Can I wash old wool?
August 4, 2008 4:21 AM   Subscribe

How to wash/clean old wool blankets?

I have two really pretty and colorful striped 100% wool blankets from my grandmother, easily 30-40 years old if not more. They have been in storage and are in great condition but aren't very soft or "useable" in their current state.

Can I (should I) try to use them? How can I wash them?
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Since they are in great condition, I don't see why you shouldn't use them... So I guess you can either have them cleaned professionally, or, if they really are in great, super condition, put them in the washer, wool program (cold, low spin) with a mild detergent (which is what I'd do, personally).
posted by neblina_matinal at 4:51 AM on August 4, 2008

You're probably safe to hand-wash the blankets in a bathtub using a wool detergent - Woolite for example. Might be wise to trial-wash a corner first, just to be sure the dye doesn't run. Keep the water temperature cool. Line-dry the blankets and pull them into gently back into shape if you need to. If the blankets take the washing well, machine-wash them on an appropriate cycle the next time.

Failing that, I've heard that dry-cleaning works well.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:56 AM on August 4, 2008

Here's what I would do: Soak with cold in the washing machine tub with detergent for half an hour or so, gently swirl, then drain and refill with clean water to rinse, then skip to the spin cycle and spin some of the water out. Hang to dry, since they are so big.

The biggest enemies to wool are heat and agitation. Otherwise you're OK.
posted by muddgirl at 5:48 AM on August 4, 2008

Dry cleaning is the #1 recommended method.

If you live close to a woolen mills, bring it there.
posted by unixrat at 5:58 AM on August 4, 2008

Dry cleaning is the #1 recommended method.

Just out of curiosity, why? I interact with a lot of knitters and crocheters, and they rarely dry clean their 100% wool items - it's simply too expensive.
posted by muddgirl at 6:12 AM on August 4, 2008

Easy! Fill your washer with tepid water, add a tablespoon of wool wash (no rinse stuff like Eucalan is good) or baby shampoo. DON'T use Woolite or detergent; the pH balance is off and can strip the fibers, making them feel coarser. Let it soak for 10-15 minutes or so, gently pushing the suds through with your hands but not agitating.

Drain; fill with tepid water again (changing the temperature can felt the fibers), swish to rinse. Drain and fill again. Add a tablespoon of basic hair conditioner (choose one without a lot of fragrances or additives). Swish. Drain, let it spin out as much water as possible. Line dry or lay flat.

This is how I wash all my wool. Dry cleaning is ok, but again, the chemicals are harsh and sometimes leave wool feeling stiffer than it is.
posted by peachfuzz at 7:08 AM on August 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

i, a knitter, would never dry clean my knitted anything. gross chemicals for one, plus i don't trust the dry cleaners to handle the knitting with the care that some items require.

all the advice above about cold water and gentle washing is good. if it is not superwash wool, heat and agitation will make it felt, which isn't something you want. so hanging the blanket to dry is your best bet after a gentle swish in the washing machine.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:08 AM on August 4, 2008

I'm also a knitter, and would also never dryclean anything made of wool. It's simply too fragile for me to trust the chemicals they use.
A cold wash on delicate will take care of your blanket. Spin out as much water as possible, and hang dry (or lie flat, if you want to be very careful).
posted by OLechat at 8:10 AM on August 4, 2008

I'd also suggest using liquid fabric softener after you've rinse out the soap. Mix a fair amount of it into some cool water and let the blanket soak for a while, then rinse with cool water one last time. It works like conditioner on your hair, makes the wool fibers soft & fluffier.
posted by tula at 8:41 AM on August 4, 2008

It is the agitation in machine washing that shrinks woolen items or makes them go bobbly - even a "wool" cycle is not safe for really old items (modern wool is spun and finished differently from the traditional methods used in your grandmother's day). I would handwash with Woolie, as advised by le morte above, then gently wring them out and hang them outside, out of the sun to dry (you don't want them sun-bleached). Old wool will get beautifully fluffy and soft when washed by hand -- but treat them gently, rinse well (at least twice, to get the detergent out), and don't use a washing machine.
posted by Susurration at 8:48 AM on August 4, 2008

Just out of curiosity, why? I interact with a lot of knitters and crocheters, and they rarely dry clean their 100% wool items - it's simply too expensive.

