Can you wash wool? Yes, but very carefully.
Can you wash wool at home? Well, yes, obviously, but should you wash wool is really what we’re getting at here, right? Wool is an interesting fabric in that it feels thick, sturdy, and heavy, but you toss it in a hot washing machine and you quickly learn just how delicate it is. Wool basics need to be washed, not as often as jeans need to be washed, but still — cleanliness is next to godliness, right? There are several ways you can clean your wool at home, but it’s all on a case by case basis. The first thing to check is the tag.
I picked up this dreamy Aquascutum wool cape for an absolute steal at a local thrift shop. It’s in perfect shape but has that thrift shop stank to it that had to go before actually wearing it.
On the tag they’re pretty adamant that it’s dry clean only (and even specify what the dry cleaners should use). So the first way you can clean your wool is by just taking it to the dry cleaner. It’s the easiest way to not ruin your woolen heirlooms. And if your bedroom linens need to be laundered and contain wool or woolen elements, you may have to consider saving them for special occasions-only.
But that’s not really why we’re here. The fist DIY answer to “can you wash wool?” is by airing it out. This cape is double sided. The outside is a very fine houndstooth pattern and the interior is a light grey stripe. This will be important in a second, promise.
Remember how wool is more delicate than you’d think? It can also bleach easily if you put it in the sun. This is a catch 22 because given enough time sunlight (or really UV rays) can kill off bacteria that may be stinking up your wool. But, also given enough time your wool can lose color. Ideally to air out your wool it should be a dry, not too hot, lightly windy day, and your set up is in the shade.
Obviously that’s not always possible. In my case my only outdoor option gets random bouts of bright sun (pictured) so to keep the pattern protected I set up my cape inside out. If the sun lightly bleached the inside it could affect the outer pattern, but less so than if it were in direct sun. I just clipped this guy over the rail on my balcony (clipping the sides together to keep the pattern protected all over). After a couple hours to air out, the thrift shop stank was gone.
But can you wash wool with actual liquids? Yes!
You’ve probably seen advice to clean wool rugs with vinegar. You can do the same thing to deodorize a wool sweater! Wool fibers are slightly acidic as is vinegar but you need to dilute the vinegar to avoid damaging the wool.
Fill a spray bottle with one part vinegar to two parts water and mist your wool. This should only be done if your item is color safe (mine is not). You can test if something is color safe by dampening a white towel and pressing it into your wool, if any color comes up, it’s not color safe.
Don’t douse your item in the vinegar water, just lightly mist over the whole thing. Let it air dry (out of direct sunlight) until it’s completely dry. It’s probably going to smell like vinegar until it’s totally dry, then the smell (and any other mustiness) should fade away.
Then, of course, you can always wash your wool with soap and water, it just takes a lot of caveats. Again this is best for items that are colorfast. Fill your tub or sink with cool water (you don’t want heat here) and mix in a very small amount of wool safe cleanser. There’s Woolite, of course, and other wool cleansers like Soak Wash.
Mix your soap into your water before submerging your woolie best. Don’t agitate the piece at all because this can cause the fibers to stick together and you’ll end up with a felted wool sweater. Let it soak in the cleanser water for a good half hour to an hour without touching it.
Rinse out your item with cool, clean water, again trying not to agitate it too much. You also need to make sure you don’t wring out the water and instead squeeze it out with a towel.
You just need to lay your wet wool piece onto a towel, straightening things out so it’s flat and not wrinkly. Then roll up the towel nice and tight to press the water out of the garment.
Wool can hold a ton of water so it may take multiple towels to get your sweater dry. When you’ve pressed out as much water as possible, lay it flat to dry (again, away from direct sunlight) and when it’s dry you’re good to wear it!
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