How to Hand Wash A Sweater: Instructions and Tips

wash cloth with women hand

You found the perfect sweater made from cashmere. It has a classic design that will never go out of style. It’s a great price, too. The color makes your eyes pop. The only thing holding you back is that the tag says you can’t machine wash it. You have no clue how to hand wash a sweater. What should you do?

When it comes to wool and cashmere sweaters, one thing that scares many people away is the hand wash only tag instructions. However, it’s not that hard to learn how to hand wash a sweater. It really doesn’t take a lot of time, and it’s a skill well worth learning. So, grab that sweater and go check out because you’re about to become a master of the hand-wash.

Why Do Sweaters Require Hand Washing?

colorful sweaters

Wool, which is natural fiber from certain animals such as sheep, alpaca, rabbits, llamas, and camels, is generally washable on its own. If you think about it, these animals live outside and constantly have exposure to weather conditions. The wool does just fine then. However, once made into a sweater, the construction method and the characteristics of the wool mean you need to take care when washing not to shrink, stretch, or otherwise ruin the garment.

According to Glamour Magazine, when you hand wash a sweater, it helps to extend the life and preserve the shape. Washing in a machine is too harsh. The agitation and water temperature can easily pull and damage the wool fibers leading to damage of the sweater itself. So you have to learn how to hand wash a sweater so you can keep it looking its best.

Do you have to hand wash?

Regardless of the many, many recommendations that wool sweaters have to be washed by hand, there are still people who ask if they have to hand wash. You may be one of these people. You may be skeptical about your abilities to do it properly or simply refuse to learn how to wash a sweater by hand. In any event, you may get by washing your sweater in a washing machine, but you have to take great care doing it.

Good Housekeeping Magazine explains that the hand wash only label is often there because the manufacturer did not do machine washing tests. They don’t want the liability of you washing and ruining it, so they simply say to hand wash only. That doesn’t mean you can’t machine wash it, but it does mean you’re doing it at your own risk.

If you want to try washing your sweater in a machine, you have to use only cold water and the gentlest cycle possible. It helps to put it in a mesh bag before tossing it in the machine, too. Do be aware, though, your sweater may not make it out without damage, and pilling is a huge possibility. It also will reduce the lifespan of your sweater So, is it really worth it to risk washing in the machine when learning how to hand wash a sweater is so easy?

How to Hand Wash a Sweater

cloth soaking

Hand washing a sweater isn’t that hard. Anyone can do it. You can do the washing in a large basin or your sink, and you don’t need any special tools.

  • 1Washing

Begin by filling up a basin with cool water. Don’t make it too cold or too hot as both cause shrinkage. You want to use a mild soap. Ideally, find something made for wool, and don’t use too much. You want to be able to get it out easily. Put your sweater in the water and let it soak between five and ten minutes. You can lightly swirl it or agitate with your hands, but be gentle. Too much movement and handling causes changes to the wool fibers, and may damage your sweater.

  • 2Rinsing

After washing, you need to rinse. Again, use cool water, drain your basin or sink and rinse until all the soap is gone. Do not twist or wring during rinsing. You should press the sweater as you rinse.

  • 3Removing the water

The next step in how to hand wash a sweater requires getting as much water out as possible. Again, do not actually wring it. You need to be gentle. Try kneading your sweater against the side of your basin or sink like you would knead bread dough. After you have pressed as much water as possible out of the garment, you can lay it flat on a towel and roll it up. Then, press on the towel to absorb more water. Now, you can move on to drying.

How to Dry a Sweater

woman drying clothes

If you know how to hand wash a sweater, drying will be a snap. But if you think you can just throw it in the dryer, think again. It’s common knowledge that heat will shrink wool will so small that you’ll never be able to wear your sweater again. You should always dry your sweater flat. This helps to maintain the shape and not stretch fibers.

When you lay it out to dry, you also need to reshape it. You want to ensure that the hem is straight, that the arms are the same length, and that the shoulders are square. If anything is incorrectly laid out, the sweater will dry in that shape and won’t look too nice when you wear it. The only way to fix blocking issues is to rewash it, so don’t waste your time by skipping this step.

You can lay your sweater on a mesh drying rack or towel. Depending on where you lay your sweater, you may need to flip it at some point during the process to ensure both sides get dry. If you use the towel method, swap out the towel as it gets wet to help speed drying.

You can speed up drying by blowing the garment with a blow dryer on its coolest setting. Be careful when doing this, though, as you may cause the wool to frizz. Never stay in one spot too long, and do not do this if your hair dryer doesn’t have a cool setting.

Sweater Care Tips

mustard woolen sweater

You know the basics of how to hand wash a sweater, but there are a lot of tips that can help you find your groove and get used to doing it. Here is a look some tips for washing, drying, and general care that will help you keep your sweater clean and looking its best.

  • Washing tips

Before you begin washing, turn your sweater inside out. That can help minimize friction, which will make it less likely pilling will occur. If you’re washing a cardigan, button it beforehand. That helps it to keep its shape. If you’re worried about blocking the garment after washing, take measurements beforehand. You will make it simple to shape the sweater when you reach the drying stage.

  • How to hand wash a sweater with a stain

If the garment has a stain, use stain remover. Never rub or scrub at the stain. Just massage the remover in and let it sit. You can let the garment soak in the wash water for up to 30 minutes. Cashmere actually plumps the longer it soaks, so keep that in mind.

  • Soap and rinsing

You should always go light on detergent. If you use too much, it will take forever to get it rinsed out, which increases the wear on the wool fibers. Martha Stewart suggests using shampoo because wool is essentially just hair. Of course, use a mild shampoo, like that made for babies. Make sure you completely dissolve the soap or detergent before you add in the garment. That also helps make it easier to remove.

When rinsing, you may add vinegar to the water to help get the detergent out. Also, never put the sweater directly under running water. Ther water stretches the fibers. Try to keep handling minimized during the whole washing and rinsing process. The more you handle it, the more damage is likely.

  • Drying tips

Never use direct heat to dry a sweater because it will shrink the fibers. Also, never do anything else that will stretch the fibers. If they stretch, they will not go back to their previous shape. You should also not dry your sweater in the sun. The sun can shrink and fade it. Always air dry it and lay it flat to dry.

  • General care tips

If your sweater has wrinkles after drying, you can steam it. Steaming is also good to fluff a sweater, such as after storing for the winter. Speaking of storage, make sure that you fold it and store flat. Never hang it up. Also, always wash your sweaters before storing them away for the season. When you go to take them out next year, all you will need to do is steam them a little before wearing.

Ideally, you want to extend the time between washes. As you know, handling it can damage the fibers and make your sweater look bad. A great tip is to always wear something under your sweater. That will allow you to wear it a few times before it needs to be washed. If you get a stain on it, take care of it right away. You can just do a spot clean without needing to wash the whole garment.

Pilling is something you want to avoid, but it happens. That’s when fibers tangle or break and cause lumps or loose threads on your sweater. Pilling occurs due to friction, so that is the main reason why you need to learn how to hand wash a sweater and not wash it in a machine where friction occurs at a high rate. You can use a fine-tooth comb or an electric fabric shaver to remove pills. Always work in one direction during removal.

The Wrap Up

You should never pass up a great sweater just because you have fears about hand washing. Learning how to hand wash a sweater is not hard at all. Anyone can do it, and it doesn’t take specialized skills. The key is to make sure you follow the golden rules of not handling the garment too much and staying away from heat. With a gentle touch, you can keep your sweater clean with zero hassle. Learning how to hand wash a sweater will come in handy with other delicate garments, too, so you will have learned a valuable life skill.