Now how to wash wool? It's easy I hear you cry. Out you go with your trusty dog and a pocket full of sheep nuts, start with the most bossy of the ewes (Daphne 🐏) and down to the dip we go… Oh sorry, you want to know how to wash a wool sweater or how to wash a wool blanket and such like, not how to wash a sheep.
How to Wash Wool and Care for your Knitwear
'Wool' can mean several things, such as fleece, or yarn. In this article, however, we are focusing on washing wool fabric made from wool yarn.
We are starting with items that can actually be washed, so don't do this to your best winter coat or suit! We will also have a brief chat about spot cleaning and season wake-up and close-down later.
But first things first: Step away from the washing machine!
We don't care how many shiny stars it has by its wool setting. You have toiled, frogged, spent the mortgage on the yarn and eventually woven in all the ends - still want to trust it to a machine?
The exception to this is when a much-cherished item is no longer able to go out in public in which case a special machine wash bag and suitable wash programme may be acceptable but that's as much as we’re prepared to say on the matter. Generally, we’d say: Always hand wash wool, especially if it’s natural, non-superwash wool.
Now gather your tools:
- Luke- to hand-warm water, never hot!
- Wool detergent such as Knit IQ No Rinse Delicate Wash which has a touch of lanolin that helps resettle the fibres to their virgin state
- A laundry bowl, ideally one with a drainage facility in the base
- Two towels: Ideally one microfibre because it is thin but very absorbent, and one slightly larger than the project itself
- If you are to block your piece after washing it, don't forget your KnitIQ Blocking Mats and KnitIQ Blocking Pins
Tune the radio to your favourite station and you are ready to begin. Taking care of gorgeous items you have created takes a little time, but is definitely worth it in the long run as they tend to live longer.
How to wash wool so it lasts you longer
- Fill the bowl with water and a generous dollop of your favourite wool wash detergent – for example 3 pumps of KnitIQ Delicate Wash - take a deep breath and inhale the fresh fragrance as it mixes in the water.
- Fold your merino wool sweater, cashmere shawl or other woollen garment to be washed. Why? Firstly, it takes up less room in the bowl for longer items such as dresses or skirts. And second, it is easier to take out of its bath without being a drooping, tangling mess that is difficult to handle and strains the fibres unnecessarily.
- Dunk your item under water until saturated. Try not to agitate your garment while you are doing this. No one likes agitated wool, it may bite, or at the very least you may end up with tight fibres or bobbles.
- Once the item has soaked for the desired time, which is somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes, allow the water to drain from the bowl. Don't worry if a little colour leaches out. This is just excess dye.
- Press or squeeze your garment gently but firmly to remove excess water.
Take coffee beans out of the fridge and grind your preferred blend, fill the pot but don't light the stove yet. This is for you when you've finished, along with a biscuit and time to take pride in your work.
- Now if at all possible take your towels and the bowl outside onto your patio, lawn, balcony or alternatively clear some worktop space in the kitchen, or find some space on the floor where you can lay out your towels.
- Lay the largest towel out flat with the microfibre one flat on top.
- Take you item out of the bowl and lay flat on the microfibre towel. The top edge of the garment should line up with the top of the towel. Sleeves should be folded in flat towards the centre.
- Now start rolling the microfibre towel and the garment top down into a giant Swiss Roll (yum) with the towel forming the filling.
- Once your Swiss Roll is complete, roll the whole lot inside the larger towel and give it a good old fashioned hug, kneed it with your underarms, or walk on it, depending on the size of your Swiss Role.
- Now if the weather is being kind and you have outside space lay your blocking mats out in a drying spot. If the weather is misbehaving pick a spot indoors where the cat won't use it as a nest, the dog won't steal it to play, and big or little people will neither trip over it nor spill things on it. KnitIQ Blocking Mats are sturdy enough to lean up against a wall while your project is drying.
- Unwrap your Swiss Roll and gently place your project on your Knit IQ Extra Thick Blocking Mats with Grids, pat it into shape, and pin it to the desired measurements.
- Depending on the thickness of your garment, you may need to turn the item over after 12 hours, or once the top is touch dry.
Now put your things away and have that coffee ☕
How to treat pilling or bobbles
If your favourite cherished knit starts to pill when you wear it: Congratulations! It means you have made something in a delicious natural wool yarn that is behaving exactly as it should. In particular you are likely to notice that this appears where the fibres create friction. The inside of arms, or the side of your body where you wear your bag are generally most noticeable.
