This article will show you some techniques you’ll need to know in order to easily wash at home what some people consider to be a fairly temperamental garment, wool sweaters.
This video is part of a series we’re doing on garment care, the first video in the series dealt with how to get that musty smell out of vintage clothing.
First of all, wool doesn’t actually need to be washed very often as the lanolin oils that are present in the wool make it naturally anti-microbial. So as long as your wool garments are only subjected to average wear and you give them a little bit of time to air out in between wearings, you won’t actually have to put them through your washing machine or hand wash them all that often. In those situations where you do think that a wash would be best, however, fight the impulse to take your wool garments to the dry cleaner. The solvents that are used in dry cleaning are eventually harsh on wool fibers and will break them down over time.
Essential Truths About Washing Wool
The most common knowledge seems to be that wool will shrink if it’s exposed to water, heat, detergents or other factors.
The water is doing the work of the washing, not the detergent.
Firstly, what’s actually doing most of the washing when you wash your clothing is having water pass over and between the fibers of your clothing. The detergent that you use in your washing machine is acting as a surfactant. Essentially, it is making the water more slippery so that it can more easily get between the fibers of your clothing.
Wool does not actually shrink when washed
It does not actually shrink in the laundering process. Rather, as the wool fibers are agitated back and forth and move around during washing especially during drying, they lock closer and closer together creating another material that you may also have heard of, felt. Sometimes, of course, felting wool can be a good thing such as in the process for making traditional men’s hats. But of course, you do not want your sweaters to end up the same way.
Furthermore, though, the majority of felting is not going to take place in the washing machine since water will be in between most of the individual fibers. Rather, where felting occurs most often is in the dryer as the clothes are dry, hot, and being constantly agitated. So ultimately then, the primary thing to focus on whenever you are washing wool is just to prevent felting. This is true for either of the two techniques we are about to show you.
Wool Washing Techniques
With that in mind then, hand-washing your wool sweaters is the safest method for cleaning them so it is the method we will go over first.
To get started, add two capfuls of a gentle cleaning agent like wool and cashmere shampoo to a container of room temperature water. Turn the sweater you are going to wash inside out, submerge it in the water, and gently agitate it with your hands so that the cleaning agent is thoroughly worked through. Then, soak the sweater for at least ten minutes and up to half an hour. After you’ve done this, you can rinse the sweater by running cool water through it and when the water is no longer soapy, you’ll know that the garment is thoroughly rinsed.
Before drying the rest of the way, you can take some of the excess water out of the sweater by applying gentle pressure. Keep in mind that you should never wring out a wool sweater as the excessive agitation is definitely going to distort the fibers and might have the potential to cause some felting. By the way, if you see any visible color in your basin of water, don’t worry. The garment has just released some of the excess dye and you’re not going to see any visible loss of color in the garment when you wear it again.
First, turn your sweater inside out. Roll it up as tightly as you can, don’t bunch it but roll it, and then put it inside of a mesh washing bag which should also be rolled as tightly as possible and secured with a safety pin if necessary.
This preparation is done with felting in mind, simply stated, if the sweater is rolled up tightly, it’s not going to move around and it’s not going to come into contact with other garments’ fibers or with its own fibers to a certain extent. Therefore, the risk of felting is greatly minimized. Also, we turned it inside out because if any felting or pilling does happen to occur, it’s only going to be visible inside of the sweater, not the outside. Putting wool items into their own mesh bags is also beneficial for your washing machine as felt fuzz from loose wool items could clog up the machine. Therefore, having things in mesh bags is good for your garments and your machine.
Next, add the appropriate amount of wool and cashmere shampoo, depending both on the size of the machine as well as the load in question. Also, you don’t have to worry about using the delicate or woolen cycle on the machine or worry about spin speed. As long as you’ve got the wool sweater tightly compacted inside the mesh bag and the bag itself is also tightened down, the express cycle on the machine will be just fine.
Once the washing machine is finished, promptly remove your garments both from the machine and from their mesh bags to reduce creasing.
The Drying Process
As we mentioned before, don’t use your dryer. Remember, that’s the location where felting is most likely to occur. Rather, what you should do is lay out your garments flat on a drying rack and leave them there to dry. With the garments in its natural shape, roll up the towels slowly like a sleeping bag using gentle pressure to get out some of that excess water. Wait a few moments, unroll the towel and then put the garment on the rack as normal.
While your sweater is on the drying rack, you can reshape or block it using gentle pressure with your hands. Once you’ve gotten into the shape you desire, just leave it on the rack and then it should dry that way. Avoid placing your garments in direct sunlight or near heat sources like a radiator because this could increase the risk of yellowing as well as shrinkage. Also, you should never hang your wool garments to dry them because gravity will pull on the water that’s left in the garment, unevenly spreading out the fibers and distorting the garments over time. Using a drying rack is your best course of action. The process for washing really is that simple.
Wool Maintenance Tips
To get wrinkles out of your wool garments, it’s best to use a garment steamer rather than an iron as the heat and pressure from an iron will be more likely to distort the natural structure of the fibers. If pilling has occurred, you can take a sweater comb and gently run it across the surface of the fabric in one direction only to remove the pills effectively. Also, using clothes brush in between wears is an easy way to get rid of lint, fuss, and hair and also to release some of those lanolin oils that keep the sweater looking its best.
If you have been hanging to an old sweater that shrunk in the laundry, there is a way to bring these old sweaters back to life. Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a container of hot water, submerge the sweater and swish it around as with the hand washing process we laid out before and then leave the garment to soak in that container overnight. The next day, take the sweater out of the container, lay it flat, and block it as desired, and then leave it to dry completely. After it is thoroughly dried, you can wash it as normal using the techniques we outlined here.
Woolen knitwear should always be stored folded to prevent stretching or distortion of the fibres. Also, woolen cashmere are susceptible to insect damage. When you are storing your wool garments, make sure they have been cleaned first so that you are not providing any food sources for potential bugs. It is best to store your woolens in a cool dry place in a breathable cotton storage bag with a zip closure.
Because bugs can get into openings in a seater chest over time, the seater will also occasionally lose its effectiveness the longer you have it around. Also, storing in plastic encourages yellowing and it might also provide a moisture that bugs will love. Optionally here, you can also include in the storage box a sachet of about a half cup of dried lavender since bugs hate the stuff.
And there you have it, all the techniques necessary to properly and easily wash your wool sweaters and other garments at home.
Did we blow your mind that wool does not actually shrink or did you have a different takeaway from today’s video? Whatever the case may be, share with us in the comments below!
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