Defying washing instructions = dire consequences?
October 24, 2010 9:51 PM   Subscribe

I am knitting a pair of socks for a friend. The yarn is 75% superwash wool and 25% nylon. The washing instructions tell me to "Machine wash warm water, no bleach, lay flat to dry." What will happen if I actually put them in the dryer?

Will they melt? Shrink? Become unstuck in time? If not, why would the instructions advise against drying them?
posted by That's Numberwang! to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The thing you knitted out of them will irrevocably and unevenly shrink to two-thirds its original size.
posted by mhoye at 9:52 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

To specify, that has been my unfortunate experience with wool/synthetic hybrids in the past. It appears "superwash" wool is meant to avoid that, which means my advice may not be relevant.
posted by mhoye at 9:56 PM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: The yarn will shrink in the dryer. It has been chemically altered to withstand warmth and minor agitation. But not the dryer.
posted by bilabial at 9:58 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Depending on the thickness they might split at the seams the way my merino wool shirt did.
posted by furtive at 10:15 PM on October 24, 2010

Response by poster: Yup, those all sound pretty dire. Laying flat to dry ahoy!
posted by That's Numberwang! at 10:25 PM on October 24, 2010

Superwash wool will not necessarily shrink in the dryer. I personally have several pairs of handknit superwash-wool-and-nylon socks that have survived many trips to the dryer. The first time I did this it was an accident, but when I saw that they weren't ruined, I kept doing it.

I wouldn't put them in the dryer just in case, but if you really want to know, you could always put a swatch through the washer and dryer. My guess is that some brands are more "superwash" and shrink-resistant than others. I don't think you have to fear melting or anything, just felting and shrinking.
posted by mandanza at 10:34 PM on October 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

> ... just felting and shrinking.

Of course, if you knit them large enough to allow for that, felting and shrinking would be a good thing.
posted by Bruce H. at 10:59 PM on October 24, 2010

Of course, if you knit them large enough to allow for that, felting and shrinking would be a good thing.

The catch is that some wool-and-nylon socks will shrink in a fairly symmetrical way, and you'll still have a pair of socks that could be worn by someone with very small feet. Others, I have discovered, seem to have a less even distribution of nylon, and so some parts shrink quite a lot and others barely shrink at all. It was a sad day when I pulled those socks out of the dryer...

It's maybe worth mentioning that if you need your socks quickly, you can dry them in the dryer if you have one of those little shelf attachments on which you dry shoes. Insert shelf, place socks on shelf, turn on dryer, and ten minutes later you've got dry, toasty-warm socks.
posted by MeghanC at 11:26 PM on October 24, 2010

I knit a pair of superwash merino wool and nylon blend socks that I dry on high heat routinely and they have been totally fine. In fact, I put all of my hand-knit socks in the dryer and nothing problematic has occurred, using various wool/syn blends and 100% superwash wool.

So really it depends on the yarn and how you've knit the sock.

I have time in college to knit my own socks, but I am not going to bother drying them separately.
posted by DoktorFaustus at 11:30 PM on October 24, 2010

Of course, if you knit them large enough to allow for that, felting and shrinking would be a good thing.

However, if you're actually trying to make felted socks (technically, if done to fabric rather than raw wool, this is actually fulling, not felting), using non-superwash wool would probably be a better idea. Superwash wool is designed not to felt (or not to felt as easily), and so won't felt as well as regular wool. Nylon won't help you with felting either, as wool felts when the scales on the fibers tangle and bind together. Nylon fibers don't have these scales.
posted by JiBB at 12:45 AM on October 25, 2010

I treat all of my superwash wool socks just like normal ones and they haven't shrunk or felted at all. (Now, I also washed a pair of socks that I THOUGHT I did in superwash, and that was a horrible experiennce)

You're safer drying by hand I suppose, but you really don't have to worry if one accidentally gets tossed in the dryer.
posted by Caravantea at 3:03 AM on October 25, 2010

You're not supposed to machine dry superwash wool? Oops.

I put all of my hand-knit socks in the dryer, because I'm lazy. They've come out fine. However, it's definitely true that some sock yarns wear a lot better than others, regardless of the fiber blend. When socks felt/pill on me, it's usually from wear rather than washing.

Gemerally speaking, knitting at a tighter gauge has resulted in more durable socks for me.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:31 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seems like your question has been answered pretty definitively, but just for future reference, if you're really in a hurry, you can stick your knitting in the oven at 215 degrees F and just let it bake for a few minutes - around 15 is enough for me. I used this trick rather excessively last Christmas, ut hey, desperate times ... I know this works for wool and animal fibers, I'm not sure about synthetic fibers, but you definitely don't want to put acrylic in the oven, or near any kind of heat!
posted by estlin at 4:34 AM on October 25, 2010

I have dried superwash wool and it doesn't shrink.

However, it does get fuzzier (and softer, which is nice)

But this also means that it is more likely to pill.... which means it will wear holes faster.

happy knitting! I ought to get my needles out again...
posted by p1nkdaisy at 6:06 AM on October 25, 2010

Best answer: Here's the thing, and I sell yarn and teach knitting, as my part time job, for nearly four years.

The yarn label is like your clothes label. Sure, some of your slacks that say 'dry clean' can go for a swim in the washer and then into the dryer. But many cannot.

With the expense of nice sock yarn, and the hours going into a pair (I'm pretty fast, I can crank our a plain stockinette, ladies size 9 sock in 5 hours), and the relative uniqueness of each pair, tossing then into the dryer so you can wear them today instead of tomorrow seems a little shortsighted.

But I do have a secret that helps me a lot.

I spin my socks out in a salad spinner and then drape them over the towel rods in my bathroom for maximum air circulation. (granted, I have made myself over 40 pairs of socks, but with this method, I have yet to kill or shrink a sock.)

If you're going to be serious about laying flat, pop a clean towel under them, and change out the towel, flip over the socks after 12 hours.
posted by bilabial at 6:30 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sock yarn has always gone through the dryer at my house -- to no ill-effects.
posted by MeiraV at 6:32 AM on October 25, 2010

I have worn only handknit socks for the past seven years, knit from either 75%SW/25%nylon or 100%SW. I wash them all in the washer and dry them all in the dryer, which is a gas dryer that runs Very Hot. With one exception -- a pair of socks knit out of wool where the superwash treatment didn't really take as much as would be ideal -- they are fine, as far as structural integrity goes. But the dyes fade a lot, and the socks wear out a lot faster.
posted by KathrynT at 7:17 AM on October 25, 2010

I wash and dry all my superwash/nylon socks just like normal socks. As everyone says, it seems fine, but they do wear out faster. What kind of yarn are you using? If I remember right, Araucania sock yarn (despite its claims of superwash/nylon) felted to about 2/3 its original size; Patons was perfectly fine (for the record, Patons is my favore so far as far as durability goes - who'd have guessed),Trekking/standard "German type" sock yarn seems to hold up fine... knitpicks bare got a hole in it, but I'm not sure if that's cause of the washing/drying or because of being right next to my toe all the time.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 7:49 AM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: The yarn is Berroco Sox.

I too have a few pairs of 100% superwash socks that have survived the dryer just fine. I also have a few non-superwash that require laying flat to dry. I guess my main concern was whether the nylon was part of the reason this particular yarn shouldn't go in the dryer. It doesn't sound like it.

Mostly I want to be able to tell my friend how to care for the socks once they're done. I think it will be, "probably best not to dry them in the dryer."

bilabial, I love the salad spinner idea!

Thanks everybody!
posted by That's Numberwang! at 8:23 AM on October 25, 2010

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