What could be finer than bundling up in one of your favorite organic wool sweaters on a brisk winter morning? Sweaters, when properly cared for, can bring you years of comfortable luxury and beauty. People often have the mistaken impression that caring for sweaters are tricky and difficult, which is not so. To simplify things, we have compiled a collection of sweater care tips to help you easily get maximum wear out of your beautiful sweaters.
How to care for your sweater between washings
- Give your sweater a good shake after each wearing to remove fluff and dust.
- After wearing a sweater, air it out to remove body moisture and odors that might be trapped in the sweater fibers. Simply lay your sweater on a dry, cotton towel (organic cotton, of course) on a flat surface, away from direct sunlight (sunlight may cause unnecessary fading). Never hang a sweater on a hanger as the weight of the sweater 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 your sweater has thoroughly dried, fold flat and store it in a natural wrapper with cedar chips to discourage moths. Don’t store wool in plastic, which builds up moisture and keeps the sweater from breathing.
Laundering your sweater
When your sweater needs cleaning, check the label for the manufacturer’s washing recommendations – hand wash, machine wash, or dry clean.
Before we list the simple steps for hand washing your sweater, two issues need to be clarified: water temperature and the detergent choice. Water temperature has been hotly debated topic. 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, it doesn’t matter. 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. What’s important to remember about wool is, the temperature of the water in the wash cycles need to be the same. We suggest a mild water temperature that is comfortable to your skin when touched.
Choosing the right type of detergent is equally important. Use a detergent that does not have an alkaline pH. Beware; most soaps are alkaline so we recommend staying away from them. An alkaline pH causes wool scales to open which leads to fulling. The alkaline in Woolite will strip a sweater’s wool fibers, so avoid using it.
Many recommend dish detergents and shampoos for washing wool sweaters. These usually have a base rather than alkaline pH. We recommend reading the labels of these detergents to insure that it is truly a detergent and not soap. Also confirm the detergent or shampoo does not contain thickeners, perfumes, colors and other unnecessary, extraneous ingredients that will attract and trap dirt. Others have recommended using hair conditioners to make the sweater softer. Conditioners tend to be alkaline and should be avoided.
We recommend natural detergent companies like Ecover. They have begun to market more natural detergents specifically designed for wools and fine fabrics. We have used them with good success.
Hand washing is a simple process that doesn’t take long and is fairly easy. Here are some tips:
- 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 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 let it soak for 20 minutes. With time, the water and detergent will penetrate every area of the sweater and do its job. Avoid the temptation to kneed the sweater or roll it around. Be extra careful to avoid unnecessary stretching of the sweater as the wool yarns are fragile and susceptible to stretching when wet. Then turn on the tap and rinse until all bubbles are gone. Be careful to always support the sweater by holding the bottom as you lift it from the water bath to prevent stretching.
- Wash again and rinse.
- Allow the sweater to drain for a few minutes and gently lay it on a towel. Roll the towel, and press it to remove excess moisture. Don’t wring or rub the wet sweater. Unroll the towel and blot the sweater (do not rub it) with a fresh dry towel to remove additional moisture.
- Place the sweater face up on a dry towel on a flat surface and block it, or shape the sweater gently with your hands back to its original shape. Draw together the waist and wrist ribbing, button cardigans, 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 on dry towel laying on a flat surface. 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 is.
This process is appropriate for most sweaters and will help retain their beauty for years. Remember 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 the cool days of fall and winter.
Written By Michael Lackman
Michael Lackman has been involved with yoga, meditation and holistic development for 35 years. Michael and his wife, Shellie, founded LotusOrganics.com to make it easy for everyone to have purely beautiful and healthy organic clothing for work, school, yoga, exercise, casual wear and sleepwear. Michael also authors an organic clothing blog.