Your favorite sweaters have been worn a few times and need a date with the washing machine. But you hold back, not wanting to lose that new look and feel.
First of all — just because dry cleaning is expensive does not mean that it's the best care for all sweaters. The dry cleaning chemicals can build up in some fibers and leave them stiff.
Your first act: Read the label. Then follow the instructions very, very carefully. If it says, "Dry Clean Only," dry clean it. (However, if it says "Dry Clean," you may be able to wash it.) And if the label says, "Wash in cool water," don't wash it in cold water. There is a difference.
Sweaters are a little harder to care for than most garments. They can shrink; they can stretch; they can pill. And the softer the sweater, the more delicate it is.
Here are some general laundering guidelines.
- Acrylic: Acrylics are manmade fibers that can stretch when subjected to heat. Wash as directed on the label (usually in warm water). Then either lay the sweater flat to dry or tumble dry on low if the label says that's OK. If you have to iron it, iron it inside out on low heat and be careful not to stretch it.
- Angora: Angora sweaters are a blend of rabbit hair and synthetic fibers. It's very prone to shrinking so this is one you should consider dry cleaning. If the label says it can be washed, don't put it in the machine. Instead hand-wash it with a gentle product such as Woolite, Seventh Generation natural baby liquid laundry detergent or Dreft laundry detergent, and lay it flat to dry.
- Cashmere: Cashmere is usually goat hair blended with wool or synthetic fibers. Again, go by the label instructions. Usually, you can wash cashmere on the delicate cycle in cold water. Roll in a towel to squeeze out excess water, reshape and flat dry away from sunlight or direct heat.
- Chenille: If you want chenille sweaters to stay soft, don't put them in the washing machine — even if the label says it's OK. The rubbing caused by the machine agitation can damage the fibers and make them snag or feel rough. Instead, wash inside out by hand and lay flat to dry.
- Cotton: Usually, you can hand or machine wash cotton sweaters in cool water. Lay flat to dry. It may need ironing.
- Silk: Some silk sweaters can be washed in the delicate cycle in cold water and flat dried. But they may need ironing afterward.
- Wool: Some wool sweat ers can be washed; others cannot. Check the label. If you do put in the washing machine, use the gentlest cycle and wash in cool water. Don't twist. Lay flat to dry. Also, not all wools are alike. Shetland and Merino wools often can be washed in cold water on the most delicate cycle. Agitation can cause them to shrink.
Tips for Laundering
- Washing: Always turn sweaters inside out to reduce pilling. Wash in extra-large mesh bags. If hand washing, remove excess moisture by rolling the sweater in a towel.
- Machine drying: If you do put your sweater in the dryer, dry on low heat and remove it when it's almost dry and let it finish drying flat on a rack.
- Flat drying: Place the sweater on a rack and reshape it as much as possible. Do not dry near heat or in direct sunlight. Check it occasionally to make sure it's not shrinking as it dries. If it does, pull it back out to its original size. (Mark the outline on your rack with tape.)
- Storage: Never put away a sweater dirty as this makes it more attractive to pests. Also some stains may set. Fold to store; do not hang.
To make your sweaters last longer, air them out at least 24 hours after you wear them (and before you wear them again). Then fold and store out of direct sunlight.