DOs & DON’Ts of Caring for Winter Sweaters

CD One Price Cleaners Posted: Jan 22, 2015 by CD One Price Cleaners
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Winter do's and don'ts

They’re fun and fashionable, proven and practical, literally warm and fuzzy. Wintertime sweaters are a clothing staple, but caring for them is trickier than is for t-shirts and blue jeans.

Between fit and fabric, style and storage needs, there are many different types of sweaters. So how do you take care of them, and make sure they keep their shape and structure for years to come? The short answer is: read the label. But we have longer answers for you, too.

Most sweaters are either cotton or wool, with cotton best suited for warmer weather. So most of your winter sweaters are going to be made of wool – and there are several kinds of wool (see sidebar). Wool fiber weakens when wet, which is a big reason why you need to be careful when cleaning a wool sweater.

World of Wools

  • Cashmere
    Wool from goats, not sheep (originally Kashmir goats, hence the name), very soft, even luxurious, and expensive
  • Merino
    Softest of the sheep wools
  • Lamb's wool
    Medium, from a sheep’s very first sheering
  • Shetland
    Coarsest sheep wool, most likely to be itchy

Here are some tips for washing a wool sweater. Every garment has its own “likes and dislikes,” but for most wool sweaters, these DOs and DON’Ts generally apply.



  • Read the label and follow instructions
  • Wash in cool water, in a sink
  • Turn the sweater inside out
  • Use mild detergent or Woolite
  • Rinse away soap with cold water
  • Squeeze gently to remove water
  • Air-dry on towel or drying rack
  • Fold and store flat (buy a folding board)
  • Store in cedar, in breathable space
  • Just toss it in the washer
  • Use hot water or the dryer
  • Scrub and scrape, especially if embroidered
  • Use bleach
  • Leave soap in the garment
  • Wring or twist - a huge no-no!
  • Spin-dry in dryer
  • Hang on a hanger - may stretch and dimple
  • Use mothballs, or airtight bags

Fabric is Everything

Although your winter sweaters are most likely to be made of wool, there are many other materials out there. The fabric itself is the number one factor in determining how you should best clean the garment, so – sorry to repeat ourselves – check the label and follow the instructions. Here is a table of generally recommended methods for washing sweaters according to their fabrics.

Clean By Hand: Cool water, mild detergent
Machine Wash: Rarely, and risky
Dry Clean: Recommended, except when label says Do Not Dry Clean

Clean By Hand: Cold water, Woolite
Machine Wash: No
Dry Clean: Okay, but remove plastic bag and hanger, and store flat

Clean By Hand: Not necessary
Machine Wash: Yes, in cold water; do not put in dryer
Dry Clean: Okay, but not required

Angora, Mohair, other natural fibers
Clean By Hand: Probably okay
Machine Wash: No
Dry Clean: Recommended

Clean By Hand: Not necessary
Machine Wash: Usually fine
Dry Clean: Okay, but probably not required

*Polyester, Acrylic, Rayon, Nylon, etc. Sweaters can also be made of linen, silk, and blends of various fabrics both natural and synthetic. Check every label for care and washing instructions.

How often should you clean your sweaters?

At the beginning and the end of every winter season, and about every four wears in between.

A note on pilling

All sweater fabrics break and pill. Mat, fuzz, ball up. It cannot be prevented, nor reversed. The only thing to do is to de-pill. You can use sweater stones, scissors, razors, brushes, combs, duct tape, Velcro, devices specifically made for de-pilling, or simply your fingers. You can do it ad hoc whenever you spot them, or more methodically, say, right before or after cleaning.

And finally…

There are many websites out there with tips on the care and handling, washing and storing of sweaters of all types. Interestingly, many are written either for men or for women, having a slant toward fashion.
But of course the sweater doesn’t know its wearer’s gender. The tips we’ve offered here derive primarily from the sweater’s material. Sure, you want to look good and feel comfortable when you’re wearing it, but when it comes to cleaning and care, it’s about the garment, not the guy or the gal. Our DOs and DON’Ts are gender-neutral.

So look good. Stay warm. And read the label.

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