How Often do You Wash Your Hand Knits? (A Confession)

Wool is amazing stuff. As a natural fibre it is biodegradable, durable and breathable. Where synthetic fibres create a breeding ground for bacteria that cause body odour, wool does not retain odours. The fatty acids in wool fibres actually give it anti-bacterial properties.

Most wool can be washed in a washing machine, but with my precious hand knits, I prefer to hand wash. But how often? (Brace yourself...)

Taking into account the above facts about wool's anti-bacterial and odour-repelling properties, I wash my hand knits really infrequently. As hand knitted jumpers and cardigans are not worn next to the skin, they really don't require it. However it sounds a little shocking to admit that I realised that I haven't washed one of my cardigans for 2 years. Eek! I know it's that long because I have never washed it since I finished knitting it. But you know what, these garments are not worn every day and due to the above mentioned properties of wool they really don't need to be washed too often.

I haven't been able to find a definitive answer on how often wool should be washed, but I would imagine that you should wash hand knits each season before putting them away when the warmer weather arrives. However in the UK, you need to keep some hand knits out all year since our seasons are not so clearly defined.

Recently I hand washed a couple of items  (and blocked a baby cardigan) so thought I'd share what I did - (hey, maybe a bit rich coming from me, Mrs Two-Year-No-Wash?)

Hand Washing Tips 
  •  Invest in some wool wash that doesn't need to rinsed out. This makes things SO much easier as you handle the wet garments less (they're more prone to damage when wet). 
 
  • All you do is soak items for 15 minutes then gently squeeze out the water. No rinsing required. I use Soak wool wash but Eucalan is another popular one. It's not cheap but should last for ages. (Just make sure you replace the lid properly after use and don't let your cat knock it over so 2/3rds of a bottle soaks into the carpet....)
  • I soak my garments in the bath
  •  Once soaked and with the excess water gently squeezed out, lay garments out flat on a towel like with blocking.
 
  •  Roll lengthways and widthways to squeeze out excess water
 
  • Arrange to dry flat, preferably on a flat surface that allows air to circulate. You'll see that my items aren't perfectly flat but the main thing is to make sure that the weight of the wet garment is evenly distributed so that it's not getting stretched by its own weight. I leave items like this over the bath for a few hours to catch any last drips before I dry them flat on the pulley in the kitchen.
 

How often do you wash your hand knits, and do you have any helpful tips to pass on?

K x
  
p.s Have I shocked you with my confession of infrequent wool washing?

p.p.s More wool facts here and here.

30 comments:

  1. I'm just about to embark on my first hand knitted card (miette) and if I'm being honest, I'll probably never wash it! That's why I'm just going to steam block it rather than wet block. I, like you, hardly ever wash any of my jumpers, they just get air dried so definitely not shocked - it's nice to know I'm not the only unwashed woolster in the uk!

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    1. Glad to hear it's not just me then!

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  2. I am like you! In theory once a year, around spring before I put them away (I keep some cardigans out but I don't really wear my sweaters outside of winter), but in reality I do have some things I haven't washed in two years and there is a lambswool jumper, shop bought but high quality that I was gifted years and years ago that I wear very infrequently that I have never washed.. It still smells sheepy and definitely not foul.

    I don't think it's shocking or anything to be embarrassed about.

    And to take this one step further, I believe most our clothes get washed more than they need to these days, mainly because of how convenient it is to throw them in the wash. Obviously it depends on the item but I find washing most things after one or two wears (which I think is the norm- I might be wrong though) a bit excessive and not good for the environment either. And again, no foul smells here either.

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    1. I think you're right that we probably do wash things too much. I haven't had any comments on my jumpers smelling anyway!

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  3. I have lots of sweaters that have never been washed! That's because, as you say, if they're not worn next to the skin they're not going to need it very often. But also, for me the joy is in the making and I have SO MANY sweaters that each of them gets worn very rarely. (And I admit I have a couple that have never been worn.)

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    1. I can only imagine how many sweaters you have Gail!

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    2. I agree, not being next to the skin makes it not so urgent to wash a garment.

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  4. I'm entirely unshocked! (And I fall into the category of person who wears bras a number of times before washing them - of course, not sweaty ones and I never wear a bra more than once in a row.) Things need washing when they need washing. Otherwise, let them be, I say. BTW, I LOVE soak too. You know they have a scent free version which might be useful for the little one for the first little while. (Some babies, like mine was, are sensitive to smells.) You can add a drop of lavender essential oil to give a slight smell that is also soothing to babies! Of course, other babies aren't fussed. :-)

    You know, they say you don't need to rinse the bubbles - and who am I to contest - but I can't stop myself. It just seems wrong not to!

