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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To prevent future pilling, consider washing your sweaters inside out to limit abrasion on the "good" side of the fabric.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Usually, you can hand or machine wash cotton sweaters in cool water. Lay flat to dry. It may need ironing, however.
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.
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.
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.