The Right Way to Wash a Sweater

Never ruin a garment again!

Now that it’s sweater season, it’s time to learn how to properly wash your favorite fall clothing. Unfortunately, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” method for washing sweaters. Care differs depending on the material each sweater is made from.

Here, we break down how to correctly clean every type of sweater, and which you should never put in the washing machine. These methods will ensure your sweaters hold their shape and cozy texture for many falls to come.

Determining How to Wash Your Sweater

According to CNN, the four main methods are dry cleaning, machine washing, hand washing and spot treating. To determine which method is right for your sweater, check the label.

If the label says dry clean only, take that seriously. According to the Dependable Cleaners blog, “Dry cleaning solvent is lighter than water and much gentler on clothes.” Using water on these delicate sweaters can quickly ruin them. Likewise, if the label says to hand wash, don’t throw it in the machine.

If a sweater is made of cotton or washable wool, you can likely put it in the machine. However, if it has intricate embellishments like beading or sequins, or it’s made of a delicate material like cashmere, definitely hand wash it.

How to Machine Wash Sweaters

Woman putting white sweater clothes into the drum of a washing machine, front view.Damian Lugowski/Getty Images

Follow these steps Wayne Edelman, president of Meurice Garment Care, and Jacqueline Sava, founder of Soak Wash, gave to CNN:

  • Place the sweater in a mesh garment bag.
  • Separate your sweaters from heavy items like jeans and towels, or items with hardware like zippered jackets. These can cause friction or even tear the delicate sweater fibers.
  • Wash the sweater(s) on a short, delicate cycle with cold water. Opt for a delicates-specific detergent.
  • Never place sweaters in the dryer, lest they lose they shape. Instead, reshape the washed sweater by hand and lay it flat to air dry.

How to Hand Wash Sweaters

Follow the steps below:

  • Fill a basin with enough cool water to fully submerge the sweater.
  • Add a small amount of detergent to the basin. Edelman says you’ll know you’ve added enough detergent when there’s “a slippery feel to the water and some sudsing.” Adding too much detergent will require “excessive rinsing,” he says, which can damage a delicate sweater.
  • Turn the sweater inside-out and toss it into the basin. Agitate it with your hands so the water moves freely around and through every part of the sweater.
  • Let the sweater soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Then carefully remove it from the basin.
  • Dump out the soapy water and fill the basin with cool, fresh water. Swish the sweater in the clean water to rinse out the detergent.
  • Remove the sweater and gently squeeze it to remove the water. Never wring out or twist a sweater, which can distort its shape.
  • Dry the sweater by placing it flat on a towel, then rolling the towel and sweater together. Squeeze or step on the rolled bundle to push out excess water.
  • Lay the sweater flat to air dry the rest of the way.

When to Spot Treat Sweaters

Because sweaters are so delicate, it’s best to wash them as seldom as possible. If you get a stain on your sweater, consider spot-treating it instead of laundering to extend its lifespan.

Here’s how to spot treat a sweater:

  • Dampen a rag and pour a small amount of gentle detergent onto the sweater.
  • Blot the stain with the rag. Don’t vigorously scrub the stain. That can cause fiber damage or pilling.
  • Once the stain is gone, gently rinse the area by dabbing with a separate damp rag.