The days are getting shorter and sweater season is almost here! If you’re like us, cozying up in your favorite wool or cashmere sweater is right up there with leaf peeping, bonfires, and touch football games as one of Autumn's great pleasures (Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes completely optional).
But before you break out those woolies, let’s prepare for “sweata weatha” with some straight talk about caring for your sweaters. One of the most important things you can do is read and follow the care label on your wool garment (find a comprehensive guide to laundry care symbols here). You may think your cashmere or wool garment is dry clean only, but take a close look at the care label. You may discover that your beloved sweater can, in fact, be washed by hand or machine (as many wool clothes including sweaters and wool socks can). That’s great news for saving time, money, and exposure to harsh dry cleaning chemicals that can stay in clothes.
Read on to learn more about washing wool and keeping your sweaters looking great and feeling cozy.
Give Your Wool Sweater A Good Airing Out
Before you decide to hand- or machine wash your sweater, think about giving it a good airing out. Wool fabric is known for being more resistant to body oils and odor than other fabrics such as cotton and polyester. This means it needs to be washed less often. To extend the time between washing, we recommend airing out your wool sweaters immediately after wearing:
- Hang your wool sweater in the bathroom during a steamy shower (or two).
- The steam will allow the wool fibers to naturally release bacteria and odor.
- Place your wool garment on a drying rack or lay it on a dry, clean towel to remove the dampness.
- Outside is best for “freshening” your sweater during dry time, but indoors will do if necessary.
- Indoors or outside, keep your woolen garments out of direct sunlight to protect the color. Some wool is pre-treated to prevent this, but it’s best to assume that wool clothing -- and even your best wool blanket for that matter -- can fade in the sun.
How Often Should You Wash Your Wool Sweater?
The answer to this depends, of course, on how much you wear your sweater. We never recommend washing any wool garment too frequently. Washing your wool sweater too frequently will result in accelerating the degradation of both the fabric and any seams and stitching.
On the other hand, not washing your sweater frequently enough can cause other problems. While it may be less than pleasant to consider, your body is producing and shedding oils and skin all the time. (Fun fact: scientists estimate the average person sheds about 8 pounds of skin every year, most of which winds up as dust floating around your clothing and home environment Ew!). So if you’re wearing that wool sweater as your first or only layer, keep that skin shedding in mind and launder accordingly!
Cleaning Your Wool Sweater in the Washing Machine or By Hand
As we noted, the care label on your wool sweater will indicate whether it’s okay to wash it by hand or in the machine. Following some simple directions will help you get your washable wool sweater clean while protecting the integrity and beauty of the fabric.
At the risk of repeating ourselves: READ YOUR CARE LABEL BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING. If washing is a go, our recommendations are as follows:
How to hand wash your wool sweater (most gentle method)
- Pre-treat any stains prior to washing.
- Run cool or lukewarm water into a bucket or utility sink
- Add the appropriate amount of wool detergent (more on why to use a specific detergent below). We recommend Heritage Park Luxury Silk and Wool Detergent at the quantity of 1/2 to 1 cap full.
- Swish to dissolve laundry detergent.
- Turn your sweater inside out, submerge it, and swish around using a gentle “agitating” motion.
- Soak for ten minutes, maximum, rinsing it thoroughly.
- Do not wring your sweater out. Pat it with a clean towel to absorb moisture.
How to machine wash your wool sweater
- Spot treat any stains on your sweater prior to wash
- Choose a wool or delicate/gentle cycle on your machine. Learn more about washing machine cycles here.
- Add 1 to 3 caps full of Heritage Park Luxury Silk and Wool Detergent (for a single item, 1 cap should be sufficient. For a larger load of wool, 2 caps in a front loader or 3 in a top loader is more than enough).
- Turn your sweater inside out and put in a fine mesh laundry bag to protect your items from any snags or burrs inside the washer tub. Learn more about mesh laundry bags here.
- Run according to machine directions, add a second rinse if needed.
- Never wring out your wool sweater. Put between clean, dry towels to absorb extra moisture.
How to dry your wool sweater
We know you want to wear it. But no matter how tempting, don’t put that wool sweater in the dryer, unless you want to pass it along to your toddler or small dog. Avoid hangers, too, as a wet wool sweater will definitely stretch out of shape. Your best bet is to lay your damp sweater flat on a clean dry towel or a specially made drying rack out of direct. Block, or reshape, the sweater as needed while it's drying. Avoid using any kind of outside heat source to dry your wool (space heater, radiator) as this can dry your sweater unevenly and is a fire hazard as well.
We recommend cleaning your sweaters prior to putting them away for the season. Store them in a cool, dry location in a vacuum bag or bin with a cedar block to prevent moths. To preserve their shape, don’t hang them.
The Best Products for Cleaning Your Wool Sweater
Choosing the proper detergent for either hand or machine washing your wool sweater is an absolute must. You should only wash wool in a pH-neutral detergent specially formulated to protect natural fibers like Heritage Park Luxury Silk and Wool Detergent.
Our unique formula is made to clean and protect your wool, cashmere, silk, and other natural garments. Most importantly, our gentle, effective detergent is made without enzymes. Laundry enzymes, also known as “biologics” can be found in many detergents, including ones marketed to care for luxury linen. They are made to dissolve stains, many of which are protein-based. However, wool, silk, cashmere, and leather garments are themselves protein-based; using an enzyme detergent on any of these washable fabrics will, over time, degrade the integrity of the fabric similar to dissolving a stain. The bottom line: avoid washing your wool sweater in any detergent that contains enzymes. Check out our blog to learn more about laundry enzymes and how they work for other fabrics. As we noted earlier, using a mesh laundry bag to protect your wool sweater in the wash is also a good idea.
More About Heritage Park Laundry Essentials
At Heritage Park, caring for fine fabric -- including your favorite wool sweaters-- is our passion. As lifelong collectors of luxury sheets, towels, and cloths, we found many commercially available "gentle detergents" either damaged our fabrics or didn't get the job done, leaving stains. We knew we could do better. So we developed a formula with the perfect balance of powerful -- yet safe -- ingredients designed to remove tough, set-in stains while remaining gentle on luxury linens. Our products are plant-based with a minimal list of ingredients. They are also cruelty free and Leaping Bunny approved to be free from animal testing through every phase of production. Please connect with us at (800) 977-1841 or visit our store or email us with any product feedback or cleaning questions.