how to wash wool

Wool is great at keeping you warm, but it can be tricky to wash.  I’ve put together a guide today on how to wash wool, to help keep you right!

Come this time of year I’m rarely out of a woolly jumper or cardigan, or without a woolly hat or scarf.  There’s nothing quite like a soft woollen to keep you warm.  Finisterre* kindly sent me the alpaca wool jumper above, and I have to say it’s now one of my very favourites.  Whether I’m out on a walk or curled up in front of the fire, it’s seeing me right and keeping the chills at bay.  Finisterre has strong ethical values too, so it’s an all-round feel-good wear.

What I love most about wool is that if you look after it, it can last a lifetime.  I’ve got some handy tips today on how to look after your woollen clothing, and how to wash wool.  These will help to keep your garments looking fresh and as good as new, no matter how old they are.  They’ll also lengthen their lifespan, for extra sustainability points.

Let’s talk laundry!

Do Your Wool Clothes Actually Need Washing?

Firstly, you should ask if your clothes actually need washing. Wool is naturally breathable, allowing it to dissipate any moisture it might absorb.  That means you can get away with washing it less than you would other types of material.  This is great because washing less helps prolong your garment’s lifespan.  

If your woollen clothes have been lightly worn, and they aren’t stained or sweaty, then they probably don’t need washing.  Instead, just hang your clothes outside for a couple of hours on a dry day.  This will refresh your clothes without having to wash them.

How to Hand Wash Wool

If your clothes are dirty then hand washing is my preferred option for washing wool.  The laundry care label may even specify that your wool item is handwash only.

This method gives you a bit more control, rather than being at the whim of your washing machine.  Hand washing wool is pretty straightforward.  And the good thing is, for the most part, you just let the water and the soap do their thing.

The Prep

Fill your sink with lukewarm water (30ºC or less) and add some gentle laundry detergent specially made for washing wool and other delicates.  I use the Ecover stuff because it’s the easiest to get hold of, pretty inexpensive, and does a good job at looking after my woollens.  Mix it in well before adding your clothes to the water.

Don’t be tempted to use conventional laundry detergents as they tend to be on the more alkaline side.  Alkalinity isn’t good for both the wool itself or the dyes used on wool.  These detergents can make your wool prone to breakage and fade its colour.

The Handwashing Process

If I’m washing a few garments I’ll wash the light colours first.  I’ll then wash the dark colours second, so as to avoid dye transfer.

Pop your clothes into the soapy water, submerging them to ensure the whole garment is wet.  Then allow the clothes to soak for at least 10 minutes.  This allows the water and soap to penetrate the fibres, ensuring a nice thorough clean.  I like to use this 10 minutes or so to have a nice cup of tea.  Got to make the chores bearable!

After 10 minutes, give your garment a gentle swirl and give any areas that need particular attention a gentle rub with your hands.  Avoid rubbing the fabric together, like you might do when you hand wash other fabrics.  Then remove your garment from the soapy water, and rinse twice with clean water to ensure all the soapy suds are out.

Now, this is the bit where you need to take the most care.  The last thing you want to do is wring your garment out. Doing so will cause stretching and loss of shape.  Instead, press the water out of your garment gently, and then lay your garment on a clean dry towel.  Then roll your garment up, like you would roll a swiss roll, in order to squeeze out the excess water.

Next, unfurl your garment, reshape your garment if need be, and let your garment dry flat.

how to care for wool

How to Machine Wash Wool

I tend to use my washing machine for washing wool if I’ve got quite a few woollens that need laundering in one go.

If you’re using your washing machine, again wash darks and lights separately.  Add the laundry detergent to the dispensing drawer rather than to the drum, and run the wool programme, if your machine has one.  If not, run a 30ºC or less cycle, with the lowest spin cycle your machine has.

Once removed from the machine, as before, reshape your garment whilst damp and dry flat.

How to Dry Wool

For both methods, I’ve emphasised the need to dry your woollens flat.  Hanging wet woollens vertically, either on a washing line, clothes horse or radiator can stretch the wool fibres, making your clothes lose their shape and fit.  I’d therefore always dry your woollens flat on a drying rack, away from direct heat.  And avoid the tumble drier at all costs.  This is sage advice at the best of times, but all the more pertinent when dealing with wool.

How to Remove Stains From Wool

If your best woolly jumper or cardigan has a stain on it, then don’t worry! I’ve found that eucalyptus oil makes for a good natural stain remover.  I use a couple of drops of eucalyptus essential oil and leave for 10 minutes before washing, and then wash as normal.  As always, do test the oil out on an inconspicuous area before using it for the first time on any fabric or garment.

How to Store Wool

I fold my woollens and keep them in my drawer, rather than hanging them up in the wardrobe (Martha Stewart agrees with me!).  This helps them retain their shape but also protects them from any errant hangers that might snag the wool.

When it comes to storing your woollens away for the summer, it’s always best to give your woollens a wash before packing away. This is because moths and other wool-loving insects are especially attracted to dirt.  

I like to store my woollens in an airtight vacuum bag, with a sachet of lavender added for good measure.  As well as repelling the wool munching critters, this method has the added advantage is that your clothes take up very little storage space (a boon for small space dwellers like myself.)  Try eBay or Wilkinsons to pick up the bags cheaply.

Other Clothing Care Tips

I tend to give jewellery a miss when wearing wool, especially when I’m wearing a looser knit, to avoid the risk of snagging.

And there you go, with this advice on how to wash wool, and how to look after your woollen clothes, hopefully, you can prolong the length of your woollens.

ps: I also have a ton of other laundry tips that you might find useful.  Firstly, how to make your own fabric conditioner. I also have guides on how to dry clean at home, and how to wash striped clothing.  And lastly, my guide to natural stain removal.  I’m all about the laundry! 

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