Oh, lucky you! Someone who loves you made you a sweater out of real genuine wool, none of that nasty synthetic stuff. You wear it for awhile, proudly exclaiming to everyone who admires it, "Someone who loves me made it for me." But after awhile, it gets a little funky, or you spill food on it. Now what? How do you wash your lovely handknit without ruining it forever?

First, understand this about wool: wool will shrink and felt when subjected to extremes of hot and cold and when it is agitated. These are bad things. You do not want your lovely handknit to turn into clothing for Barbie. That means you absolutely cannot toss it into the wash along with your jeans. Bad bad bad. But washing by hand is such a drag and dry cleaners are so expensive, you say.

No worries, mate.

How to Wash Handknits

The first rule of washing your handknits is do not use Woolite.

The second rule of washing your handknits is do not use Woolite.

Woolite is harsh nasty stuff. Do not use it on your precious handknit sweaters, socks, scarves, hats, mittens and whatnot that someone who loves you laboured so long to create.

There, now that we've gotten that out of the way, here is how to wash your handknits:

Fill your top-loading washing machine with lukewarm water and two or three capfuls of Eucalan Woolwash or other similar woolwash product. Eucalan is a no-rinse formula with eucalyptus oil, which leaves a pleasant scent and helps protect against moths.

Turn the machine off. It should now be filled with lovely, aromatic suds. Gently ease in a couple sweaters or jumpers, some socks and hats, whatever needs washing. Do not over stuff the machine. Swish them around a little so that everything is saturated. Do not turn the machine back on. Just let everything soak.

Go do something else for twenty minutes or so.

When you come back, set the machine to drain and spin. Be sure to not set the machine to agitate or rinse. You do not want your nice handknits to get agitated and you certainly do not want them to get shocked with a spray of cold water.

Carefully lift your handknits, one at a time, out of the machine and lay them gently on a towel, or better yet, a mesh sweater dryer, which allows air to circulate around the item. Gently pat each handknit flat, easing if necessary, back to its original shape and size. Allow your handknits to air dry. Whatever you do, do not put your damp handknits into the dryer, even on air dry. Be patient. I turn mine inside out after a day or two to speed up the process.

Never put away soiled sweaters. Moths just love to eat dirty woolens. A few cedar blocks in with your handknits will help repel moths, as well.

Yes, yes, and yes! Everything Chattering Magpie says is true! So, why am I writing this? Well, because sometimes hand washing is more practical. I've been knitting a lot of scarves lately, and I'm not about to start a load of wash for one 100g scarf!

So, you've got that lovely scarf, mittens, hat, light lace shawl, socks, or baby sweater. You don't have any Woolwash and you don't know where to get any or you wash woolens so infrequently that is seems silly to buy a bottle.

The solution is to wash the garment by hand in a basin fitted with a plug using shampoo and conditioner, then blot out excess water with a towel, and proceed as directed above. The result is a garment that is clean, soft, and smells refreshingly well groomed. Granted, this isn’t a cheap prospect if you only have expensive salon shampoo. But if you buy that stuff, you can afford to buy a bottle of Woolwash or some other shampoo!

How to do this? Well, ideally you have a clean sink with a basin large enough to accommodate the garment and then some. At least twice as big. If the knitted item is too big for the sink, consider it big enough to be the sole item in a load using Chattering Magpie’s washer instructions instead. Otherwise, you’ll just splash water all over the place doing it in a sink, and your hands may also get very tired.

Make sure the shampoo and conditioner bottles are open and that they and at least 1 large absorbent cotton towel are within easy reach of your sink. Roll up your sleeves and make sure they will stay up.

Plug the sink and run enough cool water to saturate the garment. You will need to squeeze the garment repeatedly to get it to thoroughly absorb the water. Don’t bother filling the sink, this is to get the garment well and truly wet. Sopping wet. Seaweed in a tidal pool wet. But not sitting in inches and inches of water. Also, don’t use icy cold water, or your hands will hurt before you finish and don’t use warm water as that can start the felting process. Try to keep the water temperature relatively even through the entire washing process.

