It’s easy to love sweaters when they come in so many styles, designs, and materials. From flowy shawls to romantic, drapey knits to cozy cardigans, there’s a sweater for every mood and occasion. 

But with so many ladies' sweater options out there, the care requirements can leave your head spinning. Will machine washing fray the sparkly metallic thread embroidered along the neckline, or should you turn to dry cleaning? Do you really need to hand wash your go-to black turtleneck sweater, or can you just throw it in the washing machine? 

Keep reading for the lowdown on how to wash sweaters. We’ll cover the intricacies of machine washing and handwashing before finishing with important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind. 

To Hand Wash or Machine Wash?

If you find yourself stumped by the question of hand washing vs. machine washing, you’re not alone. It requires trade-offs—for example, choosing whether to give your beloved animal print sweater the most meticulous care when you have a finite amount of time. 

The main benefit of hand-washing is that it’s more gentle than even the lowest spin cycle, which will help those precious knits last longer. Hand-washing also uses less water, the perfect eco-friendly alternative! On the other hand, machine washing is more convenient, allowing you to tackle big loads at once rather than a single sweater at a time. 

The right judgment call ultimately depends on the sweater at hand, such as a sweater vs sweatshirt. Consider these key points when you’re making the decision: 

  • Read the care instructions – The label won’t reveal all your sweater’s secrets, but it’s a good starting place. At the minimum, care instructions tell you what not to do. For example, if your label says “hand wash only,” this indicates a delicate sweater, and the way forward is clear. But even without specific instructions, consider other factors before tossing your sweater in the wash. 
  • Evaluate the fabric type – Sweaters come in various types of fabrics and knitwear, and some are sturdier than others. Cotton and synthetic fibers such as polyester or acrylic are more likely to retain their quality after a machine wash spin cycle. Be careful with more delicate knits made of cashmere or wool, which require gentler handling. 
  • Take care with decorative detailing – Pay attention to any decorative elements on your sweater, as these are often more delicate and loosely stitched. If you have an open knit sweater for the beach, a delicate bohemian fringe, or a playful pom pom detailing on your hands, opt for the good old wash basin rather than the machine.

Machine Washing 101

If your sweater has landed in the machine washing category, your work is not yet done. Before lounging around in your favorite weekend cardigan and watching the spin cycle do its magic, make sure to take the following into account: 

  • Heavy fabrics spell trouble – When washing sweaters, it’s important to keep them separate from any rougher materials such as heavy denim, thick metal buttons, or large zippers. Hefty jackets and pants can get caught on your sweater, pulling out the threads. 
  • The setting matters – Don’t use the same spin cycle for your sweaters as for your jeans! Make sure to choose the gentlest setting possible, which might be listed as “delicates,” “low spin,” or “hand wash.” The right setting can prevent your sweater from fading and looking worn. 
  • Protective covering is your friend – If you’re washing more than one sweater at once, or if you’re in a quick pinch and have to throw your favorite pullover in the wash with everything else, put it in a pillowcase or lingerie bag for added protection. You can minimize other clothing fibers rubbing against your sweaters and causing pilling. 

Hand-Washing How-To

When it comes to how to hand wash sweaters, the good news is that you only need a few basic supplies to get started. These include:  

  • Your fantabulous sweater
  • Your detergent of choice—a mild soap or even a baby shampoo 
  • Water
  • A container to hold the goods, whether a tub or a clean sink

Once you have all your equipment gathered together, follow these steps to get those knit tops fresh and clean: 

  1. Fill your container with clean water. Add a small amount of gentle detergent or mild detergent.
  2. Submerge the sweater in the tub and let it soak. Ten to fifteen minutes is a good rule of thumb, but the amount of time is up to you. Keep a thick sweater soaking for longer. 
  3. Once your sweater has absorbed the detergent, get to work and gently massage the fabric. Avoid wringing or rubbing the sweater against itself, which can wear it out.
  4. Make sure to get all the soap suds out, which may require changing the water.
  5. Afterwards, gently roll your sweater in a towel to get rid of the water and any excess moisture. Set it out to dry.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Washing

Now that you know the basics of how to care for your sweater, it’s time for some spring cleaning. But before you run and grab last year’s holiday sweater from your closet, read through the following tips and tricks to ensure you’re really treating those cozy knits right. 

