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The Right Way to Care for Winter Knits

By Allison Ford
11/12/2012 2:48:25 PM

Does your current sweater-care regimen currently involve a washing machine, a dryer, or hangers of any kind? If so, stop that immediately.

Photo by pixielunanyc

Your snuggly sweaters keep you warm and toasty-and looking good-all winter long. Repay the favor by caring for them the right way, ensuring that they'll stay in top shape for as long as possible.

Wash by Hand-No Really, We Mean It

Yes, lots of clothing comes with a "hand-wash only" label, and much of the time you can safely ignore it. Sweaters, however, are not one of those times. The agitating action of a washing machine can stretch the fibers of delicate knitwear, distorting the shape. The constant friction can also result in excessive pilling. Washing by hand with baby shampoo or Woolite is a good investment of time. If you absolutely must put hardier sweaters in the washing machine, make sure to place them in sweater bags to protect their shapes, and use the delicate setting with cold water.

Dry Flat, Not Hot

Even if you cheat and use the washer, don't be tempted to use the dryer. Besides stretching and friction (which happen in the dryer, too), the excessive heat can also shrink natural fibers. If you don't have a flat mesh sweater rack in your laundry arsenal, just set sweaters to air-dry on top of a towel in a well-ventilated area of the house, turning them over to make sure both sides dry equally. (You may need to turn it inside out for a while, too.)

Fold, Don't Hang

Even fancy wooden or padded hangers are bad news for knits. Since winter sweaters tend to be heavy, gravity can pull them downward, resulting in unsightly shoulder dimples. Sweaters should always be folded and put in a sweater rack or drawer.

Fix Holes Immediately

Sweater snags happen to everyone, even the careful. When you get a pull, fixing it as soon as possible can keep the sweater looking like new; delaying the repair only gives it a chance to widen or worsen. If a sweater pulls but the fabric doesn't tear, gently tug the areas around the pull outward to try to draw the excess yarn back to its proper spot. If you're left with a loop that won't snap back, use a needle to catch the yarn from the inside of the sweater, pulling it through so that the loop ends up on the inside.

If you get a snag that does tear the yarn. take the sweater to a tailor immediately, where an experienced sewer can use a stitch or two to close the hole. Depending on the size and location of the tear, it might be fixable to good-as-new status.

The "fix-it-immediately" rule also applies to stains, which get harder to remove the longer they sit.

Give Your Knits a Break

As tempting as it might be to wear the same soft sweater every single day, it's better for sweater longevity to give them a break now and then from constant abrasion from coats, moisture from snow or sweat, and contact with body oils.

Do a Spring Cleaning

Most of us don't wash our sweaters after each and every wearing-and that's okay-but at the end of sweater season, it's a good idea to do one mass washing of all your winter knits. That way they won't go into storage with stains or smells that could fester all summer long, and when you pull them out again next October, they'll look and feel as good as new.

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