A pile of handknit items in shades of gray, red and blue rests on a table.

Washing Your Woolens

I’ve been washing some of my design samples to get them ready for Carolina Fiber Fest next weekend. I’m doing a designer showcase from 12-12:20 on Saturday March 12, so if you’re local to me please stop by and say hi! More information is available on the Carolina Fiber Fest website.

Anyway, I thought it would be a great time to talk about washing all those precious woolly handknits. One of the benefits of wool is that it’s naturally antimicrobial and doesn’t need to be washed all that often. However, it’s important to wash your woolens if you plan to put them away during the warmer months, as moths feed on the bits of skin, crumbs, or other debris on your clothes (they aren’t actually interested in the wool itself!).

So, how to was your handknits without shrinking or felting them? To start with, as you’ll know if you’ve been following my breed study posts, not all wools are equally feltable. Down and down-type breeds are often resistant to felting, and cashmere and alpaca also don’t felt as readily as some wools. And, of course, there are the wools that are treated to be machine-washable.

If you’re washing something more easily felted, use a gentle soak, avoiding agitation, and avoid shocking your wools with drastic temperature changes, especially going from hot to very cold water. You can, however, wash your woolens in pretty hot water without danger.

To wash by hand or machine? Many newer machines, especially front-loaders have a wool setting, and I’ve been testing mine out recently. I used to wash my superwash wool socks in a regular cycle with my other clothes, but lately I’ve been doing a wool-only cycle using my machine’s wool setting, and I’ve even been including some non-superwash items. And they’ve come out just fine.

Now, you may not want to try this with your special heirloom knits – I’m still wash many things by hand – but for everyday things like socks you might want to try the machine. Some knitters want to get away from superwash wool yarns for environmental reasons, and being able to care for these knits more easily can encourage that. If you’re considering trying the wool cycle on your machine, the best thing to do is to wash your swatch – yet another good reason to swatch your knits!

Do you wash your handknits in the washing machine? Let me know in the comments.


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