A Complete Guide to Washing Wool – With 6 Great Tips for Washing and Protecting Wool

A Complete Guide to Washing Wool
A Complete Guide to Washing Wool

This is the most comprehensive answer on whether you can wash wool with regular detergent or in a washing machine.

Wool is one of the most useful materials you’ll use while camping. It helps to regulate your body temperature, which makes it perfect for cold weather camping. Plus, wool is lightweight, so it’s great for backpacking in the fall.

Wool is a natural, woven fabric, so it needs special care when washing. I’ve researched what wool manufacturers and wool care experts say about taking care of and washing wool, and I’ve used that knowledge to create this complete guide for you.

You need to wash wool in a detergent that is specifically made for wool or delicate garments, regardless of whether you are washing it in the machine or by hand. Use the “wool” or “gentle” setting and cold water wash cycle if you are washing it in a washing machine.

Table of Contents

Can You Wash Wool With Regular Detergent? – A Complete Guide to Washing Wool

Detergent that contains harsh chemicals can eat away at the natural fibers of the wool, and it may make your wool’s dye start to run.

Furthermore, not all detergents are hypoallergenic, so you may completely rid your wool of its hypoallergenic properties if you wash it in the wrong kind of laundry detergent.

All wool is naturally hypoallergenic, which means it causes fewer allergic reactions and less irritation than other fabrics. 

Washing your wool in the right detergent will help your wool retain its integrity and quality over time. It will also keep your wool feeling soft and fresh.

There are several detergents like this on the market, but not all of them were made equal.

Avoid products with enzymes, phosphates, or bleach, as this may cause fading, stretching, shrinking, or deterioration of the fabric. Finding a product that specifically states it contains no harsh ingredients is your best bet for retaining the quality of your wool.

You want to make sure that your detergent is safe to put your hands in, too, as you may be hand-washing your wool garments.

Woolite hits all those marks, and it’s one of the most popular detergents for wool on the market.

Other products designed for wool will work too. And if you can’t find detergent for wool, then a detergent for delicates will work. Make sure it has all of the attributes discussed above.

Can You Wash Wool in the Washing Machine? – A Complete Guide to Washing Wool

You can wash wool in the washing machine if you use the right kind of detergent, as outlined above, but you also need to use the right cycle on the machine.

Wool needs to be treated gently, as it’s susceptible to stretching and shrinking when handled too harshly. Some washing machines have a setting specifically for wool, so always use that if you’re going to wash your wool in the machine.

It’s fine if your washing machine doesn’t have a wool setting. The gentle setting will do just fine, but don’t wash your wool garments with your other delicates. Wool fabric will wash best if it’s washed only with other wool items.

It’s best to use your washing machine in a cold water setting,  too, as this will produce the best results when trying to wash your wool safely.

However, if your machine lacks a wool or gentle setting, then it may be time to consider hand washing the wool, because you don’t want it to shrink.

Does Wool Shrink When Washed? – A Complete Guide to Washing Wool

There are a lot of fabrics that shrink when exposed to water and heat, but wool isn’t one of them. 

Efforts have been made to shrink-proof wool for years, and they work well for the most part. You can saturate wool and let it reach high temperatures without a problem.

However, heat + vigorous movement = shrinking/stretching wool.

Heat weakens and loosens the wool, and the vigorous movement of a regular wash cycle will pull the fabric apart and smush it back together. This is what leads to the shrinkage and stretching you’ll experience when washing wool garments in the machine.

While a wool blanket can withstand a little shrinking, a stretched one will expose you to colder while camping.

How to Unshrink Wool – A Complete Guide to Washing Wool

If your wool was stretched out, then, unfortunately, it can be quite difficult to make it go back into its original shape. You may just have to buy a new blanket and wool clothing for your camping trips

However, you can unshrink wool if you’re careful. So if shrinking is your issue, then you’re all set.

