I’ve done it. My partner has done it. My mother has done it. We’ve all washed the thing that wasn’t supposed to be washed and ended up with a beautiful, handmade... shrunken, felted, ruined garment. It happens. And it’s a bummer.
So how do you make sure you don’t ruin your handmade knits?
When in doubt, if someone made it by hand, you wash it by hand. Handmade = hand wash. The good news is that washing by hand is pretty simple:
Soak the item in warm water
With a gentle cleanser
Lay flat to dry.
If you want more details about how exactly to wash your items, check out our comprehensive hand washing instructions. If you want to know more about why hand washing is the best choice for knits, keep reading.
Why do some knits shrink and others don’t?
When most natural fibers get hot and bothered, they shrink and turn into felt. The main reason to avoid the washer and dryer is that they make it so easy to get the fibers too hot and too bothered. The washing machine can do this when you use a warm or hot wash cycle. The dryer is the bigger issue, though. It’s the place where an item can really get hot and bothered—and ruined. If you’re trying to felt your natural fiber knitwear, the washer and dryer are wonderfully effective tools! If you’re not trying to felt, just avoid the washer and dryer.
That’s why we recommend hand washing. By hand washing, you bypass the pitfalls of the washer and dryer that can cause shrinkage. Your skin won’t as easily be able to tolerate the heat needed to start the felting process. And without concerted effort, you won’t be able to tousle and spin your knits hard enough to create felt. You easily avoid accidentally felting your knits in water that is too hot, and agitation that is too vigorous. In other words, if you’ve chosen to hand wash, you’ve already set yourself and your knits up for success.
Examples of hand wash natural fibers: wool, alpaca, mohair, cotton, linen, bamboo, etc.
Examples of synthetic fiber: nylon, acrylic, etc.
Exception: superwash wool. We’ll go more in depth on this in another post, but superwash is a natural wool fiber that has been processed in a way to allow it to withstand washing machines.
What detergent should I use?
In terms of soap, using a gentle wool wash is your best bet. Our favorite is Eucalan because it’s specially designed for woolen items, and Woolite is also a great choice. If you don’t want to buy a separate wash for your item, you can use a gentle shampoo (more on that below).
You shouldn’t have to wash handmade knits after every wear, unless you’re visibly soiling it every wear. You should wash your handmade knits if they smell, if they’re visibly soiled, or if they’ve lost their shape. If your item isn’t dirty, don’t wash it! Unless there is noticeable dirt or smell, you can probably wash a winter hat only once every couple of months to refresh it.
The big takeaway is: handmade = hand wash. MFG items are not meant to be overly-precious—they're meant to be used! With use comes maintenance. We provide comprehensive hand washing instructions and are available for questions via our contact form.