Show Notes · Stuff You Should Know

Episode 12: The Dirty Dozen

The different fiber types, and how to care for them:

  • Acrylics and man-made fibers
    • Can be tossed into the washer and dryer, and frequently come out better for it. The heat from the dryer can “kill” the acrylic a little, making it softer and more pliable.
    • Once acrylic is blocked (I usually do this with a little bit of steam), it won’t lose its shape or become distorted.
    • Because acrylic is made with colored plastic, rather than dyed, colors should not fade.
  • Superwash wool:
    • Ideally, superwash wool should be machine washable. I usually handwash sweaters regardless of whether they’re superwash treated, but socks and accessories go through the washer on the delicate setting.
    • I typically lay items flat to dry, and avoid the dryer, unless I’m trying to “shrink” something a little bit. In that case, I put damp items in the dryer on low heat.
    • Be careful when handling your larger items when they’re wet, because superwash has a tendency to grow, and items can become distorted under their own weight.
  • Non-superwash wool:
    • Handwash only, always! Wool will turn into felt when treated with water, heat, and agitation. Sometimes the shock of hot water on cold wool can be enough to felt it.
    • Use lukewarm water and a gentle detergent or wool wash (I like Eucalin). Soak the item until it’s fully saturated. You can swish the water with your hands a little to loosen really dirty items. Rinse if needed, squeeze water out gently (don’t wring!), and lay flat to dry.
      • If an item is really dirty, don’t be afraid to use hot water and do several wash/rinse cycles if necessary. If using hot water, just be gentle with the item so as not to agitate it and risk felting. Fill your basin with water and any cleanser and then gently place the item in the water.
  • Alpaca and luxury fibers:
    • Alpaca has a tendency to grow enormously under its own weight when wet, and doesn’t have the memory of wool to spring back into shape. For alpaca and luxury fibers, I typically spot clean with a gentle detergent, or handwash gently if needed.
    • Keep in mind that silk loses up to 30% of its strength when wet, so when blocking silk lace, I like to pin the item out when it’s dry, then spritz with water until saturated, and leave to try. This lessens the chance that any strands will break when you stretch them for blocking.
  • If your item was made with a yarn that is a blend of fibers, always wash according to the instructions from the most delicate fiber in the blend!
    • Just about any hand-made item can be safely hand washed. The only thing that should probably routinely be machine washed is an item that regularly comes into contact with kitchen germs, like a dishcloth. For those type of things, you want the heat of the washer and dryer.

The comforter bags that Sarah mentioned can be found here:

The mesh sweater dryer that she uses can be found here:

Some commercial laundry symbols:

What to Use for Washing:

  • If you’re machine washing, you can use your regular detergent, but stay clear of anything containing bleach. Wool and other animal fibers are protein fibers, and bleach will cause protein fibers to disintegrate.
  • For hand washing, consider a wool wash like Soak, Eucalan, or Unicorn Wool Wash.
    • Many wool washes are formulated for wool and contain lanolin. They do not need to be rinsed (though you may wish to rinse if your item is very soiled).
  • In a pinch, you can always use shampoo — animal fibers are, after all, hair! Just be sure to rinse it out thoroughly.
  • For wool especially, a good glug of white vinegar never hurts. Protein fibers tend to prefer an acidic environment, and it will actually help to rinse out any soap you may have used. (Sarah uses vinegar in place of fabric softener in her regular laundry, for instance.)


  • Bugs will eat finished items just as quickly as they’ll eat yarn! I like to store everything in vinyl comforter bags, or airtight containers.
    • What attracts bugs is body oils, so it’s a good idea to make sure your hand-made items are clean before you store them.
    • Store items off the floor whenever possible to keep them out of the way of carpet beetles. If floor storage is your only option (such as under a bed), consider storing your items in heavy-duty plastic bins.
  • You can buy special “sweater bags” that have space to add cedar planks. Cedar and lavender will help keep bugs away, and also keep your knits smelling nice.
    • Cleaner’s Supply sells comforter bags that have breathable sides, which allow your items to breathe (and avoid any mildewing that you might get if there was any moisture left in them after you washed them).
  • Ideally, I try to wash all of my sweaters at the end of the wearing season (fall, winter, and early spring), before I store them all for the summer.
  • If you have enough items, it might be a good idea to organize them based on season, or washability.

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