Unshrinking wool is a simple process:

  • Fill a tub or basin with lukewarm water
  • Add a generous amount of wool detergent, baby shampoo, or hair conditioner
  • Soak your wool garment for several minutes
  • Squeeze the garment to get the detergent to move through the fibers
  • Let your wool soak for a further 20 minutes
  • Take the garment out, and don’t rinse it
  • Lay the garment flat on a towel, sheet, or blanket that is larger than the wool garment
  • Lay a second towel, sheet, or blanket on top of the garment
  • Roll the three garments up like a burrito to ring out the water
  • Unroll the garments and remove the top towel/sheet/blanket
  • Stretch your garment to the size it was before it shrank; do this incrementally, and target the areas that shrunk the most
  • Pin the stretched garment into place/in shape if possible; laying it on a foam board will help with this
  • Let the garment dry

 Your wool should be back to its previous size once you’re finished stretching it out.

Ensuring Wool Doesn’t Shrink – How to Unshrink Wool

The wool shouldn’t shrink on a gentle machine cycle, but there’s always the chance that it will. If you can’t control the way your wool is moving when it’s being washed, then you have no idea whether or not it’s going to shrink.

The best way to ensure wool doesn’t shrink is to wash it yourself, so I’ll teach you how to hand wash it now.

How to Wash Wool by Hand – A Complete Guide to Washing Wool

You hand wash wool the way you’d wash any other garment, but you need to remember to be extra gentle while doing it.

Step #1. Fill Your Tub or Basin – How to Wash Wool by Hand

Fill a tub or basin with lukewarm water. Lukewarm water will make sure you don’t get burned while handling fabric, and it will minimize the risk of shrinkage.

Ensure your tub or basin is large enough to accommodate your garment without having the garment balled up or folded.

Step #2. Add Detergent – How to Wash Wool by Hand

Add your mild detergent or your Woolite. With Woolite, fill the cap of the detergent up to the line inside it, and use that amount regardless of the item you’re washing. 

Be careful not to get this confused with the instructions for using Woolite in the washing machine, as this requires you to add two caps of liquid that were filled up to the line.

Make sure the detergent is fully dissolved in the water before you start washing your wool.

Step #3. Soak – How to Wash Wool by Hand

Place the wool in the water, move it around to make sure it’s soaking wet, and then leave it for 10 minutes without touching it. You can leave it for 15 or 20 minutes if there is a stain that you want to get out of the garment.

You can rub stains gently with a soft sponge, but be careful not to stretch the fabric when you’re rubbing or holding it.

Step #4. Rinse and Repeat – How to Wash Wool by Hand

Once you finished soaking your wool, then you can rinse away the soap with lukewarm water. Hold the garment relatively still under the stream of water and turn it is necessary to get all the soap residue out. Keep rinsing it until the water runs clear.

Now you can rinse it again, but this time, use cold water. Cold water may entice any lingering soap to run free, so rinse the garment until the water runs clear. If there’s no soap residue, rinse it until the whole garment is cool and fully wet.

How to Wash Wool While Camping – A Complete Guide to Washing Wool

The process above requires you to be at home, but sometimes your garments will become soiled while camping. This is common if you’re camping with children or pets.

You’re unlikely to have any wool detergent for your camping trip, so you can use a hair conditioner if you have it, and make sure you’re using cold water.

Find a receptacle to wash your garment in, and follow the same steps you would if you were washing the wool at home.

Your wool will be inconvenient to dry, though, so attempt to spot-clean it if you can. If it’s only one area of your garment that got soiled, then position the garment so that only the stained area is in the water to soak.

Dealing With Sap – How to Wash Wool While Camping

If you get sap on your wool garment while camping, then don’t soak it. Rubbing alcohol is best for removing sap, so gently rub away at the area until you get as much of the sap out as possible. Rinse the area with cold water when you’re done.

However, much of the time, sap is tricky to get out, and you’ll need professional help. You can try rubbing alcohol again then hand washing your garment when you get home. But even then, you may need to get it dry-cleaned.

Dealing With Mold – How to Wash Wool While Camping

If you store your camping gear in a tent with mold, then your wool blankets and clothes may start growing some mold, too.

Thankfully, it’s not difficult to remove mold from wool while camping. All it takes is a soak in some cold water, and you can rub away the mold spots with your fingers or a soft sponge.

Hand wash the entire garment when you get home, as this will help kill any remaining mold and get rid of the smell.

