Can you Wash Wool with Regular Detergent or in a Washing Machine? 6 Tips for Protecting Wool

By Emma

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.

However, 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 wool, and I’ve used that knowledge to create this 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.

Can You Wash Wool With Regular Detergent?

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?

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 on 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?

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 more cold while camping.

How to Unshrink 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

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

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

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

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 line.

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

Step #3. Soak

Place the wool in the water, move it around to make sure it’s soaking wet, 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

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.

Check out this video for more details:

How to Wash Wool While Camping

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 as 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

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

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

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 the UV rays.

How to Store 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 recommend it highly 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!

Conclusion

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.

AUTHOR

My name is Emma, and I’m a city dweller who jumps on every opportunity to get out and enjoy nature! I’ve gone on a number of car camping and backpacking trips over the past few years. I created this site to inspire others to get outside and to make the process easier for you.