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8 myths and truths about washing wool

Washing wool sweaters is easier than you think.

Wool has a reputation for being a tricky material to wash and care for. But are these rumors true? A study conducted by Norway’s National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO) debunked several popular myths about how to care for wool. To sort this out, here are some of the most common myths and truths about washing wool.
A person loading wool garments into a washing machine

#1: Wash less, air out more


True. One of the perks of wool is that it stays fresh longer between washes compared to garments made of cotton or synthetics. This means fewer washes throughout the garment lifecycle and a considerably lower impact on the environment. Of course, this differs depending on how close to your skin the wool garment is worn. Merino wool long johns might need to be washed after a few days, while cashmere wool sweaters do not need to be washed more than a few times per year. Woolen coats and jackets even less often.

Air out your wool garments by letting them hang outside over the night, preferably in humid conditions. If a stale smell does not disappear after the garment has spent a night hanging outside, then the time is right for washing.


#2: Wool garments stain easily


True. Wool garments do not get dirty easily. They do, however, stain easily. Raw and organic wool garments are relatively resistant to stains, but many other kinds of wool are vulnerable to tough stains like berries, coffee, or chocolate. Stains easily become permanent on wool compared to synthetic fabrics that also stain easily but where the risk for permanent stains is lower. Our best advice is to treat the stain as soon as it appears, as waiting will increase the risk of it becoming permanent.

Delicate Laundry Detergent in soapy water

#3: You need to use a special detergent


True. Wool garments should only be washed with laundry detergents that are kind to delicate fabrics. Look for detergents that are labeled ‘delicate’ or ‘suitable for wool and silk’. Steamery’s Delicate Laundry Detergent is a great choice for wool since it contains lanolin oil that acts as a conditioner and nourishes the natural protein fibers in the fabric.


#4: Wool garments must be hand-washed


False. Some care labels might instruct you to handwash to protect the seams or other sewn details, but the advice is not for the sake of the fabric. Wool can be machine washed using a wool cycle or gentle setting.

A person hand washing a wool sweater

#5: Washing in high temperatures makes wool shrink


False. Wool can be washed in hot water. It can even be boiled. The important thing is to make sure the garment is still during the process. Wool will only shrink when it is moving around in the hot water. The combination of heat and movement is what causes the shrinking, so make sure to always select a wool or gentle cycle when machine washing.


#6: Wool garments cannot be spin-dried


False. There is a long-lived myth that you must dry your wool sweaters by folding them in a towel and squeezing out the water. However, SIFO’s study shows this is not true. Contrary to popular belief, wool can be spin-dried. SIFO used three different spin cycles; 400, 900, and 1400 RPM, and neither of them caused shrinkage. Still, wool rarely needs a spin cycle over 800 RPM, so try to keep the spinning to a minimum.


#7: Knits and wool sweaters must be flat-dried


False. Another common myth is that woolen garments must be dried lying down on a flat surface. However, SIFO study concludes that if the garment is dry enough, for example after a short spin cycle, it is okay to hang-dry the garment on a hanger.


#8: Wool can only be washed with wool


False. Wool can be washed together with garments made of cotton or synthetics. According to SIFO’s study, the probability of a barely detectable shrinkage (0.5%) did increase, but in this context, it is barely worth mentioning. The study also concluded that wool garments do not attract more lint or pill when washed with other fabrics. Keep in mind that the wool program is very gentle and ideal only for lightly soiled garments. The washer should never be more than 50% full, but it is okay to include other types of fabrics.

A wool garment moving into a glass bowl full of water

How to care for wool garments

  • Always use an enzyme-free detergent. We recommend Steamery’s Delicate Laundry Detergent
  • Always dry on a low spin cycle, even if you’ve handwashed your garment
  • Hang-dry wool sweaters only if they’ve been spin-dried
  • Treat stains immediately when they appear
  • Air your garment and wash infrequently
  • Avoid filling up the washing machine to more than 50%
  • If your garment loses its shape or shrinks, stretch the garment with decisive and regular movements
  • If you need to disinfect wool, boil for 10 minutes. Keep the garment completely still during the process to avoid shrinking

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