We all have horror stories of beloved sweaters, blankets, scarves,, and more, destroyed by careless washing. I have done it myself, as I’m sure you recall from this blog post. In our effort to avoid felting them into oblivion, we treat our our beloved handknits with great care - perhaps too much care.
Wait, what? You can treat a hand knit with too much care? Yes, you can. Let’s talk about two main mistakes we make with our wool garments, and what to do instead.
Handwash, don’t dry clean, your regular, non-superwash wool fabrics. For yarn manufacturers, it’s much easier to slap,Dry clean only on the label than to try and explain how to wash a wool garment properly. But you can - and should - hand wash a wool garment. Handwashing in cool water with a gentle low-sudsing wool wash like Eucalan or Soak gives your wool fabric a chance to bloom. The fabric will be softer and the fibers more plump.
It’s easy - just soak and spin. Fill a large basin with water, add the Eucalan or Soak, and let the garment soak in the water for 45 minutes or so. These cleansers contain long organic molecules that attract water at one end and repel water at the other allowing them to dissolve greasy dirt in your fabric and pull it away.
There’s no need to scrub or agitate You can actually felt fabric by scrubbing or wringing while it’s wet, which is why a no-rinse detergent is so important. You just soak it. There’s no sudsing to rinse out, and no need for extra handling.
Give it a spin After 45 minutes, I put it in a garment bag and give it a spin in the washing machine. It should be almost dry by then.
Lay flat to dry Push your garment into shape and let it dry flat. Your non-superwash wools should not stretch out or grow with this treatment.
Remember to test for colorfastness first If you have used variegated yarn or more than one color in a garment, before you wash it, put your swatch in a jar with your cleanser and warm water, and shake it up. See if the water changes color or if the colors bleed together. If so, dry cleaning is actually your safest bet.
Machine wash and tumble dry superwash fabrics. The careful handling of washable, but not superwash, wool often confuses knitters. Washable means that you can wash it as described above, but superwash wool is meant to withstand machine washing and drying.
Superwash fibers are different - Superwash fibers have had their scales either removed or chemically smoothed to prevent felting. Without the scales to grip each other, the fibers slip and stretch, especially when they’re wet. If you handle your superwash garments and swatches as you would a regular wool, they will stretch and grow, often by a large percentage.
Use a mesh laundry bag, Just because your garments can be machine washed doesn’t mean that they should be tossed in with a full load and left to fend for themselves. A mesh laundry bag keeps sleeves and necklines from getting caught on other garments and getting stretched out of shape.
Be gentle- just because it’s superwash doesn’t mean that you can toss it in on hot with your towels and jeans. I always warm or cool water, a gentle, low sudsing detergent (like Eucalan or Soak) and wash fairly gently. Every machine is different, and top-loading machines with an agitator are much harsher on fabric than front loaders, so just be mindful. Whatever cycle you choose for washing, always give it a final hard spin afterwards to get all the excess water out so drying will be quick.
They need time in the dryer- to counteract that stretching, you need to give superwash wool garments a tumble in the dryer to bring them back to shape. While it can be scary to do so, trust me. Or don’t trust me. Do it on your swatch. I recommend using a medium to low dryer temperature and checking it every few minutes or so. When it’s nearly dry, you can lay it out and let it finish drying flat to avoid wrinkles in the fabric.
With care, both your washable and superwash garments will last and look great for a long time.
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