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How to care for jumpers and knitwear: top tips on washing, drying and storing your favourite woollens

There's a chill in the air, which means it's time to throw on a cardigan or dig out your favourite jumper. Here is a guide to looking after your knitwear so you can stay warm and snug all winter long.

By Laura Cooke | Last updated Aug 31, 2023

A brunette woman with her hair in a bun and blue eyes. She is wearing a cream jumper and has pulled the collar up over her nose. She is looking straight ahead.

When the nights are drawing in and there’s a distinct nip in the air, it’s time to dig out the winter woollies.

Woollen clothes and jumpers are cosy, stylish, and versatile additions to any wardrobe. However, they require special care to maintain their softness, shape, and longevity. 

Whether your jumpers have been kept in your best vacuum storage bags over the summer months, or they are brand-spanking new straight from the shop, you will want to do everything you can to keep them in top-notch condition for years to come.

But never fear, Mumsnet is here with knitwear care tips. From cleaning and storing to preventing common issues like pilling, we've got you covered.

How to wash jumpers and knitwear

A picture of a person setting the programmes on a washing machine.

There are two ways to wash knitwear. Depending on the type of garment, you may choose to wash by hand or give it a spin in your best washing machine

If you are machine-washing knitwear, it is important to check that your woollens are labelled as machine washable and follow the directions on the care label. Use a wool cycle or delicate setting with cold water and a mild laundry detergent, such as Woolite for Delicates. A mesh laundry bag will help to protect your jumpers and knitwear during the cycle.

Alternatively, you may prefer to hand wash your knitwear. Hand washing is the gentlest method for cleaning woollens. Using lukewarm water (less than 30℃) and a mild detergent designed for woollens, wash gently with the knitwear turned inside out. 

Completely submerge the item of clothing in the water, agitating the detergent using your hands to gently force air bubbles out. Leave it to soak for at least half an hour (but no longer if you are washing silk) before gently agitating the water again. Rinse all the detergent away using room temperature water. 

If you’re keen to keep your beloved winter woollies looking their best, make sure you reshape them after washing - and whatever you do, resist the temptation to wring the water out!

Read next: How to wash lingerie: your guide to caring for delicates and shapewear

How to dry jumpers and knitwear

The best way to dry jumpers and knitwear after washing is to put the garment between two towels, to soak up any excess water, or lay flat on a clean towel. Avoid hanging woollen clothing as the weight of the water could stretch your fave jumper permanently out of shape. And nobody wants that.

Make sure the knitwear is laid flat and out of direct sunlight and away from direct heat. (You can still use your best heated clothes airer, just remember not to switch it on!) But we would recommend using your best dehumidifier to help the drying process along.

If you are tempted to tumble dry, proceed with caution. Some woollen garments or blankets will indicate on the label that they are safe to tumble dry, and your tumble dryer may have a wool care programme, but other knitted garments shouldn’t be going anywhere near your tumbler dryer. Just remember that if in doubt, don’t do it!

Read next: Best washer dryers 2023: space-saving models for your home

How to store jumpers and knitwear

A close-up of a woman with red-painted nails carrying a pile of thick woollen items coloured white, pink and black

After cleaning your favourite jumper, poncho or chunky cardigan, it’s best to store them folded in order to maintain their shape. Breathable fabric garment bags, or even cotton pillow cases, will help to protect knitwear from dust.

To prevent moths from having a nibble, experts recommend using natural repellents, like cedar blocks (we love these from ecoKiwi) or lavender.

How to prevent pilling

Argh, the dreaded bobbles! Pilling, the formation of small, fuzzy balls on the surface of clothing, is common in knitwear. 

The best way to prevent pilling is to wash woollens inside out to minimise friction. Avoiding wearing the same garment over and over again can help too. But if your favourite jumper has fallen victim to pilling, then a quality fabric shaver (or debobbler) will banish those troublesome bumps in no time. Mumsnetters love the Phillips Fabric Shaver for its no-nonsense approach to bobbles.

How to deal with wrinkles in jumpers and knitwear

A picture of a green and white Philips EcoCare steam iron on some light coloured denim.

It’s best to check the care label before attempting to deal with wrinkles in woollens. 

If you are using your best steam iron to smooth out pesky wrinkles, make sure there is water in the steam iron well before switching the iron to ‘wool’ setting. If your iron does not have this setting, you will need a medium heat (148 degrees to 190 degrees). Turn the garment inside out and use a protective ironing cloth (like this one from Brabantia) to tackle the wrinkles without putting the iron directly on your woollen. Never use a dry iron as you run the risk of scorching and ruining your favourite winter woolly.

Alternatively, you may prefer to use a handheld clothes steamer to remove any wrinkles. Or, if the garment is only lightly wrinkled and rumpled, sometimes hanging it in a steamy bathroom may be enough to do the trick.

Read next: How to iron clothes: a step-by-step guide to crease-free garments 

How to remove stains from jumpers and knitwear

A close up of a women's hands and mid section. She has purple nails and various rings on her fingers and is holding a red paper coffee cup with a white plastic lid and a white and yellow daisy. She is wearing a thick grey woollen jumper and a thick rust coloured woollen scarf

Stains on your knitwear? Time is of the essence! All stains should be blotted with a clean cloth to soak up any excess liquid, but avoid rubbing as this can spread the stain and make matters worse.

The Woolmark Company has an excellent guide on the best way to remove a range of stains, from red wine to lipstick to butter, and everything in between.

With the right care, your woollen clothes and jumpers can remain soft, stylish, and cosy for many winters to come. By following these guidelines for cleaning, drying, storage, and addressing common issues like pilling and stains, you'll extend the lifespan of your fave jumpers and cherished winter woollies.

Check out our article How to do laundry: a step-by-step guide to fresh, clean clothes for more tips on how to wash and care for your favourite clothes.