How to Wash Sweaters by Hand or in the Washing Machine


Whether fluffy mohair or chenille, soft cashmere, warm merino lambswool or light acrylic, knit sweaters and cardigans are cold weather staples that can be a laundry challenge. Follow these steps to know how to wash sweaters by hand or in the machine and help prevent shrinking and pilling.


How to Hand Wash Sweaters Step-by-Step

Unless the label says dry clean only, you can hand-wash almost any sweater. Washing by hand is the safest bet to be sure you are gentle with the fibers, and it’s easier than you think!


  1. READ your sweater’s care label for washing and drying instructions.
  2. FILL your laundry sink, bathtub, or a basin with enough water to completely cover the sweater. Use COLD water to help prevent shrinking or pilling.
  3. ADD a small amount (about ¼ cup) of a detergent that’s free of unnecessary chemicals, dyes, phosphates, or parabens such as of ARM & HAMMER™ Clean & Simple™ Liquid Laundry Detergent and swish around to disperse.
  4. TURN the sweater inside out. This helps get the surface that came closest to your body exposed to the detergent and helps stop pilling by keeping the outside of the sweater more protected.
  5. SUBMERGE the sweater in the cold water and swish it around gently a few times. You should make some bubbles! Resist scrubbing or rubbing the sweater together to reduce the fiber breakage that causes pilling.
  6. WAIT 10-15 minutes, letting the sweater soak.
  7. RINSE the sweater in cold water. You can do this under running water in your sink or by dumping the soapy water and filling your tub with clean water, then dunking the sweater to rinse.
  8. REMOVE the sweater from the tub and put it on a clean towel. Fold or roll together and press to absorb excess water. Do not wring or twist your sweater as this can cause it to be misshapen!
  9. DRY FLAT: Lay the sweater on a dry towel or a drying rack to dry flat. Do not hang sweaters on hangers or clotheslines as this can cause them to stretch out of shape.


How to Machine Wash Sweaters or Cardigans

Most acrylic sweaters can be machine washed, and the good news is that many wool sweaters can be too – if you follow the instructions and choose the right temperature and washer settings. Check the label in your merino wool, lambswool, Shetland wool, or cashmere sweaters to see what’s recommended. If machine washing is allowed, follow these steps:


  1. READ the label to see if machine washing is recommended or any other guidance.
  2. PREP the sweater for washing. Either turn it inside out or place it in a large mesh laundry bag. This step will help protect the knit from pilling or fraying. If washing a cardigan or a quarter-zip sweater, close the buttons or zippers to prevent snags.
  3. CHOOSE COLD as the water temperature on your washing machine.
  4. SELECT DELICATE or LIGHT cycle on your washer. You want slow agitation and slow spin cycles.
  5. ADD COLD-WATER FRIENDLY DETERGENT. Choose a detergent such as ARM & HAMMER™ Clean & Simple™ Crisp Clean™ Liquid Laundry Detergent that provides a powerful clean, even in cooler water temperatures.
  6. REMOVE sweater from the washer (and mesh bag, if used) promptly to reduce wrinkles.
  7. LAY FLAT to dry on a towel or drying rack. Do not hang to dry as sweaters can get misshapen and stretched from the weight. Acrylic sweaters with Tumble Dry Low on their labels can go in the dryer but remember than any heat and friction can cause fibers to break down. Drying flat is safest for all sweaters.


If you have extra sensitive skin, use a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free detergent like ARM & HAMMER™ Sensitive Skin, Free & Clear.


Tips to Prevent Pilling on Sweaters

how to machine wash a cashmere sweater


Pilling – those tiny balls you can get on the surface of clothing – and fraying are the pitfalls of sweater washing. No amount of care can prevent all fabric pills, but you can get your sweaters fresh and clean while helping reduce pilling. Here are some tips:


  1. Turn the sweater inside out or place in a mesh laundry bag when washing. This will reduce the friction on the fibers during washing.
  2. Choose the delicate setting on your washer. If washing by machine, choose the slowest spin cycle and the shortest wash cycle. Use “Light” if your washer doesn’t have a “Wool” or “Delicate” setting.
  3. Avoid washing other heavy or bulky items such as jeans, sweatshirts or blankets with your sweaters. Wash only with other delicate items.
  4. Wash less frequently. Unless you get a stain or have an exceptionally dirty day, sweaters can be worn several times before washing.
  5. Wash only in cold water, which is less damaging to fibers.
  6. Invest in a fabric shaver or de-piller to remove any pills that inevitably arise, especially under arms and areas of more friction.


Deodorize and Freshen Sweaters Coming Out of Storage

electric lint remover to help fix and prevent sweaters from pilling


You should wash your sweaters before you store them away in the spring, but if you take them out this fall and notice a musty odor, it’s time to wash before you wear them.

First, inspect each sweater for stains and pretreat. Follow the steps above for hand or machine washing, but choose one of the options below for extra deodorizing:


  1. Use a detergent with built-in deodorizing, such as ARM & HAMMER™ plus OxiClean™ Odor Blasters, Fresh Burst™ to help neutralize odors and leave a pleasant, lasting scent.
  2. Add ½ cup ARM & HAMMER™ Baking Soda to the washing machine or ¼ cup to the hand washing basin. Swish it around to make sure it is dissolved before adding the sweater.
  3. Add a scent booster like ARM & HAMMER™ Clean Scentsations Purifying Waters In-Wash Scent Booster to your washing machine to infuse your sweaters with a fresh, clean scent.


Get Sweaters Clean and Fresh with the Help of ARM & HAMMER™

When you need to wash your sweaters or cardigans, reach for a detergent you can trust to get your items clean. Try one of these ARM & HAMMER™ laundry detergents to hand wash or machine wash your sweaters and all your clothing and bedding items:

For machine washing, try:


For hand washing, try:


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