sweater in washing machine

Can You Put ‘Hand Wash Only’ Sweaters in the Washing Machine?

Have you ever thrown your favourite sweater into the washing machine with your other laundry only to find it came out very small, stretched, or messed up? 

Yes, you forgot to read the label. When you look it the label you see the bold letters staring at you: ‘hand wash only’.

Hopefully, you’re reading this before you make the big mistake of throwing your hand wash only sweater into a regular wash cycle. While a regular wash may not be suitable, are there other settings that are suitable for your sweaters?

Here we’ll take a closer look at how you can get those sweaters clean without ruining them. 


What Does the ‘Hand-Wash Only’ Label Mean?

hand washing clothes label

Take your sweater label and carefully look at the words hand-wash only. The manufacturers of clothing place it there for a good reason. 

If an item of clothing has this label, it means the sweater is made with a complex construction, has fragile fabric, is prone to colour running, or a combination of all three.  

If you don’t want to risk spoiling that expensive or sentimental sweater, we recommend cleaning it by hand. If you want to use the quick and convenient washing machine, then keep reading. 


How to Hand Wash a Sweater

hand washing a sweater

Your sweaters are often marked as delicate. The agitation and heat of a washing machine can result in shrinking, damage or colour fading. Hence, that tag recommends hand-washing and it should be done as follows:

  1. Fill the sink with lukewarm water and add a mild detergent to it
  2. Now, turn that sweater inside out and swirl it around in the water
  3. Leave your sweater soak for 15 minutes and rinse it out
  4. Replace with clean water and swish it around again
  5. Now, do not go and wring out that delicate sweater. Pat the water out and place it flat to dry. 


washing wool in washing machine

Can You Wash a ‘Hand Wash Only’ Sweater in the Washing Machine?

Some people wash their ‘hand wash only’ sweaters in the washing machine, and it can turn out ok if done carefully. However, you do so at your own risk, and we’d recommend hand washing instead.

If you decide to risk washing a ‘hand wash only’ sweater in the washing machine, here is how to do it.

First, make sure to turn your sweater inside out before placing it in the washing machine. This will help to protect the delicate outer layer from being damaged by the agitation of the cycle. If you are worried about any part of the sweater being pulled or trapped, then you can place it inside a wash bag.

Second, use a gentle detergent and set the machine to a delicate cycle. Most machines will either have a ‘delicate’ or ‘hand wash’ setting, with many having both. If you can’t see either of these, then choose a cycle that has a low temperature and a low spin speed.

Finally, be sure to lay your sweater flat to dry, as hanging it up can cause the fabric to stretch out of shape. By following these simple tips, you can keep your sweaters looking like new for years to come without needing to hand wash them.


Removing Stains from Hand-Wash Only Items

sweater stain before and after

As you can see, you can wash your hand-wash-only clothing in a washing machine. Yet, you can still face problems with stains when it is cleaned on a cold and gentle cycle. So, it’s good to tackle those stains before washing them in the machine. 

If you don’t remove stains before washing items, it can result in a permanent spot on the fabric. Also, a low temperature and gentle washing machine cycle may not effectively clean heavily soiled clothes. Treat fresh stains immediately with a gentle rub of warm water and a detergent to remove them.

If you are in doubt when reading the hand-wash-only tag, it helps to take it to a dry cleaner. The professional cleaners will check the clothing care labels to see what works best for the sweater’s fabric without causing any damage. 


hand wash only tag

Final Thoughts on Hand-Wash Only Clothing

You can wash ‘hand wash only’ sweaters on a gentle cycle, but if they are particularly expensive or mean a lot to you, we’d recommend handwashing. Washing these sweaters in the machine is risky, and can damage or shrink them. 

If you follow the advice on the label and hand wash them instead, you’ll make your life easier by machine washing your regular sweaters while protecting your more special sweaters.