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.

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48 comments so far

  1. Melissa on

    You have converted me! In all honesty, I was headed in this direction anyway after knitting a baby blanket out of acrylic yarn which I ended up hating. I think I’ve been a little resistant to give hand wash items because I’m not a mom and don’t really know what it’s like. Now I’m going to give gifts made of wooly goodness with a link to this post :)

  2. Melissa A. on

    Unfortunately I live in an apartment building, so I can’t do this. There’s no control over the cycles of the wash. I have to wash things by hand. I don’t have a lot of things that I need to wash regularly though. I wash my socks in cold water with the rest of the clothes then hang them up to dry.

  3. grumperina on

    I’m with Melissa – one day I will have my own cheapo washing machine, with a spin-only cycle! Until then… le sigh.

  4. Aaron on

    (Elinor’s husband here) If you’re just washing socks or something very small and you need a soak and spin cycle, could you just use a salad spinner?

  5. indigorchid on

    Excellent post! I am tempted to print this out and wrap it along with whatever woolens I happen to give away to people.

  6. Tahra on

    I loved this tutorial! I’m going to forward it to a few people I gifted wool items to.

  7. Allison on

    You know, I’ve gotten this lecture from ladies at the local LYS so many times whenever I’ve tried to get a recommendation for superwash wools and yes, you’re right, washing hand knits IS very easy, BUT…

    You’re assuming that all the recipients of our gifts have access to a) a washing machine, b) washing facilities period, or c) a member of the household responsible enough to split up the wash or take responsibility for doing the hand washing.

    Not everyone has a washing machine. One of the nieces I knit for regularily spends most of her year living in a dorm room and doesn’t even have a private sink, nor any place to do the washing up besides a public laundromat. Another niece lives with her father and neither will even seperate laundry into colours, let alone hand vs machine wash.

    I’m glad you’ve spelled out a good tutorial for how to wash hand knits, but man, I am soooo tired of being told that acrylic is bad and everyone should hand wash. It’s just not an option for a lot of people. A lot of other people have just never been taught basic home making skills and are too terrified of ruining a garment by mistake and will just never wear it. I’d rather give something that I know my giftee will use and appreciate, even if it is made with superwash or the hated acrylic.

  8. dclulu on

    This is a great tutorial but I’m with Melissa and Grumperina. I only have shared laundry facilities (so can’t leave items soaking for hours) in my apartment building — and the machines can’t be set to spin only. I still don’t like knitting with acrylic, though. I wash my socks with the other laundry and hang to dry, and I attempt to buy superwash or other machine-washable fibers for other things.

    Oh, and I cloth diapered too. In my experience, laundering cloth diapers is a lot easier than dealing with hand knits!

  9. clare on

    Well, I can see the points made by Melissa and Grumperina, but thanks and ‘here, here’ from me. Having lived in Australia (land of top loaders) and the UK (land of front loaders), I think that if you have access to your own machine, washing woolen handknits is pretty straight forward. I have a far worse track record with stockings and tights than I do with handknits! Any tips for getting stains out of toddler handknits (I’m thinking of those horrible sleeve cuff stains that seem to occur no matter how careful I am to roll up sleeves/take off jumpers when eating)?

  10. Kate on

    I have a front loader, and it’s even better. It’s super gentle in general, as well as having a ‘gentle’, ‘handwash’ AND a specific woolen setting.

    If you’re an adult person hand washing one jumper isn’t that big a deal – it really only needs spot cleans, and then a wash at the end of winter. Same deal, just soak it, agitate it a bit, and make sure it dries flat.

    That said, I’m sort of with Alison. I’ve made regular wool things for knitters, but I don’t think I would for non knitting parents. I feel like THEY feel like it’s more of a burden than it is, and even though I disagree, I want to give them a gift, not something else to learn in those first crazy months. I’ve found a couple of sources of superwash that aren’t TOO bad – still not the same, but also not red heart acrylic. Grown ups, however, get wool, and a lecture, SHOULD they be so lucky as to recieve a gift!

  11. Monika on

    Wow, great tutorial.

    I´ll let you in on a little secret. I haven´t washed my wool sweaters in like 6 months. I don´t think you can do that with acrylics. I will never knit in acrylics since I think it´s a waist of time and effort.

    and no, my woolens don´t smell. and they don´t have any stains on them. I alternate between 4 which I use everyday. If they were to smell I simply just hang them outside to air out.

