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How to Wash a Sweater: A Full Step-By-Step Guide

by Drew Dagan

As the days grow shorter and the temperature gets colder, knowing how to wash a sweater without shrinking or pilling the fabric is really important. Lucky for all of us, a lot of knitwear is machine washable, so you’ll save time on hand-washing and money on dry cleaning. But to keep your sweaters looking their best, there are certainly some rules to live by. Here’s what you should know.

How to Wash a Sweater

Faux Pearl-Sleeve Sweater

Washing a sweater for the first time can be a bit daunting. There’s nothing worse than accidentally shrinking or misshaping your knitwear. Start by reading the care tag. If it says machine-washable, the fibers will hold up in the washing machine. But before you go ahead and pop your sweater into the wash, follow these specific instructions.

1. Prepare the garment

Start by fastening all the buttons, laces, and zippers to prevent them from getting snagged in the machine. Next, turn the garment inside out—especially if it has beading or embroidery. If you’re washing a finer-gauge piece, a mesh lingerie bag can further protect your sweater.

If you have to spot-clean your garment, keep in mind that for most oil-based stains (like sauce, makeup, or grease), you should start by scraping off as much of it as possible and then running the stain under cool water. Apply detergent to the stain and let it sit before treating it with a stain remover of your choice.

2. Prepare the machine

Most performance fibers have been blended or treated to make shrinking impossible. But to play it safe, wash your knits on cold. Certain fabric washes are specially formulated to wash fabrics like wool, but other gentle detergents will also get the job done.

3. Wash

Along with water, agitation is the other main cause of shrinkage and pilling. Choose the gentle or delicate cycle to protect your precious garment. Machine washing your sweaters may take longer than washing other garments, but you’ll never regret taking the extra steps to ensure that your piece remains in good condition. Pro tip: Wash your sweaters as little as possible, generally every two to three wears, and try to give them at least 24 hours between wears to air out any moisture and maintain their shape.

Drying Tips

Dual-Neck Twist-Detail Sweater

The best way to dry your sweater is to use the blocking method. Lay out a towel and reshape your garment on it. Then roll the towel and sweater together, and lean on them to blot out the excess water.

When you’ve gotten the moisture out of your knitwear, reshape the sweater on another towel and lay it flat in a single layer over a drying rack. The sweater should take at least 24 hours to dry.

After your sweater is dry, go over it with a steamer or wave an iron about an inch over the garment while pressing the steam button to help it retain its shape. Give your garment a once-over with a pilling machine or pumice stone before storing, or use a fresh razor if you’re pressed for time. If you’re in a rush and your garment is not fully dry by morning, you can use a hair dryer to spot-dry any remaining damp spots.

Storing Secrets

Metallic-Colorblock Sweater Tunic

Neatly folding your sweaters is the best way to store them if you have the space. Hanging sweaters is a less optimal way to store them because it stretches the stitches. If you need to hang them for space reasons, fold the sweater once lengthwise and drape it over the bar of the hanger. Just be sure to keep your knits away from any items with zippers or embellishments to avoid snags.

Sweaters are warm, versatile, and worth investing in. The secret to giving your favorite sweaters a long life is to take proper care of them, and this guide will help you do just that.

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