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    1. Good idea about using soak for baby clothes, though I'm still upset that I stupidly allowed so much of mine to get spilled!

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  5. I do the same (I stomp on my rolled-up towel barefoot to get the water out, and it's almost as efficient as a spin cycle). I think the less processed a wool is, the less it probably needs to be washed (the lanolin helps inhibit odors). My store-bough knit sweaters generally need more washing than my handknits, I think because of the lack of lanolin. One good reason to wash them before storage is that if there are any food particles on them, they are more likely to attract moths. I admit that I don't always actually get around to it, though.

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    1. Yes, great point about food particles attracting moths, definitely don't want any of those eating your precious woolies.

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  6. Oh, wow, I don't even want to think about how infrequently I wash my handknits! Basically never? Theoretically, I wash them before I put them away during warm weather, but I usually don't get around to that so they really don't get washed often at all!

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    1. I so rarely get around to handwashing too, any garment needing handwashed is just never going to get worn.

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  7. I don't think you'll shock too many people here :)
    My handknits get washed as often as wool skirts or dry clean skirts...a couple of times a season maybe. Unless they are light and stained and grubby :P I wash them in shampoo (well...technically wool is hair?) in the bath in lots of running water. I do squeeze water out really well, shake the sweater, roll in a towel, walk on it, unroll, spread over a drying rack (one with parallel lines) or, in winter - hang it over the towel rack over a radiator. No shame really ;P

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    1. Ah shampoo, I see how that could work. And good to know I'm among non-washing friends :)

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    2. I make use of all the little bottles of shampoo and shower gel that my husband brings home from hotels he stays in for work. Also, I add a little vinegar to the final rinse, which softens things nicely. And no, I don't wash my hand knit jumpers or cardigans very frequently, especially as they are mostly dark colours.

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  8. Interesting post. I wash my cotton handknits after every wear. When I wear my woollens for trips abroad, I wash them when I get home. But I do have a wool cardigan hanging in my office that I have not washed for weeks, and I guess it's because I only wear it when the air conditioning goes crazy cold. It's easy for me to handwash my woolens because it's hot and sunny here and they dry easily on a rack. I use a handwash laundry detergent called Essence that I get at my local supermarket.

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    1. I suppose cotton possibly needs washed more frequently, as it doesn't have the same properties as wool

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  9. I wash my cardigans every couple of months... but only because that's how often I tend to spill stuff on them! If it doesn't have food down the front, it doesn't get washed. If I was less clumsy I probably wouldn't ever was them. :)

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    1. Ironically I've got baby sick on one of my freshly washed sweaters - aargh! after all that time they waited to get washed!!

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  10. I'm with you on the frequency; well okay, a little more frequently maybe once in fall and once in winter, depending on how often I wear the item. However, I wash mine in the washing machine on the wool setting. And as long as I do that (and dry like you do) they seem to be just fine!

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    1. That sounds like a good system, I should really try the wool setting on the machine sometime.

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  11. The fashion industry recommends way too much in the way of frequent washing and dry cleaning. Most of my hand-knits are socks. I do wash them cold/gentle in the washer in a mesh bag then lay them out or hang them on a hanger to dry. I believe that hand-knitters are of the mind that preservation is more important than lysol lysol lysol!

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    1. Oh yes, with socks i can imagine you'd want to wash them more frequently, though I imagine that they still don't smell as much as shop-bought - or do they?

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  12. I wash my hand-knits when I remember or before I stash them away into storage. Although I have been a bit more 'cleaner' now when I read that clothes moths feed off dead skin cells and the like. Nice. The though of all my vintage clothes being decimated by clothes moths freaks me out!

    I'll handwash my vintage knits and delicates, but the other stuff just goes into the machine in a bag on a wool-wash with Woolite.

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    1. Yuck, the thought of moths is horrible isn't it?

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  13. Vintage Knitter has reminded me that we once had a problem with clothes moths. Since then, I've been a bit "cleaner" too but I agree with you that woollens don't need to be washed very often at all. xx

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    1. Thanks Loo, I'm loving all the validation I'm getting of my non-washing ways!

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  14. It all depends on the colour how often I wash. Lighter colours get washed more than darker colours although I probably tend to wash a little too often. Recently I've been trying to wash less as I know it's wearing on the garment.

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  15. So now I know how to care for my woolies. Thanks for the tip on washing them in the bath and rolling a towel round them to absorb the excess water. I probably wash mine once every 8 weeks depending on the odour.

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Thanks for reading and commenting - I love to hear what you have to say