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How to sweater wash safely at home

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. 

Sweaters can survive the laundering and come out looking good. You just have to know how to sweater wash by fabric type. 

Here's how to wash a sweater yourself.

Read the Fabric Care Label Before You Sweater Wash

Sweaters an be machine-washable, hand-wash only or dry clean only. 

First of all - just because dry cleaning is expensive does not mean 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.

Your first act before washing a sweater: Read the label. Then follow the instructions very, very carefully. If the label says "Dry Clean Only," dry clean it. (However, if it says "Dry Clean," you may be able to hand wash it.) 

To hand-wash, gently swish the sweater around in the wash. Do not rub or wring. Rinse thoroughly, then roll the sweater in a towel and press gently to remove excess moisture. 

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.

Harder, tighter yarns are more durable than soft, loose ones, which tend to stretch easily. 

Here are general laundering guidelines to ensure your sweater wash is a successful one, in case your sweater's fabric care label is no longer legible.

Washing Sweaters by Fabric Type

When in doubt about water temperature, choose a cold water wash. Use a laundry detergent formulated for delicates. 

Soft sweaters and hand-wash only sweater may lose their shape during washing. To be prepared to restore them to their original size, trace the outline of the sweater onto a piece of brown or craft paper before cleaning. 

Use it as a pattern to block the sweater to its original size and shape. 

  • Acrylic sweaters: 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 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 sweaters: Angora sweaters are a blend of rabbit hair and synthetic fibers. It's very prone to shrinking, so this is one fiber you should consider dry cleaning. If the label says it can be washed, don't put it in the machine. Instead, hand wash in gentle laundry detergent and lay flat to dry.
  • How to wash cashmere sweaters: Cashmere is usually goat hair blended with wool or synthetic fibers. Often, you can wash cashmere on the delicate cycle in cold water. Roll in a towel to squeeze out excess water, reshape and flat dry away from sunlight or direct heat.
sweater washIf you want chenille sweaters to stay soft, don't put them in the washing machine - even if the label says it's OK.
  • 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's agitation can damage the fibers and make them snag or feel rough. Instead, hand wash 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.
  • Silk sweaters:  Some silk sweaters can be washed in the delicate cycle in cold water and flat dried. But they may need ironing afterward.
  • Wool sweaters: 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, 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.

Washing and Drying Tips for Sweater Success

Hand-wash only sweaters should be dried flat. Machine-washable sweaters can sometimes be dried in the dryer on low heat. Check the care label to be sure. 

  • Always turn sweaters inside out to reduce pilling. (Those little fuzzy balls or bits of fluff that show up on the surface are called "pills," and are the result of fiber agitation in the washing machine, which can cause them to break).
(If this happens, you can remove the pills with an electric sweater lint shaver.)
  • Wash sweaters 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. 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. This makes it more attractive to pests. Also, some stains may set. Once a sweater is clean, fold to store it - don't hang. Hanging causes most sweaters to stretch out of shape.
  • To make sweaters last longer, air them out at least 24 hours after wearing. Fold and store out of direct light.

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