When it comes to heritage fabrics, wool is up there with the warmest and most traditional. Brands across all markets make wool goods and you’ll see it on heritage classics like the C.P.O. Shirt, Peacoat, and of course, the woolen sweater.
But over the years, many people have become afraid of getting in to wool (see Beneath the Surface column, ‘Why Not Wool?‘), on the basis that it’s overly delicate and difficult to care for, when in truth, there’s really no reason to be sheepish. In this how-to article, we’re giving you the lowdown on the basic techniques for washing and maintaining your wool goods.
Washing Wool Garments
Like all garments, the first port of call when washing a woolen piece, is the care-label. There are two main methods of washing woolen garments: machine washing and hand washing, and the care-label will usually be able to point you in the direction of which method is best suited to that particular garment.
Washing methods and temperatures vary slightly between different types of wool, some luxury wools such as Alpaca or Mohair will usually be dry-clean only (see our guide on wool types). But when it comes to washing, wool will be always be washed with cool water, and require a pinch of extra care when handling to minimize shrinkage and retain the shape of the garment.
Hand Washing Wool
- Fill a sink, bucket, or other vessel, with lukewarm water.
- Add some mild detergent or hand-washing soap like Woolite or Dr. Bronner’s. Around half a cup should do the trick, or the amount recommended by the detergent’s label.
- Remove any large pieces of lint on your woolen garment, then submerge it into the water.
- Agitate the wool for a minute or two, by gently moving it around in the water – do not scrunch, squeeze or stretch it as this can deform the garment.
- Leave the garment to soak for around 10-15 minutes.
- Remove the garment, carefully roll it up into a ball and gently press out any excess water. Set it aside on a clean towel.
- Empty the vessel of the soapy water, rinse, and then refill it with lukewarm water. Re-submerge the woolen garment in the water and repeat step 4 to rinse the garment of excess soap. Depending on the weight of the garment, this step may need to be repeated. Excess soap can hinder the drying process and lead to unwanted smells.
Machine Washing Wool
As we mentioned before, always consult the care label if you wish to machine wash your woolen garments. If it says indicates hand-wash only, then stay away from the machine. Many modern washing machines will have a ‘Delicate’ or even a ‘Wool’ setting, which will wash the garments at a low temperature with a gentle spin cycle to mimic a handwash and minimize shrinkage and stretching.
- Set your machine to the most suitable gentle cycle available.
- Place your woolen garment in a mesh or linen bag, this will protect it from getting caught on anything and keep agitation to a minimum.
- Add a mild detergent and begin the cycle using the recommended amount on the label.
- Most machines will take care of the rinsing for you, but it may be a good idea to inspect your garment to see if there is any excess soap remaining. If there is, you can use your machines rinse cycle, or hand rinse it using the step 7 from the hand-washing guidelines above.
Drying Wool Garments
Taking care to dry your woolen garment properly is paramount in maintaining its size and shape. Any contact with water can cause wool to shrink, especially if it a fine wool such as lambswool or cashmere. It is a good idea to take measurements of your garment before laundering so you can stretch it back to the appropriate size during the drying process.
After conducting either of the above washing methods, you can follow these guidelines to dry your wool properly:
- Lay your wool garment out on a clean towel and carefully roll the towel up with the garment inside. Once rolled, gently squeeze the towel to press excess water out of the garment and into the towel.
- Carefully unroll the towel and remove the garment. Lay the garment out on a new clean, dry(!) towel, or an airer. Hanging or suspending the garment can cause unwanted stretching.
- Leave to dry in a cool, airy room, preferably with a vent or de-humidifier, or outside, if it’s reasonably cool and not in direct sunlight.
- If you suspect any shrinkage or change of shape, gently stretch and reshape the garment in the required areas whilst it is still damp so it dries in the correct form.
- Leave garment until it is completely dry. This may take at least a day depending on the thickness of your item.
How to Maintain Wool Goods
The washing and drying of wool are the main factors of maintaining wool, but there are some things to keep in mind for day-to-day care.
- Be wary of catching the garment, and creating ‘pulls’ in the knit.
- Repair any small holes/pulls promptly to avoid them getting worse or even irepairable.
- Spot-clean any marks or stains as soon as you notice them to prevent them setting in.
- Store your woolens in a closet or closed container or with cedar wood or moth balls to prevent your garments from getting eaten.