Ever found yourself putting a gorgeous, winter wool sweater back on the rack at the store just because you are afraid to wash it? We're here to tell you, you're not alone. While washing wool items may seem like a total hassle, don't let the thought of caring for wool stop you from making a purchase. There are actually a number of reasons that it's an ideal textile to incorporate into your home or wardrobe.
"Depending on the breed of sheep (like merino), wool can be as soft as cotton and the best performance fabric on the market. It’s also environmentally friendly," explains Jordan Todoroff, the General Manager of merino wool performance apparel company, Ibex. It turns out, wool is not as hard to take care of as it might seem. "Wool is antimicrobial so bacteria doesn't grow on it like it does on other fibers," Todoroff says. "If you sweat and start to smell, it’s actually the sweat that smells, not the shirt. If you hang it up, you won’t be able to smell the odor when it’s dry." In other words, you might not need to wash it after every wear.
Of course, when it is time to clean your wool, you'll want to carefully select a wash, or detergent, and follow recommended steps to maintain the integrity of your favorite sweater, blanket, or jacket. Our favorite is Soak Wash, an effective yet easy no-rinse option that comes in a variety of scents and can handle a number of materials.
Soak Wash - Scentless
Suitable for clothes and crafts
Easy to use
Package not ideal for travel
When we researched the popular brand Soak Wash, we heard it was known for its ease of use and effectiveness. The no-rinse formula can be used for hand-washing or machine washing—although the recommended steps of diluting with water, soaking (yep, just like the name), and then lying flat to dry are a cinch to do by hand, assuming you have access to a sink, tub, or basin. It's a lot quicker than most machine wash cycles and gentle on your clothes—two ideal traits when you're taking care of wool and other delicates.
Soak also has crossover appeal, meaning that during our research it came up not only as a strong pick for wool, but also as a top choice for undergarments and other delicates. When customers say it washes everything from winter sweaters to lacy lingerie, we knew we needed to give this brand our full attention. The no-fuss process and the variety of scents (hello, Pineapple Grove and Wild Mint!) made it our front-runner. We were also struck by the promise of the 12-ounce bottle handling up to 75 washes.
The one area of caution is that some buyers report issues with the packaging leaking during travel. But this really shouldn't be an issue if you're keeping it for use at home or making it a point to transfer small amounts into your favorite trusted travel container.
Price at time of publish: $21
Type: Liquid | Amount: 12 fluid ounces | Number of Loads: 75 washes | Scent: Multiple; Celebration, Fig, Lacey, Pineapple Grove, Yuzu, Scentless, Wild Mint
Best Overall, Runner-up
Ecover Wool & Silk Delicate Laundry Detergent
Plant-based, biodegradable formula
Ecover's Wool & Silk Delicate Laundry detergent is another top choice that takes the cake (without spilling any of it on your favorite sweater, of course). It's one of the few brands available in the U.S. that features Woolmark certification, essentially a stamp of approval from an Australian-based non-profit and global wool authority. In other words, it's been tested and trusted to care for merino wool, helping you properly maintain it for as long as possible.
In the case of Ecover, it's an effective and eco-friendly pick with recycled packaging, a vegan formula, and a zero waste factory, too. And the most important part: it'll gently treat the fibers in your favorite sweater or other wool products to keep them comfy and cozy for the long haul. As can often happen with scented products, the fragrance can be polarizing. Expect it to smell like honeydew and waterlilies.
Price at time of publish: $23
Type: Liquid | Amount: 25.4 fluid ounces | Number of Loads: Approximately 16 | Scent: Waterlily & Honeydew
Woolite Delicates Hypoallergenic Liquid Laundry Detergent
Hand-wash or machine wash
Can be used on a variety of fabrics
Includes light fragrace
Quick history lesson: Woolite as a brand was founded in the 1950s with the specific intent to care for wool and other delicate fabrics. That's why it's no surprise that their products continue to hold up to the legacy. If you're looking for a tried and true option that won't break the bank, look to this popular, oldie-but-goodie. In addition to a formula that promises to be easy on wool, silk, lace, and other fragile fabrics, it's also hypoallergenic. If you or someone in your household has sensitive skin, this detergent can be a great choice. Take note that there is a light scent, so if that's a deal-breaker for you, then this might not be your best choice.
It's also worth mentioning that in addition to the smaller, 16-ounce bottle that's available, you can buy it in a 50-ounce size that's even more cost-efficient. It's also fine to use on cotton, polyester, nylon, and other materials so you can reach for it for a regular load of laundry, too.
Price at time of publish: $5
Type: liquid | Amount: 16 fluid ounces | Number of Loads: 8 | Scent: Delicate
Dirty Labs Hand Wash and Delicates Detergent
Eco-friendly, space-saving packaging
Hand-wash or delicate machine wash
Newer to the market
This recent release from Dirty Labs grabbed our attention for its efficient packaging, concentrated formula, and for the brand's signature Phytolase cleaning technology that uses enzymes to fight stains and odors. You can use it with wool, silk, and other delicates, and for both hand-washing and machine washing (use delicate cycle). It's also designed for use with cold water, which is ideal because that's what is recommended for delicate fabrics. The concentrated formula also requires less product with each load, ultimately cutting down on packaging and storage space, too.
