Looking at this sweater with distain
January 24, 2011 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Handknit Irish sweaters with coffee/unknown stains.

My late dad left 3 natural-colored Irish wool sweaters with unknown stains on them. They look like either coffee drops or something in the brown/red family. I know he tried spot oxy-clean, and I tried one sweater at the drycleaner with no effect. Anyone have secret family remedies for unknown stains or other ideas for these otherwise perfect sweaters? Dad was meticulous in his clothing, so they are in really good shape but for the accidents of age.
posted by oflinkey to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The first thing I would try is to get a no-rinse wool wash like Eucalan or Soak, fill up a sink with hottish watter, add a substantial quantity of the wool wash and the sweater, and leave it to soak for HOURS. That will often loosen crud, and it should have no deleterious effect on the sweater whatsoever.
posted by KathrynT at 11:33 AM on January 24, 2011

That sounds suspiciously like mold stains, and AFAIK nothing will get those out, but it doesn't hurt to try (If you could get close-up pictures of the stains that might help with identification - my other thought is some sort of destructive bug droppings).

There's no need to be ultra-gentle with wool - detergent and water won't ruin it. Basically, just avoid any sort of agitation in hot water and you will be fine. KathrynT's procedure is good, but in a pinch a dish detergent like Dawn will work just as well as wool wash as long as you rinse it out afterwards. Here are some pretty good instructions on how to dry out a wet wool sweater:
You should never pull or wring out a wool garment while it is wet. Wool loses about a quarter of its strength when it is wet. You should lift it gently from the water and squeeze out as much water as possible.

Lay it out on a thick dry towel, roll up the towel and squeeze the roll to remove more water. Unroll the towel and spread out your wool sweater on a dry towel or flat surface. You may need to move it back into shape. Allow it to dry naturally. This may take some time, as wool dries slowly.
If all else fails, maybe you can dye them to match the color of the stains?
posted by muddgirl at 11:37 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

A warning though about the "hottish" water - it can cause wool to felt if you're not careful. You want not too hot water (lukewarm) and you don't want to agitate it too much.

If it's just a thread or two that's stained, you might be able to re-knit that part of the sweater. I don't know how this works except I can hand a sweater to my mom and she'll be able to fix holes like magic.
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:38 AM on January 24, 2011

Were they stored in a cedar chest or anywhere near cedar? Textiles and cedar are not good friends, since the wood exudes oil that leaves small stains that look like mold or flea dirt.
posted by catlet at 11:44 AM on January 24, 2011

Hot water alone won't felt wool without agitation. I wash fleece all the time with water hot enough to scald; as long as it stays stll, there's no felting.
posted by KathrynT at 11:45 AM on January 24, 2011

Hot water should not cause wool to felt on its own - it's hot water + agitation.

Boiling water is right out, but your tap should only be putting out water that's 110°F or so.
posted by muddgirl at 11:45 AM on January 24, 2011

Pre-treat them with Motsenbocker's #1, which is great on coffee and tomato sauce and blood, and also the only thing I've ever found that got brown mold out of fabrics.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:04 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it's just a thread or two that's stained, you might be able to re-knit that part of the sweater. I don't know how this works except I can hand a sweater to my mom and she'll be able to fix holes like magic.

If they're particularly old sweaters*, this probably won't work. You typically need to have some matching yarn on hand to do this. And the way yarn works, it would probably be fairly difficult to just walk into a yarn shop and come out with identical wool. Though you might have luck with Etsy if you know wool lingo - people inherit decades old yarn stashes pretty frequently.

Also, if it's one of those sweaters with lots of cables and textural patterns (often called Aran, Jersey, Guernsey/Gansey, or "fisherman's sweater"), it's going to be hard for someone who doesn't know how to knit to replace a stitch done in pattern. I've been knitting for a decade and still don't have great luck with cables.

*Unless OP's mom knit them and keeps scrap yarn from every project for this very purpose. But if they're souvenirs from a long ago trip to Ireland? Not likely.
posted by Sara C. at 12:24 PM on January 24, 2011

Wool sweaters take dye pretty well, if it comes to that.
posted by theora55 at 3:18 PM on January 24, 2011

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