You should also learn how to clean a tent with mold and mildew, as this will ensure your entire camping setup stays fresh.

How to Dry Wool – A Complete Guide to Washing Wool

There are two things to avoid when drying wool: the dryer and hanging large garments, such as blankets.

Blankets should be dried flat, as hanging heavy, wet wool will pull the blanket out of shape. Instead, repeat the step mentioned earlier, where you wring out your blanket by rolling it up between sheets like a burrito.

Lay heavy sweaters and other clothes flat to dry, too, and wring them out similarly.

Lighter clothing can be hung to dry, but avoid drying wool in direct sunlight.  It may be bleached by UV rays.

How to Store Wool – A Complete Guide to Washing Wool

Gravity takes its toll and everything, even light garments. So always store your wool garments flat. Fold them up and put them on a clean, dry shelf.

You don’t want your wool garment to stretch out even slightly, as you’ll usually be using it to stay warm when camping. Stretched garments won’t keep you warm as effectively.

Never take the risk when you’re storing the items, particularly anything you’re going to use as a base layer when cold weather camping.

Wool is especially useful when cold weather camping, and I highly recommend it when sharing these 41 cold-weather camping tips. So. treat your wool camping garments like they could save your life because, truly, one day they might!

A Complete Guide to Washing Wool
A Complete Guide to Washing Wool

Conclusion – A Complete Guide to Washing Wool

Once you ensure you wash wool in a wool detergent, there’s not much else you can do wrong.

Hand-washing wool is best if you’re extra concerned about its well-being, but you can always put it in the washer on a gentle cycle. If your washing machine stretches your wool, then you’ll know that you should hand wash it next time.

Wool clothing may need this extra care when washing it, but it’s well worth it if you want to stay warm on camping trips.

Frequently Asked Questions – A Complete Guide to Washing Wool

1. Is Washing Wool at Home Safe? – FAQs

Yes, you can wash wool at home as long as you follow the care instructions and use gentle detergents designed specifically for wool.

2. What are the Best Washing Methods for Wool? – FAQs

Using cold water, avoiding harsh detergents or bleach, gently agitating the garment, and laying it flat to dry are all best practices for washing wool.

3. Is it Safe to Use Regular Laundry Detergent on Wool? – FAQs

No, regular laundry detergent is too harsh for wool’s delicate fibers. It can remove natural oils and cause shrinkage or fabric damage.

4. How Can I Keep My Wool Clothing from Shrinking in the Wash? – FAQs

Wash wool items in cold water and avoid wringing or twisting them during the washing process to avoid shrinking. Also, instead of machine drying your clothes, let them air dry.

5. Should I Dry My Wool Items By Hand or Machine? – FAQs

Air-dry your wool garments by laying them flat on a clean towel or drying rack. Due to the high heat, machine drying can cause shrinkage and fabric damage.

6. Can I Iron Wool After it Has Been Washed? – FAQs

If necessary, you can iron your wool items after washing them. To protect the garment from direct heat, use a low heat setting and a damp cloth between the iron and the garment.

7. Is it Necessary to Use Any Special Techniques or Products When Hand-Washing Wool? – FAQs

Hand washing necessitates delicate techniques such as soaking the garment in cool water with mild detergent before gently squeezing out excess water without wringing or twisting it. You should also avoid excessive scrubbing or rubbing of the fabric while cleaning it.

8. Is There Any Wool type that Requires Different Washing Care than Others? – FAQs

Yes, because some wools are more delicate than others, such as cashmere, they may require extra care when washing.

9. Can I Use Fabric Softener on Wool Clothing? – FAQs

Fabric softeners should not be used on wool because they can harm the fibers and cause pilling.

10. How Frequently Should I Wash My Wool Clothing? – FAQs

Wool does not require frequent washing because it is naturally resistant to odors and stains due to its lanolin content. If you do need to wash your woolen clothes, most clothing, such as sweaters, should be washed once every few wears.

Ben Wann- Tent Camping Expert

My name is Ben Wann, and I’m a lifelong tent camper and backpacker who jumps on every opportunity to get out and enjoy nature! I created this site to inspire others to get outside and to make the process easier for you.