When winter sets in, many people take out woolen pullovers and sweaters from the closet. Wool is the ideal material for cold winter days because it warms without absorbing sweat. Nevertheless, it’s extremely sensitive and requires special laundry care.
To wash wool in a washing machine, use the wool program or a delicate wash cycle. Don’t overcrowd the machine, and use a gentle detergent. Avoid using fabric softener and the spin dry cycle to maintain the wool’s original appearance and texture.
In this article, I’ll lead you through the process of washing wool in the washing machine step by step. I’ll also explain what to avoid when washing wool and why, and I’ll provide some tips on keeping your woolen clothing soft and pristine.
1. Don’t Wash Wool Too Often
Wool is unlike other materials and shouldn’t be washed too often. It is hypoallergenic and mold and mildew-resistant. Since it doesn’t readily absorb sweat or odors because of its self-regulating properties, it’s acceptable to wash wool items once every 3 months.
Wool’s self-regulating properties also include fire resistance, and anti-static and anti-bacterial properties, the reason NASA astronauts use merino wool-based clothing when in space.
If you’ve just worn your woolen garment, and it’s clean enough to be worn again, airing it before storing it is a good idea. Place it on a hanger, and leave it in a well-ventilated place for a few hours before packing it away.
However, if you’d like to make it smell fresh and clean, spritz it with some fabric freshening spray before storing it. The Laundress New York Fabric and Linen Spray from Amazon is an excellent choice and will make your woolen item smell of citrus, flowers, herbs, and amber. You can also use it to refresh other clothing, bedding, car interiors, wardrobes, and drawers.
You can also make a fabric freshener yourself:
- Add half a cup of high-proof alcohol (vodka or rubbing alcohol is ideal) to half a cup of distilled water.
- Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil.
- Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and use it on anything from upholstery to clothes.
If your wool garment is stained, the best option is to blot the stain with a gentle detergent and rinse it with cold water.
2. Check the Label
If you’ve decided to wash your wool clothing in the washer, checking the label on the garment should be your first step. Although most woolen clothing can be washed in a washing machine, some types of wool are more sensitive and should only be washed by hand or dry cleaned.
Check the symbols on the label to ensure the item can be washed in a washing machine. If the label has a hand wash symbol, don’t try your luck with the washing machine because you might damage the wool.
Here’s a great video explaining the meaning of care tag symbols:
3. Treat Stubborn Stains Before Laundering Them
If your woolen item has stubborn stains, do some spot-cleaning before washing it. Dab the stain gently with a mixture of warm water and a wool-specific detergent.
Woolite Hypoallergenic Liquid Laundry Detergent from Amazon is an excellent wool-specific detergent. It’s aluminum-free and gentle on your skin and clothes. You can use it for machine washing, hand washing, and spot-cleaning wool and other materials. It doesn’t contain bleach, phosphates, or enzymes that damage your delicate woolen clothing.
Confirm that the stain is gone before washing the item because once it dries, it might be baked in it forever, making it impossible to remove later.
If the stain in question is caked mud, use a firm brush to brush it off, making sure no mud enters your washing machine and clogs the drain.
4. Soak the Woolen Item in Cold Water
Soaking your woolen garment in cold water before washing it is optional. However, if you paid a lot of money for it, or if it’s your favorite sweater, a cold water soak can give you the additional peace of mind that it won’t shrink or become misshapen in the washing machine.
If you’d like to include this step in the washing process, place your woolen clothing in a sink or container that is filled with cold water. Leave it to soak for half an hour before placing it in the washer.
5. Turn Woolen Clothes Inside Out Before Washing Them
Turn your wool clothes inside out before you place them in the washing machine because it will help prevent pilling. Also, put them in a mesh laundry bag if you have one; this will reduce friction and provide another layer of protection to your clothes.
This Set of 5 Mesh Laundry Bags is available on Amazon. It has one extra large, two large, and two medium mesh bags to keep your wool and delicates separate and protected from the rest of the laundry. They have a zipper cover and a soft, breathable mesh and come with a 1-year care-free warranty.
6. Don’t Overload the Washing Machine
It’s important not to overload your washing machine. If it’s too full, the clothes won’t be adequately washed because they’ll absorb all the water needed for the detergent to dissolve. This may result in detergent residue on your favorite sweater, forcing you to wash it again.
Putting too much laundry into your machine can cause a drum imbalance, which can damage your washing machine.
To ensure your washing machine isn’t overloaded, ensure that there’s at least one hand palm of free space between the laundry and the drum. Your washing machine is overloaded if you can’t insert your hand between the drum and the clothes.
This video demonstrates how to load your washing machine correctly:
When loading the machine, keep in mind that wool doesn’t lose color and doesn’t fade or bleed. You, therefore, don’t need to separate the colors, saving you time and hassle.
Also, forget the myth that wool has to be washed separately. You can wash your wool garments with other synthetic or cotton items. In a study conducted by The National Institute for Consumer Research in Oslo (SIFO), it was revealed that wool doesn’t pill or draw more lint when washed with other types of clothing.
