How to Clean Wool Sweaters With Vinegar

DIY wool wash

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Don’t get tricked into buying a specialty detergent to care for your wool clothing. Those little bottles of wool wash are pricey and they don’t do anything you can’t do yourself. The cheap solution to washing wool is vinegar, and it does not require any other special products or a trip to the dry cleaners.

How to Wash Wool Clothing

Wool is a delicate fabric and needs to be laundered with care. Failing to take proper care can result in your favorite garment shrinking or otherwise being ruined.

  1. Wash wool clothing by hand or on the gentle/delicate cycle in your washing machine.
  2. Use cold water and your regular laundry detergent, but don’t use laundry detergent with built-in bleaching agents or other fancy add-on ingredients.
  3. Add vinegar. If your machine has an automatic fabric softener dispenser, fill it with 1 cup vinegar. Otherwise, add it when the rinse cycle begins. If you are hand washing, just add the vinegar to your rinse water. Your woolens will smell like vinegar,. but the smell will disappear when they dry. You also can add a drop or two of lavender oil to add a light scent.
hand-washing wool

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Why Does Vinegar Work?

Wool fibers are naturally acidic. Most white distilled vinegar is about 4-8 percent acetic acid. By adding vinegar to the rinse cycle, you are adjusting the pH of the wash water to bring it in line with the pH of your wool garments. Your clothing will get cleaned without getting damaged.

Benefits of Using Vinegar

Vinegar is significantly cheaper than specialty detergents, and a large jug or bottle will go a long way. Additionally, it does not contain harsh chemicals like most detergents, and it even can double as a fabric softener. In fact, you can add vinegar to all of your laundry and never buy fabric softener again. Because vinegar is mildly acidic, it dissolves residue from the detergent, which is alkaline. This is what allows it to work as an effective fabric softener.

Vinegar also works as a great stain remover. Again, because it is acidic, stains that are acid-based can be dissolved away by the presence of another acid like vinegar.

pouring vinegar into a sink for wool-washing

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

How to Dry Wool Clothing

Wool should never be dried in a clothes dryer! It will shrink if exposed to heat. To dry a wool garment:

  1. Lay it on a clean towel and lay another towel on top of it.
  2. Roll the towels into a tight log.
  3. Squeeze along the bundle to remove any excess water from the garment. Do not wring out the wool in your hands. You will stretch it out.
  4. Once you’ve removed as much water as you can, unroll the towels and lay the garment out on a flat surface, taking care to reshape it as needed.
  5. Allow it to dry like this. Do not hang your garment or drape it over a drying rack. It will change its shape.
rolling up a sweater in a towel

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Wash Wool Before Storing

Always wash your woolens before you store them for the season. If you don't, moths, silverfish, and other wool-munching pests will be attracted to the sweat and oils left behind. You may not smell anything, but that doesn’t mean they won’t.