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Friday, November 1, 2013

Caring for Wool Sweaters

Wool is a marvelous fiber. It's comfortable, warm, and attractive. However, if not cared for properly, it can shrink, lose its shape and sometimes even unravel completely. In order to prevent this from happening, wool sweaters should be cared for in very particular ways.

Wool sweaters should not be cleaned too often. Excessive cleaning can break down the wool fibers. Only wash your sweater when absolutely required. When you do wash your sweater, it is probably best that you follow the care instructions on the tag. Most tags will indicate that your wool garments should be dry cleaned.

However, it is possible to wash your wool sweaters and other garments in the washing machine. If you choose to do this, use a mild detergent that is specifically formulated for wool. Biological detergents, or anything that contains bleach, will be disastrous to wool fibers. Read all the fine print of your favorite detergent to determine if it’s safe for your wool sweater.

Select the slowest spin speed and lowest temperature possible when machine washing any wool garments. Higher spin speeds could cause your sweater to stretch, while hot water can shrink your garment beyond all repair. If your machine has a wool care setting, use that. Otherwise, a cold water delicate wash will usually suffice.

Do not dry your wool garments in the dryer. Any heat applied to wet wool can (and usually will) cause shrinkage. Instead, lay your wool sweaters flat to dry. You can purchase a rack for drying your sweaters that allow them to be laid flat while permitting airflow from all sides. The wool will dry quickly and your sweaters will maintain their shape. If you notice that your sweater is slightly out of shape, stretch it gently before it’s dry.

Pilling is a common problem with wool sweaters, and it really cannot be avoided. This makes the sweater look untidy and a little ratty. However, when you do notice little pills and bobbles appearing on your sweater, you can treat the sweater by either plucking the pills off with your fingers or shaving the sweater gently. After a few washes, pilling will become less of a problem.

Wool sweaters are very attractive for moths, and once eggs are laid and the larvae hatched, they feed on the wool fibers. Most people would reach for the mothballs, but these can actually damage your wool sweater. Instead of mothballs, consider storing your wool sweater wrapped in plastic and sprinkled with lavender.

For more long-term storage, consider placing the lavender in a sachet with rosemary and dried orange peel. Place this near, but not on, your sweater to avoid any possible damage. Then place both the sweater and the sachet into a cardboard box, canvas or muslin bag, or simply wrap in an acid-free tissue paper.

The better you care for your sweater, the longer it will last. Clean your sweater only when necessary, store it carefully, and rinse any stains immediately with cold water. You should get years of life out of your wool sweater if you're careful.


First published as How to Care for Wool Sweaters

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