When you’re a sock knitter, you wash your handknits quite a bit! At my house I like to call this “sock laundry”.
If you’re mostly knitting scarves, they probably don’t require frequent washing, but after I’ve been walking around all day in a pair of handknit socks, I think they could probably use a wash. I’m going to discuss a few options here for washing your handknits.
Option 1: Handwashing
Handwashing is my preferred option, especially when I only have a few things to wash. It’s probably the most gentle way to wash your handknits, and the ONLY way I would recommend washing wool items that are not superwash.
Fill the sink with lukewarm water and a bit of wool wash – be sure to use a wash designed for wool, and not regular laundry detergent. Submerge your knitted item and gently swish it around a bit. Most wool washes will give instructions, in my experience most tell you to soak for 10-15 minutes.
Another advantage of using wool wash rather than laundry detergent is that many of them are “no rinse”. I did rinse my socks a bit just to get the suds off, but not much.
Squeeze some of the water out, but be careful not to twist or wring your knitted item, which can stretch it out. For socks I usually just press them against the bowl of the sink. For something larger or more delicate I would lie it flat on a towel, carefully roll it up, and then press or step on the towel to absorb most of the water.
Option 2: Front-loading washer with “wool” or “handwash” option / Wonder Washer
If your handknit is made with superwash wool or another fiber that doesn’t felt, this may be an option. I find it especially handy when I have a large item or a large number of items to wash.
Before I had a front loading washer with a wool cycle, I bought a Wonder Washer to do my sock laundry. This little gadget is basically like a big blender with a plastic agitator instead of a blade. The motor turns it, swishing the items around in the water, but not with nearly as much force as a traditional top loading washing machine. One disadvantage is that there is no spin cycle, so you’ll still have to squeeze the water out as you did above when handwashing.
Newer HE washers will often have a wool or handwash cycle. I’ve used the wool cycle to wash superwash items several times. Once I even got brave and washed a cowl that wasn’t superwash, and with no harm to the cowl. At least in my washer it appears to be almost as gentle as handwashing – the washer basically just flops the wet items around. This option has the advantage of spinning the water out, which makes drying quicker and easier.
Option 3: Machine Wash
Personally, I don’t recommend washing your handknits in a top-loading washer, or on the normal wash cycle of a front loader. But, for some more sturdy yarns, that may be ok. I admit that I have washed some of my socks knit in Opal, Regia and Trekking in a top-loading washer with wool wash on the gentlest cycle and with cold water, and it was fine. That said, I don’t think it’s the best idea for long-term wear on the fabric.
I would NOT recommend:
- machine washing yarn that isn’t very sturdy
- washing handknits in mixed loads with other clothes
- using regular laundry detergent
- washing large or long items (like sweaters or scarves) in the washer – they may be stretched out by the center agitator
There are many commercially available washing products designed especially for wool. For the purpose of this post I used Allure fine fiber & fabric wash from Bijou Basin, which I received for free in exchange for my review.
I handwashed two pairs of socks using the Allure wash and had good results. It even came with separate instructions for use with HE washers, which was very helpful. I tried it out in the washer on several pairs of socks as well as a sweater knit in sock yarn, and got great results.
This particular wash comes in a couple different scents as well as a fragrance free variety. I found the scented ones pleasant and not too strong.
Once you’ve washed your handknits, it’s time to dry them. Whatever you do, don’t throw them in the dryer!
I am well aware that many of the handknit socks I have given as gifts are thrown in the washer with regular laundry & detergent, and sometimes even in the dryer. I try to pretend that I don’t know that.
Large items like sweaters and tops or long items like scarves should be dried flat on a drying rack, or a towel on a flat surface. For lace items, you may want to pin out the lace to re-block it.
Since socks are small and not heavy, I will sometimes dry mine hanging over the bars on my drying rack or on a towel rack in the bathroom.
Now your clean handknit is ready to wear!