While many wool garments need to be dry cleaned, some wool is washable. This article provides step-by-step guidance on washing wool garments safely and effectively. It covers how to prepare wool for washing; how to choose the best detergent for wool; and steps for washing wool by machine or by hand.
Your Favorite Woolens May Be Washable
Here at the Heritage Park offices in Connecticut, our team woke up to a good old-fashioned New England frost today. After weeks of teasing, Mother Nature has delivered us firmly into cool temperatures. And while we love summer just as much as the next gal, we are absolutely here for “sweata weatha.” But taking care of your favorite wool sweater can be a little intimidating and -- if you’re dry cleaning -- expensive.
The good news is that some of your wool clothes (especially socks, sweaters, and even lightweight throw blankets) can be washed by hand or (wait for it!) in your machine. You can figure out whether a wool garment can be washed by checking out the care label. Here’s our helpful guide to deciphering those mysterious symbols. A good guideline is that if a wool garment is lined (think wool pants or a wool coat) or heavily embellished, it is probably dry clean only. If your woolen clothes are washable, read on. We share best practices and steps for hand washing and for machine washing woolen clothes.
Prepping Wool for Washday Success
Taking a few steps prior to washing your woolen garment or wool blanket will set you up for success:
- Read those care instructions again. Each wool garment may have specific care requirements. Following these guidelines is crucial to prevent damage.
- Inspect the garment carefully. Check for any stains, spills, or spots.
- Treat these areas with a wool-safe stain remover or detergent made for wool (see below) to prevent the stain from settling. Learn more about stain removal here.
Gentle Care, Lasting Wear: Pick the Right Detergent for Wool
Washable woolen garments -- including cashmere, merino wool, and even wool blends -- need a special detergent made to clean wool. Never use a commercial or grocery store laundry detergent on fine wool; these detergents contain too many harsh chemicals that can damage wool fiber. You should choose a gentle detergent that is pH-neutral and made for cleaning wool like Heritage Park Silk and Wool detergent. This mild detergent is concentrated, plant-based, and pH-neutral so as not to irritate skin (we also make a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic Silk and Wool detergent). Most importantly, our Silk and Wool formula is enzyme-free to protect wool, silk, and other protein-based fibers from damage. You can learn more about how enzyme detergent works, and why it shouldn’t be used on silk, wool fabric, or other protein-based fibers here. Also, never use fabric softener on wool.
Tender Loving Suds: How to Hand Wash Wool
Hand washing wool is ideal for lighter woolen clothes like a single sweater or wool socks. Follow these steps:
- Fill a basin or sink with clean water. Use cool or lukewarm water; never use hot water on wool clothing.
- Add a small amount of detergent, usually 1/4 capful of Heritage Park Silk and Wool will suffice. Swish the water gently to dissolve the detergent.
- Turn the wool item inside out to protect the outer surface. Submerge the garment and swish it around using a gentle agitating motion. Avoid excessive rubbing or wringing to prevent damage.
- Soak the garment for a maximum of ten minutes.
- Rinse thoroughly with cool water. Don’t wring the item out, which can distort its shape. See below for drying guidelines.
How to Machine Wash Wool with Confidence
If you are machine-washing wool, follow these guidelines for best results:
- Wash a wool-only load. Use a delicate or wool cycle and cool or warm water and do not overload. Here is a helpful guide to washing machine settings and cycles and here is one to washing machine capacity.
- Consider putting delicate or smaller woolen clothes like socks in a fine mesh laundry bag to protect them from snags in the machine.
- If possible, turn items inside out.
- Add the proper amount of wool wash based on the size load and machine
- Consider a second rinse cycle to make sure all detergent is removed. Do not wring out wool items. See below for drying guidelines.
Pro Tips for Drying, Storing, and Caring for Your Wool Items
Whether you've washed your wool by hand or in the washing machine, there are simple steps for drying and storing your wool items:
- Never wring out wet wool, which will cause your garment to lose its shape. Instead, roll it in a clean, light-colored towel and gently press to remove excess water.
- Do NOT put wool in the dryer to dry. Wool yarn (and even blends) will absolutely shrink when exposed to heat.
- Lay your items flat on a clean towel or draped over a clothesline or drying rack away from direct sunlight (which can cause the dyes in wool to fade).
- Reshape the garment to its original form while drying.
- Avoid external heat sources. We know it’s tempting, but NEVER use space heaters or radiators to dry wool items. These will dry wool unevenly and also pose a serious fire hazard.
- Hang or (preferably) fold and store your wool items in a dry place, again, away from direct sunlight. Spot clean spills promptly using a wool-specific detergent and a soft cloth (note: for persistent stains you may use a small amount of enzyme-based detergent to spot clean or pre-soak but be sure to test on an inconspicuous area first). Use a wool brush or de-pilling comb to remove any pills caused by friction.
- Store clean wool garments away for the summer in a clean, dry place in cloth garment bags, vacuum bags, or bins. Consider using cedar chips or sachets to prevent moth damage.
- Lastly, a suggestion that might surprise you coming from folks who sell laundry detergent: Before washing your clothing or wool blankets, try airing them out by hanging them outside on a cool, low-humidity day. Again, avoid direct sunlight. This type of airing out may freshen your wool enough to allow another use or two before washing.
We hope you've found this guide helpful for understanding how to wash wool. You can be confident that by following these steps and using the right products, you can keep your wool garments soft, cozy, and in excellent condition for years to come. As always, our clean team is here to help answer any wool or other laundry care questions you have. Happy washing!