We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

How Should I Wash a Sweater?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

In some cases, a sweater's label will indicate that it should only be washed by hand. This is often the case with wool sweaters, since wool is a delicate and fussy fiber. Because of this well known property, handwashing sweaters might seem a bit intimidating at first, but it is really quite simple once you learn how to do it. By caring for a sweater well throughout its lifetime, you can keep it clean, crisp, and in perfect shape.

Before outlining the steps involved in washing a sweater, it can help to understand why wool is so difficult to wash. When wool is exposed to an alkaline environment, it opens up the scales of the fibers. If the wool is then agitated, the fibers will cling together, forming a dense mat. Sometimes, this mat is actually desired, and the processing is called fulling or felting. At other times, felting a perfectly good sweater will cause to to shrink dramatically in size. Therefore, when you wash a wool sweater, you want to avoid two things: alkaline detergent, and agitation. Wool also dislikes sudden temperature changes, so wash and rinse a sweater in water of a consistent temperature.

The temperature of the wash water is a subject of hot debate. Some people believe that you should not wash a sweater in hot water, since hot water will encourage felting. This is not actually the case, and hot water may even be better since it can lift embedded grime and grease. When you wash this garment in hot water, however, you must take care not to agitate it at all.

To wash a sweater in cool to lukewarm water, fill a large sink or tub with water and detergent or wool cleaner. Detergent such as dishwashing liquid is a great material for cleaning sweaters, since it is not alkaline, and it is often designed to cut through grease. Lay the sweater in the water and gently swish it a few times, but do not knead or wring the sweater. Rinse the sweater in water of the same temperature, ideally by filling a tub, laying the sweater in, and allowing the detergent to disperse naturally. This may take several changes of water. If you are using hot water, follow the same steps, except avoid any type of agitation to the sweater; simply allow it to sit in the hot water for up to half an hour before rinsing.

After washing, be careful about how you handle the sweater. Wool can get fragile when it is wet, and threads may break or stretch out. Support the weight of the sweater until you lay it out on a towel and roll it up. Gently press the towel, and avoid ringing or squeezing. When you unroll the towel, the sweater should be damp, but not wet.

Your next step is blocking, laying the freshly washed sweater out to dry in a shape that is not twisted or distorted. Lay a dry towel out on a large flat surface, and arrange the sweater more or less as it would be worn on a human body. Allow the sweater to dry completely before folding it for storage, and avoid exposure to direct sunlight. Never hang sweaters to dry or be stored, as the hanging will distort the shape of the sweater.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon291754 — On Sep 16, 2012

Yes, quality has a lot to do with it. Pilling happens because of the scales on the wool and friction as mentioned in the article; it's basically localized felting. That is why pilling happens first on the elbows and back of a sweater. The younger the sheep the wool comes from, the fewer scales it has, but the material is more expensive. Fewer/finer scales means fewer pills.

By anon291753 — On Sep 16, 2012

No, once felted, it's done, and cannot be undone.

By olittlewood — On Jan 04, 2008

does the quality of the sweater and its materials contribute to how fast they get those annoying little pills on them? some of my more inexpensive sweaters seem to get them with only a couple of wearings, but my more expensive sweaters last longer. is there any way to avoid these pesky pills?

By anon6627 — On Jan 04, 2008

Great info about washing sweaters. I have a question, though. After a sweater has already felted and shrunk, can one save the sweater? Is there a way to reconstitute or undo the felting. Long ago it was suggested to me to try cheap hair conditioner. That didn't work for me.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.