I'm a Hand Washing Convert or How To Hand Wash Wool Sweaters


I've fallen in love with my wool sweaters all over again. I've saved a little cash, made my sweaters softer, and prolonged their wear and tear. In this tutorial, I'll give you the pros and cons of hand washing wool, cashmere and wool blend sweaters, a few tricks on repairing holes, the cost benefits of hand washing, and how to store them until next season. 

I dread taking my clothing to the dry cleaners. The chemicals, the cost, the bringing-of-clothes-outside-of-the-house-montage. When I found out I could hand wash my sweaters without ruining them I signed myself up! 

I've had to say goodbye to too many sweaters after shrinking them in the wash. Thinking, the gentle cycle is gentle enough, it won't shrink this cashmere sweater! Alas, when I pull it out and it's two sizes too small my heart sinks. Or the times I've washed a delicate cycle load, and someone (I won't name names) graciously, unknowingly places my delicates in the dryer. 

Or the time you take your sweater out of the closet, at the first sign of a chilled nose, only to find it's been munched on by hungry moths? But you couldn't bare to let them go...

Ever pick up the softest sweater in the store, only to find out it's dry clean only? Your heart breaks as you put the sweater back on the rack.

Pick that sweater back up! Shrunk sweaters no more! No more moth eaten, hole-y sweaters! Maybe even too many sweaters? ('Cause you can now buy all the wool sweaters in the world?) Oh, dear...

I'm going to show you how to hand wash your sweaters. With a little time and elbow grease, you'll be wishing you had known about hand washing all along. 

A note about the supplies I use. I use The Laundress brand* laundry soap and supplies. I stumbled upon the brand about a year ago looking for gentle, eco friendly detergent. I like the smell of these products, the suds-iness, it's gentle on my hands (I am hand washing after all), and the cost (for the amount I've used, they last quite a while). By all means, use what you have on hand. Though I would recommend buying detergent that is specifically for wool garments. Another added benefit of The Laundress' wool and cashmere soap is its scent: it's meant to repel moths. 

*P.S. I am not affiliated with The Laundress and have not been paid to write this post. 

Pros + Cons of Hand Washing:

Pros

  • Will add life and vitality to garments.
  • Your sweaters will be oh-so-soft.
  • Money saving.
  • In general, washing your sweaters once a season will do. However, if you sweat a lot, I'd recommend washing your sweaters a few times a season, or after a few wears. You may wish to use a spray that repels moths (see wool + cashmere spray** in tools + materials list) in between wears as well.

Cons

  • Hand washing takes time and patience.
  • The following will add time constraints:
    • de-pilling
    • repairing holes
    • removing stains
  • You may buy too many sweaters because you will rest knowing it will not shrink. 

What You'll Need

Tools + Materials

  • Wool + cashmere shampoo (The Laundress brand), or a gentle soap for washing wool
  • Sweater comb (I've used this one)
  • Wash and stain bar (I've used this one)
  • Sink/basin/plastic tub
  • Lots of towels
  • Access to water
  • Access to a dryer (NOT for drying the sweaters!!)
  • Drying rack
  • ** Wool + cashmere spray (see here) - for refreshing between wearing and washing

Other optional tools:

The essential hand washing tools: sweater comb, wool and cashmere shampoo, + stain bar. 

Some Tips: 

  • Wash like colored sweaters together. They will most likely bleed.
  • Larger towels are handier to use.
  • One towel will soak up water from approximately 1 sweater.
  • Place wet towels in the dryer between uses (since they aren't really dirty)
  • The sooner you fix holes and stains, the quicker and easier it will be to hand wash your garments in one go. 

Before You Begin Washing:

Repair Holes

My method for repairing holes is a little, shall we say, blasé. It's a required taste. They don't go unnoticed. You know there was once a hole there. If you want to find ways to repair holes, there are many. I suggest you find tutorials elsewhere, like below. 

   

 (Left) Martha Stewart. (Right) Honestly WTF. Click on pictures for links.

Here are a couple pictures of my before/after hand sewing. I wish I had looked up prettier ways to repair holes before I went all willy-nilly on my sweaters. Oh, well. 

   

(Left) Before hand repairing a hole. (Right) After repairing a hole.  

Remove Pilling

Pilling on sweaters is due to wearing, not washing. Removing pills will create a smoother feel and enhance the look of your sweater. If your sweater has pills, remove them with a sweater shaver, comb, or stone. 

Gently pull the garment taught and glide the comb over the sweater. 

Once you're happy with how you're sweater is looking, check for stains.  

Pretreat Stains

Wet a stain bar with water. Rub the bar into stains on the outside of the garment. Turn the garment inside out and rub the bar into high scent areas. i.e. armpits, wrists, and collars (perfume attracts bugs),  and anywhere else moths or other critters may be attracted to scent-wise. Target any other stains that have appeared, seemingly out of no where ;) 

How to Hand Wash Your Sweaters

Prepare the Washing Station

Fill the water basin with cool water. Squirt detergent into running water to create some suds. Use about one squirt of detergent for every garment. On The Laundress detergent bottle, it recommends 2 cap-fulls. I found a squirt to be enough. Use your own judgement here.

I like to wash 2-3 sweaters at a time, grouped together by color. Red garments bleed particularly. You could wash more or less, depending on how much room you have to dry the garments. 

Fully submerge the garments in the soapy water. They may stick out of the water a little bit. This is okay. You're doing great. :)

Let Soak for 30 Minutes

You may want to swish the garments around 1 or 2 times during this time. You can also leave them for the duration. Either way, the garments will get clean.

Rinse

Drain the water basin. Rinse the garments with cool running water until the water runs clear. You can also drain and fill the water basin a few times until the water is no longer sudsy. Be sure to focus on areas you used the stain bar on to completely remove the soap. 

In a water basin, swish and swirl the sweater in cool water to remove excess soap. Dump and replace the water a few times until the water is relatively clear.

Remove Excess Water

Squeeze, don't wring excess water from the garment. The important thing here is that it's not dripping wet. 

Towel Squeeze Dry

Fold towel in half or enough to accommodate garment on a flat surface. Lay garment on towel and smooth out any wrinkles. Gently reshape the garment to its original size.

Starting at one end of the towel, roll the towel and garment together. Squeeze along the roll to remove excess water. Continue rolling and squeezing until you've completed the whole garment. 

Unroll the towel. Smooth out any wrinkles. 

Starting at one end of the towel, roll the towel over the garment. Squeeze along the roll to remove excess water. Continue rolling and squeezing until you've done the whole garment.

Use a second towel (unless the first is dry enough) for the second garment and repeat above towel drying procedure. 

If you have the capacity to wash and air dry more sweaters, dry towels in the dryer while the second batch of garments are soaking. 

Remove Excess Fuzz

If desired, remove excess lint, fuzz, hair, etc. with a lint roller. 

Air Dry

Lay the garment (mostly) flat on a drying rack until completely dry. This may take a day or two. If the drying rack is not flat, there may be some noticeable creases that are created in the dried garment. I've had some issues with this, but not enough for it to be bothersome. I haven't done it, but you could steam the damp sweater before air drying to help with this. 

Sweaters dry on a drying rack.

Storage

Moths and critters are attracted to plastic. It is best to store garments in a cotton zippered bag. Fold the garments nicely and place in the bag. You could possibly store in plastic if you use cedar sticks and spray with the wool and cashmere spray (see other optional tools, above) to further deter critters. 

Rejoice that it's no longer sweater weather!

P.S. Here is the amount of detergent I used to wash 10 sweaters, 1 dress, and 2 pair of socks!

  


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