The Versatile Sweater Requires Special Care

The Versatile Sweater Requires Special Care

Q. Working from home, I’m wearing sweaters nearly every day as it is getting colder. I have a mix of ones I’ve owned for years and newer ones which are pretty upscale. I’m wondering how often, and how I should wash them? Should I take them to the dry cleaner?                                

A. Knitted garments are different from tailored clothing, and are treated differently. First they offer well-dressed men a much wider range of colors to choose from. Beyond the limiting trio of blue, gray, and tan, sweaters may include pastels, brights, whites, and various patterns. Sweaters have another major advantage over jackets: Often you wash them yourself.

Fine sweaters, whether they are wool, cashmere, cotton, or silk, do require a certain amount of special handling. Of course, you can just take them to an expensive professional dry cleaner and pay whatever the charge is. Or, for a lot less, you can do most of the upkeep at home, and keep them looking good for years. Obviously, whether you can clean your sweater yourself and what methods to employ depend on the fabric and level of dirt. 

Soiled sweaters definitely require the skillful handling of a professional. Bite the bullet and take them to the best dry cleaner you can find.

But not every sweater needs to even be cleaned to be refreshed. For sweaters that are clean but just don’t seem quite fresh, rather than having them dry cleaned or deciding to wash them yourself, you can use the following method to fluff and freshen them in your dryer. Put dry sweaters – turned inside out – into the dryer on the “gentle” cycle and set the temperature to “air” (no heat). Fluff them for no more than five or ten minutes. You might add one or two fabric softener sheets to the dryer – preferably a variety that is not scented. You will be amazed at the amount of lint, fluff, and dirt-holding fuzz that is released into the lint trap. Certainly, this is not a substitute for real cleaning, but to freshen a sweater, it is an excellent strategy.

For clean sweaters with a small spot or two: these do need to be cleaned but often may merely be spot treated. Before you decide to wash or dry clean a sweater that is only slightly spotted or stained, first try using a spray spot remover, such as K2r. Follow the easy directions on the can.                                 

For sweaters needing some cleaning, that you might normally bring to a dry cleaner,there exists an inexpensive substitute for dry cleaning.It’s great foryour less-than-favorite sweaters and knock-around jackets – anything that does not need pre-spotting, skillful pressing, or other special handling. A half-way treatment, it involves nothing more than using a dryer and a special dry-cleaning-at-home product that comes as a kit. The most widely-available one is called Dryel. A gentle way to remove bacteria and odors from clothes, it works without dry cleaning chemicals and with none of the rough agitation of wet washing.  

Put a few items along with the cleaning cloth into the bag (both supplied with the kit); throw them in the dryer; they will clean without shrinking or fading the colors. While not as thorough as dry cleaning, this process is often good enough and is far less expensive than professionally cleaning one garment.

To wash a sweater at home, either by hand or in the machine, keep in mind that fabrics are different. Cotton and wool are sturdier than cashmere and silk, and don’t require as much special attention. But, even for acrylic, cotton, and other sweaters that are labeled “Machine Washable,” you should not wash them as you would other everyday wear. For machine washable sweaters and even for those you wash in a sink by hand, start by turning it inside out. If machine washing, place in a zippered mesh laundry bag; add a clean terry cloth towel to the load to help “scrub” as it washes. Always use cold water and, if in the machine, the “gentle” cycle. After washing and rinsing, to get rid of excess water, squeeze the garment, don’t twist. Next, roll up in a clean, dry towel; squeeze again. Unroll, return to right-side-out, and lay out on a flat surface on a large dry towel. Gently shape and smooth out with your hands to finish drying.

No matter which method you use, carefully fold your sweater and store in a drawer or on a shelf. To  maintain a sweater’s shape, do NOT hang it on a hanger, not even a padded one.

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