How do I wash this sweater?
January 2, 2008 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Grownup has never washed a nice sweater. Help.

OK, so I got a couple of nice merino & cashmere sweaters for Xmas. Maybe as a hint that the wool/woolblend sweaters I owned were no longer socially acceptable, having been worn for years & never been washed. (blush)

I poked around a bit on the boards, and there are lots of things mentioned for sweaterwashing, then contradicted, then ???

So I need some votes:

1) Drycleaners, espcially with the cashmere
2) Dryel at the laundromat
3) Wash 'em in the sink, then spread out to dry
3a) with woolite
3b) woolite is death, buy special goo at the yarn store
4) write in candidate here

I have another sweater question while i'm at it.
All my sweaters, cotton, wool, whatever, make me look like I've got a "muffin top". (Chest fits, waist at hem/ribbing fits - but they bag out above the waist so that it looks like I'm trying to smuggle a bicycle tire underneath.)
I don't actually have a muffin top, and if I tug the hem down, everything is fine for a few minutes until it rides up and I'm back to dumpy again.
What am I doing wrong here?
posted by penciltopper to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I take all wool to the dry cleaners. You can certainly use Dryel in between cleanings to freshen them. I've recently heard the recommendation that cashmere actually should be hand-washed, but I haven't tried it yet because I'm afraid to shrink an expensive sweater.
posted by boomchicka at 12:03 PM on January 2, 2008

if I tug the hem down, everything is fine for a few minutes until it rides up and I'm back to dumpy again.

Do the sweaters that do this have banded hems at the bottom, so that the bottom is tighter/stretchier than the rest of the sweater? The way such sweaters balloon out is the reason I avoid those.
posted by occhiblu at 12:04 PM on January 2, 2008

Dry cleaning wool and cashmere is not recommended. The chemicals used in dry cleaning are very bad for the fibers. See. Just don't use a harsh detergent (use baby shampoo or anything labeled as mild/for delicates). Dry flat. I usually wash in sink and then maybe spin in my washing machine for a bit and then lay flat on a drying rack so that you get air circulation on both sides. They'll last much longer if you doni't dry clean. Actually, I even sometimes wash my wool and cashmere in the washing machine at home on delicate with cold water. Everything turns out fine. Just don't add heat in the form of hot water or heat to dry them.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:06 PM on January 2, 2008

i'm like you; i tend to be a bit, um, forgetful when it comes to washing my sweater. but now that i'm a bit older, i've finally sucked it up and started dry-cleaning stuff. of course it doesn't hurt that there's a dry cleaner's in my office building.

dry-clean when the tag says 'dry clean only.' if it doesn't, don't waste your money. just hand wash with gentle shampoo, gently squeeze out most of the water, reform the sweater and lay it on a towel and let it dry. flip it too.
posted by buka at 12:09 PM on January 2, 2008

My vote is for 3b, probably because I knit. Dump some of the special goo in the sink with cold water, let soak (don't swish or use hot water or you run the risk of shrinking -- aka felting -- your sweaters if they're wool), rinse well. To dry, place a towel on a flat surface and put your sweater on it. Roll the whole thing up like a burrito and apply pressure to get the water out; I stand on mine. (Yes, really. Even for cashmere.) Unroll, place sweater flat on a clean, dry towel and shape the sweater the way you want it to dry; you can tug things into place, get the shoulders right, whatever. Then don't move it until it's absolutely dry.

For what it's worth, I don't wash my sweaters every time I wear them; I'd rather save on water consumption and time, if they're still relatively clean.
posted by runningwithscissors at 12:10 PM on January 2, 2008

My vote is for 3a.
It works. Nothing gets ruined.
[with my sweaters, ymmv].

Don't wash too often, or too vigorously. Air them out, let them get some sun, etcetera. Don't be embarrassed about not washing sweaters too often. I'm a once-yearly [if that] sweater washer, but I guess I'm only about a once-monthly sweater wearer for what it's worth.

Re: muffin top -
steal folding bicycle tires instead. They're better anyway.
posted by Acari at 12:12 PM on January 2, 2008

I wash all wool sweaters, including cashmere, in the washing machine, using the gentle cycle and "light soil" settings with ordinary laundry detergent, then reshape them and lay them flat to dry. This has had no adverse effects on the sweaters, some of which I've had for more than ten years.
posted by magicbus at 12:30 PM on January 2, 2008

I wash my wool and cashmere sweaters in the sink w/Woolite, then gently squeeze the water out and lay them flat on a towel to dry. I even wash the ones with instructions reading "dry clean only". It just seems they come out fresher and softer that way.

And I'm embarrassed to tell you how often I wash them. My husband promises me they smell fine, but I'm frightened he may have become accustomed to my particular stench.
posted by Evangeline at 12:32 PM on January 2, 2008

as long as you wear a shirt underneath the sweater and you haven't spilled anything on it you really shouldn't have to wash them all that often (4-10 wearings YMMV).
posted by estronaut at 1:08 PM on January 2, 2008

I have several wool items, being a knitter. For sweaters, I hand-wash (lukewarm water with a bit of special delicate wash soap (this stuff), just swish it around lightly - don't agitate it too much or it will start to felt - then rinse it in cool water, roll it in a towel to get the majority of the water out (don't twist it or it will misshape) and then dry it lying flat in about the shape you want it to be when it's dry. (Socks I do on the gentle cycle with the same wash soap, and then hang them on a line to dry. And really, that's about all I knit.)