Well, in day-to-day activities is usually is too expensive.

But when dealing with a novice owner and very old wool, I'd recommend a cleaner. If you've got one you can trust, one that you can talk to and ensure special handling.

Hand-washing is a very good technique, but we don't know if the poster has access to a clothesline or large wash-basin.
posted by unixrat at 10:21 AM on August 4, 2008

I appreciate all the suggestions.

One of the blankets is really big so if I do hand-wash I don't have anyplace to hang it out to dry. I'm not sure yet what I'll do.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 10:47 AM on August 4, 2008

Baby shampoo isn't all that gentle on hair (including silk, cashmere, wool). It just doesn't sting your eyes.

For my cashmere stuff and wool blankets I use some gentle hippie shampoo and it works well. (Nature's Gate, to be specific, but I don't think it matters too much.)

For blankets I use the bathtub because I can swish it around more easily, and I use cold, (but not freezing cold- lukewarm maybe even) water. It takes me a couple rinses to get the soap all out. For sweaters I just use the dishwashing tub.

When I'm done, I roll them up in a towel and press, and keep doing that, until a lot of the water is gone. Blankets I hang up (because my apartment's too little to lay them out if I don't want a damp bed- sometimes I drape them over lots of furniture but they dry out lumpy if you don't switch them often) and sweaters I lay flat on top of a towel.

Since they're old the thing I would worry about is the colors running, so you might want to do a spot check. If they run like mad, I'd break down and have them dry cleaned, which is worse for the fibers, from what I understand, but does seem to keep the colors where they're supposed to be.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:59 AM on August 4, 2008

but we don't know if the poster has access to a clothesline or large wash-basin.

A washing machine can double as a large wash-basin. Seriously. Just leave the top open. In a pinch, I have used a bath-tub. Yes, if the I lived somewhere with no washing machine or bathtub, then I would send it out to be cleaned.

To the OP: An alternative to hang-drying it is to cover your floor or a spare bed with towels, wring out the blanket thoroughly, and lay it over the towels to dry. it'll take a bit longer, but it's a serviceable solution. I have also drip-dried large blankets over a shower door and a shower curtain rod.
posted by muddgirl at 12:20 PM on August 4, 2008

> One of the blankets is really big so if I do hand-wash I don't have anyplace to hang it out to dry. I'm not sure yet what I'll do.

I've washed pretty big items in the bathtub and then dried them using a bunch of towels. First gently squeeze as much water out as you can. Don't wring the blanket, just fold, roll and press. Then roll towels onto it. Try to use dark towels, preferably older ones that you know won't bleed or shed.

Once the item is semi-dry, you can lay it out on a clean floor, with more dry towels underneath if desired. Make sure there's good air circulation (a fan and an open door/window will help). Once the top is fairly dry, pick it up, dry off the floor (or replace the towels underneath) and put the blanket back, dry side down.

Oh, and I'll second avoiding regular detergent. There's a color-fast Woolite product, but I haven't tried it personally.
posted by CruiseSavvy at 12:26 PM on August 4, 2008

Kookaburra Wool Wash is great stuff. I use it to wsh my merino wool bike jerseys, and for sweaters, etc. nthing the recomendation to use a towel. I usually use a beach towel, roll the items up, and then leave them to dry. Ptting a fan in the room to circulate some air helps to sped up the drying.
posted by fixedgear at 1:24 PM on August 4, 2008

If you have access to a washer without an agitator, then use that. It's much gentler on the items that you're washing.
posted by 26.2 at 7:49 AM on August 12, 2008

« Older Suggestions for a natural preservative/stabilizer...   |   Creating an Artistic Persona Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.