How to Hand Wash a Sweater: Everything You Need to Know

woman hand washing clothes on a river

With the popularity of capsule wardrobes and avoidance of fast fashion, learning how to hand wash a sweater or other garment is a valuable skill. Unfortunately, washing machines and dryers are now standard in most homes. These appliances are great for saving time and labor on hand washing. But it also means that many people no longer know how to hand wash a sweater or their other garments properly.

Hand washing is extremely easy and simple, but using the wrong products or techniques could damage delicate clothing. That is why learning how to hand wash a sweater the proper way is so important. With the right products and technique, you can learn to hand wash your garments faster and more effectively than even the best washing machine.

Why Hand Wash Your Clothes?

wash cloth with women hand

In a time when convenience comes before everything, opting to hand wash your garments might seem silly. But many articles of clothing won’t survive routine machine washing and drying. Common textiles found in ready-to-wear clothing, like cotton or spandex, do just fine in a standard washing machine. However, if you invest in high-quality garments made of wool, silk, or other delicate textiles, you’ll want to learn how to hand wash a sweater and other items.Materials like wool, silk, or lace will pill or tear when subjected to the agitation of a traditional washing machine. This wear-and-tear can make your clothing look old, dull, or unkempt. Hand washing can help extend the life of your favorite garments, even if they aren’t more delicate fabrics. If you’re eco-conscious, hand washing your clothing can help preserve water and electricity. Learning how to hand wash a sweater can also help save you money on new clothes and reduce fashion waste.

Can your washer’s gentle cycle replace hand washing?

washing machine doing its work

Some people choose to use their washing machine’s delicate or gentle cycle instead of hand washing their garments. But does this cycle actually compare to hand washing your more delicate items? That depends on your garments and your washing machine.If your washing machine’s delicate cycle features cold water and an extra gentle agitation pattern, you can get away with using it for some delicate garments. Combining a lingerie bag with your washer’s delicate cycle can be a convenient way to wash panties, bras, and other lace or mesh items. However, you should still air dry these items instead of placing them in the dryer.

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On the other hand, any type of wool or spun fiber (merino, cashmere, alpaca, and more) should always be hand washed. Even the gentle agitation of your washer’s delicate cycle could cause felting or distortion in these materials. For wool and similar fibers, you should learn how to hand wash a sweater rather than trying to use your washing machine.No matter what kind of garments you place in your washer’s delicate cycle, hand washing is always a safer option. For expensive items or garments that you want to last for as long as possible, we recommend always opting to hand wash. Delicate garments that you machine wash, even on a gentle cycle, are being washed at your own risk.

How to Read Your Garment Tags

clothing tag

Fortunately for the modern man or woman, most store-bought garments come with a care tag. These tags typically include information about the garment’s fiber content, as well as the best way to wash, dry, and generally care for the item. Manufacturers generally recommend following these instructions as closely as possible for the best results.For most garments, you can err on the side of gentler washing without issue. Choosing a gentler washer cycle or to hand wash a garment can help keep it looking new, regardless of the materials inside.

Which Materials Should You Hand Wash?

mustard woolen sweater

Different textiles call for different washing and care techniques. If your wardrobe is full of cotton, spandex, and polyester, then you might have never learned how to hand wash a sweater. But more expensive or high-quality fabrics need more delicate care to look their best.

Below are some of the most common fabric types that require careful hand washing. Before investing in expensive garments made from these textiles, you might want to learn how to hand wash a sweater.


Common types of wool found in high-end garments include cashmere, merino, alpaca, and more. These fibers can be extremely warm, soft, and comfortable. But they do require special care in order to last for a long time.Wool is susceptible to shrinking, stretching, and felting when washed and dried in a machine. Even the gentle cycle can cause irreparable damage to your favorite wool sweater or scarf. If you choose to invest in a nice wool garment, be aware that you’ll also need to know how to hand wash a sweater or other garment.


Silk is a luxurious, delicate fabric from China. Made from the silk of silkworms, this fabric requires special care to prevent stains, ripping, or snags.Many people believe that silk can only be dry cleaned. However, with a gentle detergent designed for silk, you can actually hand wash some of these garments. You can check if your silk clothing can be hand washed by looking at the garment care tag. If the tag just says “Dry Clean,” you’re typically safe hand washing it. But if it says “Dry Clean Only” you should take you silk garment to a professional.


Garments that feature accents like sequins, beading, or embroidery should also be hand washed whenever possible. Even if these items are sturdy fabrics like cotton or spandex, these decorative accents are susceptible to breaking or distorting.Lace is normally from manmade fibers, but it still requires careful washing and drying in order to avoid damage. Delicate laces, like eyelash lace, can easily snag on the parts inside your washing machine or other garments.Velvet can be a variety of materials, from polyester to silk. The nature of velvet, though, often requires delicate care to prevent shedding, bald spots, and distortion. When washing velvet, you also need to be cautious of extra heat, as this can melt the soft fibers.If you own a piece of clothing with any of these special fabrics or accents, the garment care tag should give detailed instructions on how to wash the item. If you’re ever unsure, though, opting to hand wash a garment is almost always better than tossing it in the washing machine.

