How To Care For Your Sweaters: 10 Tips


Photography by Angi Welsch

One day, our clothing will launder, fold and care for itself. Until then, we’re stuck with the job of wearer and carer. This sweater season, we are learning the art of skipping the dry cleaner and de-pilling, de-shrinking and hand washing at home, with 10 tips from the experts at New York-based garment-care boutique Madame Paulette.

1. How can you gently remove pills from a sweater?

The unavoidable truth is all sweaters will pill just by wearing or cleaning them. You can remove pills easily by holding the sweater flat with one hand and slicing off pills one at a time with a simple razor, like a Bic. You can also buy a manual pill remover. [Editor’s note: We like the Gleener, a long-handled lint brush with three interchangeable edges for heavy, medium and fine knits.]

2. How often should you wash a sweater?

Did the sweater pick up germs or dirt? That warrants a washing. A good rule of thumb is to wash every four wears, unless you spill, sweat or are around smoke.

3. Walk us through hand washing a sweater step by step.

Fill a sink or bucket with as much cool water as it’ll hold, then add a few squirts of a gentle detergent like Woolite (they make an Extra Delicate Care formula). Submerge the sweater and swish it around. Let it soak for 30 minutes, then rinse it well under cool water.

4. And how do you squeeze out water and let it dry?

Never wring anything. Gently squeeze water out of the sweater and then lay it flat on a towel. Roll it up like a sleeping bag to really suck up the excess water. Dry it by laying it flat on a clean towel or a drying rack.

5. Is there any way to soften a sweater that’s particularly itchy?

After the wash and rinse, refill the sink or basin with enough cool water to allow the sweater to swirl around. Thoroughly mix in liquid fabric softener and follow the same directions for washing explained earlier. Rinse it thoroughly in cool water. [Editor’s note: This isn’t endorsed by a professional, but we’ve used half a cup of hair conditioner instead of fabric softener. Avoid 2-in-1 shampoo mixes and heavy hair masks, and follow the same process above.]

6. How do you shrink a sweater that has stretched out?

Wet the sweater down and put it in the dryer on very high heat until it’s bone dry. You can customize the shrink with how wet the sweater is: Completely soaking it will lead to more shrinking, while misting it till it’s just damp will shrink it less. If the sweater is simply out of shape, wet just those areas and toss it in the dryer.

7. Can you stretch a sweater that’s been shrunk?

Depending on the fabric, yes. Stretch the body by grabbing the collar and the hem at different points and gently pulling. Hold for five seconds and repeat. Do the same thing from shoulder to sleeve and from side to side. [Editor’s note: A trick we’ve used is to hang the sweater and clip two pants hangers to the bottom to weigh it down. The hangers will crease the sweater, but that’s fixable with a fresh washing or an iron on very low heat.]

8. About that: What’s the best way to hang a sweater to avoid little peaks in the shoulders?

The best way is to not hang it at all because sweaters, especially those with a loose weave, will stretch out. Preserve their shape by keeping them in drawers or on shelves, folded or rolled. If you do need to hang it, fold it over the hanger but ideally over a sheet of tissue paper to prevent a crease.

9. This begs the question, what’s a trick for folding or rolling?

Lay the sweater front-down on a flat surface (lay a towel down first to keep the surface from snagging the sweater). Fold each arm one at a time, from the sleeve seam diagonally across the sweater’s back. Then either roll from the bottom hem up to the collar or fold it horizontally in half.

10. And because all good things come to an end: What’s the best way to fold and store sweaters come spring?

Three steps: Thoroughly clean them, fold them and then store them in breathable clothing storage bags or boxes made of cotton, muslin or canvas. Vacuum-sealed bags might save space but they seal in moisture and can create mildew and yellowing. [Editor’s note: Bugs hate cedar and lavender, so toss a small satchel filled with either in with your sweaters.]

Shop our entire assortment of sweaters here.