Before you start: Always read the care label of your garment to check how it should be cleaned, as some wool can only be dry cleaned or hand washed.
Washing wool too frequently can wear out the fabric, making it lose its shape and/or making it felt, thus shortening its life. So only wash wool when it really needs it! Try spot cleaning stains instead of washing the whole garment – ensure you do this as soon as you can after the stain has happened.
Wool is an animal hair and it has cuticle scales. The process of turning the raw wool into a jumper or cardigan lifts these scales, creating tiny ridges on the fibres that leave them vulnerable to snagging and becoming tangled with each other, fusing them together. This is called felting. Heat and agitation exacerbate the problem, causing your woollen clothes to shrink as the fibres cling tighter together. The washing and drying tips below will help you to avoid felting when cleaning your woollen clothes.
You should always use a gentle washing detergent specifically designed for washing woollens, silks or delicate fabrics.
Biological and non-biological detergents (including colour detergents) are not suitable for washing wool. Normal laundry detergents contain ingredients to get dirt out of soiled clothes, making the washing solution alkaline. Alkaline solutions can affect the dyes in wool, resulting in colours fading or running. Alkaline solutions can also attack the wool fibres, weakening them.
Hand washing wool
- Use water that is comfortably warm to the touch (max 30°C) and also ensure you use the correct washing detergent, which should be dissolved/evenly distributed in the water before you add the garment. Avoid letting water from the tap run directly on to your woollen garments as this can matt the wool fibres.
- Let the garment soak for up to 2 hours to ensure the fibres are saturated.
- Use gentle agitation to wash it as too much agitation causes the wool to felt.
- Rinse your garment in three clean rinses of water (or until the water is clear) at the same temperature you used to wash the garment.
- Between rinses and at the end of the wash, gently squeeze the excess water out of the garment – do not allow it to stretch with the weight of the water in it and avoid wringing it as this will stretch it out of shape.
- When you're ready to dry the garment, place on a clean towel on a flat surface and gently pull it to the correct shape/size, then roll it up in the towel to take out the excess moisture.
Machine washing wool
- Your garment needs to be washed on a gentle wash programme – so ensure you select the wool cycle on your washing machine. Double check the temperature (cool wash e.g. 30°C) and the spin speed (it needs to be a slow spin). If in doubt, check the machine manufacturer’s instruction booklet.
- Ensure you use the correct washing detergent (see advice above).
- Do not spin very delicate woollens, such as angora. Instead, follow the instructions above for removing the excess water.
It's best to dry wool flat – gently pulling the garment to the correct size (this is called blocking).
Dry the garment away from direct sources of heat such as radiators/fires.
Avoid drying your woollens on a washing line or airer, as this will cause them to stretch. And give the tumble dryer a miss with wool, as the heat will cause woollen clothes to shrink.
Pressing woollen garments
You may not need to iron your woollen garment (again, check the care label to make sure). But if you do, here's how to get the best results.
- Do not iron your woollen garment when it is wet.
- Have the garment right side out.
- Press the garment while it is still slightly damp or use a low temperature steam (use the wool setting on your iron if you have one). Use a clean pressing cloth between the surface of the iron and your garment. If the garment is already dry, use a clean, damp pressing cloth.
- Gently press the garment (lifting and lowering the iron onto the garment rather than moving it across the fabric surface) rather than ironing it in the usual way.