Skip the Dry Cleaners: Expert Tips On Hand-Washing Your Sweaters

Because I’m willing to bet you’ve heard it a hundred times but still don’t believe it, I’ll say it again: washing pieces by hand is easier than you think and completely worth it for extending the life, shape, and general well-being of your clothing. Sweater season is so close I can smell it and all the future fun spent snuggled and swathed in your favorite wool, cashmere, and cotton-blends has a downside: your most-loved pieces are going to require a wash before the holidays.


I’m an amateur hand-washer—I know the basics, but every time I run the water and pour in soap, I’m concerned I’m doing something wrong. To clarify, I called in a pro, San Francisco-based designer Margaret O’Leary, and had her go over the proper steps.

Step #1: Turn sweaters inside out.
“This minimizes the friction and will prevent yarn from pilling,” she explained.

Step #2: Fill sink with water and soap.
Make sure your sink is clean and then fill it with a dime-size amount of soap and cold water. Margaret’s soap of choice for cashmere and other knits is a lavender-scented shampoo from EO that she buys at Whole Foods.

Step #3: Wash.
Let items soak for 5 to 10 minutes. You don’t have to monitor them constantly, but walk by every few minutes and give them a light rub. Personally, I submerge one hand so it touches the garment and agitate it just a touch so the water shows some movement.

Step #4: Drain sink and rinse sweater.
Empty the sink basin and start the tap with cold water, rinsing each item individually to make sure all soap is gone.

Step #4: Remove from sink.
Be warned: Your sweater will be heavy with water. Push them against the walls of the sink to get out excess moisture (avoid wringing or aggressively squeezing—be kind to your clothes!).

Step #5: Use the dryer.
“Keep the sweater inside out and put it in the dryer on a low spin cycle to get the majority of the moisture out,” she told me in a step that kind of blew my mind. “It’s important to make sure the dryer is set to low spin or else the sweater will shrink.”

Step #6: Lay sweater flat on the floor.
A cardinal rule of sweaters? “Never hang!” Put a clean towel on the floor and lay the sweater on top of it, arranging the shoulders and sleeves so it has its proper form (note from me: put the towel on a tiled floor, like in the bathroom, so you don’t find a damp carpet later…). If you’re in a rush, Margaret has a fix for that, too: “If I’m in a real hurry, I’ve been known to blow dry my sweaters on cool for a few minutes followed by a cool iron to complete the drying and take the wrinkles out.”

Additional sweater thoughts I loved from our chat? Margaret told me that cashmere becomes plusher as it soaks in water, so consider your wash time based on how you like your sweaters to look. She also reminded me to continue my relationship with my de-pilling pumice stone. It was a random buy years ago and it’s seriously the best thing ever.

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