Please don't do what a friend - none knitty it must be said - did approximately two months after receiving a cashmere cardigan for Christmas:
Her: 'I don't know why there is so much fuss about cashmere, that cardigan went really bobbly so I've thrown it away'.
Me frantically: 'Have the bin men been yet?!'
And none knitty partners tend to look on in bemusement at the care and attention often lavished on our favourite knits… but anyway back to pilling:
Remove any pilling before washing woollen clothes as no matter how careful you are, pilled fibres tangle. Ideally purchase a multi-fibre pilling gadget, there are plenty to choose from for under £20, for example Gleener Fuzz Balls from Tribe Yarns in Richmond. This has three removable heads so will work on chunky knits including cushions and blankets, worsted or dk items and a fine setting for your most delicate items.
There are various electronic gadgets that claim to remove pilling in half the time, however, we tend to be a bit purist and prefer to do this by hand. This way you can feel how the fibre is responding and work closer or lighter as needed. It also gives you an opportunity to check if any areas are starting to wear. You can then decide to reinforce or graft a panel.
Now fetch said garment, gadget and a flat surface. Optionally, you can put something inside the body as it gives a firmer surface. Your Knit IQ Blocking Mats are perfect for this. Then follow these steps:
- Lay out the item completely flat.
- Insert body block.
- Firmly but without excess pressure go over the garment removing pills or loose fibres as you go.
Spot cleaning, freshening and ending the season
Washing your woollen knitwear the right way is one thing. Caring for it throughout the year so that it maintains its natural beauty is another. Here are some ideas of what you can do to to extend the lifespan of your favourite piece and the time you will have together:
There will always be things that you can't wash. This is usually because of its size or weight, or because it just isn't practical. You will only try to wash and block a king size blanket in chunky merino once!
Now let us share a secret with you: Wool doesn't need much washing. It’s naturally water-repellent and anti-bacterial for a reason. These properties also give it a certain level of stain resistance. So if you notice something spilled on a cushion or favourite blanket, take a deep breath and count to ten.
Then take one of your KnitIQ Blocking Mats and lay the area with the stain on top of it. To make your own wool cleaner, simply mix a pump of KnitIQ wool wash liquid in a small basin with hand-warm water, not cold as you don't want to set the stain. If the spill is fresh, blot it first with kitchen towel, do not rub! Now take a cloth or sponge and drench the area with your wool shampoo solution.
Another thing worth keeping in your armoury is either a shaving or powder brush for exactly these moments which you can never foretell. Once the area is soaked with your diluted wool laundry detergent, take the brush - or a soft cloth - and very gently work from the centre of the stain out in circular movements. Repeat as much as you need to, then blot firmly with a towel and allow to dry.
With some stains there will remain a residual trace. You can buy specific stain removers and wool cleaners which may work, but try them somewhere out of sight first. Black coffee, red wine and turmeric for example are very difficult to remove.
So in the same way that your favourite cook book becomes marked, or a knitting pattern edited with your notes, try to accept it as part of the life lived by this treasure.
We love steaming things and not just yarns. Drop your favourite silk dress over a mannequin and lightly steam it. It will look better than on any return from the dry cleaners. A good steamer is a knitter’s friend. There are a wide variety for under £100 and we would always advise buying one with a delicate fibre guard.
Because this is what you want to use for freshening up your merino wool sweaters and knitwear between wears throughout the season. Where possible we only wash knitwear before blocking when we first finish making it, and at the end of the season before storing it.
To prevent frequently washing wool sweaters and other woollen garments and avoid unnecessary straining of their fibres, simply air them for 24 hours after you’ve worn them or whenever feels adequate. Then spray it lightly with a dilute of KnitIQ No Rinse Delicate Wash solution before steaming it. Once totally dry you can store it ready for the next wear.
Ending the season
Finally, season end preparations are really enjoyable, because it means you can look forward to the next chapter in your knitty adventures.
If you have cared for your garments well throughout the season, this is not too arduous. Wash the items if needed and dry them thoroughly. Then store them in knitwear mothproof bags with a layer of acid free tissue in the folds that has been sprayed very lightly with a natural moth repellent fragrance. Lavender and cedarwood are good for this.
Store them in drawers, or a suitcase if you run out of room, with a sachet of moth repellent. When you open it up next season your knitwear should be a pleasure to unpack and wear. Looking after your precious pieces in this way is truly an act of kindness on your garment.. and on you.