How to wash wool without ruining your favorite clothes

When the temperature drops to optimal lows for hygiene, but you’re forced to brave the cold for, you know, work and life, there really is no better ally than a warm and cozy fleece sweater. But said sweater is almost certainly not washable, which is a statement I made based on my personal experiences trying it, along with those of my peers. But, I recently learned two glorious facts on the subject while trying to learn (again) how to wash wool the right way: 1. It’s possible, and 2. It doesn’t require a trip to the dry cleaners.

“Laundry at home is actually better for wool fabrics compared to dry cleaning, which uses harsh chemicals that can damage the fabric over time,” says Gwen Whiting, co-founder of The Laundress. “You can and should wash fabrics like wool, cashmere and blends at home to preserve the natural fibers of your dress”.

“Laundry at home is actually better for wool fabrics compared to dry cleaning, which uses harsh chemicals that can damage the fabric over time.” —Gwen Whiting, co-founder of The Laundress

I’m not suggesting that your favorite garment’s care instructions lie to you per se, but there is certainly a difference between dry clean only and “dry clean only.” That’s because it’s a little-known dirty laundry secret that you can probably at least hand-wash your delicates that feature that unfortunate label.

Still, wool is certainly a delicate fabric. According to the National Cleaning Association, putting wool in the dryer reverts it to its natural form. If you get close to the textile fibers, you’ll see that they form a sort of flaky pattern, and when they’re introduced to heat, water, and violently humming machines, sometimes those flakes intertwine and lead to (DUN, DUN, DUN) shrinkage, which unfortunately is quite permanent. So to make his favorite comfy sweaters fit him (instead of shrinking down and fitting only his favorite childhood doll), learn how to wash wool the right way below, according to Whiting and his co-founder Lindsey Boyd.

How to wash wool by hand in 3 steps

Uf I know, but this one if your wool garment is particularly important to you, Whiting and Boyd assure me that hand washing will always be your best bet for preserving the integrity of your garment. To give your wools a stellar touch of TLC, try this quick step-by-step:

1. Pretreat stains with an anti-stain solution

If you boldly put on your cream turtleneck to a night of red wine and then spilled it, treat the stain right away. Pretreat stains with something like The Laundress Stain Solution ($17) if it’s a tannin stain like coffee, gravy, or red wine. If it’s an oil-based stain like sweat, makeup, or literal oil, Laundress Wash & Stain Bar ($6) is also a good option. Whichever you choose, gently work the formula into the fabric with your fingers.

2. Prepare your wool bath

Fill a sink, tub, or basin with warm water and add the garment plus a squirt of wool-safe detergent. There are a few great options available, like the classic Woolite ($18), Kookaburra Wash ($21), and The Laundress Wool & Cashmere Shampoo ($19). “The formula is pH balanced and made especially for wool garments, so it will preserve your sweater’s natural flexibility,” says Boyd. “Twist it gently for about 30 seconds and let it soak for up to 30 minutes.”

3. Drain and rinse with clean, cold water.

“Avoid that gut reaction of wringing it out,” says Whiting. “Twisting manipulates the fibers, and when the threads are wet, they are weaker. You could end up disfiguring your sweater. Instead, gently remove the water by pressing the item against the side of your sink or bathtub.”

How to machine wash wool in 3 steps

Good news: Boyd and Whiting say that the washing machine is not prohibited for washing woolens. Once again, though, you just have to be careful.

1. Place the fabric in a mesh wash bag.

This is to prevent it from snagging and becoming your most beloved cozy yarn group.

2. Choose the right settings

“Select the delicate cycle on the machine and make sure the water temperature is cold and the spin is low,” says Boyd. “You may shrink or feel an item by shaking it too much if your machine is on a setting that’s too high or too hot.”

3. Take your fabric out of the wash as soon as it’s ready

“Once the cycle is complete, remove the sweater immediately to reduce wrinkles,” says Boyd.

how to dry wool

“The dryer will shrink your fabrics, so always air dry,” says Boyd. “Once you’ve gotten the excess water out, place the item on a clean towel or drying rack and re-create its natural shape. Then let it dry.” To speed up the drying process, first roll the sweater up in the towel like a sleeping bag. Then unroll it and replace the damp towel with a new, dry one. Place it on the drying rack and reshape it.

Oh, and a lot, a lot of emphasis on strategically shaping and designing your wool items. It might not seem like a big deal to hang them on a clothesline or toss them on whatever surface is in front of you, but this is the deciding point in whether or not your piece will lose its shape.

“Don’t hang your sweater to dry; you’re going to end up with a sagging sleeve in a place it shouldn’t be,” says Whiting. “And be careful not to place them near a heat source like a radiator or even next to a window with a lot of sunlight, because it can shrink.”

Other easy laundry hacks to get you through the season? Here’s how to wash a down coat without taking it to the dry cleaners and how to take care of gloves, because yes, they can have a lot of germs.

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