And, for what it's worth, I really only wash wool sweaters once in a great while - if there's a heavy stain on them or something.
posted by Lucinda at 1:10 PM on January 2, 2008

dry-clean when the tag says 'dry clean only.'
I've come to believe that all clothing manufacturers are in cahoots with the dry cleaning industry. Lots of things I own have that label but are perfectly fine being hand-washed. Dry-cleaning is bad for your clothes, bad for the environment, and bad for you. If it's a woven garment, I'd consider it but a knit sweater is simply better off without dry cleaning. The Cashmere Manufacturers Institute agrees.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:14 PM on January 2, 2008

Oh and also, you don't need to wash after every wear. I wash about every 6-10 wearings depending on if I wear it alone or with something underneath or if it gets obviously stained. But don't store wool or cashmere long-term with food stains on it. That attracts moths and you'll end up with moth-eaten sweaters.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:16 PM on January 2, 2008

as long as you wear a shirt underneath the sweater and you haven't spilled anything on it you really shouldn't have to wash them all that often (4-10 wearings YMMV)

See, but I DON'T wear a shirt underneath. My sweat just smells like an English garden after a gentle spring rain.
posted by Evangeline at 1:16 PM on January 2, 2008

I knit and wash sweaters by hand, but I don't use special goo. I use shampoo. (Johnson & Johnson Lavender scented baby shampoo to be exact.) Soak in cold, soapy water for 20 minutes or so. Then I swish the whole sweater very gently, being careful not to rub the fibers together, and rinse thoroughly. Do the burrito-towel-dry that runningwithscissors suggests and then lay flat to dry. The first couple of times I wash a sweater, I throw a cup of white vinegar in the wash water to help minimize bleeding of the dye.

A trick I learned from my mother is to trace the shape of the sweater on a piece of clean kraft paper/wrapping paper/opened-up grocery sack before washing. Then use that as a template to reshape it for drying.
posted by weebil at 1:20 PM on January 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

I wash my sweaters on gentle in cold/cold water in a sweater bag in the washing machine and then spread them out to dry. Wool felts because of agitation and temperature changes -- washing on gentle and keeping it contained in a small bag keeps the agitation down, and ensuring that I use cold/cold keeps the temperature changes to a minimum. I've never ruined anything this way.

It's not the absolute optimal way to do it -- your sweaters will stay pristine longer if you go with something more like 3b. But when it comes to results relative to effort, I find it to be the most workable solution for me. I also don't wash my sweaters each time I wear them -- only every 4th time or so, or however often I spill something on them.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:29 PM on January 2, 2008

I've used the technique that weebil outlined with Dawn dishwashing detergent. The key to successfully washing your sweater is not to stretch or wring your sweater while wet. Dry using the towel-burrito method.

Link to some instructions that I followed when I tried to wash my sweater.
posted by scalespace at 2:38 PM on January 2, 2008

I wear a shirt or cami underneath my sweaters, both because I have sensitive skin and because this keeps them fresher longer. Airing out your sweater after wearing also helps. Hang it on a rack or over the foot of your bed or back of a chair overnight, then fold it up and put it away the next day.

Every ten or so wearings, I wash my sweaters by hand in the basin, in cold water with Toccata Laundry Delicate from Sephora, which leaves a lovely scent. Then I roll them in a towel to absorb water, shape them and put them on a rack until air-dried.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:11 PM on January 2, 2008

3a - although I use a washing machine on cold wash/cold rinse, Delicate/Gentle cycle.

I have drying racks, so I hang sweaters to dry just under the arm pits. I've not seen any stretching.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 4:31 PM on January 2, 2008

With sweaters, my mother and I usually just wash them on the delicate cycle with cold water, then lay them flat to dry. Results have been good so far. She has informed me, though, that my new cashmere sweater (35 bucks at Old Navy!) will require Woolite. Using Woolite with the cold/delicate combination, then laying flat might serve you well. We, however, wash our sweaters every time we wear them- I have never heard of the mildly barbaric practice of skipping washings. If you only wash your sweaters every few wearings, some of the more labor intensive processes described above might be worth your while.
posted by MadamM at 5:00 PM on January 2, 2008

Don't cave to threats from the dry-cleaning cabal! They're yellow-collar criminals. If it's knitted, and it's made from wool, then chances are very, very good that it can be washed. For regular wool stuff, I just use hand wash soap (I think mine is Ecover--I quit using Woolite when they changed the scent because the new stuff is just so strong) and do the roll-in-a-towel-and-stomp dance. For cashmere, I put it in my front-load washer on delicate, with the hand wash soap.

I like the idea of tracing the sweater first. My husband recently washed his own sweater and apparently didn't commit its original dimensions to memory, because although he thought he was stretching it back to its original dimensions, when he put it on later the waist was about 3 inches higher than it used to be. Tracing first would have been a good idea.
posted by Enroute at 5:57 PM on January 2, 2008

I have a washing machine with a "hand wash" cycle. I wash all of my sweaters in this, never more than 2 or 3 at a time, using a capful of baby shampoo. (Literally a capful, just for the sweet smell.) Dry flat. Never had a problem.
posted by nax at 7:49 PM on January 2, 2008

Muffin-top prevention: Take the ribbing and give it a good hard pull to stretch it out a bit. I do this a lot and most good sweaters are not damgaed by it. Also, maybe consider going up a size -- with sweaters there is less need to have a perfect fit to still look sharp.
posted by mmf at 8:37 PM on January 2, 2008

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