Choosing the Right Detergent


Some sources claim that using regular laundry detergent for your hand washed items is fine. However, this might not be entirely true. Laundry detergents designed for machines contain strong enzymes and other chemicals that can degrade the delicate fibers in your garments. Instead, it’s better to invest in a laundry soap specifically designed for hand washing.

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For the best results, you will want to look for a hand wash laundry soap designed for the textiles you plan to wash. For animal fibers like wool, you can find soaps that include lanolin oil. This oil occurs naturally from the skin of sheep and keeps your wool garments strong and soft.

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Another thing to consider when shopping for a hand wash detergent is the contact it will have with your skin. Unless you plan to wear gloves when hand washing your laundry, whatever detergent you choose will sit on your skin for an extended period of time. If you have any sensitivities or allergies, double-check that your chosen soap doesn’t include any triggers before purchasing.

How to Hand Wash A Sweater Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you understand why learning how to hand wash a sweater is so important, it’s time to learn the proper steps. We’ve put together a short, easy guide for how to hand wash your delicate garments.Depending on your specific garments, some of these steps might be slightly different. However, these instructions offer a general guide for hand washing a wool sweater or other delicate garment with ease. Once you get the hang of hand washing your laundry, you can find the different techniques and products that you like best.

Check your water temperature

Almost all delicate clothing are best suited to cold water. Lace and silk, in particular, wash better in cold water than in warm or room temperature water. Cold water can help preserve the dyes in your garments and save energy. Cold water can even work better for removing a variety of stains, contrary to popular knowledge.You can hand wash your clothing directly in a clean sink, your bathtub, or a bucket. You can even hand wash your laundry inside or outside the house. Start by filling your chosen washing station with enough cold water to easily submerge your laundry.

Add your chosen laundry detergent

One of the many benefits of hand washing is that you can wash a single garment or dozens at a time. If you’re washing a variety of material types, you might want to break your laundry into several “loads” so that you can tailor your detergent choice to your garments.Add the appropriate amount of hand washing detergent to your washing station for the number of garments you plan to wash. Dissolve or mix this detergent completely in the water before adding your clothes. Remember that excessive bubbles or suds do not mean that your clothing is getting a better clean. It simply means you’ll need to rinse your items more in the end.

Wash your garments

You might have seen people using a (new) toilet plunger to agitate their clothing in a bucket or their bathtub. However, use this technique in place of a washing machine. For delicate garments, using your hands is preferable and allows you to be as gentle as possible.With bare or gloved hands, simply agitate your clothing in the soapy water until washed clean. Once clean, completely rinse each of your garments with cold water. If your garments are extremely soiled and the water does not rinse clear, you can repeat this step as needed.

What happens when you rub wool garments together?

One thing to remember when hand washing garments made from wool or other animal fibers is never to rub the fabric together. Rubbing these garments together can cause felting of the fibers. In fact, many fiber artists place wet wool in a washing machine to create hands-free felt.Instead, gently stir and agitate your wool clothing in the soapy water. As long as you avoid scrubbing your wool garments against each other, you will have little to worry about with regards to felting.

Remove excess water

When removing excess water from your delicate garments, avoid the temptation to wring or squeeze this water out. Doing so can stretch and distort your garments beyond repair.If you’re wondering how to hand wash a sweater, the best method actually involves a couple dry, clean towels. Carefully rolling your sweater in a towel helps extract extra water without harming the delicate fabric. You can also use this technique for lace and other delicates if desired.

Air dry your garments

After hand washing, you should always allow your garments to air dry. Different materials require different air drying techniques, but you should be able to find this information on your garment care tags.Be careful not to place extra stress on straps or elastics in your garments. Improper hang drying can also stretch out sleeves and other parts of your sweaters. If you’re ever worried about stretching or distortion, we recommend laying your garments flat to dry instead.

Keep You Wardrobe Looking Its Best With Hand Washing

Now that you know how to hand wash a sweater or other delicate garments, you can care for your wardrobe and keep it looking great for years to come. Understanding the proper way to care for clothing allows you to invest in nicer, better-quality items. This can help you save money and reduce the weight of fast fashion in the textile manufacturing industry.Many people believe that hand washing their laundry is time-consuming, but as you can see this process is actually quick and easy. Whether you don’t have a washing machine in your home or are looking to take better care of your garments, knowing how to hand wash a sweater is a great skill.

Last update on 2023-02-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API