How to Wash Sweaters

How to Wash Sweaters (and Skip the Dry Cleaner)

by Madeline Berger
September 9th, 2021

Have you found yourself quietly uttering the words “sweater weather” over the past week or two? Perhaps it happened when a notably cool breeze wafted through the window, or as you realized it’s too chilly to wear sandals while walking through the Halloween display at Target. We’ve noticed customers making a beeline to sweaters both on our website and in stores, and thought there’d be no better time than now to drop a bit of knowledge about our favorite cool-weather item. If you’re anything like me, you have a sweater or two that you love to death and have worn many, many times. How often you’ve washed that sweater, however, may be a slightly smaller number.

I personally never really knew the proper way to wash sweaters, and would flinch as I gingerly threw one in the washer, bidding it adieu in a “perhaps we’ll meet again in the next life” type fashion. But, guys—listen up: it doesn’t have to be this way! After reading what bunches of helpful people on the internet have to say, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide for how to wash a sweater. And—spoiler alert—have discovered that you *don’t* need to bring your sweater to the dry cleaner even if the little tag tells you to do so. Happy early birthday!

Read on for instructions on 1. hand washing your sweater 2. machine washing your sweater and 3. drying your sweater. We even have a section on some ways you can shrink or stretch a sweater (because I can’t be the only one who has longed for this info). And before you leave, make sure you check out the hundreds of sweaters for sale on our vintage sweaters page!

Route 1: Hand Washing

If in doubt, hand wash! It’s easier than you’d think 🤓

  1. Fill a *clean* sink, a small tub, or bucket with cool water
  2. Add a small amount of laundry detergent and couple teaspoons of white vinegar. Why vinegar? It has antibacterial properties that leave your clothes odorless (including any vinegar smell)!
  3. Turn your sweater inside out and move the sweater around the tub in a gentle, swishing motion
  4. let soak in tub for 15-30 minutes
  5. Keeping sweater in tub, dump soap-laden water out and replace tub with clean, cool water
  6. Swish sweater around gently to rinse. Repeat with clean water until sweater shows no signs of suds or soap residue

Route 2: Machine Washing

If you don’t have the time to hand wash your sweater, machine washing is fine for anything but the most delicate items. Just follow these instructions!

  1. Make sure you select the least aggressive setting, whether that’s ‘hand wash’, ‘delicates’, or ‘slow/slow’.
  2. Use cool water, not warm or hot. Make sure to keep the cool water consistent between wash cycles going forwrad. It’s not hot water that shrinks a sweater, it’s the drastic water temperature change!
  3. Pick the shortest available cycle length to keep wear and tear to a minimum
  4. If you can, put your sweater in a mesh laundry bag to protect it and don’t wash your sweater with heavy, bulky items like jeans or towels. Imagine your sweater is a peach and your washer is a backpack. You wouldn’t throw it in with a bunch of textbooks, would you?

Time to Dry!

Once your sweater has been washed, it’s time to let it dry! If you remember one thing, remember the number one rule: don’t ring your sweater! Gently squeeze it over a sink before patting it dry with a clean towel. Then, lay it flat on a towel or drying rack and reshape it to the best of your ability. Never dry your sweater on a hanger (unless you want it stretched out with weird marks on the shoulders)

Fun Facts and More Tips

  1. If a sweater is wool, you can wash with a cheap shampoo like Suave because wool is hair
  2. If your sweater is white, don’t use any type of cleanser that includes bleach. It’ll turn your sweater yellow and make the fabric rough 😢 this includes Oxyclean!
  3. Add a few drops of oil (something nice smelling, like almond or lavender) or a small amount of conditioner when doing your final rinsing for wool sweaters. Wool contains natural oils that are stripped when using detergent and just a bit of oil will replenish and keep your sweaters extra soft!
— Shop now on —

Shrinking and Stretching Sweaters

Can you shrink a sweater that’s become stretched out over time? Yes! Wet your sweater and put it in the dryer on high heat until it’s completely dry. Sound scary? It kind of is!

To have some control over how much it shrinks, decide how wet you want your sweater to be before you begin the drying process. If a sweater is completely soaked it’ll shrink the most, and if you barely mist with water it’ll shrink just a bit. If, for example, just the arms have stretched out, simply wet the arms and leave the rest of the sweater dry before throwing in the dryer.

Can you stretch out a sweater that you’ve accidentally shrunk? Just maybe! Some sweater fabrics stretch more easily than others. What you can do is take two opposite sides of the sweater and gently pull outwards for a few seconds. Repeat this motion as you move around the edges of the sweater, making sure you’re not stretching one section significantly more than others. If this doesn’t work, trying dampening the sweater just a bit and try again.

That’s all there is to it! Now that you’re fully aware of all it takes to maintain the perfect sweater collection, why not add a sweater or two more? We’ve got hundreds of real vintage sweaters to shop from and are adding more every week.