    I lazy and wool is soo convenient.

    My washing machine has the opening on the side so I don´t think I can fill it up with water like that but I´m going to look into it.

  12. Kathy on

    This post is super helpful. I actually just went down to my basement to see if I had a spin cycle — I do — it’s color coded and little hidden, but it’s there :-)

  13. Lisa on

    Thanks for the tutorial. I like Aaron’s suggestion too! I have a front loader with a wool cycle and it works great.

    As for leaving things to soak for a long time, I made that mistake just last week and the dye bleed that came out of my gorgeous new fingerless mitts changed the color dramatically. Heart stopping, it was. That would be my only caution to your instruction (maybe hand dyed yarn needs extra care?)

  14. Emily on

    Thanks! I’ve been doing this half-cocked self-invented “ice-cold water in the bathroom sink vs. my already-cold-from-winter hands” method, since I only recently started keeping some of my wool FOs for myself. Your method is much more sensible, and makes me finally want to buy some Eucalan!

  15. Kirsten on

    Great tutorial! I always wash my woolens in the sink. I think I’ll give your method a try next time. Thanks!

  16. Nancy on

    Excellent tutorial! I love the pictures, too. I usually handwash in the sink, then spin in the machine to get the moisture out. I love your system of a separate basket for the knits..mine always get jumbled up in the bottom of the hamper forever then when I finally wash them its like Christmas and I’m getting all these new sweaters all over again!

  17. Kate on

    Great post, thanks for the tutorial! I’m bookmarking this for the wonderful day when I have a washing machine in my home! I may have to try the salad spinner method in the meantime.

  18. whitney on

    What a great post! I have to admit, I’ve been too chicken to try to wash my woolens using the washing machine, but maybe now that I’ve seen your step-by-step directions, I’ll give it a try!

  19. Stephanie on

    This post full of nice clean- and crisp-looking woolens makes me want to get all of mine washed up nice and pretty.

    Though I’d love it if one of the previous commenters did a post like this with a front-loader–I’m still afraid to use the “handwash” setting for my knits on the one I sometimes have access to… Now, unfortunately, for the time being I’m stuck with laundromat facilities and hand washing wool, but it’s not too bad either. Just takes much longer to dry. If I had a salad spinner though, I would definitely try that out.

  20. Dag on

    I am a wooly, too, even one that is blessed with a Miele frontloader with its own wool program, but I sucked in every word you wrote, and had a real good laugh! Thanks so much for sharing, great post!

  21. jess on

    Well done & well said!

  22. Sally on

    Just to make it official, I am hereby giving Elinor permission to make any and all modifications necessary to continue using the magical bunting in the winter of 2010-11 and beyond, including extreme measures with scissors. Because a baby deserves to be warm, darn it!
    (Not that you need my permission, but you asked. And I couldn’t be happier that you and O are getting so much mileage out of it!)

  23. ElinorDashwood on

    Echoing the request for someone here with experience using a frontloader for washing wool to offer a tutorial as excellent as the top-loader tutorial Elinor has provided. Is there a soaking step, or does pushing the button for a “woolens” cycle or “delicates” cycle do everything that needs to be done?

  24. Cara on

    Just a point I feel I need to make for those of us in tropical climates and with (honest to goodness doctor verified) wool allergies – the choice is not between acrylic and wool these days. Bamboo, for example, is a great fiber for babies. There are a dearth of patterns out there with recommended fibers that don’t include wool, so you have the hassle of considering carefully and substituting. But, there is a way to have quality without having the wool.

  25. Ijeoma on

    That is so very helpful! Thanks!

  26. Tana on

    That is exactly the method I use to wash my woolens. To the lady who said her wool items bled, they will bleed enough in 30 minutes to ruin your stuff too (ask me how I know).

    My attitude is, given the time and effort that goes into knitting something, if someone cannot take the time to care for it properly, they are not worthy of such an item. Every “wash-and-wear” items need proper care or they will be stretched out of shape and rendered unusable.

    All of my children wear wool, and not even superwash wool – real wool.

  27. Ann on

    This is very helpful. I hand wash all my woollens & have not problem with that.

  28. Amy on

    So wait… how does everyone *else* wash their woolens?

