Wool is a wonderful material. Thanks to modern technologies, it doesn’t have to be coarse and itchy, and instead can be soft, warm and buttery soft, as well as coming in pretty much every colour imaginable.
People can get a bit nervous when it comes to washing woollen clothing, as almost everyone seems to have experienced or been told about an episode where a much-loved jumper came out in doll sizes. However, wool can absolutely be washed, provided you check the label first.
The science bit
It’s true that wool can sometimes shrink dramatically in the wash. This is because, as an animal fibre, it felts when exposed to water, heat and agitation, resulting in a smaller, denser fabric. This applies to both woven and knitted fabrics, but is more noticeable in knits as it severely limits the garments’ stretch. Sadly, this process is permanent, so proceeding with caution is always a good idea.
How to deal with it
As with all laundry, the first step is to take a close look at the care instructions before you get started. If you’re unsure about settings, but think the item can be machine-washed, the safest option is to use a specialist detergent designed for delicate items, and then wash it on a woollen cycle. If your machine doesn’t have this option, then go for a cool temperature with the lowest spin rate possible.
If the item is truly precious, then consider hand-washing it in lukewarm water to make sure it doesn’t felt.
When your woolly items are nice and clean, the next step is to dry them. For the reasons outlined above, the tumble-dryer is a bad idea, unless the item specifically says that it can be dried in this way.
However, hanging your woolies up on an airer or pegging them out on the washing line is only suitable for smaller items like socks and gloves. This is because wool is far more absorbent than other fibres like cotton. In fact, it can absorb up to 30 per cent of its weight in water before it even starts to feel damp, and can become far heavier than that if it is completely saturated
This means that the extra weight of all the water can easily stretch a garment out of shape if it is hung up. Instead, you should carefully squeeze (don’t wring it!) the excess out into a sink - you may be surprised at just how much water there is.
Once you’ve done this, roll the item up in a clean towel and press, as this will get it as dry as possible. You should then lay your garment out flat, gently patting into shape if necessary, so it will retain its shape as it dries.
This may seem like a big hassle, and it is indeed more complicated than washing plant fibres like cotton. However, one of the other benefits of wool is its antimicrobial properties, which means that it tends not to need washing as often as other fabrics, so it’s definitely still a good fabric to consider.
© Axonn 2015