Since the first of the winter storms started dumping snow and cold weather across the country, we have been receiving many questions about how to care for organic wool sweaters. Some people struggle with the impression that wool sweaters are difficult to care for and must be professionally cleaned but this is not necessarily true. Simple care for many fine sweaters in a variety of fabrics such as wool, cotton, alpaca, angora and blends will keep them looking gorgeous for years. Here is a collection of sweater care tips that we have compiled to help you get the most out of your beautiful organic sweater. If you have any sweater tips that are not included and you would like to share, please post a comment or email us.
Caring for your sweater between washings:
- Give your sweater a good shake after each wearing to remove fluff and dust.
- Air out your sweater after wearing it to remove any body moisture and body odors that might be trapped in the sweater fibers. To air it out, lay your sweater on a dry, cotton towel (organic cotton, of course), away from direct sunlight. Direct sunlight can cause unnecessary fading. Never hang a sweater as the weight of the sweater on a hanger can pull the shape out of the shoulders.
- Carefully remove any fuzz balls, also called “pills”, that seem to grow on a sweater. These are caused by simple wear. To remove the sweater fuzz balls, carefully cut them off with a small scissors. Don’t pull them off as this can further damage the fibers by pulling them out even more.
- After it has dried thoroughly, fold flat and store your sweater in a natural wrapper with cedar chips to discourage moths. Don't store wool in plastic, which builds moisture and keeps the sweater from breathing.
Laundering your sweater. When your sweater does need cleaning, check the label for the manufacturer’s recommended method of cleaning – hand washing, machine washing, or dry cleaning. Before we list the simple steps for hand washing your sweater, there are two issues that we first need to clarify: water temperature and the type of detergent.
The temperature of the water has been hotly debated. Some insist that it should be cold to prevent shrinking and fulling; others advocate very hot water to better remove oils, stains and dirt. The reality is that it doesn’t matter much. Hot water does not cause fulling or shrinking – hot drying does. Cool water and the proper detergents can remove dirt and germs as effectively as hot. For wool, what is more important is that the temperature of the wash water and the rinse water should be the same. We suggest a mild temperature water that is comfortable to your skin.
The type of soap or detergent is important and you want to use a detergent that does not have an alkaline pH. An alkaline pH causes the wool scales to open and this leads to fulling. Woolite is alkaline and strips wool fibers so avoid Woolite. Most soaps are alkaline so we recommend using a mild detergent. Dishwashing detergents and shampoos usually have a base, rather than alkaline, pH and many recommend them for washing wool sweaters. Check the detergent labels first to insure that it is really a detergent and not a soap and that it doesn’t contain thickeners, perfumes, colors and other unnecessary, extraneous ingredients that will attract and trap dirt. Perfumes and thickeners can also be a source of irritation for the chemically sensitive.
Some have also recommended using hair conditioners to make the sweater softer. Conditioners also tend to be alkaline and should be avoided.
The sweater washing world seems to be awash in myths and folklore. Natural detergent companies such as Ecover are starting to market more natural detergents specifically designed for wools and fine fabrics. We have used them with good success and recommend them.
Hand washing is a simple process that doesn’t take long and is not difficult. Here are the best tips that we have found for hand washing your sweater:
- Turn your sweater inside out to protect the outside surface fibers from pulling.
- Fill the sink with tepid or slightly warm water, add a small amount of a good, natural detergent to the water and mix it in slightly but not so much as to create foam suds. Never use chlorine bleach on wool because it breaks down the fiber.
- Place your sweater in the water and gently push the sweater down until it is completely wet and then just let it soak for 20 minutes. With time, the water and detergent will penetrate every area of the sweater and do their job. Avoid the temptation to kneed the sweater or roll it around. This is the stage in the process where you must be extra careful to avoid stretching the sweater unduly as the wool yarns are more fragile and susceptible to stretching when wet.
- Then, turn on the tap and run the water to rinse, until you've rinsed out all the bubbles. Be careful that you always are supporting the sweater from underneath whenever you lift it to prevent stretching.
- Then, wash again and rinse.
- Allow the sweater to drain for a few minutes, then gently lay it on a towel, roll the towel with the sweater inside and press the rolled towel. Don’t wring the wet sweater or rub it. When you unroll the towel, you can blot the sweater with another dry towel as long as you only apply pressure and do not rub.
- Place the sweater face up on a dry towel and block it, which means to shape the sweater gently with your hands into its original shape. Draw together the waist and wrist ribbing, button cardigans closed, roll collars into position, and straighten the sleeves. The drying process will help form the sweater into the shape you want. If you want to reshape it, this is your chance.
- Finally, let your sweaters dry overnight. In the morning, turn and block the other side until dry. Drying time can be 12 - 72 hours, depending on your climate, how thick the sweater, and how damp it was to begin with.
This process is appropriate for most sweaters and will help to retain their beauty for years. Remember, though, to always follow the care instructions on the manufacturer’s label and use this process only for sweaters that can be hand washed.
Good luck ... and enjoy.