  29. larissa on

    thanks for this. i use a similar method. i also use this washing machine method for blocking. how do you block?

  30. Emily on

    Wonderful post. I will be referring back to this in the future when I don’t live in an apartment and have access only to front loaders :)

    ps, that bitty wrap cardigan is the cutest thing I think I’ve ever seen. I must knit one! What is the pattern?

  31. Willemtje on

    I agree with Monica and only wash my sweaters occasionally. I wear them for one or two days, then hang them in front of an open window to air out. This is not an option for babies of course. I think the main mistake people make when washing wool is that they use water which is not cold enough. When it feels lukewarm the water is above body temperature, which is too high for wool (unless you do not agitate it at all).

  32. Meg on

    Thanks for the information. This tutorial will be priceless when I am in need of washing all the awesome knitted baby goodies you will sending our way come August. :)

    Also I should tell you that we are still using the washer you gave Z in 2004. The dryer has since died, but the washer is going strong. Probably one of the best gifts ever. Sorry to hear about your washer woes.

  33. rebekahsyarn on

    Great Great tips! I had never thought about using the spin cycle on the washing machine. This is perfect timing, I’m hopefully about to finish a very large wool afghan, and it was going to be a pain to wash it in a tub.

  34. Pshorten on

    This is a great article. Almost exactly the way I wash my wools. I love knowing that I’m not the only person to wait till I’ve run out of socks to wash my socks…
    I do stop every spring and pull out all the wools I’ve worn all winter and wash them all at once to be put away for the summer months…that’s where the photo at the top of my blog comes from, last years washing photo…pretty funny!
    Thanks for the fun discussion/

  35. Jenni on

    I love your tutorial but am equally excited to discover you now have a complete set……a girl and a boy! Congratulations! And thanks so much for reinforcing my desire to use wool for babies. Have never been able to bring myself to use anything else. Your knitting continues to be inspiring as usual. Thanks.

  36. Romy on

    Great post! Really made me chuckle.

  37. [...] A while back I came across a revolutionary (to me, anyway) post by Elinor over at Exercise Before Knitting. In this post, she alleged that you can, in fact, use the washing machine for handwash-only yarn projects. [...]

  38. wendy on

    thaks for these tips, I avoided buying knit clothes because I always end up ruining them but your advise is great now that I’ve bought new clothes and a most of them are knits.

  39. Helena on

    Oh please, please can I have a (top-loader) that is a) apparently ‘casual’ (yet ‘permanent’) and also has instructions on it that say ‘pause’ and ‘cool down’? Please? I so dearly want this.

    (Personally, I just use Eucalan in a bucket and then toss into the machine to spin. Seems to work, for the top-loader deprived uncool citizen I am.)

  40. Ken on

    Being a live-alone widower, I am so grateful for
    this tutorial – I`ve been putting off washing
    woolen pullovers for a while because I didn`t want to spoil them !

  41. odorunara on

    Thank you for this post! I’m using it as a source for a post I’m writing on how to wash woolens in Japan. This article really improved the quality of my clothes.

  42. [...] “How to Wash Your Woolens.” Exercise Before Knitting. 26 Feb. [...]

  43. Lindsey on

    I’m off to the store to buy some wool yarn now. I had no idea it was this easy! I had terrible mental images of stirring great lots of sweaters in the bathtub and rinsing out sweaters and socks for hours at a time. Wool! Here I come!

  44. [...] wash your own (and your knitters) woolies with care and respect. There’s a tutorial here at Exercise Before Knitting, and of course, you can always count on Clara.  Go learn – then dare to impress. Share [...]

  45. [...] wash your own (and your knitters) woolies with care and respect. There’s a tutorial here at Exercise Before Knitting, and of course, you can always count on Clara.  Go learn – then dare to impress. [...]

  46. [...] (и вещи вашей вязальщицы) заботливо и уважительно. Вот хорошая инструкция, и, конечно, вы всегда можете рассчитывать на Клару. [...]

  47. [...] they could accidentally felt & shrink the item!  Eeeek – the horror!  Well, I found a great article on another blog that might help you, as it did me.  It even suggests specific soap products and provides links to [...]

  48. Tina Wilk McFadden on

    My question is don’t you rinse the garments after the soaking cycle to get the soap product?

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