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How To Wash and
Care for Wool

July 22, 2022

If you’ve ever wondered why wool clothing like sweaters and socks seem to be immune to odors, the answer is just one of the many advantages of wool. Wool contains naturally antimicrobial lanolin oils, so the bacteria that typically cause odors can’t survive in wool clothing. As long as wool clothing is aired out between wearings, you won’t have to worry about odors.

However, just because you don’t smell the aroma of dirty clothes doesn’t mean the wool is clean! As wonderful as wool can be, it still needs the occasional cleaning to keep it feeling and looking its best, so knowing how to wash wool is a skill worth learning. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of cleaning wool fabric at home.

Wool Cleaning Basics

Can you safely learn how to wash 100 percent wool at home? Absolutely! While many wool garment labels may recommend dry cleaning, it’s essential to understand that some of the solvents used by dry cleaners can be hard on wool fibers and eventually break them down. But what if the label forbids washing?

Even if your favorite sweater is made from 100 percent wool, with some know-how and the right tools, you can safely hand wash wool and even machine wash it under certain circumstances. As long as you understand how different types of wool react to washing, you can wash lambswool, shetland wool, and even cashmere. While shetland wool is hardy and can withstand more scrubbing, cashmere and other delicate fabrics require a gentle approach.

When you’re learning how to wash wool, you also need to understand how detergent works. It’s important to remember that clothes detergents don’t clean as much as they separate fibers to allow water to remove more dirt. When choosing a wool cleaner, keep in mind that more is not necessarily better, and not just any detergent will do. For the best results, always use a silk or wool shampoo that is pH neutral because the enzymes found in many popular detergents can break down wool.

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How to Hand Wash Wool

You’ve checked the label, identified the type of wool, and have your wool shampoo in hand, so it’s time to head to the laundry room, right? Wrong. Even when you know how to wash woolen clothes in a washer and choose the best wool cleaner, the preferred method is to hand wash wool. While larger wool garments can be a challenge to hand wash, skipping the washer is your best bet for keeping your wool clothing in the best shape. To avoid colors bleeding onto other clothing, it’s best to wash a single item at a time.

Here’s how to clean wool clothing by hand:

  • Pour a capful of wool or silk shampoo into a sink filled with room temperature water.
  • Turn the wool garment inside out and submerge it in the water.
  • Massage the soapy water into the fibers and agitate the clothing with your fingers.
  • Let the clothing soak for at least 30 minutes.
  • Drain the water, leaving the wool clothing in the sink.
  • Rinse the wool with cold water until the water runs clear.
  • Line the sink with the garment and press out the water.
  • Lay the clothes flat on a towel or use a drying rack to let the wool finish drying.

If you need to reshape or stretch wool clothing, when it’s damp is the time to do it. Laying a wool sweater flat and gently stretching it back to its original shape and size should do the trick for minor shrinkage. If your garment is much too small or has taken on an awkward shape, check out our guide for unshrinking clothes.

Knowing how to wash wool by hand should prepare you for most of your wool cleaning challenges, but sometimes you’ll need some more firepower. You’ll still use the same silk or wool shampoo recommended for hand washing wool, but this time we’re going to let the washing machine tackle the job.

How to Wash Wool In a Washer

If the thought of tossing your cashmere sweater into the washer makes you cringe, we get it. But cashmere, lambswool, and other wool clothing can be washed in the washer as long as you take a delicate approach. If you’re worried about garment shrinkage, don’t!  How wool dries determines shrinkage and shape loss, so you can rest easy while it’s in the washer. As with other laundry, start by separating dark and light-colored fabrics and wash them separately.

Here’s how to clean wool clothing in your washer safely:

  • Turn your wool clothing inside out.
  • Lay the clothing flat and fold in the arms, then fold again.
  • Roll the garment as tightly as you can, put it in a mesh washing bag, and secure the bag.
  • Add the wool shampoo and your garment to the washer water and wash with cold water.
  • Choose any cycle or spin speed you prefer. The mesh bag will protect the wool.
  • Remove the clothing as soon as the washer stops.
  • Lay the clothing on a drying rack (never vertically) or on a flat surface to dry.

Stains and heavy soiling aside, you shouldn’t need to wash wool clothing often because the material fights odors naturally and is very durable. To keep washing wool to a minimum, try not to wear your favorites too often to keep them from getting overly soiled. You can also use the wool care tips below to keep your clothing fresh and clean longer.

How to Clean Wool Between Washings

Because wool naturally fights odors, you shouldn’t have to wash it very often. Keep in mind that the less you wash wool, the better, so you want to know how to clean wool in between washings. From storing wool clothing for summer to keeping it looking great all season long, these tips make wool care easy:

  • Each time you wear your wool sweater, dust and dirt accumulate and eventually give your clothing a dull appearance. After wearing a wool garment, brush the clothing lengthwise to loosen dirt and dust and revive the knap of the fabric.
  • When your wool clothing has offensive odors like cigarette smoke or spicy foods, shake out the garment forcefully to air it out, then lay it flat for about an hour. If possible, lay your garment outside for at least 30 minutes but keep it out of direct sunlight.
  • We all love our favorite wool sweaters, but give your wool garments a rest after you wear them. Even if the wool stays clean, the natural fibers need time to return to their original shape.
  • If your wool clothing gets wet, keep it away from direct sunlight or heat sources while it dries.
  • Never hang wool clothing to dry because gravity will pull the water out unevenly and weaken the fibers. You can reshape or stretch the wool while the clothing is drying if necessary.
  • Most wool doesn’t require ironing, but smooth wool finishes can look better with a quick pressing. Use the steam setting to dampen the wool slightly and iron it while it’s still damp. Avoid ironing wool that has already dried.
  • As long as the clothing is clean and dry, you can hang woven wool items on padded or shaped coat hangers for safe storage. If your clothing is made from knitted wool, it’s best to fold them loosely and store them in a drawer.
  • Because food debris and body oils attract moths and can lead to permanent stains, make sure the wool garment is clean and dry before storing it. If you can store wool items in airtight bags or containers, all the better. If not, use a recommended moth repellent but don’t let it come into direct contact with the wool.
  • When you pull your wool garments out of storage, hang them in a steamy bathroom. The steam will remove wrinkles and refresh the wool. Wait until the garment has dried completely before wearing it.
  • If the knap has pilling, use a sweater comb and gently rake it across the fabric in one direction only.

For severe pilling, you can use a fabric shaver but take your time and be gentle so you don’t damage the wool fibers.

Now that you know how to wash wool clothing and keep it looking its best, what’s next on your list? From stains to stoves, you can find the best way to clean almost anything with our handy how-tos. Whether you keep your home clean and maintained, or you let The Maids help out, we want your home to be the best it can be.

Check out our comprehensive residential cleaning services for all your home cleaning needs. When you want a clean home more often without the work, you want The Maids—get your free online estimate today and let us show you how.

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