How do I stop getting buried in unwashed sweaters?
February 5, 2013 7:08 AM   Subscribe

I have a lot of sweaters. They're not particularly great sweaters (no wool or cashmere), but I like them and I would like to wear them more. However, I don't have a lot of room in my laundry room to lay them out to dry, so they just end up in a laundry basket and sit there for ages because I can't figure out how to efficiently wash and dry them. How do you handle laundering a lot of sweaters with limited space for flat drying, and how often do you do it?
posted by ashirys to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (35 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I don't wash sweaters that often -- on a "jacket" frequency instead of a "t-shirt" frequency.
posted by katrielalex at 7:10 AM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

A flat drying rack is what you need, preferably one with more than one layer if you need to dry more than one at a time.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:13 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I lay out no-dry items on our spare bed with a fan pointed at them - they can dry in about 30 hours (so if I lay them out sunday night, they're completely dry Tuesday morning).

If you don't have a spare room or a spare bed, try a collapsible and stackable flat drying rack (like one of these).

If they're not wool or cashmere sweaters, is there any reason you don't just put them in the dryer? I put all my cotton sweaters through the washer and dryer.
posted by muddgirl at 7:15 AM on February 5, 2013

Some kind of shirt worn underneath is a must if you want them to last more than one wearing before washing them, but I'm confused about why machine washing and drying non-felting sweaters would be a problem. Just go with lower temperatures so the acrylic doesn't melt and the cotton doesn't shrink and you should be OK. And drying racks are great and cheap (I use them for my wool sweaters, but have to dry in batches as I can't fit that many at once.)
posted by asperity at 7:15 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

My wife uses something more or less like this. YMMV, but I see no reason why sweaters have to be consigned to the laundry room to dry. Let them in the bedroom, or the living room.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:15 AM on February 5, 2013

Are they acrylic? What kind of fiber? Because even though you're not supposed to, I dry my acrylic sweaters on low.

My knitting brethren and sistern are no doubt at the door with pitchforks now that I've publicly admitted this...
posted by smirkette at 7:16 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wash one sweater per week.

I lay it flat on the dryer which speeds up the process. But the stackable racks are pretty cool too.

I don't wash my sweaters frequently, since I usually wear something underneath them. I only wash if I've dribbled something down the front of myself. Even then, I try to spot clean first, washing only as a last resort.

Dryel is a way to 'freshen' your sweaters that doesn't require getting them wet. So if you're trying to get smoke stink or other odors out of them, this would be a good and inexpensive alternative.

Every time you launder a sweater, you weaken the fibers and cause them to fray and pill.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:17 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have you considered using home dry cleaning kits, which involve zipping items into a bag and tumbling everything in the dryer? I've always been very happy with the results, but I have no idea re environmental impact issues.
posted by she's not there at 7:17 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

If they're acryllic, they can be tumble-dried on low briefly to get the damp out. If they are wool, after you wash them, roll them up in a big towel and then - and I swear this is a step that has a point to it - step on the rolled up towel to squeeze the water out.

Then get your biggest beach towels and lay them on your bed, and lay everything on the bed on top of the towels. You can get at least four or five done that way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:19 AM on February 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Do you wear them layered over things? If so, you probably don't need to wash them super often - I don't wash cardigans unless they very clearly need it (spilled something, sweated heavily into them for some reason).

I assume you're talking about comparatively delicate women's sweaters with trim or something? Yes, those might need to be hand-washed and air dried. A lot of other sweaters though, the manufacturer just puts "hand wash, dry flat" on the sweater out of greed - they don't want any questions about quality and they want to be able to say that the customer screwed up a sweater if they machine washed it. (This is a relatively recent thing, IME...I have lots of semi-vintage 80s and 90s sweaters that say "machine wash, dry low" from manufacturers whose very similar recent sweaters specify hand washing and drying flat.)

Wash then on cold in lingerie bags and either dry them flat on top of a towel or laundry rack or try drying them on low in bursts of twenty minutes, checking periodically and extracting them when just dry.

Also, I try to do one sweater/hand-wash garment per weekend as just a standard chore. That way there's room to dry it and if you keep it up for a few weeks you get through the backlog.
posted by Frowner at 7:21 AM on February 5, 2013

My mother taught me a sweater speed-drying method: Hand wash the sweaters, then lay them flat on a clean bath towel. Carefully roll the towel up (like sweater sushi) and press hard on the whole roll to squeeze the water out of the sweater. Then unroll, remove sweater from towel, and dry it on a regular drying rack. A lot of the moisture is absorbed by the bath towel, and the sweater will usually dry overnight.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:25 AM on February 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

Nthing wearing something under them so you don't have to wash them that often.

