how to machine wash sweaters safely

It's easier than you might think to machine wash sweaters at home, and keep them looking like new and feeling soft in the process.

The key to washing sweaters safely can be summed up in the following 4 steps:

  • Read the sweater's care label and follow the laundering instructions if legible; (if not, the fiber-specific guide below can help);
  • Choose the right temperature for your sweater's fabric to keep it from losing color or its shape (but a temperature that can also get it clean);
  • Know whether to use color-safe bleach or not;
  • Give your dryer the day off.

The only caveat to the above is if your sweater label says "dry clean". If so, you can usually wash it safely at home unless it has beading, special trim, or any adornments (such as leather) that are not washable. If the label reads "dry clean only", however, this is a mandate you'll want to follow.

how to choose the right wash temperature for your sweater's fabric.

There are two temperatures to choose from when washing your sweaters: Cold water or warm water. (Hot water is likely cause the more loosely woven sweater fibers to pill, shrink or fade.)

Always choose the gentle wash cycle and a cool water rinse for your sweaters for best results. No delicate cycle on washing machine? Choose the shortest wash cycle possible instead.

If you're washing your sweater with other clothes, consider using a sweater wash bag to protect it from abrasion during the wash cycle.

water temperature by sweater fabric type.

Warm Water 

Cold Water

  • Acetate
  • Cotton
  • Hemp
  • Linen
  • Cashmere
  • Microfiber
  • Rayon
  • Silk
  • Spandex
  • Wool

to bleach or not to bleach?

Color-safe bleach can help your laundry detergent get your sweater clean in the shortest amount of time while preserving its color.

Some fabrics, such as acetate, cotton, and microfiber, will benefit from a detergent with color-safe bleach or with its addition.

Don't use it on cashmere, hemp, linen, rayon, silk, spandex or wool, however. Make sure your detergent doesn't contain the additive, either.

skip the dryer for most sweaters.

Even a short spin in the dryer will cause most sweater fibers to shrink or become damaged. (If that happens, these tips for unshrinking a sweater can help.) Instead, place a towel on a flat surface and lay out the sweater fully on top. Leave it to rest until fully dry.

pill patrol tips.

Fabric pilling can happen even when you've done the sweater washing and drying correctly.

This is because sweaters often shed small fibers that ball up and cling to them in the wash process.

You can remove these pills with an electric sweater lint shaver or by carefully trimming away with scissors.

To prevent future pilling, consider washing your sweaters inside out to limit abrasion on the "good" side of the fabric.

washing sweaters by fabric type.

To help simplify the sweater washing and drying process for you, this quick-guide to machine washing acrylic, angora, cashmere, chenille, cotton, silk and wool sweaters provides one-stop machine washing instructions. 

Acrylic Sweaters:

Wash acrylic sweaters as directed on the label (usually warm water). Then either lay the sweater flat to dry or tumble dry on low if the label says that's OK. 

Angora Sweaters:

Angora sweaters are a blend of rabbit hair and synthetic fibers. Angora is prone to shrinking, so this is one sweater you may want to consider dry cleaning.

However, even if the label says it can be washed, don't put your angora sweater in the washing machine. Instead, wash it by hand with a gentle laundry detergent and lay flat to dry.

Washing Cashmere Sweaters:

Cashmere is usually goat hair blended with wool or synthetic fibers. Go by the label instructions here, if you can read them.

Usually, you can wash a cashmere sweater on the delicate cycle in cold water. Roll in a towel to squeeze out excess water, reshape, and dry flat on a surface away from sunlight or direct heat.

Chenille Sweaters:

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, hand wash chenille sweaters inside out, and lay flat to dry.

Cotton Sweaters:

Usually, you can hand or machine wash cotton sweaters in cool water. Lay flat to dry. It may need ironing, however.

Silk Sweaters:

Some silk sweaters can be washed in the delicate cycle in cold water and flat dried. But they made need ironing afterward. Check the label to be sure it can safely be washed first.

Cleaning Wool Sweaters:

Some wool sweaters can be washed; others cannot. Check the label. In general, Shetland and Merino wools often can be washed in cold water on the most delicate cycle.

Does Merino wool shrink? The short answer is: Yes. Agitation can cause them to shrink. If you do put it in the washing machine, use the gentlest cycle and wash in cool water. Always lay flat to dry - wool sweaters placed in the dryer are guaranteed to shrink.

final tips for caring for sweaters:

  • Always turn sweaters inside out to reduce pilling. Wash in extra-large mesh bags. If hand washing, remove excess moisture by rollin the sweater in a towel.
  • 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.

Finally, 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.

› How to Safely Machine Wash Sweaters


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