Do Turn Your Sweaters Inside Out

Whether you’re putting your trusty pullover in the wash or rinsing it yourself in the sink, it’s important to turn the garment inside out before you begin. That way, the outside of the sweater bears the brunt of the washing, leaving the outer, decorative part less likely to pill.

In fact, if you don’t turn your sweater inside out, you may end up with one of the following fiascos: 

  • A heavy zipper catching on your cardigan buttons, pulling them loose 
  • Lint sticking to the embroidered detailing on your favorite V-neck, leaving the design fuzzy 
  • Other clothing rubbing against the decorative fringe running across the midline of your cashmere sweater so that the delicate fabric becomes faded and wrinkled 

Sometimes, despite best intentions, it’s difficult to remember this important step. If this sounds like you, consider these tried and true ways: 

  • Leave a sticky note next to your wash basin or washing machine to remind yourself
  • Turn the sweater inside out immediately after wearing, before you toss it in the dirty pile 
  • Make it a habit to turn all your laundry inside out

Don’t Use Hot Water

If you want your sweaters to look like new, nothing is more important than steering clear of hot water. Opt for lukewarm water or cold water instead. Your sweater will thank you for the gentle treatment. 

Examples of how hot water can damage your sweaters include

  • Fading bright colors, which means that bold aqua sweater might come out looking more pastel
  • Shrinking the fabric, leading your breezy, billowy cardigan to sit at an awkward length
  • Setting stains into delicate materials, so that the wine stain on your sharp, professional gray wool sweater becomes permanent

Don’t Wash after Every Wear

While it’s important to keep your sweaters clean, washing after every wear can needlessly wear out your beautiful knits and create an added hassle for you. A wash every two to five wears will generally do the trick. 

However, there are exceptions to this rule, so use your best judgment when deciding whether your sweater is due for a wash. Examples of special situations include: 

  • Sporting your black mock neck for a stroll on an unusually warm day, in which case your sweater might show signs of sweat such as stains or a smell
  • Taking a nap on the beach in your knitted wrap only to have the tide catch up to you, leaving seawater stains on the fabric
  • Wearing a camisole or long sleeve under your sweater for an extra layer on brisker days, in which case you may wait a greater number of wears before washing

Do Lay Flat to Dry

Caring for your sweater doesn’t stop after the wash. The drying process is equally important. Because the knitted fabric is thicker and heavier when wet, your best bet for preserving the shape of your sweater is to lay it flat to dry.

If you’re not sure where to leave your sweater, find a place where it won’t be disturbed and where there is enough room for the sleeves and body. Consider the following: 

  • The top level of a hang dry rack 
  • An unused table or desk 
  • The floor or another hard surface, on top of a clean towel 

Karen Kane: Sustainably, Ethically Sourced Clothing Made to Wow

With the tips above, you’re well-prepared to make your sweater last for longer and you can go on to discover different ways for how to style your oversized sweater or how to tuck in a sweater to achieve a chic, classy look. But in the end, it is good to keep in mind that the original quality of your sweater will affect its longevity.

Looking for the perfect sweater? Give our roomy Pullover Sweater a try for an effortlessly cool look, or go with one of our cardigan styles from Shawl to Drape, adding sophistication to any outfit. We know that looking your best begins with a feeling of confidence, in yourself and in the clothing.

Pairing a trendy shawl with your outfit? Check out all of our tips on how to wear a shawl to prepare you for any occasion.


Downy. How To Wash A Sweater - Prevent Pilling And Fuzz. 

Dependable Cleaners. How To Wash Sweaters 

The Spruce. How to Clean and Care for Sweaters. 

Bustle. How Often Do You Really Need To Wash A Sweater? 

Mind Body Green. How Often You Should Actually Wash Sweaters, According To A Germ Expert. 

Whirlpool. What is fabric pilling? (and how to remove pilling).

Glamour. Skip the Dry Cleaners: Expert Tips on Hand-Washing Your Sweaters. 

Esquire. This Is the Right Way to Machine Wash Your Sweaters. 

The Good Trade. How To Hand Wash & Dry Clean Your Clothes At Home.

The Maids. Washing Clothes In Cold Water Vs Hot Water.