Washing and Caring for Your Hand Knit Items

Photo Credit, Sarah Reid

So maybe you got a wonderful hand knit item as a gift, or you decided to get yourself something warm and cozy and special, and now you need to wash it but don’t want to ruin it.  Here’s a few tips for caring for your handmade knit items:

First, know your fiber.  If in doubt, always hand wash and lay flat to dry. Above all, follow any care instructions provided on the tag of the garment or given to you by the maker. Those directions will be much more specific to your item.  Otherwise, use the general guidelines for each type of fiber.

wool hand knit fingerless glovesWool & Alpaca
Hand wash in lukewarm water with a gentle detergent, such as Eucalan Wool Wash or Soak Wash (affliate).  Both are eco-friendly and do not require rinsing. Avoid regular detergents, even Woolite, which can be too harsh on the natural fibers and cause the natural oils to be stripped away, leaving the garment faded and dull-looking.

Air dry! After washing (or soaking), do not wring or twist, which can break the fibers in the yarn.  Instead, lay the garment on a towel and either roll up the towel to squeeze excess water out or blot the with another towel.  The key here is to remove as much excess moisture as possible to ensure faster and more even drying. You can also place the item in the washing machine and spin without agitation to remove water.  Delicate items like lace should be placed in a lingerie bag or pillowcase so the yarn doesn’t get caught on machine parts.

Move the item to a dry towel and re-shape if necessary. Depending on the weather, humidity, and thickness of the garment itself, it may take 24-48 to dry. Logically, laying on a damp towel the whole time won’t help with the drying process, so change out the towel every 8-12 hours.

Once dry, store in a cool, dry, dark place, like a closet shelf. Light can fade the color, and sealing in plastic can promote mold and mildew. Always remember its a natural fiber and needs to breathe.

Cottonknit cotton cloths
Machine wash in cold water.  Normal detergent is tolerable here, but a gentle detergent would be preferable.  The item will determine the cycle you should use; a washcloth can be thrown in with regular laundry but a light and lacy shawl should be washed on the gentle cycle, and probably in a pillowcase or lingerie bag.

Machine dry on low heat, or air dry. Drying on high or even regular heat will cause cotton to shrink, which may not be your goal.  If you do want or plan on the item shrinking, then go ahead and dry normally.  Cotton will get softer if you machine dry vs. air dry, but it will also greatly shorten the overall life of the item.

Cotton is a very durable fiber, but in the case of clothing, should be rolled or stored flat to avoid wrinkling and permanent creasing.

DSCN4247Natural Fiber Blends
I often use yarn that’s a combination of wool and cotton.  If you have an item that is a blend of natural fibers, I recommend hand washing and air drying (per the instructions above under the Wool & Alpaca section) unless otherwise specified by the item’s maker.

Many synthetics can be machine washed and dried, but refer to the specific instructions on the label. There are several different types of synthetic fibers, and each behaves differently.  Again, when in doubt, hand wash!

Hopefully these basic tips will help you take care of your hand knit items so you can continue to enjoy them for years to come!


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