I have spent the morning washing vintage sweaters; one intricate hand knit wool Norwegian sweater, a fluffy white angora sweater, a beaded vintage angora/lambswool sweater, an alpaca sweater, and a cashmere sweater. Yes, I washed them in actual soap and water as I have done for years…and even more shocking, in my washing machine. I know!
This issue comes up regularly on many of the vintage and clothing boards that I frequent: can sweaters be washed, or should they be dry cleaned only? I am here to tell you that not only sweaters can be washed, they will be better off for it. Personally, I detest dry cleaning. DETEST IT! Not only is it expensive, but it fills your clothing with harmful chemicals. Sweaters especially, end up brittle and flat from those yucky solvents.
Sweaters are made to be washed in soap and water. Think about it – the natural yarns come from either the angora goat (mohair), angora rabbits (angora), cashmere goat (cashmere), alpaca (alpaca), or sheep (wool). These wonderful animals live out in all sorts of conditions, and I’m sure that at some point their fur gets wet and is not harmed by it. I can say for certain that most of them are not exposed to chemical dry cleaning solvents out romping in the fields or mountains.
I’ve written many posts about washing sweaters, but here’s a quick review on how I do it. I turn the sweater inside out and place in a mesh lingerie washing bag (I just found some fabulous ones at Target). I use cold water and a gentle detergent like Woolite in my washing machine on gentle/hand wash cycle. I put the sweater in the machine and agitate it slightly, just enough to work a bit of the suds through the sweater. Then I stop the machine and let the sweater soak for awhile, depending on how dirty or heavy the sweater is. Heavy woolens I have soaked for hours; more delicate angora or cashmere, I soak for 10 -15 minutes or so. Then I agitate it a bit more and let it drain and spin. Then rinse, drain and spin. Voila!
It is important that when the machine is filling, to not let the water pour directly onto the sweater. Also remember to use very little agitation, just a little swish through. A lot of agitation can cause the fibers to warp and felt.
Of course, when you take the sweater out of the machine be sure to air-dry it. What’s especially nice about machine washing is that it spins all the heavy water out – no need to mess around with rolling it up in towels as you have to when hand washing. I block it into shape and let dry naturally on a sweater dryer. It will turn out gorgeous and soft and clean and smelling wonderfully.
Happy Autumn and Sweater Season! 🙂