My poor, sad old wool blanket.
January 1, 2015 2:37 PM   Subscribe

I have a wool blanket given to me as a gift as a child. It's about 25 years old and it is AWESOME especially in cold cold winters. Here is the problem; I've abused the poor thing, and probably need to keep abusing it because of my allergies. How can I care for it, but limit the damage further.

The blanket has to be at least 25 years old. Maybe older. I got it as a gift from an uncle that got it in Mexico. It is really heavy and scratchy, but if you throw it on top of the other blankets, it makes me impervious to even the coldest nights.

I have dust allergies though, and have to wash it on hot. And so it's shrunken quit a bit. Then I sort of forgot about it for a few years. But now the blanket is back and I love it so. Except dust mite allergies mean I really need to wash it on a regular basis. I'm not sure exactly sure how to launder it. Have I already shrunk the hell out of it, so subsequent hot washing won't matter? Or will I continue to murder my poor blanket?

And can I continue to dry it? Same reason, want to limit allergens (in this case, mold). It's really thick, so holds water for a long time before drying.

Any thoughts?
posted by [insert clever name here] to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't dry it! Let it air dry on a rack. You can reshape wool when it's wet. Sheep get wet, it's fine.

Send it to a dry cleaner for laundering and re-blocking. They can handle it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:40 PM on January 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

It might already be felted due to hot washing and agitation -- if it is, you can't really felt it further, so you can continue washing it on hot.

If it isn't felted yet, the proper way to care for wool is to hand wash in tepid water, reshape and lay flat to dry. Even better is to use a no rinse detergent like Eucalan.
posted by telegraph at 2:52 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Has it got any stretch left to it? If so, it probably could shrink more with additional hot wash cycles. You may already have shrunk (felted/fulled) it as much as it can take. It's really difficult to stretch out woolens you've fulled already, even with best practices. (I made the mistake of machine washing a wool sweater I'd made myself a few years back. Even though I did this on delicate cycle and with cold water, and did my best to stretch it out afterward with several hand washings, it's never going to be the same.)

I don't know enough about dust allergies to know whether hot water is required for washing things like blankets, but if it is, you've still got some options. You could put the blanket in a duvet cover (you may have to sew one yourself or have one sewn if the blanket doesn't fit the dimensions of commercially-available ones), which you could then wash on whatever settings are appropriate. You've presumably already washed it hot plenty of times, so I'm not sure you can damage it further at this point. Machine drying would only compound the problem, but again, you may have already done all you can do.

If you had a new, similar blanket, I'd suggest cold hand-washing and lots of rinses to limit allergens. (I use a no-rinse wool wash, but don't have to worry much about removing allergens.) I dry all my woolens on a rack, flat if it's not something that can be stretched safely, and usually set up a fan in front of the rack so I'm not waiting days for thick items to dry.
posted by asperity at 2:54 PM on January 1, 2015

To cut down on dust mites, would putting it inside of a duvet work? You can wash the duvet daily if you like.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:54 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm going to guess it is felted already. Any way I can tell? It's very puckered in appearance too. I don't remember how big it used to be but it seems much shorter (fortunately, as a short person, that works out okay for me) I was washing it on hot one every few months in the winter as a child/teen/into my twenties when I forgot about it's existence.

The duvet cover is a good idea. It does have tassles that might make it weird thought. At this point, would it matter if I cut them off? Or could the whole thing come unraveled?

The blanket. Close up.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:14 PM on January 1, 2015

It only looks a bit felted, not too much. Felting is where the weave is less distinct and the individual fibers fray and matte together. A dry cleaner that works a lot with knitted items can take the tassels off and seal the edges for you. But I don't think it would be all THAT weird in a duvet cover.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:28 PM on January 1, 2015

Tassles are added after a blanket is made and can safely be removed without damaging the blanket. If it is already felted, you can treat it like fabric and cut it any way that you like. I would use a duvet cover. Air drying a large, wool blanket isn't the best smell in the world.
posted by myselfasme at 3:28 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Looks like it might be able to shrink a bit more, since I can see individual strands. Take it in your hands and see how much it stretches when you pull; anyplace it stretches much is potentially a place it could felt up some more (but from the look of those tassels it'd be difficult.)

