how to machine wash sweaters safely

It's easier than you might think to machine wash sweaters at home. 

Believe it or not, sweaters can survive the laundering process - and even come out looking good. You just have to know how to launder each type of fiber. 

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 the label 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 it is.

How to Machine Wash Sweaters by Fiber

Here's how to safely machine wash sweaters by fiber type:

The label on your sweater is your best guide to successfully cleaning it.
  • Acrylic:  Acrylics are manmade fibers that can stretch when subjected to heat. Wash as directed on the label (usually warm water). Then either lay the sweater flat to dry or tumble dry 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 but it in the machine. Instead, hand wash it in a delicate fabric wash such as Woolite.
  • Cashmere: Cashmere is usually goat hair blended with wool or synthetic fibers. 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, 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 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 cool water. Don't twist. Lay flat to dry. Also, all wools are not alike. Shetland and Merino wools can often be washed in cold water on the most delicate cycle. Agitation can cause them to shrink.

How to Machine Wash Sweaters to Keep Them From Pilling

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.

The Basics for Machine Washing 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.

  • 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.

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.

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