accepted that these should only be hand washed…but that’s not actually always the case. Thanks to modern fabric innovation, machine-washable wool and cashmere are a thing. The care label will let you know whether or not you can put these items in the washer. Many sweaters are also made out of cotton or a combination of synthetic materials. Most of these are machine washable, but you should still look at the care label to double check. In terms of laundry products, you should avoid fabric softeners; this can break down the sweater fibres. 

Limit how often you wash 

You don’t need to wash your sweater every time you wear it. Wool has natural self-cleaning properties that allow it to resist odours and dirt. Wash them every 3-5 wears or when they become visibly dirty or start to smell. It’s more important to air them out between wears to maintain freshness. Cotton and synthetic sweaters can be washed more frequently than wool ones. Depending on how much you sweat and the level of dirt exposure, you can wash them after 1-3 wears.

Wash with care

Even if your sweater is machine washable, it doesn’t mean you should just toss them in without thinking. You should typically use cold water to wash your sweaters. This is more gentle than hot water, and it will help your sweaters to retain their shape. Turn sweaters inside out when washing to reduce pilling. It’s also important not to put sweaters in an overcrowded washing machine. This can cause excess friction and lead to things like pulls and runs in the fabric. If you have the time, occasionally hand washing sweaters can be beneficial. 

Avoid the dryer

While the washing machine is safe for plenty of sweaters, you should always avoid the dryer. Unless a synthetic sweater specifies it can go in the dryer, you’re tempting fate by throwing sweaters in. Instead, let your sweaters dry the good old fashioned way. If there is excess water before you begin the drying process, roll them out. Don’t wring them out. Wringing them can ruin the sweater’s shape. Then you should lay your sweaters flat to dry. If you want to speed up the drying process, you can lay your sweaters on top of towels. 

What if it’s too late?

If you have stumbled upon this article, there is a chance you have a sweater that the washer or dryer has already damaged. Don’t panic. Some sweaters can be repaired with crafty hacks. 

Fixing a snag in sweaters where you can see the knit is relatively easy. Gently stretch the fabric around the snag and use a blunt-ended needle or crochet hook to guide the snagged thread back into place on the backside of the sweater. When it looks good from the front, secure it with a discreet knot tied to neighbouring threads and trim any excess. If you want to make it extra secure, apply clear nail polish to prevent further unravelling.

Fixing a shrunken sweater is a bit more intimidating, but there are some techniques you can try. 

The first involves trying some hair products. First, soak the sweater in lukewarm water with a bit of hair conditioner or baby shampoo for about 30 minutes, gently massaging and stretching the fabric. Lay the damp sweater on a towel and reshape it by hand-stretching it back to its original size, then air dry. For wool sweaters, try stretching by pinning the sweater to a flat surface in the desired shape and letting it air dry.

Properly washing sweaters can help them last for years and years. While some sweaters require hand washing, more and more can be easily laundered at home. And don’t worry if you mess up! There are often ways to fix simple problems like shrinkage and runs. 

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