How to wash a wool sweater
Most sweaters are made of a combination of fibers that help avoid pilling and shrinkage when washed in cold water. Some of these combinations allow for the sweater to be dried in an electric or gas drier on low setting without ruining the sweater. However, 100% wool sweaters, Cashmere and silk combinations require some tender loving care and special handling, both in washing and drying techniques.
With a little know-how and the right products, a classic sweater can last several decades and still look like new after repeated washings.
Know the contents
Different materials are used to make sweaters and the manufacturer has specific instructions on how to launder their particular garment. However, if in doubt, it is best to know the exact contents the sweater is made out of and use true and tried techniques that have worked well in the past, before the advent of dryers and sweet smelling detergents and softeners.
Most people think that they should wash a sweater in cold water in the gentles cycle of their washing machine. This may work with a front loader (I say may with a great deal of caution) but will definitely ruin a perfectly good sweater on a top loader. The problem is the agitator and constant wringing of the sweater. It will cause abrasion of those great fibers and the sweater will look like it has been rubbed with a pumice stone.
How to wash a wool sweater
Use HOT water or very warm water for wool sweaters if washing fragile Cashmere use warm water only. The purpose of washing it is to remove soil, stains and oils from the skin and hot water would accomplished this process quite well. A bucket, a sink or a bathtub will work just fine to lay the sweater in and LEAVE it alone. Do not wring it, scrunch it or in any way stretch the fibers while wet, or the sweater will stretch unevenly with no way to restore it to ist original shape.
Detergent and washing
Do not be taken in by fancy labels and promises of gentleness. The best detergent to use is probably already in the kitchen: DAWN dishwashing liquid (original formula works best) will lift grease and stain better than those-so-called gentle and expensive detergents. Add a few drops of Dawn dishwashing liquid in hot water and gently let the sweater soak in the water. Adding a squirt of Dawn after the sink or bathtub is filled with hot water will prevent foaming (which is unnecessary to wash a sweater and will only create more steps to get rid of the foam).
Empty the water and place the soaked sweater in another container (a bowl or bucket). Run very warm or cool water again and submerge the sweater flat into the water. Repeat the process until the water runs clear. If there is too much soap in the sweater, add a few tablespoons of vinegar to the rinse water to remove excess soap and «condition» the sweater. Stay away from fabric softeners, but feel free to add baking soda to the final rinse water.
Allow as much of the water as possible to drain off the sweater by placing it flat in the tub or sink and PRESSING with your palms down on it. Avoid the urge to squeeze or wring as this is the most vulnerable stage for the wool/silk. Place a large towel on the floor and lay the sweater on it. Roll the towel and press to transfer the water from the sweater to the towel. Repeat with another towel if necessary. Place on drying rack and adjust the sweater to dry in its original shape. AVOID pulling on it or it will stretch and pill. The idea is to get it to dry in its original shape. The rack will allow air to flow below the sweater and make the drying process easier. Turn the sweater over every few hours to ensure proper evaporation and be patient, a heavy wool sweater could take up to 3 days to properly dry.