Let's bust this myth once and for all: You do not have to dry clean your sweaters. Not. Even. Cashmere. We know, we know—you’ve had some disasters that have scared you, like when one of your wooly faves accidentally ended up in the dryer. (On the bright side, your two-year-old niece now has a chic turtleneck). But if you practice some TLC, there’s no reason to haul your beloved knits off to the cleaners. To help you avoid all this stress and save time and money, we hit up Gwen Whiting of The Laundress for her advice on keeping these luxurious pieces looking pristine for seasons to come.
The best way to wash wool sweaters
Don’t let cashmere scare you—when it comes to washing, this plush fabric is like any other sweater in your closet. “All animals in the wool family, whether sheep, alpaca, mohair, lamb, merino or camel use the same cleaning process,” says Whiting.
Her advice: It’s always safer to hand wash. Fill a sink, tub, or basin with tepid water and add a squirt of a cleanser that's specially formulated for wool, like The Laundress Wool and Cashmere Shampoo. Don’t have any on hand? “The alternative is a good hair shampoo, because wool and cashmere is hair,” she says. Next, submerge your sweater in the bath. Gently swirl it around for about 30 seconds, and let it soak for up to 30 minutes. Drain the dirty water and rinse with cool, clean water. Now for the most crucial step. “Avoid that gut reaction to wring it,” stresses the expert. “Wringing manipulates the fibers, and when the yarns are wet, they’re weaker. You might end up disfiguring your sweater.” Instead, gently remove the water by pressing your sweater into a ball (think: pizza dough). You can even press the ball into the side of the sink or your work surface.
The best way to dry a sweater
Back away from the dryer, which is notorious for shrinking knits. Once you’ve gotten the excess water out, lay the sweater flat on a clean towel or drying rack and re-create its natural shape. Let it air dry. To speed up the drying, roll the sweater up in the towel like a sleeping bag. Then, unroll it and replace the wet towel with a fresh dry one or place the sweater on a drying rack and reshape it again. A major no-no: Hanging your sweater up to dry. “You’re going to end up with a sleeve sagging in a place it shouldn’t be,” says Whiting.
How to wash cashmere in the washing machine
Though Whiting prefers hand-washing, the washing machine isn’t off limits. For best results, she says, place your sweater in a mesh washing bag. Select the delicate cycle on the machine, and make sure the water temperature is cold and the spin is on low. “You can shrink or felt an item by overly agitating it,” she warns. “That’s having your machine on too high, or really going to town with the item while hand washing.” Once the cycle is complete, promptly remove the sweater to reduce creasing and follow the drying instructions above.
How to treat stains
Is that ketchup on your sweater? Don’t freak out and dab like crazy—that will just make it worse. Whiting recommends working a stain remover into the area before the next wash. But go easy with the application. “If you’re scrubbing it with your fingers or a scrub brush, you’re going to have a visual result,” she says. “You’re either going to disrupt the weave or cause it to be super fuzzy.” Gently massaging it in will do the trick.
How to get rid of wrinkles
Heat is kryptonite to wool, so don’t use an iron—it crushes the fiber. Instead, consider the steamer your bestie. “Some wools, like a lighter merino or cashmere, are more prone to wrinkles after you wash—then you need to steam,” says Whiting. She also likes to use the steamer in between washes for a quick pick me up. “Steaming fluffs the yarns up and is a natural refresher.”
How often should you wash your sweaters
While washing or dry cleaning after every wear isn’t good for the yarns in your beloved sweaters, just how often you do is up to you. “It depends on your rotation, if you wear undershirts, or if it’s a sweater that goes over [a T-shirt]. Those kinds of things factor in,” Whiting says. Whiting launders her sweaters in the beginning of the season and toward the end of the season. “If you have pile of sweaters in your closet that you don’t wear on heavy rotation, then once or twice a season is perfect,” she says.
Wash before you store
“You always, always, always want to launder at the end of the season,” stresses Whiting. The main reason: Moths. “You think, ‘Oh, it’s clean, I only wore it that one time’— but it’s what bugs consider food, which is your body oil, body products, and perfume. So you’re basically leaving your clothes ripe with a food source in your storage if you don’t launder it first.” To fend off unwanted critters, Whiting advises giving your sweaters a full spa treatment before packing them away: Washing, de-pilling, steaming, folding beautifully, and off to storage.”
How to de-pill
Pilling, the little balls that form under the arms of your favorite sweaters or where your handbag lays on your shoulder, is caused by friction, which is why it appears on your favorite cardigan and not on the hideous pokey pullover sulking in the back of your closet. To stop pills from taking over, de-fuzz as you go, says Whiting, but make a special effort before storing your sweaters. Whiting swears by two products: A sweater stone for a heavier gauge yarn, and the sweater comb for a thinner weave. “They are two tools that just remove the pill, versus a shaver that won’t discriminate between the pill and the textile,” she says. Another tip: Always work the tool in one direction.
Banish the bulk! Here's how to properly fold your favorite sweaters for optimal closet storage:
How to store sweaters
Although they’re space hogs, always fold—never hang!—your sweaters. “If you hang a sweater, you’ll end up with distortion from the hangers, you’ll have horns on your shoulder, or your arm gets stuck in the hanger and stretches it,” says Whiting. For long-term storage, avoid plastic bins, where moisture and bugs can happily thrive. “We recommend cotton storage bags because bugs can’t eat through cotton, and it’s breathable, so you’re not going to have that retained moisture.”
Dealing with moths
Once you spot tiny holes multiple sweaters, it’s time for a closet cleanse. “Empty everything out, vacuum, spray, clean, and then launder in phases,” says Whiting. “Steaming is also really great for removing bug larva.” If the problem is severe, quarantine your sweaters in plastic bags until you can wash them thoroughly.