How To Take Care Of Your Vintage Sweaters

How To Take Care Of Your Vintage Sweaters

Vintage sweaters are delicate creatures. We asked vintage sellers to share their best tips for sweater care.

  • Liisa Jokinen

  • Jan 30, 2024

Cover photo: Cloud Vintage

Taking care of your clothes is a sustainable act. Proper washing and storing lengthens the lifetime of a clothing item. We wanted to learn how to best take care of our (vintage) sweaters and asked some experienced sellers for their best advice for washing, storing, and mending old sweaters.

Washing Your Sweaters

Most sellers recommend handwashing the vintage sweaters in cold water. That is the most gentle way to wash your garments.

“Always use cold water and use the towel trick to dry them. You lay a large towel out on the floor and put your damp sweater on it. Shape it on the towel as you’d like it to look when it’s dry. Then roll the towel and sweater up tightly together to squeeze out all the water, you can leave it rolled up for a couple of hours. Once all the water has been squeezed out you can lay it flat to dry, never hang a sweater to dry on a hanger as it will be very misshapen”, says Laura Lanz-Frolio of La Poubelle Vintage.

Lanz-Frolio‘s favorite detergent is Wool and Cashmere Shampoo by the Laundress. Amanda Walker-Storey of Irreverent Finery likes the Orvus brand, and Nikki Cloud of Cloud Vintage prefers Outback Gold for wool sweaters and Woolite as a cost-effective alternative.

“Outback Gold is mild and hypoallergenic. I use it with a hint of tea tree oil which helps keep moths away”, Cloud says.

Sweaters don’t need to be washed very often. “I wash my sweaters about once a season! You don’t need to do much more than that unless you get a stain or something on it”, says Lanz-Frolio.

If your sweater is wool, be extra gentle. “Don’t wring or twist a woolen sweater when it is wet because it loses some strength in that state”, says Maggie Wilds of Denise Brain Vintage.

Machine Washing

Caroline Kreps of GrooveClothing and OldThingsMakeMusic is not afraid to wash her sweaters in the washing machine – old sweaters have already gone through a lot and will probably stand a gentle cycle, she says. Kreps is also line-dries her sweaters.

“One of the many reasons I love vintage sweaters is that they are so much better made than most modern clothing. Because vintage sweaters are at least 20 years old, generally anything that was going to happen to them, like shrinking or color running, will have already happened – so you’re not likely to damage them in the wash.

I toss most of our vintage sweaters in the washer on a delicate cycle with a non-scented, gentle detergent, then hang them to dry on the line outside in the fresh air. All wool sweaters go in cold/cold, everything else goes in warm/cold. We rarely hand-wash our vintage sweaters because seriously, who has the time?”

Just never put a sweater in a dryer, Kreps warns. “I do think line-drying is key though, the heat of a dryer is tough on regular garments, let alone vintage.”

Stain Removal

Vintage sellers handle countless items during their careers – this expertise makes them masters at stain removal.

“One perk of being in the business this long is gaining a feel for what kind of stains are likely to come out, and what kind aren’t – and to avoid buying garments with the latter”, says Kreps.

Stain removal is not complicated though: Cloud uses regular dish soap for stain removal. Sometimes stains take some extra time and extra rounds of washing.

“Easier things to deal with are typically things you can scratch with a fingernail, they will often brush off right away. The hardest are things like perspiration marks – these are a nightmare for vintage sellers. For the non-problematic stains, I’ll spray with a basic laundry stain remover, let sit a few hours, then launder and line-dry. Tougher stains or ones that persist either get re-treated/re-washed a few more times before I give up on the garment”, Kreps says.

For more tips, Kreps recommends The American Cleaning Institute’s online stain-removal guide.

Moth Prevention

Moths love wool, especially cashmere. The better the quality, the more likely the moths will love your sweater – unfortunately. One infested garment can easily destroy all the sweaters in the household. Therefore, Kreps recommends freezing your thrifted sweaters right after you bring them home.

“Any vintage article that is wool or cashmere I bring home, goes immediately into the freezer for at least 2 weeks, often to the puzzlement of guests at parties looking for ice cubes. Freezing kills any moth eggs in the garment. After the two weeks, I wash the sweater and dry it.”

Before storage, you can treat susceptible garments with a natural pyrethrin-based repellent, Kreps says. Brittany Fitzgerald of Rebelle Rouge Vintage makes her own lavender repellent.

“My secret is spraying the sweaters (especially those of natural fibers such as wool, cashmere, and silk) post-wear with a lavender disinfectant. I make my own at home and pour it into a spray bottle: 1 cup distilled water, 1 tbsp witch hazel or vodka, and 10 drops of lavender essential oil. Make sure to especially spray the areas where you most sweat like the underarm and the neckline as that is what moths are attracted to.“

You can also add dried lavender satchels or cedar balls to your sweater drawers/storage, Fitzgerald says. Both she and Kreps recommend airtight bags or storage bins. Fitzgerald also adds natural lavender fabric softener sheets to the storage containers.

Lastly, always wash your sweaters before storing them away for the summer, and vacuum your storage space often.

“Moths and their eggs thrive in the land of dust bunnies!”, Fitzgerald knows.

darned men's vintage cardigan sweater
Photo: Cloud Vintage
Photo: Cloud Vintage

Darning & Shavers

Both Laura Lanz-Frolio and Nikki Cloud swear by a sweater shaver.

“It keeps the sweaters looking fresh and pill-free. You can buy a pretty cheap one online. They are best for a finer knit wool or cashmere. Don’t use it on a fluffy knit like mohair or angora or you’ll make a mess. You just want to lay the sweater flat on a table and slowly run the shaver over it in a circular motion. It’s so satisfying to see all the pills come off instantly”, says Lanz-Frolio.

Recently Cloud learned how to darn holes and says it has been game-changing. “It repairs the hole and is invisible if you match the thread. I always check the craft section at the thrift store for yarn, especially wool, and now have quite the collection that’s come in handy for color matching.”

There are many ways to darn; here is Cloud’s preferred method.