How To Wash Wool In A Washing Machine & By Hand

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Here’s how to wash wool by hand and in the machine, how to dry wool, and how to store and care for wool to help your clothes last a lifetime.

Wool is great at keeping you warm. 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. And what I love most about wool is that if you look after it, it can last a lifetime.

However, it can be tricky to wash. As such, I’ve put together this handy guide on how to look after your woollen clothing, and wash wool either by hand or in your washing machine, to help keep you right!

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?

how to wash wool

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. 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 and the dyes used on the 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.

Alternatively, try applying Marseille Soap to remove oily or fatty stains from wool with ease.

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 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.

Pin For Later

Woollen jumpers folded in a pile with a blue text box that reads how to wash wool clothing by had or in the washing machine.

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  1. I find my machine wool wash doesn’t get food out of the woollens very well, annoyingly. It’s like the food is lodged within the fibers so it’s stuck. How do you rub soiled areas without harming the jumper? Where do you rinse each piece if you are carrying on using the sink for washing? I have quite a small sink in my flat, and no outside space. Thanks!

    1. Hey Amy, I just leave the clothes to soak for 10 mins or so and then rub any stained areas with my hands and finger tips to help loosen any dirt. Although I’ve photographed my kitchen sink, I tend to handwash in my bathroom. That way I can wash clothes in the sink and then rinse them in the bath/shower!

  2. Hi,
    I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while now, thank you! It’s been great to find new ideas for eco friendly clothing.
    I am a bit puzzled about the Eco credentials of the ‘alpaca’ jumper you’re promoting though. I clicked on the link, and the largest constituent is acrylic (which I presume means it won’t be compostable?); more worrying to me though is the viscose content which is on my avoid list due to the heavy chemical processing involved and the environmental harm. Viscose is an older highly polluting method of producing fabric from wood pulp, whereas the more modern lyocell method is less harmful to the environment with the majority of the chemicals able to be recycled I understand. It is hard work funding clothes that are genuinely ethical and sustainable isn’t it?!!
    I mostly wash my woollens in the machine on a wool wash, but put each item in a gauze bag to protect it.

    1. The jumper isn’t perfect (very very very few commercially produced clothes and materials are), but it’s better than a lot of other commercially available options out there. I don’t know if you read my recent post investigating the ethics of outdoor clothing retailers – https://moralfibres.co.uk/ethical-alternatives-sports-direct/ ?

      The jumper is made ethically, trendless, and is made to last. Finisterre also offer a repair service – which I think all clothing manufacturers should if they are serious about the quality and durabilty of their clothing. I didn’t make any eco claims about it: I was looking more at the ethics of it. Always on the look out for clothes that are ethical and sustainable though. It’s a toughie alright.

  3. Thanks so much for these tips – and for stressing that wool might not need washing at all. I saw another guide that recommended washing wool with every 5 wears, and I though OH NO.. I hope that is not what most people do – well at least I think mine can go for months, if I’m just good enough with airing.
    (wool underwear is a different story)

    I trust my machine over my hands however. It knows perfectly how warm 30 degrees is, and is never to rough. But I have quite a new machine, and read somewhere that new machines are more gentle than hands.

    I will use your tip for stain removal however – have a stain I’m been looking at.

    Cheers from Copenhagen