How To Wash Your Woolens

Recently, several knitters – that is to say, people who should know better – noted to me the unnecessary hardship of asking a new mom (it’s always mom), and especially a non-knitter, to handwash woolens. This is such bunk. You know that, right? I have never found it much of a chore, but I knit, I like wool, and I use (and wash) cloth diapers; it’s quite possible my tolerance of laundering is high. However, upon further discussion with the let’s call them Begrudgingly Acrylic Knitters, I discovered they have no idea how quick and easy it is to wash a wool garment. I thought I would put together a brief tutorial on how to do it quickly and effectively. I promise that it is at least as easy as, and I think easier than, regular laundry.

First, always keep your dirty woolens in their own basket. This ensures they remain separate from the regular wash and protects them from accidental felting.

Wool laundry basket

I wash my woolens either when I run out of socks or when my wool basket gets too full. I did a wash today because Odysseus is low on sweaters and he spit up all over his bunting this morning. He is a very leaky child. I will return to this point later (I know, you can’t wait).

Dirty woolens

Prepare your washing machine (yes) for a small load and allow it to fill with cold water. Add a capful of wool soap – not too much, just a small capful. I use Eucalan, but SOAK is nice too. Do not use Woolite – your knits deserve better. Stop the machine before the agitation cycle begins.

ETA: Without access to a washer, smaller items can be washed in this manner with a salad spinner. For that large, cabled, tunic-length sweater? You’re on your own!

Wool soap

Toss in your knits. Trust me, I won’t felt your woolens.

Load the washer

Load the washer

Load the washer

Your sweaters and socks will float on top of the water. The wool will eventually take up water and sink, but it is incredibly resilient. Help it out: push down your items to submerge them.

Full washing machine

This is the variable stage. I often set this up before bed so they can soak overnight. Some people only soak an hour. I have been known to forget about wool washes and leave them for 36 hours. Don’t do that, but soak them for as long as you find convenient.

Be sure to tell everyone in the household that there is wool in the washing machine. Deliver this information in the same way you would share that the iron is hot, the gas burner is lit, or the car is running. Impress upon your cohabitants that under no circumstances are they permitted to so much as enter the laundry room. Oh wait, that’s the rule in my house… I encourage you to be as bossy as you like.

Spin Only Cycle

Done stewing? Turn the washing machine dial to spin-only. This is the end of the washing cycle in which the water is spun out of the clothes. I assure you, your washing machine has a spin-only cycle. Mine does, and it is the cheapest, most worthless machine money can buy (it has two cycles: on and off). Ask me about how we bought appliance insurance then cloth diapered now two children in an attempt to kill it. The stupid machine runs like a champ.

Right. You don’t care about my piece-of-junk washing machine. Sorry. Let the spin-only cycle go to completion. When you open the washing machine, you will find damp but by no means soaking wet woolens. If you find them too wet, run the spin cycle again.

Drying on a towel

Lay out garments on towels. Sometimes, I spread out a couple of towels on a bed. If I’m washing lots of socks, I string a clothesline and pin the socks to dry. That’s a lot of work. Do as you see fit, but know that depending on the fiber content, your garments will be dry in anywhere between a few hours and a day. If they take longer to dry, you did not spin out enough water.

Drying on a towel

I feel I need to make one final point about babies and wool. Babies leak. Odysseus has never met a surface he deemed unworthy of spit up. He is the messiest baby I have ever known. Yet, he wears the woolly bunting Sally made him every day and today is the first time it has been washed. And no, it hasn’t been gross and covered in baby goo all this time. Careful use of bibs (or in his case, large cloth diapers as bibs) has kept it plenty clean.

Don’t ever feel like you have to sacrifice quality for ease of use! Teach people how to wash woolens. It will prove useful long after their babies leave the house – after all, who survives without wool socks??? Babies can wear wool. New, sleep-deprived moms can wash wool. And you know what? Dads can too.

2 comments so far

  1. [...] weather is just around the corner. If you're like me, you're likely thinking about giving your handknits a pre-season wash – and about what mittens you're going to make for yourself before the cold weather hits full [...]

  2. […] How to Wash Your Woolens on Exercise Before Knitting: Whether you’re packing them away for the summer or freshening them up for winter, this tutorial show you how to safely wash your knitted and crocheted wool items without felting them – in the washing machine! […]


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