How To Wash Cotton Sweater (Knit)

You may be thinking of washing you cotton sweaters the exact same way you wash regular cotton clothes, but hold the breaks for some minutes, because cotton sweaters are actually made differently from regular cotton clothes. 

Because of the very nature of their construction; many rows of loops that are connected with one another, cotton knit sweaters are delicate and you want to treat them as such otherwise you risk ruining them during laundry. 

In the rest of the article, you’ll learn about the construction of cotton sweaters as well as how you can take care of them in order to make them last longer. 

Cotton is durable, the knit is fragile

Cotton sweater is a knit garment. Notice the two contrasting attributes there? Wanna guess? It concerns strength and tenacity.

On one hand we have cotton itself which is a material very strong and durable due to the way the polymers are structured and configured at the molecular level. On the other hand however, knit formed with these cotton threads are fragile and can be distorted with the slight agitation. 

So when you have a cotton knit sweater, it means you have a material that is strong at the molecular level but weak at the structural level both you and i can see. Because of that, you have to treat cotton sweaters with gentility and care.

Inspect for stains and treat them

It is very possible that you might have picked up a stain on your cotton sweaters in one way or the other. Before anything else, check the garment for stains and treat them right away before attempting to wash and dry them, because the stains can set in if not deal with and become very difficult to remove. 

The best way to treat stains on cotton sweaters is to treat the moment they form. At this stage, the stain is very fresh and would easily come off from the cotton fiber, all thanks to the fact that cotton is a material that releases stains as easily as it accepts them.

Treat the fresh stain with a small amount of gentle detergent (work it in gently) and allow to sit for about 15 minutes. Use a cotton swab or a soft cloth dipped and wringed in water to “rise” the area until no suds remain. Proceed to launder the cloth as instructed below.

If you have set-in stains to deal with, forget DIY treatments and go for a professional stain remover. Spray or apply the product directly to the affected area or better still, use it as directed by the manufacturer, then proceed to wash the fabric as we instructed below. 

Turn inside out

When washing cotton knits, especially in the washer, it’s best to turn them inside out to prevent damage from occurring to the outer fibers due to friction between them and the interior of the washer. The damage can be in the form of fuzziness of the fibers.

If you have a mesh bag, then you can simply put the sweater inside the bag instead of turning it inside out.

Use a quality detergent specially formulated for knits

When it comes to washing cotton knits, you don’t really have limitations when it comes to the kind of detergent you can use. On cotton, feel free to try out pods, liquid detergent and even powdered detergent (check out the difference between them if you’re interested). 

You can also use gentle detergent, mild detergents, and even those having extra ingredients targeted at removing stains and soiling. 

Make sure to follow the instructions as stated on the detergent bottle to make sure you’re not using too much or too little of it.

Configure the washer

When washing cotton sweaters, the most important aspect is the washer configuration. When you mess up the washer configuration, you risk messing up the entire sweater!

When it comes to the washer water to use, feel free to use cold or warm water, but avoid hot water which can cooperate with the agitation of the washer (no matter how gentle) and cause distortion. 

For the wash cycle to use, ditch the regular cotton cycle and opt for the gentlest cycle possible. This is because agitation is the worst enemy of a knit. 

In fact, even a gentle agitation will cause minimal distortions that can be noticed, so you want to go really gentle with settings to minimize the distortion effect that happens.

If your washing machine has the option for an extra rinse cycle, it’s a good idea to opt for that because sweaters are typically worn without any medium between them and the skin (although doing such is recommended to keep them staying fresh for longer), and as a result they can easily be a source that triggers allergic reaction for people that are sensitive to detergents.

How to hand wash cotton sweater

If you wish to go the route of washing cotton sweaters by hand, which most experts recommend, then know that you must do away with certain practices like scrubbing and agitation which diminishes the efficiency of washing. So at least once in awhile, make sure to dump the sweaters in the washer tub for a more thorough cleaning.

Here’s the reason why you cant scrub by the way.

Whenever you scrub knitted clothes by hand, you never apply even pressure all over the fabric which causes parts subjected to more pressure to distort greater than others. The washer presents a more even cleaning in this regard, which is why it’s best for cleaning delicates like knitted sweaters. 

To wash a cotton sweater by hand, simply create a solution of mild detergent and water in a sink, bathtub or plastic container large enough to accommodate the item. You can use cold or warm water.

Let the cotton sweater soak for some time, preferably 15 minutes or more. When the fabric is satisfactorily soaked, which means soiling has begun to release from the surface of the sweater and into the wash water, use a soft sponge to scrub gently against the surface of soiled areas to release the soils. If there are no visible soils, then ditch the sponge and lightly agitate the cloth in the water only.  

When you’re done, rinse the cotton sweater by dipping it into fresh water and rolling it into a ball and pressing against the sides of the container to release water. Repeat as many times as need. Roll up the sweater in a clean towel, like a sleeping bag to soak up most of the water, then dry as instructed below.

How to dry a cotton sweater

There are two methods you can actually use to dry a cotton sweater. You can choose to dry it in outside in a shade or in the dryer.

Put in the dryer

The dryer is the best and efficient way to dry cotton sweaters. The dryer combines motion and heat to extract moisture from clothes faster than air drying. Additionally, using the air dryer will result in a fluffy and soft cotton sweater as opposed to air drying which will dry the cotton crisp.

When machine drying cotton sweaters, make sure to opt for the low to medium heat settings and avoid high heat settings which can, in combination with motion, cause the distortion and even fading of the knit.

Dry outside away from the sun

If you choose to air dry cotton sweaters, then it’s also not a bad choice. Just make sure you keep them away from direct sunlight. Cotton hates the sun, especially the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Exposure of cotton to the UV rays of the sun will cause your sweater to deteriorate quicker and wear down faster. 

To dry cotton sweaters, lay it out flat on a clothes rack or on a clean towel and avoid hanging which can cause the weight of water in the sweater to pull it out of shape. Always shape sweaters prior to letting them sit to dry out.

How often to wash cotton sweaters?

Wash cotton knit sweaters only as often as it takes them to lose freshness. You can prolong how fast your cotton sweaters lose freshness by wearing a piece of cloth that separates your body and the sweater every time you wear it. This way, your body oils wont deposit on the sweater easily and cause it to lose freshness.

Using this technique above you should be able to get away with washing cotton sweaters once or twice per season, with the exception of course, when you notice smell or visible stains or right before you put them away for the season.

How to wash cotton sweaters without shrinking

We have written an extensive guide on how to wash cotton clothes without shrinkage. Make sure to read that here.

Can You dry clean cotton sweaters

Except the manufacturer of your specific cotton sweater disapproves of dry cleaning, it is absolutely safe and fine to dry clean cotton sweaters.

The major reason that prompts garment manufacturers to slap the dry clean only tag on their garments is due to the nature of finishing on a sweater. 

Wet washing may destroy it, which is why dry cleaning is preferred! 

Final Thoughts

Cotton sweaters, despite being made from cotton which is a very durable material, should be treated as a delicate piece because excessive agitation in the washing machine can cause distortion. When you’re washing cotton sweaters, make sure to use a gentle cycle and mild detergent. Also, in the dryer, make sure to opt for a low to moderate dry cycle and you’re good to go.