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how to machine wash sweaters

Santa was good this year and brought you a bunch of new, fuzzy, warm sweaters.

By now, they've 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.

A caveat: 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 on some fibers and leave them stiff. 

Probably not the look you're going for. Not to worry - you can machine wash sweaters safely with these guidelines. 

Read the Care Label 

Your first act: Read the sweater care 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.)

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. 

Here are some general laundering guidelines for sweater success.

  • 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 heat 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 in a delicate fabric wash such as Woolite and lay 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 it in a towel to squeeze out excess water after washing, 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 cold water. Lay flat to dry. It may need ironing. If so, iron while damp.
  • Silk: Some silk sweaters can be washed in the delicate cycle in cold water and flat dried. But it may need ironing afterward. If so, use a cool iron setting.
  • Wool: Some wool sweaters can be washed; others cannot. Check the label. If you do put it in the washing machine, use the gentlest cycle and wash in cold 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

Laundering Tips

Washing:  Always turn sweaters inside out to reduce pilling. Wash in extra-large mesh bags. If handwashing, 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 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 a tape.) Then follow these guidelines for unshrinking a sweater

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.

How to Machine Wash Sweaters and Prevent Pills 

Sweater pills are the result of small fibers shed in the wash process that ball up and cling to the sweater's surface.

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

To prevent pilling, wash sweaters inside out to limit abrasion on the "good" side of the sweater fabric. If hand-washing, remove excess moisture by rolling the sweater in a towel.

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 wash, fold, and store out of direct sunlight.

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› How to Machine Wash Sweaters