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Cheap Ways to Care for Your Fancy Sweaters

The best detergents, washer bags, drying racks, and more.

Sweaters hanging in a closet Photo: The Coveteur/Trunk Archive

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Consider this: Sweaters are such beloved garments that we've even given them their own meteorological designation. At the advent of fall, people begin to speak reverently of "sweater weather," conjuring images of frolicking through leaves while dressed in a brightly colored sweater designed to protect against the chill in the air. It's all so lovely and bucolic.

Of course, this entire fantasy would be quite ruined were the sweater in question to have, say, a large patch of pills marring its appearance, or a stretched-out hem causing it to look ill-fitting and misshapen. To avoid those grim fates, here’s a guide to the best products for caring for your sweaters, from washing to drying to de-pilling.

The Best Detergent for Hand-Washing: Soak Wash

One of the things that makes caring for sweaters so challenging is that they don't like to be over-handled — and washing certainly counts as handling — but the fibers do need to be cleaned in order to preserve their integrity. Given that, hand-washing sweaters is the ideal way to clean them, since hand-washing is more gentle than machine washing. For more on hand-washing techniques, check out our guide to hand-laundering your delicates.

Soak Wash makes hand-washing even gentler, because it's a no-rinse detergent, which means the sweaters will require less handling (in the form of rinsing) than those washed with traditional delicates detergents. It also makes the job easier on you by taking the rinsing step out of the equation! Soak Wash's signature Laundry Soap ($16 for 12 ounces) comes in five different scents, as well as in a fragrance-free formula. If you can't decide between Celebration and Fig, or Yuzu and Lacey, check out the Travel Size Assortment ($48), which includes a 3-ounce bottle of each scent.

The Best Detergent for Machine Washing: Woolite Extra Delicates Care

You're not going to believe this, because it seems too good to be true. But I promise that this really is true: Woolite is hands down the best detergent for use when machine laundering your sweaters.

The reason why this is such great news to share is threefold: First, Woolite is exceedingly easy to find; it's sold in virtually every big box, grocery, and drugstore. Then there's its affordable price point — a 16-ounce bottle costs less than ten dollars, whereas other specialty detergents can cost upwards of $20 a bottle.

Finally, there’s the fact of a persistent rumor that Woolite is bad for wool. The rumor states that Woolite is alkaline, and that alkaline detergents will strip wool fibers. However, that's simply not rooted in fact, as Woolite has a neutral pH.

The Best Protective Washer Bag: The Container Store Large Mesh Wash Bag

Machine washing, while not as gentle as hand-washing, is still quite often a great option when it comes to cleaning your sweaters. However, in order to make the experience less rough on the sweaters, it's a good idea to place them in a protective mesh washer bag prior to laundering. That will help to cut back on the amount of friction the sweaters are exposed to in the wash, as well as help to protect the fibers from snagging on other items in the load, such as fasteners like hooks or zippers. For more on the best practices when it comes to machine washing sweaters, check out our full guide to sweater care.

Because of sweaters' bulk, a large or jumbo-sized bag is needed to allow enough room. This version ($3.99 to $4.99) from The Container Store is 18" x 24", so it's big enough to hold even your chunkiest, coziest sweaters.

The Best Drying Rack for Sweaters: OXO Folding Sweater Dryer

Regardless of whether you machine- or hand-wash your sweaters, you should always opt to air dry them to prevent shrinking, felting, and pilling. However, sweaters should not be hang-dried because the weight of the wet fibers will pull and stretch the sweater, leaving it misshapen.

Using a flat sweater dryer is ideal because not only will it allow the sweater to dry without compromising its shape or fit, but the mesh design allows for even drying. As a bonus, the OXO sweater dryer ($15.99) is designed to be both stackable, allowing you to create a sweater drying tower of sorts, as well as foldable, making for easy storage.

The Best De-Pilling Tool: Gleener Ultimate Fuzz Remover

As a result of regular wear, washing, and friction caused by heavy items like coats and bags, pills will occur on sweaters. Pills develop when the fibers fray or break and become tangled due to friction, and will make sweaters look old and worn out.

There are loads of de-pilling tools, from combs to stones to shavers, but the very best one of them all is the Gleener ($19.99). It's a fabric de-piller that allows users to choose from three different edges, depending on whether the sweater is big and bulky, a medium-weight wool or cashmere, or a super fine fabric like silk blends. The Gleener also has a built-in lint brush that can be used to finish the de-pilling process by removing stray fuzz.

The Best Lint Remover: Flint

Lint is a different animal entirely from sweater pills, and so it stands to reason that treating the two requires different tools. Lint comes from external sources — pet hair, lint-y napkins, and dandruff are all the types of things that should be removed from clothes using a lint roller — whereas pills develop due to structural damage to the fibers of the sweater.

Lint brushes work well, but sticky lint rollers work even better, which is why we love the Flint ($7.99 to $9.99). It comes in a retractable compact case, making it perfect to toss in a handbag or desk drawer for de-linting on the go. Plus, it comes in 14 different color options, from stately navy to metallic rose gold.