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So you went ahead and bought yourself a bunch of new, fuzzy, warm sweaters.

By now, they've been worn a few times and need a date with the washing machine. But you hold back, not wanting to lose that new look and feel. 

Sweaters are a little harder to care for than most garments. They can shrink; they can stretch; they can pill. And the softer the sweater, the more delicate. Some sweaters can survive the laundering process - and even come out looking good. But first you need to know how to launder each type of sweater fiber. 

Your first act before undertaking a sweater wash: Read the label. Then follow the instructions very, very carefully. If the label says "Dry Clean Only," dry clean it. (However, if it just says "Dry Clean," you may still be able to wash it.) Dry cleaning is not always the best care for all sweaters. The dry cleaning chemicals can build up on some fibers and leave them stiff. And of course, there are some sweaters that do not carry a care label at all. With these sweaters, you need to take the safest route. 

Here are some general laundering guidelines to ensure your at home sweater wash is a successful one. And in case your sweater's fabric care label is non-existent or no longer legible.

Sweater Wash Guidelines by Fabric 

  • Cotton sweaters: You can hand wash or machine wash most cotton sweaters (but read the label on the shirt just to make sure). If you're machine washing a cotton sweater, make sure to do it in cold water. Also, you may want to keep it away from the dryer. Simply lay if flat on top of a dry towel until it is air-dried. May need ironing.

  • Polyester or Polyester/Cotton blend sweaters: Polyester is a material known for its durability and wrinkle resistance. Cotton combines well with polyester, so a lot of sweaters are made from this blend to prevent shrinkage and allow easy cleaning. Unlike many delicate fabrics, such as wool and silk, polyester or cotton-polyester blends don't require much special care. The fabrics resist heat, and you can wash and dry garments at almost any temperature without worrying about damage or shrinkage.

  • Acrylic sweaters: Acrylics are manmade fibers that can stretch when subjected to heat. Wash as directed on the label (usually in cool or lukewarm water). Then either lay the sweater flat to dry or tumble dry on air fluff if the label says that's OK. If you have to iron it, iron it inside out on low heat and be careful not to stretch it.
  • Angora sweaters: Angora sweaters are a blend of rabbit hair and synthetic fibers. It's very prone to shrinking so this is one you should consider dry cleaning. If the label says it can be washed, don't put it in the machine. Instead, hand wash it in a gentle laundry detergent and lay flat to dry.
  • Cashmere sweaters: Cashmere is soft goat hair blended with wool or synthetic fibers. Usually, you can wash cashmere on the delicate cycle in cold water. Roll in a towel to squeeze out excess water, reshape and flat dry away from sunlight or direct heat.
  • Chenille sweaters: If you want chenille sweaters to stay soft, don't put them in the washing machine - even if the label says it's OK. The rubbing caused by the machine agitation can damage the fibers and make them snag or feel rough. Instead, wash inside out by hand, and lay flat to dry.
  • Silk sweaters:  Some silk sweaters can be washed in the delicate cycle in cold water and flat dried. But they may need ironing afterward.
  • Wool sweaters: Some wool sweaters can be washed; others cannot. Check the label. If you do put it in the washing machine, use the gentlest cycle and wash in cool water. Don't twist. Lay flat to dry. Also, not all wools are alike. Shetland and Merino wools often can be washed in cold water on the most delicate cycle. Agitation can cause them to shrink.

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Sweater Wash and Drying Tips for Success

  • Always turn sweaters inside out to reduce pilling. Those little fuzzy balls or bits of fluff that show up on the surface are called "pills", and are the result of fiber agitation in the washing machine, which can cause them to break. If this happens, you can remove the pills with an electric sweater lint shaver.
  • Wash sweaters in extra-large mesh bags. If hand washing, remove excess moisture by rolling the sweater in a towel.
  • Machine drying: If you do put your sweater in the dryer, dry on low heat or air fluff and remove it when it's almost dry. Let it finish drying flat on a rack.
  • Flat drying: Place the sweater on a rack and reshape it as much as possible. Do not dry near heat or in direct sunlight. Check it occasionally to make sure it's not shrinking as it dries. If it does, pull it back out to its original size. HINT: Mark the outline on your rack with tape.
  • Storage: Never put away a sweater dirty. This makes it more attractive to pests. Also, some stains may set. Once a sweater is clean, fold to store it - don't hang. Hanging causes most sweaters to stretch out of shape.
  • To make sweaters last longer, air them out at least 24 hours after wearing. Fold and store out of direct light. 

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