Home & Garden

Care can lengthen life of delicate sweaters

Dry cleaning cashmere sweaters is an expensive way to clean them, but not the best way, according to a number of authorities.

Cashmere and camel hair knits should be hand washed in a soap for fine washables and laid flat on a towel to dry, according to The Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute in Boston.

Similar advice is given for mohair sweaters by The Mohair Council of America in San Angelo, Texas.

Many folks know the drill for hand washing sweaters. We wash each item separately in cold water, rinse a couple of times and gently press out the water. We lay the sweater flat on a clean towel, roll it up and gently squeeze out water. We do not wring.

Then we shape it out nicely on a dry towel and wait about five years for it to dry. I remember taking up most of my family’s kitchen counters for days with my sweaters. Everyone complained.

These days, women who wear so many sweaters have shortcuts, including laying sweaters on an over-the-tub sweater rack to dry.

I still wash cashmere, angora and beaded sweaters this way, but am fortunate to have a small laundry room I can close off. I lay the washed sweater on a towel on top of the dryer while it is running with other laundry. This not only dries the sweater much faster, but dries the ones I’ve laid out in the same way on the ironing board. I turn them over once and inside out at least once, since the sides to the air dry first.

Cathy Faust, Shelby County (Tenn.) Extension director, has even more efficient shortcuts. She hangs her hand-washed sweaters on an extension rod stretched lengthwise across her bathtub, giving her nearly 5 feet of drying space, and turns a fan on them.

But to do this, you must thoroughly squeeze them out in a towel before hanging so the water weight doesn’t stretch them out as they hang, she said. Also, she uses plastic hangers with a curved shape, the kind men use for suit jackets, so the sweaters dry with a natural shoulder shape.

Pat Patterson, an consultant and former home economist, washes her wool sweaters in the machine in cold water on the most gentle cycle.

“I quit washing by hand,” she said. “It’s too much trouble.”

She turns them inside out, washes them with just a few drops of liquid detergent, and lets them go through the normal two spin cycles. Then, especially if the sweaters are heavy, she spins them twice again on a normal cycle. And she may still roll them in a towel. She puts them in the dryer for 5 minutes on the fluff setting only, to shake out wrinkles. Then hangs them on plastic hangers. They’ll dry in 24 hours, she said.

Faust and I use Woolite for sweaters. But there are other products that look intriguing, including Wool & Cashmere Shampoo from thelaundress.com, which offers concentrated, eco-friendly, plant-based laundry products. The company was created by two women in the fashion industry, Lindsey Wieber Boyd and Gwen Whiting, who studied fiber science at Cornell University and felt that many garments marked “dry clean only” could be washed if done properly. Wools and cashmere should be washed, they argue, since dry cleaning can remove natural lanolin from these fibers.

Wool & Cashmere Shampoo is designed for cleaning wool, cashmere, mohair and angora and is a sulfate-free, pH-balanced product with cedar extracts. A 32-oz. bottle is $19 and provides 32 hand washes. Stains should be treated before you wash. The company’s all-purpose, enzyme-based Stain Solution is $18 for 16 ounces.

(Don’t iron fabrics, such as mohair and angora, because it can crush the fibers. Steam them only.) The women recommend washing silk sweaters too with its Delicate Wash, 16 ounces for $19. But be careful of anything made of viscose rayon, they caution. It is highly unpredictable when wet.