how to machine wash sweaters safely

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

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 sweater 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 on some fibers and leave them stiff, probably not the look you're going for.

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 on low heat if the label says that's OK. If you have to iron it, iron the sweater inside out on low heat. 
  • Angora:  Angora sweaters are a blend of rabbit hair and synthetic fibers. It's very prone to shrinking so this is one seater you should consider dry cleaning. If the label says it can be washed, don't put it in the machine. Instead, hand wash the sweater in a delicate fabric wash such as Woolite.
  • Cashmere: Cashmere is usually goat hair blended with wool or synthetic fibers. Usually, you can wash cashmere safely on the delicate cycle in cold water. Roll it in a towel to squeeze out excess water after washing, then reshape and dry flat, 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, hand wash your chenille sweater inside out and lay flat to dry.
  • Cotton: Hand or machine wash cotton sweaters in cool water. Lay flat to dry. These sweaters may need ironing.
  • Silk: Some silk sweaters can be washed in the delicate cycle in cold water and then laid flat to dry. They too may need ironing afterward.
  • Wool: Some wool sweaters can be washed; others cannot. So be sure to check the label before you wash. If you do put your wool sweater in the washing machine, choose the gentlest cycle, and wash in cool water. Lay flat to dry. Also, be aware that 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 sweater washing and drying correctly. This is because sweaters often shed small fibers that ball up and cling to the sweater's surface in the wash process.

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

To prevent pilling, wash your sweaters inside out to limit abrasion on the "good" side of the sweater fabric.

The Basics for Machine Washing Sweaters

  • Always turn sweaters inside out to reduce pilling. Machine wash sweaters in extra-large mesh laundry bags to protect them from abrasion. 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. Let your sweater finish the drying process lying flat on a rack.
  • Flat drying: Place the sweater flat on a towel, and reshape it as much as possible without stretching the sweater's fibers. Do not dry near heat or in direct sunlight. Check the sweater occasionally to make sure it's not shrinking as it dries. If it does, pull it back out to its original size. 
  • Storage: Never put away a sweater dirty as this makes it more attractive to pests. Also, some stains may set. Fold it to store; do not hang your sweaters if you'd like them to retain their shape.

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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