7. Choose the Correct Detergent
When washing wool, it’s vital to use the correct detergent. You can use detergents for washing delicate clothes, but the best option is a detergent made specifically for washing wool.
This article discusses the best wool-specific detergents available. I recommend Perwoll for Wool & Delicates from Amazon. It cleans your clothes, reviving colors and smoothes the fibers keeping them looking new.
It also comes in a 1.5 liter (50.7 fluid ounce) bottle and uses between 80 and 120 ml (2.7 and 4 liquid ounces) per load and 60 ml (2 fluid ounces) on 10 liters (338 fluid ounces) of water when hand washing.
Whichever detergent you choose, make sure it’s enzyme free because the enzymes that dissolve stains also damage wool fibers. Also, don’t use too much detergent since it can affect the wool’s self-regulating properties by destroying its resistance to odors.
You should avoid using fabric softener. However, if you really want to use it, choose a delicate fabric softener, such as ATTITUDE Fabric Softener from Amazon. This softener for delicate and natural fibers is graded A in EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, has plant and mineral-based ingredients, and is vegan and cruelty-free.
You can also use it in high-efficiency (HE) and regular washers and in cold water. It’s hypoallergenic, gentle on your clothes and skin, and comes in a lovely citrus zest scent.
8. How To Use the Wool Wash Setting on Your Washer
To use the wool wash setting on your washer, look for the program with the wool symbol. If you can’t find it, consult your washer’s user manual for more information. Ensure that the water temperature is set to a maximum of 30 °C (86 °F), and make sure that the spin cycle is off. If your wool wash setting uses the spin cycle, turn it down to the lowest available setting.
Skipping the spin cycle is recommended because the aggravation can cause shrinkage. Wool fibers are made of a protein called keratin, and the motion of the spin cycle makes the keratin scales rub together and catch onto each other. This pushes the fibers closer together, causing the wool to shrink.
9. Avoid Using the Dryer
Although it may seem tempting, skip using your dryer for woolen items unless it has a Woolmark Apparel Care symbol. As with the spin cycle, the dryer’s heat and aggravation can shrink the wool. If you feel forced to use the dryer, use the lowest heat setting.
Before placing your woolen garment in the dryer, ensure it has a tumble dry care symbol on the label.
The best way to dry woolen clothing is to air dry them. You can do this by laying them flat on a towel and gently wrapping them to eliminate the excess water. Lay them flat on another dry towel and let them dry on their own. For woolen sweaters, leave them to dry on a hanger, but only after they’ve been drying, laid flat for some time, and most of the moisture has been extracted.
If you don’t get rid of moisture beforehand, your sweater can change shape and stretch because of the weight of the water.
10. Make Wool Less Itchy Using Vinegar
If your wool clothes are itchy, don’t despair, there is a cure. Adding a few caps of white vinegar to the wash instead of the softener can make a huge difference. This will help eliminate the deposits of inadequately rinsed detergent that can cause your woolen clothing to itch.
I recommend Harris Cleaning Vinegar from Amazon. This scented vinegar has no chemicals and is mixed with lavender essential oil. The vinegar smell evaporates, leaving behind a soothing lavender smell and a soft sweater.
However, if you’re worried about the vinegar smell, use glycerin instead. Add a few tablespoons into the wash, and enjoy wearing your wool clothes again.
Steaming the woolen garment can also make it less itchy. Simply iron the woolen garment on an ironing board with a wet towel, being sure to use the wool setting on the iron to prevent discoloration.
11. Unshrink Wool with Cold Water and Fabric Softener
If you’ve accidentally shrunk your woolen clothing, the good news is that you can fix the issue. Here’s how to do it:
- Prepare a bowl or sink with cold water, and add a few tablespoons of fabric softener. If you don’t have any, use a third of a cup of hair conditioner.
- Place your woolen garment into the bowl and let it soak for 20 minutes. This will cause the fibers to stretch.
- After 20 minutes, remove the garment without rinsing it.
- Press it lightly to get rid of some water, but don’t wring it.
- Lay the garment on a dry towel and roll it up to remove more water.
- Gently stretch the garment to its original size while it’s still wet.
- Leave it to dry naturally.
You can achieve the same result with a steam iron. This method is called blocking and is used by dry cleaners when they get a garment they need to unshrink. The technique consists of relaxing the fibers in the wool by steaming it, stretching it, and pinning it down until it dries and regains its original shape.
For this method, you’ll need a steam iron and a corkboard. Here are the steps to follow:
- Steam the garment on the ironing board or a hanger.
- Stretch it gently.
- Pin the garment on a corkboard and leave it to air dry.
Washing wool in your washing machine is safer than you might think. The most important things you need to pay attention to are not overloading the washing machine and choosing a suitable detergent for the wool and wool program setting on the washer.
Pay attention to the temperature of the water and the way you dry your woolen goods. Even if the worst happens and your clothes shrink in the wash, you now have a solution for that too!