Want to Wash Wool clothing?
What You Must Know!

Can I wash wool without it shrinking? Great question! Yes - we all want to know whether we can wash that 'DRY CLEAN ONLY' piece in our closet. Will it turn out ok, or will I ruin it even if I wash it by hand?

Here are some points to consider...

  • Is it knitted or woven?
  • Is the knit or weave tight or more open?
  • Is the wool fabric bulky and fuzzy or thin and smooth?
  • Does the garment have a lining?
  • Does it contain more than 50% wool or animal fiber?
  • Is it blended with an acetate or acrylic?
The above questions can help determine whether to try to wash wool by hand or if it really should be dry cleaned. Of course, I will say this - you really should read the instructions on the clothing and follow them. The manufacturers give that advice for a reason. Be aware that wool shrinks more than any other fiber. So - if you want to wash wool knitwear, you should know that wool sweaters are more likely to shrink than woven wool fabric. This is because the knitwear yarn is more bulky, fuzzy and has less twist when produced.

Woven fabric can still shrink, though it would not shrink as noticably as a knit or crochet piece. This is due to the fact that the yarn is spun with a tighter twist and is more compact. Also, wool suiting can be treated during finishing to help prevent shrinkage.

If you're wanting to wash wool suits - I would advise against that. The thing is that suit jackets generally have a lining. This lining, though it may be washable, would be pretty much impossible to iron if you washed it by hand.

There's no way you could get an iron into all the nooks and crannies of a jacket lining to make it look good. If you had a steamer maybe you could do it, but both the wool fabric and the lining might be susceptible to shrinkage by steam.

Not to mention having to press the creases in wool pants! My Dad used to be a Policeman and he would spend quite some time pressing the creases in his wool uniform pants - and he had a special tool for that! Oh boy! It's just not worth the risk - Dry Clean a wool suit or wool jacket!

Find out how to take care of your wool garments.

Do you want to try to wash wool sweaters by hand? Check the fiber content. Does the sweater contain more than 50% wool or animal fiber? If so - it is still at risk of shrinking. Not so much as 100% wool, but there's still a risk.

If your sweater is a wool blended with an acetate or acrylic, then chances are it is less likely to shrink. BUT consider this too...if the acrylic content is high and the wool content low, you still can not wash the sweater in a hot wash.

Why? The reason this time is that acrylic loses its' "memory" when it is heated. What was a nice bulky, springy sweater after a hot wash would be all saggy and loose. It would most definitely be larger than before. Heat "kills" acrylic. So never tumble dry an acrylic yarn either, unless it says it's okay on the instructions! Learning how to wash wool is pretty complicated, eh?

I have successfully washed 20% - 25% wool sweaters on a cold "wool cycle" in the washing machine. A "wool cycle" does less agitation, to help prevent felting. However you must use a mild detergent or soap suitable for wool. The strong alkalies of regular detergents can seriously damage wool fibers.

This is how to wash wool sweaters by hand. Use lukewarm water only for all stages. Lukewarm feels just warm on your hands.

  1. Fill a dish with lukewarm water.
  2. Add the suggested amount of mild, wool-safe detergent and mix around.
  3. Lay your sweater on top of the water and push down into the water.
  4. Do not rub, scrub or wring your sweater! Only push down, lift and gently squeeze out the water. Repeat as necessary.
  5. When done washing, lift the sweater up and squeeze out the water.
  6. Run another dish of lukewarm water and use the same motions to rinse the sweater.
  7. Rinse by pushing down, lifting and squeezing until the water runs clear.
  8. Squeeze out as much water as possible without wringing.
  9. Lay your sweater on a thick dry towel and roll up the towel.
  10. Squeeze the towel to remove more moisture.
  11. Unroll the towel and fluff your sweater to shape.
  12. Leave to dry flat out of direct sunlight.

Hope this information helps you decide how to wash wool clothing. I have done my share of experimenting. I have shrunk wool sweaters by disregarding the instructions and tossing them in the washer. Now I know what to do and am very careful when I wash wool. Still, there may be a time when you might want to felt a wool sweater and try crafting something with it. Check out my pages on felting - maybe you'd like to try it out!
By the way...I will not accept responsibility for any damage done to your clothing should you decide NOT to follow the recommended washing instructions on your garment. This page is given only as information NOT as advice. You are responsible for the washing of your items.

Find out how to felt wool in your washer.
...and what you can do with felted wool.
Return to Homepage from How to Wash Wool.