How to Hand Wash Wool Sweaters
If you're wondering whether you should dry clean or hand wash wool sweaters, wonder no more! 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.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. I only write about and promote products I've used and would recommend to a good friend.
Can you hand wash merino wool sweaters? Yes!
Can you wash cashmere sweaters? Definitely!
Can you wash a dry clean only sweater? I will show you how.
I will show you how to wash wool sweaters by hand!
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.
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:
- 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.
- Hand washing takes time and patience.
- The following will add time constraints:
- 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
- The Laundress Wool & Cashmere Shampoo, or a gentle soap for washing wool or a gentle soap for washing wool
- Sweater comb
- Wash and stain bar
- Sink/basin/wash tub
- Lots of towels
- Access to water
- Access to a dryer (NOT for drying the sweaters!!)
- Drying rack like this one or this one
- ** Wool + cashmere spray - for refreshing between wearing and washing
- Lint remover - use sparingly and with caution. Don't use a fresh roll as it may cause too much pulling/stretching. I like to run the roller on my pants a few times to remove some of the stickiness before using on my sweater.
- Sweater stone (for heavier knits) - use a gentle hand.
Some Tips for Hand Washing Sweaters:
- Wash like colored sweaters together. They will most likely bleed (especially red sweaters). Ask me how I know.
- 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:
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. Here are some beautiful ones, 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.
How to Remove Pilling on Sweaters
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. Be careful! Sweater shavers have been known to make more holes (how do I know this?).
Gently pull the garment taught and glide the comb over the sweater.
Once you're happy with how your sweater is looking, check for 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 ;)
Remove Excess Fuzz
If desired, remove excess lint, fuzz, hair, etc. with a lint roller.
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 cap-full of detergent for every garment. On The Laundress detergent bottle, it recommends 2 cap-fulls. I found one to be enough in terms of sudsy-ness. Use your own judgement here.
I like to wash 2-3 sweaters at a time, grouped together by color. Red garments bleed particularly well. 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.
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.
Air Dry, Do Not Machine 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.
A note about shrinking your sweaters: Putting your sweaters in the dryer when they are wet will shrink them. Using hot then cold water when washing will also shrink your sweaters. Stick to one temperature when washing your sweaters. Washing with cool or cold water is ideal; washing in hot water may cause your sweater to shrink!
Sweaters dry on a drying rack
How to Store Wool Sweaters
Moths and critters are attracted to plastic. It is best to store garments in a cotton zippered bag (Full disclosure: I have not used these). 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 (before left, after right) to wash 10 sweaters, 1 dress, and 2 pairs of socks!
Got some clean sweaters after using this tutorial?