As far as washing them, I use the delicate cycle in my washer and put the sweater in a lingerie bag. I try to wash something else along with it so I'm not using all that water for one item. My washer has a spin setting where I can choose a more or less vigorous spin. I choose low for sweaters. They come out more wet than I'd like so I then press the sweater between two towels to get some of the moisture out.

I dry my sweaters by hanging them over the shower curtain. I move them around a couple times during the drying process so they don't get stretched out. If I direct a fan on them, it takes half as long to dry them.
posted by cooker girl at 7:25 AM on February 5, 2013

I have to get heavy fishing sweaters and trousers dried every week throughout the winter so a heated dryer is an absolute godsend (not that model, I got a cheapie from Ebay). Also, they cost roughly the same as a lightbulb to run.
posted by humph at 7:34 AM on February 5, 2013

Best answer: I'd look into a wall mounted drying rack - you can mount it over the washing machine or dryer and only extend it when you need it. This one is not expensive.
Beyond that, I'd subscribe to Ruthless Bunny's one-sweater-a week method in combination with snorkmaiden's rolling up in a towel to wick the water away method. And I also rarely wash sweaters, since I generally wear them over layers.
posted by 8dot3 at 7:35 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

What are they made of? Are they those "knitted cotton" types? Or just jersey ones?

I wash my wool knitted jumpers (sweaters) about once or twice a year using the special wool wash detergent and then lay them out flat over drying racks.

Jersey jumpers I just wash like T-Shirts and hang them up like t-shirts.

I have one polyester knit jumper that I wash maybe once or twice a season when it gets noticably smelly. And that one I just lay it out flat on the indoor hanging rack.

We never use the dryer though.
posted by mary8nne at 7:36 AM on February 5, 2013

My lazy mom approach: never wash sweaters, Tide stick for stain removal, spritzing of Febreze to make them smell clean.
posted by kinetic at 7:45 AM on February 5, 2013

I throw a towel over the back of an upholstered chair or the couch and lay the sweaters over that. The furniture doesn't get damp.
posted by houseofdanie at 7:57 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I did what houseofdanie does whenever I washed sweaters. I'd pop the sweaters in with the rest of the delicates then dry them over the back of a lazyboy on top of towels. Worked great for me until I got a dedicated drying rack for sweaters.
posted by patheral at 8:20 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

In future I'd buy wool sweaters. They're the ones that shrug off dirt and smells and can be dry cleaned or hand washed once every six months. Cotton sweaters aren't like this and do need washing pretty regularly.
posted by rhymer at 8:26 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: You guys are great, as always! Thank you.
posted by ashirys at 8:28 AM on February 5, 2013

If they're not particularly fancy, I just drape on the back of chairs. Never had any issues.
posted by Neekee at 8:29 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the winter, I do a load of wool sweaters on the wool cycle every other week. I then completely disregard the "dry flat" advice and drape them on my drying rack like regular clothes. I have cashmere, wool, and blended sweaters and they have absolutely not been any worse for wear after this treatment.
posted by lydhre at 8:29 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding the shower method - I put the wet sweaters on hangers, then hang them on my shower curtain rod. Rotate as needed for maximum dryness, they're usually mostly dry in the morning if I hang them up overnight, and I can dry 15-20 sweaters at a throw.

Heavy sweaters get draped over chair backs and on top of doors.
posted by divined by radio at 8:44 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I usually wear mine over some kind of under layer, and take them to the dry cleaners a couple of times per season.
posted by rpfields at 8:50 AM on February 5, 2013

Best answer: I use the stomp-on-rolled-up-towels technique for my handmade, precious-to-me sweaters. Most of my wool cardigans, though, I just wash on delicate, preferably in a lingerie bag. I dry sweaters on these pop-up drying racks. They fold up pretty small, and they let the air get underneath the sweater so it doesn't take forever to dry. I'll use a fan sometimes (I usually sleep with a fan on at night anyway).
posted by mskyle at 8:55 AM on February 5, 2013

Best answer: I dry all non-wool (or otherwise fancy) sweaters in the last part of the drying cycle in the dryer with towels usually. Sweaters are pretty rugged. For wool stuff, I wash usually one-per-load in a cold cycle and then do the sweater sushi thing to get most of the water out and use either something like this (I've seen bigger ones that will go over an entire bathtub) or actually put them over a towel that I already have on a towel rack which will usually dry it without stretching. Turn it over once.
posted by jessamyn at 8:57 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are some sweaters that I can wash, roll up in a towel to get rid of excess moisture, then hang from the waistband with pants hangers like this and they don't lose their shape, because they're not too heavy. I hang them from the pipes in the basement with the dehumidifier running underneath them, and they're dry overnight, usually.
posted by peagood at 9:31 AM on February 5, 2013

I also do the towel trick, then I lay them (on other towels) on the dining room table.

