How to Wash Wool Clothing

Many people are switching from synthetic fibers to natural fibers for the clothes they wear. This means taking some extra care to keep these lovely items in perfect shape so that you will want to continue to wear them. We will show you how to hand wash wool clothing and access ores so that they will not shrink or felt up. We also show you how to properly wring them out and dry them.

There are people who will choose to take them to the dry cleaner and allow them to be cleaned with harsh and often toxic chemicals.This is not the best way to care for fine woolens especially those that have been hand knit, crocheted or woven out of precious fibers like: the fleecy fiber of livestock such as wool (sheep), alpaca, mohair (goats), cashmere (goats) and other animals. It’s very easy to wash wool clothing and air dry them  at home and cost-effective too. This article will explain how to wash and dry fine wool clothing so it will last for many years. Wool clothing includes items such as; hats, gloves, scarves, sweaters, vests, shirts, jackets, coats, socks and even expensive fine merino wool insulating underwear.

Really Important Rule!

Do NOT ever put fine woolen items in the washing machine! Many people think that washing in the machine is fine because they think it’s the dryer that causes the wool to shrink and felt ~ WRONG!!!!! The agitation action of the washing machine is what causes the wool fibers to shrink and felt together. Actually, the process is called “fulling” but most people just refer to it as “felted.” The flip-flopping action of the dryer doesn’t help those items much either. So what can you do?

How to Wash Wool Clothing

Here is one of the best ways to wash wool clothing and accessories so that they will retain their shape for years to come:

Step 1: Wash wool items

  • Pick off any hairs or pet fur that might be clinging to the item.
  • Look for areas that are soiled and take note of where they are, such as; cuffs, collars, palms of gloves etc.
  • Remove any “pills” these are little fiber balls or mats that usually form under the arms, back of sleeves and also on the lower front half of sweaters and vests. You can pick them off or use a little raking tool available at yarn and sewing shops to remove the pills.
  • Place sweater or several smaller items together in a sink basin, in a deep dish basin, clean 5 gallon bucket or clean bathtub.
  • To a pint size glass jar (or small bowl) add the following: 1 teaspoon of liquid Castile soap, like Dr. Bronners (available at Trader Joes, Fresh Market, Whole Foods and most health food stores) and 1 cup of warm water. Cap the jar and shake well. You can also use a special wool wash like Eucalan which is a no rinse wool wash made in Canada.
  • Add enough tepid water to cover the items in your washing basin, then add the contents of the jar and swirl to combine.
  • Using your hands pull and press the items that you are washing. This will help them to absorb the washing liquid. Gently rub together any areas that were soiled. Once this is completed allow the items to soak for 30 minutes. This soaking loosens dirt, oils and helps the fibers to relax and plump back to their natural shape.

 Step 2: Rinsing Wool Items with Lavender Essential Oil to Protect from Insect Damage

To help repel insects, especially clothes eating moth larva, I add Lavender essential oil to my rinse water. I use Remnant Remedy Lavender essential oil (click here to purchase) which is pure 100% lavendula angustifolia essential oil.  Here’s what to do to protect and rinse your woolen items.

  • After soaking you can drain the water out of the sink, or pour the contents of your plastic wash basin or 5 gallon bucket into a clean sink and allow the water to drain.
  • Press and move the items around squishing the excess water from your wool clothing items.
  • Close off the drain and fill the basin with clean tepid water. Then add 20 drops of Lavender essential oil to the water and swish it around.
  • Press and swish your clothing items around in this water until thoroughly saturated with the rinse water. Allow to soak for 20 minutes, then drain out the water.
  • Press and squish the remaining water out of your items, until they are fairly dry and no longer sopping wet. Press and fold and gently wring to remove excess water being very careful to not wring out by twisting tightly like you would with a towel or face cloth. 
  • NOTE: some people like to transfer their sopping wet items to a washing machine and spin the excess water out. I do this too BUT you must be VERY CAREFUL to only use the spin cycle and DO NOT allow the items to encounter any agitation whatsoever.

Step 3: How to Dry Wool Items

  • Once items are the gently wrung dry, I place them onto a large thick bath or beach towel that I have spread out on a table or bed.
  • Then I fold in the sleeves if working with a sweater, shirt, etc.. Next I fold over both sides of the towel to completely cover the item/s. The photo above shows the left side of the towel closing over the sweater.
  • Starting at the end of the towel that is nearest the bottom of the sweater, vest, shirt etc. I begin to roll the towel and items together into a tight roll.
  • When the towel is completely rolled up, I move it to a solid surface like a table or counter top (if I was rolling on the bed) and begin to push as hard as I can on the roll. Then I turn it a quarter turn and push again and repeat until I have turned it 360 degrees and pressed as hard as I can.
  • Finally, I unroll the towel and pick up the clean woolen items. If they are still too wet, I will repeat this process again.
  • Next I give them a quick little shake to fluff them a bit and then spread them out onto a clean dry towel that I have laid out on a spare bed. I take care to shape each item and smooth it flat – this is called “blocking”. For sweaters, I make certain that the fronts and backs are the same length and aligned at the hem. For cardigans, I align the opening in the front and flatten the button band or zipper opening. I smooth and shape the neckline, shoulders and sleeves. Gloves, hats and scarves are all laid out and smoothed and shaped.
  • It is important to NOT stretch your damp knitted woolens because as they dry the fibers will be stretched and your garment my end up looking odd or fit badly.
  • Then they are allowed to finish drying. If you have a ceiling fan above your bed you can turn it on so that it blows downward onto the items that you are drying. The fan helps to evaporate the water much quicker.
  • Once the fronts are dry, I flip them over and allow the other side to dry. With sweaters and jackets, I will sometimes open them up so that the air can get to the inside to help them dry quicker.

Knit Items Stretch as they are Worn

All knit woolen items will stretch as they are worn. Areas that seem to be especially subject to stretching are waistbands, neck openings and sleeve cuffs. If you have an item that tends to get stretched out while wearing you can lightly push and press it into a smaller shape when damp. This way the fibers will be tighter as it drys.

Once your items are dry you can fold them (never hang knitted items) and put them away or place them into your off-season storage boxes.

Instructional Video

Here is a video that shows how to hand wash and block a knitted sweater. The process is the same for all knit items whether they are new or have been worn for years.

This process really doesn’t take much of your time and it will help to protect and care for your precious woolen garments and accessories.

For information about how to storing wool clothes for off-season and how to prevent insect damage, see my article: Clothing Moths How to Naturally Repel Them.

I hope that you have learned how to wash wool clothing and will try it in your home.

If you have any questions please contact me, I will be happy to help.

Every Blessing,

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