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It's sweater season! And while people are still excited about this development — before the stage of winter weather where sweaters become vehicles for tissues and a cocoons of despair — it is the perfect opportunity to offer some tips on how to keep your woolens and cashmeres and angoras looking their very best.
Sweaters, particularly those made of natural fibers like the aforementioned woolens and cashmeres and angoras, have a reputation for being temperamental when it comes to caring for them. That is a fair and well-earned reputation! But if you know the things that you're about to learn because I'm going to tell you, you'll have no trouble caring for your beloved sweaters in a way that leaves them looking their very best.
How to Extend the Time Between Cleaning
Here's one tricky thing about cleaning sweaters: They don't benefit from being over-handled, which is a term that includes washing. But there's a wrinkle in the less-is-more approach to sweater washing, and it is this — over time and wear, skin, natural body oils, perspiration, perfumes, and deodorants will build up on the fabric. That build-up can cause the fibers to break down, and frequent washing to remove the build-up will also stress the fibers, making your sweater look shabby and over-worn. What to do!?!
Over time and wear, skin, natural body oils, perspiration, perfumes, and deodorants will build up on the fabric.
The easiest way to extend the amount of time between wearing and washing your sweaters is to wear a launderable tee underneath it. That tee is going to act as a barrier between the sweater and all that skin, and oil, and perfume, and deodorant, and sweat. Camisoles and tank tops are also an option, but they won't protect the pit area, which is why thin, soft cotton tees like the iconic ones from Petit Bateau are such a great investment for ladies who are serious about their sweater care.
What to Do About Pesky Pilling
Almost nothing can ruin the look of your favorite sweater like the appearance of pills, those ugly little fabric balls that make sweaters look ratty and old. Pilling, or balling as it's also known, happens when friction causes the fibers in your sweater begin to fray or break and become tangled.
Removing pills is a fairly simple task that can make a huge difference in the attractiveness of your favorite sweater, so I want to really encourage you to get into the habit of doing so! There are a number of methods, from using a sweater comb like the ones made by D-Fuzz-It or Dritz to using a razor blade to gingerly cut pills away. Many people swear by the Sweater Stone, though I personally give it low marks because I find it makes a huge mess, leaving lint and pumice shavings everywhere. For my money, the de-pilling tool I'll always reach for is a battery-operated lint shaver, like this one from KnitPicks that costs about four dollars. Such a small price to pay in pursuit of keeping your sweaters looking their very, very best!
Consider Spot Treatment
Because overwashing sweaters is less than ideal, spot treating is a good thing to incorporate into your clothing care routine. The idea is that when small spills or grimy spots occur, you'll want to address them by using a product like The Laundress Stain Solution, which will allow you to eliminate the stain without subjecting the entire sweater to a bath.
A Way to Think About Washing v. Dry Cleaning
Many sweaters are labelled dry clean only — and while dry cleaning is a perfectly good, if not great (all those chemicals!), choice, it is almost always not the only choice. That's because, despite what those labels say, sweaters can be hand washed right at home. You may also wash sweaters in the machine, using the gentle cycle, cold water and, for finer sweaters, a protective mesh bag.
While dry cleaning is a perfectly good choice, it is almost always not the only choice.
In terms of hand washing, when it comes to sweaters specifically, water choices become of utmost importance. The first important water choice to make is to use cold water. Fibers like wool, cashmere, and fine cottons don't love warm or hot water, and will react to your betrayal of their needs by shrinking into doll clothes. They also don't love prolonged exposure to water, so your second important water choice is that the hand washing experience should be a short one. Skip the soaking that's commonly associated with hand washing in favor of a quick swirl in sudsy water, an equally quick rinse, then lay the sweater flat to air dry. You never want to hang a sweater to dry, as the weight of the wet fibers combined with gravity will cause the garment to stretch out and become misshapen.
It seems crazy to be thinking about end-of-season sweater storage right up at the beginning of sweater season, but since we're here I figured I'd mention this so that you have the next few months to come to grips with this fact of life/sweater care: Before you store your sweaters for the summer season, it's really important to wash them. If you stash your sweaters away for several months with stains, or deodorant residue, or even just residual body oils, those will eat away at the fibers and your sweaters won't enjoy a long and happy life. So! Come April or May or whenever it begins to get warm in your neck of the woods, come on back to this article for a refresher on how to wash and dry your sweaters before you stash them away in favor of sundresses and bikinis. You'll be glad you did.