Next, take about a teaspoon (or less) of shampoo in your hand and pat it all over the surface of the garment. Now, fold the soaped portion of the garment to the inside and start squeezing the whole thing in the bottom of the sink. Just squeeze and squeeze all over the place until you’ve got a good quantity of foam and you think that there’s no lurking dirt un-soaped. Do not stretch, wring, scrub, or rub the garment, just compress it to create lather as the soapy water passes through the layers of yarn. If the item is new or reasonably new and has been dyed a dark color, you will most likely have color bleeding into the water and soap. This is normal, and getting rid of excess dye is one of the reasons to wash new garments! If there is a particularly soiled patch, concentrate more soap and water there.

Then, squeeze the garment out and put it aside while you drain and then rinse out the basin. This will reduce the amount of soap residue and cut down on rinses for the garment. This time, fill the basin and rinse the item, again by thoroughly squeezing it, this time underwater. Again, squeeze out the excess water, put it aside, and drain the sink. At this point, if there is still a lot of excess dye in the water, do another rinse. If there is little or none left, proceed to condition the garment or giving it a final rinse if you wish to forgo conditioner.

This is essentially a repeat of the soaping, except that less water is called for. The item should be damp, not wet, and there shouldn’t be a puddle of water unless you are compressing the garment. Take a teaspoon of conditioner, and spread it around the item and then squeeze to distribute it evenly. Rinse it out in a full sink of water, squeeze out the excess water, and rinse again in a half sink of water just to make sure every bit of conditioner is gone.

This last step will cut down drying time dramatically. Squeeze out as much of the water as you can, but do not wring the garment. Then, place it flat on a towel and pull it into shape. Tuck the edges of the towel in, and then roll it and the towel up like a jelly roll so that every part of the knitted item is in contact with a layer of dry cotton. Now, set it down on something that doesn’t mind wet and sit on it for a few minutes. You may wish to use 2 towels if you are concerned about the moisture possibly seeping onto the chair or your pants. If the item is very damp, I definitely recommend using 2 towels, as one just won’t soak up enough water.

That’s it! Follow Chattering Magpie’s directions and lay the garment flat to dry, pulling it into shape if it looks warped. If you let it dry warped, it will keep that shape for quite a while after it has dried, so do it while it’s damp. Gently finger comb straight any fringe. Keep in mind when washing lace that it requires blocking. A fine lace item needs to be stretched out to it's original dimensions, pinned that way, and left to dry completely. Make sure to use pins that will not rust!

If you have a garment with a great deal of lint, cat hair, or other loose fibers that just won't go away, you can put it in the dryer after it has dried completely. Do not put an animal fiber garment into the dryer wet, it will full, and shrink, and be miserable. Wait until it is dry, place it in the dryer by itself, and run it for 10-20 minutes on the lowest setting. This will pull most of the lint and loose fibers into the lint trap. Do not put other things in the dryer at the same time as they can cause the item to bunch up, and surface area is important.

These instructions work for any animal fiber and part animal fiber yarns. Don't bother using conditioner on synthetics or plant fiber yarns, though. Keep in mind, if you are using a dryer to remove lint, that it will be hard on cottons, silks, etc, and may well dull the appearance of the garment. For non-animal fiber yarns and silk, consider using a lint brush instead.

Later - fuzzy and blue has put me in mind of something else. If you don't have access to a washer that will let you use Chattering Magpie's method, or a sink large enough and you are trying to do something sizable, like a bulky sweater or a blanket or something, use a bathtub. Follow the same instructions, but increase the quantities of everything to compensate. AND, if you have a bathtub where you can hold onto a railing, you can walk on your garment or knitted throw and pretend you are mashing grapes for wine. Gently, with bare feet, of course, and wearing shorts helps.

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