With proper care, your natural wool garments will retain their color, softness, warmth, and beauty for countless years to come. If you have invested in a natural wool sweater, be sure to give it the little bit of TLC it requires to protect your investment! Always read care tags on any wool garment—and follow those directions.
You might be thinking, “Who has time for hand washing? It’s easier to pack those sweaters off to the dry cleaner!” A word of warning: harsh dry cleaning chemicals are harmful to natural wool, and will break down wool’s natural properties. Think of it this way: by the time you drive and pick up at the cleaners, or earn the extra money to pay for it!— you could have hand-washed that sweater!
Natural wool is not like other fabrics or textiles. For literally millennia—since Roman times—humans have treasured the flexibility and diverse properties of wool. Wool is extremely absorbent and durable—each fiber can be twisted up 20,000 times without breaking! While the scaly outer core of the fibers resists water, the inner protein core has the ability to absorb perspiration and slowly release it, insulating the wearer from heat and cold. This property evolved to enable sheep to survive in all weather—especially the cold, windy plains of northern Asia and Europe, where they are thought to have originated.
Given wool’s distinct characteristics, the safest way to wash your natural wool sweater is to hand wash it. The unnatural heat, friction and agitation in a washing machine damage the fibers, causing them to felt, and the fibers cannot return to their original shape and position. The best method to is hand wash each sweater individually, in a sink of lukewarm water, with gentle laundry soap. (Dissolve a gentle laundry soap in the water first.) When possible, spot clean wool sweater with mild soap and water and a clean rag—every washing does impact the wool, so avoid washing the whole garment if you can.
Newer washing machines may have a “hand wash” cycle with long, gentle rotation and warm water (wool can tolerate warm water, but never hot.) You may want to test this cycle with an older garment or socks before trusting your precious hand knits to the machine!
Finally, be sure to dry your clean sweater by gently rolling it up in a towel a few times to absorb excess water. Then, lay the damp sweater on a towel on a flat surface (if it’s your bed, be sure to protect the bed from becoming damp first!). Do not place sweaters in direct sun or too close to a heat source (like the top of the dryer!). Flip the sweater a few times to facilitate drying. (Some people create drying racks using a clean window screen laid on two chairs, which allows the air to pass through.) Check sweater to make it is drying—if it stays damp too long, natural wool, especially cotton blend, can mildew.
In summer, fold your wool sweaters and store in a garment bag or cedar closet. (Moths are particularly attracted to dirt, oil, and the animal proteins in wool.)
With a little extra time and attention, your natural wool garments should keep you warm and cozy for years to come.
Source: Vogue Knitting Magazine