Only do this if you are not expecting dinner guests.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:02 AM on February 5, 2013

I use the backs of chairs for lightweight sweaters and for shirts that I think will shrink in the dryer. I use the seats of chairs/barstools for laying things flat if they are heavier. The sleeves hang down the sides of the chair. I have 5 barstools with backs, and 8 dining room chairs. I also use the back/seat/sidearms of the lazyboy and the railing at the top of the stairs that goes down the hall. If that's not enough, I use hangers and put them up on doorknobs or the shower curtain. I can do a lot of sweaters.

If you look at the folks above who lay a towel on the bed but you don't want your bed to be wet, then lay the towels on the floor. You could line them up in rows and just give yourself a little space to walk in between.

I also put my stuff in the dryer for 10-15 minutes to get the first round of damp out before I hang/lay them, because I don't like everything feeling stiff.
posted by CathyG at 10:29 AM on February 5, 2013

Who has time OR room for all this?!

I wash and dry my sweaters just like everything else: After I've worn them once (not that they necessarily smell bad, but that way I don't have to really check them for cat hairs or lint), they go into the washer and dryer along with everything else, on the normal cycle. I suppose they don't last quite as long that way, but I still get plenty of wear out of them. When dry, I hang them up on plastic medium-slope hangers, which works fine as long as I wear them frequently enough that they don't get "hanger bump" on the shoulders.

I do remember having a problem with sweaters pilling in the past, and I do have one sweater that is now a little too fuzzy and one that's now pretty much de-fuzzed, but for the most part, I have no problem. (And I still consider these two sweaters to be wearable, but I guess people differ regarding when they consider a sweater to be "ruined".)
posted by serena15221 at 10:43 AM on February 5, 2013

I use a fan to help air-dry sweaters. You don't need a particularly strong fan; it just needs to move the air around. And it doesn't have to be pointed directly at the clothes. I started doing this in humid summer weather when things were drying too slowly and getting a little smelly. It also turns out to be great in winter because I keep the temperature pretty low in the house.

You can also dry sweaters in the dryer on the no-heat setting -- much faster than laying them out.
posted by wryly at 10:54 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wash all my cotton sweaters by hand - at least I THINK it helps with the pilling. I wring them out, do the towel-sweater sushi thing and also step on the towel to get the water out.

I made a vertical drying rack from a trash picked slatted side of a crib. I hung it from hooks and chain from one of the beams in the basement, about 3" off the wall. I was a little nervous that the finish on the slats might come off onto the damp sweaters, so I did cover the slats with vinyl tubing from the hardware store that I slit and slid onto the slats. I can dry 3-4 sweaters with the rack hanging next to the wall - the sweaters do overlap each other a bit - or if I have a load of sweaters, I can rig it up so that it hangs horizontally and then I can dry one sweater per rung.
posted by sarajane at 11:14 AM on February 5, 2013

If you have a room with a door, you can get an over the door drying rack or towel rack if the tiers are spaced widelt enough. I usually drape a face towel over the bars to speed the drying process and keep the sweaters from getting creases.
posted by Mchelly at 1:29 PM on February 5, 2013

So the towel-sushi method of getting the water out of hand-washed items is useful, but if you've got a top-loading washer and the item you're drying isn't too fragile, you can just put it in for the spin cycle only! No water wasted, no hassle dealing with now-damp towels. If it's small items that need the excess water out, salad spinners are also handy.
posted by asperity at 2:02 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't have space to flat dry anything at all, and as my housemate often uses my airer, I don't know if I'll have a proper rack to dry my things on or the rickety piece of shit that belongs to the house. If I waited to be able to flat-dry, I'd never have a clean jumper.

Here's what I do:
- buy some detergent especially for wool and silk
- set the washing machine to 'delicate'/'wool' cycle (if you don't have one of these, I wouldn't do them in the machine
- wash them as normal
- take them out, reshape them a bit while damp is needed, and then hang them on the clothes airer like any other clothing.

I wash everything - lambswool, blends, cashmere, merino - every couple of wears as they either get stinky from the Tube or I inevitably spill something on them (like the time a mustard-covered bagel top slid off and landed on my knit skirt and I had to hurriedly try and sponge it off prior to a meeting) - I don;t think I could get away with more than that without it being noticeable. I also never use the dryer for any of my clothes as there's no real need and I'm not convinced it's good for fabric anyway, so I can't tell you what to do if you prefer to use one of those.

If they're acrylic - that stuff is designed for machine washing, it was invented as an easy-care substitute for wool. I don't personally like how it feels on my skin and find it wears out faster, so I don't think I own any acrylic jumpers, but you'll have no problem sticking them in the washing machine.
posted by mippy at 3:42 PM on February 5, 2013

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