Sweater-Washing Day

Sweater-Washing Day

My blood tends to runs a little cool, and I have a closetsful of sweaters, sweatshirts and giant fluffy blankets to prove it.

Maybe it’s just me, but winter fabrics seem a tad stale at the start of every fall, so I’ve learned a trick that keeps that faintly sad fragrance of closed air and wool at bay for at least the first several wearings: Wash, rinse, and – most importantly – dry outside.

I’ve written before about my love of drying clothes outdoors. The air smells so good here in NNY. Catching that fragrance in fabric is a little intoxicating – like seeing a hummingbird up close, or opening your windows for the first time in the spring.

Even heavy winter fabrics can smell wonderful without the help of fabric softener or Febreze. When you dry your cold weather garments outside in the last flush of summer air, that smell clings to your garments for a surprisingly long time. And drippy sweaters drying indoors make me think of Russian winters during the Cold War anyway.

Is that weird?

Do you take one look at the DRY CLEAN or HAND WASH-only tag and run in the opposite direction, no matter how beautiful or flattering a piece of clothing may be?


The best thing about good quality fabrics like wool? If you take good care of them, they will take good care of you.

If you’re going to be living in northern New York – or anywhere that gets chilly, for that matter – you don’t have to limit your winter clothing repertoire to cotton and synthetics. Yes, it’s more time-consuming to take proper care of a wool or cashmere garment, but it’s also totally worth it.

My favorite sweater is 100% wool, but surprisingly light weight. It’s thicker than most of my other sweaters – about the thickness of a good-quality sweatshirt – but it doesn’t seem to add bulk.

Even wool sweaters like this one are deceptively delicate. It took me years to figure out how to properly care for wool and I went through many expensive holiday sweaters before I got it right.

Wool is a natural fiber. Like cotton, it wicks away moisture when worn against skin, yet holds warmth with its tight, scaly threads. It is water-repellant because it contains an oil called lanolin. Firefighters used to wear wool pants and shirts because, with its high ignition temperature, wool is basically fire-resistant. Yet even in frigid weather, wool garments keep their wearer dry and warm.

If you’ve ever taken really good care of a beloved wool sweater, you’ll notice that no matter how long you’ve had it and what you’ve put it through (spitty babies, spilled juice, spilled coffee, dog drool, etc), it probably doesn’t have a spot on it. That’s because wool is really, really hard to stain. In fact, I purposely avoided taking pictures of the tag on the sweater below because, unfortunately, it has not escaped said grime.

Hand Washing Instructions for Delicate Winter Fabrics:

The best way I’ve found to wash my hand wash only sweaters is infrequently, by hand, with cold water and Woolite. I’ve heard of people using shampoo and conditioner on their wool sweaters, but Woolite works fine and I know choosing a shampoo for my wool sweaters (Clarifying? Anti-dandruff? Volumizing?!) would just stress me out.

Start by putting a plastic wash basin into the kitchen sink, then swish a small amount of Woolite in with cold water and very gently “agitate” and massage the sweater.

If you do have a stain to remove, put a small amount of Woolite directly on the stain and dab. If a stain is all that stands between your sweater and the giveaway bin, feel free to (gently) “scrub” the stubborn spot with another part of the sweater.

When your sweater is clean, empty the basin and refill it with cold water to rinse.

While emptying the basin after rinsing, continually, very gently massage the water out of the sweater, making sure not to pull or stretch. Repeat if necessary.

After the water runs clear, use a clean towel to blot the sweater dry.

Most sweaters should be reshaped and laid flat to dry.

These simple steps work on a variety of materials.

Today I washed four sweaters – the 100% wool, a Pima Cotton/Wool Blend, an Angora/Nylon Blend, and – believe it or not – CASHMERE!

You might be surprised to find out, but the sweater that looks the most abused out of that little pile from the picture at the top of the post? The only one containing nylon, a synthetic material!

Against all instructions (and maybe common sense), the blue cashmere sweater was given the Clothesline Treatment. I shaped it while carefully pinning it to the clothesline so as not to snag the fabric.

Because I have an extremely long torso (I’m 6’ tall, yet can wear most standard-length pants), I don’t mind a little stretching as long as it’s only being stretched LONGER.

Don’t hate me for hanging cashmere. I haven’t worn it in a couple of years because it’s a little too short for me now that trends are for longer-length sweaters than when I bought this (back before I had children and could afford to purchase cashmere sweaters). It was either the Clothesline Treatment to try and lengthen it, or send it away to live with someone else. Sad smile

If YOU decide to give your beloved cashmere sweater the clothesline treatment and things don’t work out, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

In this case, it worked out. Hanging this gorgeous blue sweater upside-down from the clothesline made it almost a half inch longer. There were no ill-effects from the clothespins because I only let it hang until it was just damp, then reshaped it to finish drying flat. There was no pilling from my washing it because I treated this sweater more gently than I treat my own skin. It’s as soft and warm as before – maybe more so. And now I can actually wear it because it doesn’t look like something that’s gone out of style.

Best of all, my whole closet smells like summer, despite the fact that there is a cold fall rain pouring outside.

  • http://www.waywardgirlscrafts.com/ Jordan (Wayward Girls’ Crafts)

    This is great! It’s very similar to how you treat a knit while you’re making it. Instead of blotting dry with a towel, though, you very very gently lay the garment flat on the towel, and then roll the towel and garment up together to squeeze out extra moisture. (You can actually squeeze pretty hard that way, even on really delicate things like the 100% merino lace shawls I made for my daughters.) Then you stretch and pin the garment into the right shape and let it dry. You can use blocking boards, but lots of people really like using the kind of alphabet foam puzzle squares you see in kids’ classrooms (clean, of course). You could stretch out a sweater without causing uneven stresses that way, too.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.waywardgirlscrafts.com/ Jordan (Wayward Girls’ Crafts)

      Oh, I realized one thing I should clarify: *squeeze* the towel, but never twist or wring.