How to Care for Sweaters and Other Knits

Don't let your sweater become a formless, baggy garment that could swallow you whole. Victoria_Fox/Shutterstock

Now that winter is in full swing, your sweaters are the workhorse of your winter wardrobe. If you're like me, then you wash them frequently, because — let’s face it — it might be frightfully cold outside, but it's swelteringly hot inside. You have no choice but to sweat through those sweaters on a daily basis (pretty picture, eh?). So how do you wash those sweaters and keep them looking crisp and fresh throughout the season? Read on!

First, it's important to read the care label on the inside of the sweater. Not all fabrics are created equal. A cotton sweater will generally do fine in the washing machine; angora will most definitely not. Usually, if you're machine washing a sweater, you're only running it on the delicate cycle. The water temperature also makes a difference, since cool water will help a sweater better maintain its shape. When in doubt, a cool delicate cycle is almost always going to be your best bet. Also be sure to turn your sweaters inside out to reduce the amount of pilling — those little balls of fiber that form on sweaters — which can make a new sweater look old in a snap.

A laundry care tag on a merino sweater
Always pay attention to the care tag on the inside of your sweater so you follow the best washing practices. HLPhoto/Shutterstock

Whatever the care label says, if you've got the time and you want to help your sweaters last longer, hand washing is probably your best bet. If you choose this route, it's prudent to use cool water with baby shampoo or a delicate fabric detergent instead of more abrasive cleaners. For an all-natural way to neutralize any odors, add 3/4 cup white vinegar to the mix. Empty the soapy water out of the wash basin, and refill with clean water to rinse. Be sure to avoid putting direct water pressure on your sweater since this can cause it to stretch. When you're done washing the sweater, don't wring it out since this will do damage to a delicate knitting. Instead, wrap the sweater in a towel to absorb excess water. Then, lay it flat to dry and gently reshape it while it’s flat. If you're washing a cardigan, button it before washing it — this will also help prevent it from stretching out.

What if you see a thread dangling from the outside of your sweater? Before you pull it any further — stop! You'll cause an even bigger bunch in the fabric and ruin your sweater for sure. Instead, turn your sweater inside out, find the exact spot of the offending thread, and pull it back in gently from the other side. Voila! Like new!

Fuzzy sweaters with visible pilling
Those fuzzy little bits on sweaters are called pills, and you can remove them without doing damage to your sweater. Roman Prishenko/Shutterstock

If your sweater develops some pills, you can try delicately snipping off the pills with a small scissor, or you can use a tool like this one that can transform it from ratty to crisp in a few moments. You can also follow these tips for stopping a sweater from shedding in the first place.

In general, you'll want to store sweaters folded in a drawer or on a shelf instead of hanging them in the closet, which can cause them to lose their shape. Hanging a sweater will also sometimes cause "hanger shoulders," which is when the shoulders of your sweater stand up on their own above your shoulders because they have molded to the hanger's shape. It's not a flattering look.

Follow these tips and you'll be well on your way to sweater nirvana. And, just think, in a few short months, it'll be tank top weather again!