One of the benefits to living in a warm climate, is the fact that you will never have to worry about washing (and ruining) wool sweaters. Unfortunately, many of us don’t have such a ‘fair weather’ life and find ourselves fretting over washing wool sweaters year after year. And let’s face it, they aren’t cheap. And Grandma Jones – well she is going to expect to see YOU wearing that wool sweater she made for you each and every time winter she comes to visit. So shrinking it to the size of a washcloth by caring for it improperly, is just not an option! Plus, you cannot spend your entire life resisting the comfort, warmth and appeal of wool sweaters simply because you are terrified you will have to get it dry cleaned.
(Hint! If you wear undershirts with wool sweaters, they will not need to be washed after each and every wear. In fact, avoid eating in your wool sweater and you can find that they can several wearings without needing laundering)
The following are the dos and don’ts of washing wool sweaters!
The first thing to realize is that wool is the sensitive and emotional partner to a fiber like cotton or polyester. This means you need to handle with care. Wool doesn’t like extreme temperature changes, excessive chemical uses or any type of harsh wringing or washing. When the directions say handle with care, or dry clean only – you should pay attention.
Next up, is to hand wash the wool sweater using a specialized detergent that is made specifically for wool. You can use a washbasin or tub to gently soak the sweater in cool water, and wash gently with the wool detergent. It is important to avoid rubbing or scrubbing any areas of the sweater. If you have a stain, do not use stain reducing or fighting products, and instead simply hand wash the sweater several times until it disappears.
*If your washing machine has a gentle cycle – you can put them in the washing machine, ONLY IF THE LABEL SAYS SO, however – hand washing is always best.
Third, you need to rinse the sweater thoroughly. Rinse with tepid water, (by hand) until no more suds run from the sweater. This should also be done gently.
When the water runs clear, you want to squeeze out the excess water. The best way to do this is lay the sweater flat on a towel and then to roll it up into the center of the towel, pushing down as you do so. You may have to do this several times to get it as dry as possible.
Once most of the water is wrung out, you need to lay the wool sweater on a table or drying rack. It is very important that you gently shape and stretch the sweater back to its original size and shape. (Many people will make a paper outline of the sweater beforehand so that they can get an exact measurement.) Do not dry the wool sweater in the sun or in an area that will expose it to excessive temperatures of hot or cold, which can alter the biology of the wool fibers.
Once the sweater is dry, it should be folded rather than hung up. Hanging the sweater can cause it to stretch or pit and it can look misshapen.
Many people use simple products like baby shampoo to wash their wool garments. If the wool seems itchy and scratchy, you can also use a tad of fabric softener or even hair conditioner to try and soften up the fibers. The key thing is to make sure that you rinse the sweater completely before drying. If a wool sweater is not rinsed well, it can be difficult to reshape.
Unfortunately, if you have incorrectly washed a wool sweater, you are probably left with a matted up mess that is going to seriously hurt grandma’s feelings when she comes to visits. Is there anything you can do to fix it?
According to the folks at Woolite….not much. They recommend trying to re-soak the sweater in conditioner or baby shampoo, and not rinsing out the wool softener. Then, you can try to re-stretch the sweater back to its original size by using pins and a board. Unfortunately, your best bet if you have completely destroyed a wool sweater may be to have it made into a children’s sweater or dress. (Or Vest). When it comes to fickle wool, your best line of defense against shrinkage and fiber breakage is to hand wash and handle with care. (And wash as little as possible!) Good luck!