Given the felting that's already happened, I doubt cutting off the tassels would harm the rest of the blanket, but if you're worried, leave small stubs and you should be OK. Or use the corner tassels to tie it to the duvet cover.

On the bright side, felting does make things sturdier. That blanket is probably bombproof now!
posted by asperity at 3:28 PM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm allergic to dust mites. In general, a regular duvet cover isn't going to be the best solution. The best practice is to use special dust mite proof casings for your pillows and mattress, then choose bedding that can sustain weekly washes, either very hot or with a special dust mite laundry additive. But the good news is that if you reduce your total allergy load, you might be able to get away with using your blanket. I reduced allergy load by doing things like replacing carpet with wood floors, keeping pets out of the bedroom (and not getting new pets when my old pets died), HEPA filters, encasings for mattress and pillows, washable fleece blankets, and so on. Now my allergy load is low enough that we were able to get a dog (to which I am also, in theory, allergic). My allergist explained allergy loads like "imagine you have an empty glass, and each allergen fills it up a bit. When it overflows, that's when you get symptoms. So manage each of your allergens, and you should be fine."
posted by instamatic at 3:49 PM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have a couple of old wool blankets I throw in the washer and dryer. One is pretty shrunken but still keeps me toasty warm. The other (a TWA blanket by Pendleton) looks nearly new (except for the moth holes.)
posted by vespabelle at 4:16 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

buy an old microwave that you use only for textiles and microwave the blanket for 300 seconds:
posted by at at 5:05 PM on January 1, 2015

You can kill dust mites in the drier only. Don't wash. Just dry.
posted by mercredi at 5:46 PM on January 1, 2015

Tassels are only sometimes added after a blanket is made - in your case, the tassels are twisted fringe - integral to the object and are made from the warp (longitudinal) threads in the original weave. When your blanket was newer, cutting them off could have caused a disaster. But now that it is substantially fulled (an intermediate stage for woven objects on their way to felt), other users are right to say you can probably hack it up however you want and it won't ravel.
It will keep shrinking and puckering in the wash though - fulling and felting don't really saturate to a stable state unless you've reached a state more like lumber than a cloth.
posted by janell at 5:59 PM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you've already washed it on hot, then I don't see how you could do much more damage. To control dust mites, I recommend frequent washing. I got some excellent advice from a dry cleaner who specialised in woolens and he told me that for things like blankets (which didn't need to hold its shape like a jacket), I should just wash regularly with shampoo and conditioner. He said that if I treated my woollens like I treated my hair, I'd get great results, and so this is how I wash all my woollens now. Wash on a gentle cycle using shampoo (or Woolite), and then apply hair conditioner and let it sit for 10-15 minutes, then rinse and spin and hang to dry. It keeps your woollens feeling really soft and lovely.
posted by amusebuche at 7:55 AM on January 2, 2015

As a fellow dust mite allergy sufferer, and lover of childhood blankets, I'm going to say that the level of regular cleaning required to de-mite that blanket will probably kill it. Wool can put up with some serious abuse, but not this kind. Not if you love it. Keep it for occasional use and find another cozy blanket that has no emotional ties for you.

I retired my wool-filled comforter for this winter, until I can afford a good miteproof cover for it, because it is dry clean only and I can't pay $50 to have it cleaned every two weeks. I used to have it done just once a year before I put it in storage. While I don't have any special attatchment to it, it would cost me too much to replace if I destroyed it. So instead I'm washing inexpensive quilts and cotton blankets every two weeks so that I don't wake up with a sinus headache every morning.

If you do want to wash it with less trauma, try ACARIL. It'll kill mites and denature the proteins without needing hot water. That blanket is already felted, but more heat and agitation will shorten its lifespan. Then spin it extra and dry on low heat for a short time before switching to the fluff setting.
posted by monopas at 10:02 AM on January 2, 2015

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