How to Wash Wool Sweaters

Have a wool sweater that you need to clean? Here’s a step-by-step guide on caring for and washing wool sweaters.

How to Wash Wool Sweaters

Wool is one of the world’s miracle materials: Made of natural fibers from sheep, it does triple duty in regulating body temperature, naturally preventing funky odors from developing, and being exceptionally comfortable at the same time.

So why isn’t wool the preferred material of choice for most men’s clothes, instead of cotton? Well, for one, it’s more difficult to take care of; you can’t just toss it in your washer and dryer and forget about it.

But if you’re willing to put a bit more effort into caring for your wool shirts and sweaters, they’ll repay you in long-lasting comfort and durability.

In this guide, I’ll take you step-by-step through how to wash your wool sweaters, starting with the basics (read your sweater’s tags, please) before proceeding on to some time-and effort-saving tips and tricks to get the most out of your wool garments 8 in the long run.

Check Your Sweater’s Label

Odds are, every wool sweater you buy will come with an attached care label — either sewn directly to the garment itself or included in the packaging that comes with it.

This label will tell you everything you need to know about how the manufacturer recommends that you care for your sweater.

And while the steps below will echo a lot of the same instructions, it’s always best to start by reading the label.

This is especially important if you’re working with a sweater that is only partially wool, or a special type of wool (like cashmere). 

Mixed material sweaters, like a wool and polypropylene blend, may have slightly different care instructions than pure wool sweaters.

The same goes for finer or rarer wools like cashmere, which require the utmost in delicate treatment to keep looking good year after year.

So before you begin: Check your sweater’s label, and start by following the instructions it gives.

Always Wash in Cold Water

Wool’s long, delicate fibers are a big part of why it’s such a comfortable and versatile material for everyday wear through the fall and winter.

But they’re also the reason that it requires extra care: Apply too much heat, and those wool fibers will shrink up or deform, leaving you with an ill-fitting or baggy sweater.

Whether you’re using a washing machine or cleaning your sweater by hand (more on that in a later section), always use cold water.

This will prevent the wool fibers from shrinking and becoming misshapen, and provide a better chance that the fit and feel you already love will still be there after the wash.

Choose the Right Detergent

Standard detergents are made to clean the most common types of clothing materials: Cotton and polyester. But for wool, they’re often too harsh and risk damaging your sweater after even just one wash.

For washing your wool sweaters, look for detergents marketed as “mild” or “neutral”. Or better yet, choose one specifically made for wool, like Woolite, Outback Gold, or Granger’s.

These gentle detergents will maintain the integrity of your wool garments, extending their lifespan and easily paying for themselves over time.

Wash Gently (or by Hand)

For this step, it’s best to refer once again to your sweater’s label. Is it recommended to wash your sweater by hand? Or is it sturdy and rugged enough to withstand a trip through the gentle cycle on your washing machine?

I’ll confess here to being a bit paranoid about sending any of my wool sweaters through the washing machine.

Even on the gentlest cycle, they can still get wound up in the machine’s agitator, stretching out or (even worse) developing small tears and holes.

That’s why I always wash my wool sweaters by hand, in the sink or bathtub.

It takes a little bit more time, but soaking them in cold water and using one of the detergents mentioned above, then draining and rinsing them in a fresh round of cold water, has always left my sweaters looking and feeling great.

Don’t Hang! Lay Flat to Dry

It should go without saying: Don’t ever send your wool sweaters through the dryer unless you’d like to have them sized down for your children.

But even with the weight of the water used to wash it added to a wool sweater, it’s a bad idea to hang it to dry.

Why? Because that extra weight can cause the whole sweater to sag, losing its shape.

Instead, lay your freshly washed sweaters out flat on a clean, dry towel. This will help them dry quickly, and prevent them from stretching out and getting baggy. Be sure to let your sweater air dry completely this way before wearing it again.

If you’re not happy with the look of your sweater after laying it flat to dry, consider using a clothing steamer to release those wrinkles — but don’t ever use an iron on your wool, as its high heat can damage the material’s delicate fibers.

Store Your Sweaters the Right Way

And once it’s time to put your sweaters away for the spring and summer, be sure to store them in a cool, dry place. Fold them gently to avoid wedged-in creases next winter, and keep them away from heat and humidity; both of these can lead to funky, musty smells if left unchecked for too long.

Frequently Asked Questions

But before I go, I’d also like to answer a few related questions we’ve seen asked about wool and sweater care.

Do Wool Sweaters Shrink When Washed?

Wool sweaters will shrink in your washer if you use a high-heat washing method. And they’ll definitely shrink in the dryer, so don’t even think about throwing them in there with the rest of your laundry!

How Do You Get Wrinkles Out of Wool?

The best way to get wrinkles out of wool is to use a steamer. It applies less heat than an average iron, and won’t damage your wool sweater.

Why Is Wool Naturally Antimicrobial?

Wool is naturally infused with lanolin, a waxy substance that helps to “seal up” the wool fibers and prevent them from developing musty and funky smells.


And there you have it: Everything you need to know to keep your wool sweaters clean, fresh, and looking great year after year.

Questions? Comments? Leave them below!

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