Hand washing isn’t any more difficult than machine washing. There are several different methods depending on the space and tools you have available, and I’ve tried most of them! A common misconception about wool is that it shrinks. It doesn’t; it felts. Shock and agitation cause felting, so those are the things to avoid when washing hand-knits made of wool and other animal fibers. Cotton also has a reputation for shrinking, but it doesn’t, it stretches. After you’ve been wearing your favorite jeans for a week they are stretched out, washing them and giving them a spin in a hot dryer just restores them to their natural shape. Hand washing avoids stretching and felting your hand-knits while getting them clean. It is important to keep your hand-knits clean because they will be less attractive to wool-eating bugs, but you really only have to wash them when they are dirty. I can tell when my handknits need a wash because they start to feel less soft, or they look a little stretched out. A good soak will restore softness and return your garments to their natural shape.
You’ll need something to soak your hand-knits in, like a sink, basin, or top-loading washing machine. I like this 4 gallon Red Gorilla tub because it can hold about as much as I have room to dry. I have also heard that high-efficiency washers can be used when set to the wool cycle. Remember that we want to avoid shock and agitation, so don’t use water that is too hot or too cold. I like to use luke-warm water for pure wool, and cool water for wool and silk blends. Fill the vessel with water first, then add your soap. A good wool wash like Eucalan or Soak is ideal because it conditions the wool and doesn’t need to be rinsed out. Now add your knits. Squeeze gently to make sure the fabric is thoroughly saturated with water, and let them soak for 20 to 30 minutes.
Removing the water
If you’re hand washing in a sink or basin allow the water to drain out and press your knits against the sides of the sink or tub to remove as much water as you can. Do not wring or twist, as that could cause stretching. Also avoid lifting your knits when they are soaking wet without supporting the full weight of the garment. After you’ve pressed out as much water as possible you’ll have to continue pressing out the excess water using towels. Lay a towel on the floor, preferably a tiled surface, then lay your garment on it in a single layer. Roll up the towel with the knits inside it and press the water out. Dancing a jig on the rolled up towel is especially effective. You may have to repeat the process with a second towel.
If you are using a top-loading washer simply turn to the spin cycle and allow it to run until all the water has been spun out. This used to be my preferred method for hand washing because it effectively removes so much water, but now I use a spin dryer. This amazing gadget spins out so much water that even bulky sweaters dry overnight!
Now that most of the water has been removed, your hand-knits just need to be allowed to dry. If you were washing lace shawls you will probably want to pin them out on blocking mats or a spare bed to open up the lace to be sure the shawls dry in the right shape. If you washed sweaters you’ll still want to shape them to dry, but pins and wires are unnecessary, and can even distort the shape of your sweaters. Just spreading out your sweaters on a towel is enough to let them air dry, but I like to use sweater drying racks to allow for maximum airflow. I use these stackable sweater drying racks, but if your surface space is limited try these hanging sweater drying racks from Knitpicks. It should take between 1 and 3 days for your knits to dry.
New Year’s Eve is the perfect time to catch up on cleaning, and I have a lot of handknits to keep clean. I’ve refined my hand washing process over the last ten or so years, and found the way that works best for me, but I would love to hear what your methods are! Please leave a comment below, and have a happy New Year!
Thank you for knitting!