We see a lot of promise here, especially when factoring in the brand's commitments to sustainability and green chemistry. We only wish this delicate detergent had more of a track record. Still, we feel it's worth a mention, given the rave reviews we've seen for their other offerings, and for the certifications they've received from the EPA, USDA, and the National Eczema Association.
Price at time of publish: $18
Type: Liquid | Amount: 8.6 fluid ounces | Number of Loads: 32 | Scent: Unscented
Outback Gold Wool Wash
Conditions and washes wool
Neutral pH formula
Machine or handwash
Only available formula includes fragrance
With conditioning ingredients, including lanolin, aloe, tea tree oil, and coconut oil, Outback Gold is another effective choice that not only cleans your wool, but also promises to soften it, too. It also gives you multiple choices for how to wash: you can use your washing machine or hand-wash, and it's also rinse-optional. We were impressed that, in additional to wool, the phosphate-, sulfate-, and bleach-free formula can be used with bedding, bamboo, cashmere, or other delicates, and it's also good for synthetic fabrics, too. We love its versatility, as it'll work well as an all-purpose laundry detergent that you can grab for regular wash days and your delicates.
The ingredient list does include fragrance oils, which we think will be a pro for some and a con for others. If you prefer unscented products, or a blueberry/orchid scent isn't appealing, then it might not be a good fit. But if you love the idea of a light floral smell and soft, clean woolen items, then it's definitely worth consideration.
Price at time of publish: $17
Type: Liquid | Amount: 16 fluid ounces | Number of Loads: Not listed | Scent: Blueberry/Orchid
Best for Crafts
KnitIQ No Rinse Delicate Wash Liquid Detergent
Up to 100 washes per bottle
Pump bottle is easy to use
No-rinse formula helps projects maintain their shape
Only available formula is scented
KnitIQ is one of the few wool cleaners we found that specifically mentions care for knitting projects and crafts in its origin story. The wool wash is worth a gander. With a formula featuring lanolin and coconut oil, you can count on your wool fibers to feel soft and conditioned after you use it.
The added convenience of the pump bottle has us wondering why more brands don't include one, and we're also impressed with the concentration and packaging. Each bottle promises up to 100 washes. If that sounds high for the amount of knitting you do, we have more good news. The wash is also great for wool clothes, cashmere, sheepskin, and more. And heads-up, many shoppers rave about the light lavender, citrus scent that comes from essential oils. If that's not your cup of tea, there's unfortunately not an unscented version yet.
Price at time of publish: $26
Type: Liquid | Amount: 16.9 fluid ounces | Number of Loads: 100 | Scent: Lavender citrus
Our Best Overall pick, Soak Wash, is easy to use, yet still leaves your wool feeling clean and cared for. We like the variety of scents and the super simple process. Just add water, soak, and dry. If you're looking for a more wallet-friendly choice, consider Woolite Delicates, a tried and true option from one of the first brands to introduce wool cleaning products.
What to Look for in Laundry Detergent for Wool
We found that the best detergents for wool all came in liquid form, though they ranged from very concentrated to much less. On the high end of the spectrum, you'll find our Best Overall, Soak Wash, in which 12 ounces could handle up to 75 washes, and our Best for Crafts, KnitIQ, which boasts 100 washes from 16 ounces. On the other hand, our Best Budget, Woolite Delicates, had much lower concentration, offering 8 washes with 16 ounces. Be sure to check before you click purchase, so you know if you're getting a product that can last you a few months or a few years.
"I recommend PH neutral detergents," Jordan Todoroff, the General Manager of Ibex, says, noting a level of acidity that can be comparable to dish soap, or a fairly mild option that's suitable for everyday cleaning (while gentle on hands and skin, too). Among those listed here, Soak Wash and Outback Gold are both examples of balanced pH formulas. Enzymatic formulas can also be gentle enough for delicate wool fibers, yet still effective cleansers. No matter what, avoid using bleach or any harsh chemicals on your wool products
First things first; "When maintaining wool, people need to differentiate between wool that’s machine washable than not," says Todoroff. Wool, which can come from sheep, llama, alpaca, rabbits, yak, and more animals, can be machine washable, hand washable, or dry clean only. "Other best practices are to wash wool before you wear it to incorporate the fibers, soften the garments, and prevent pilling," Todoroff adds.
In addition to gentle detergents, you'll find no-rinse formulas (like Soak Wash and KnitIQ), as well as rinse optional formulas on the market for wool care (Outback Gold, for example). This doesn't mean that water isn't necessary, rather the process leans more on soaking than agitating and rinsing. Whichever product or style you might prefer, always make sure to check the recommendations of your particular products before making any cleaning and care purchases.
Should you use detergent when washing wool?
Yes, experts typically recommend gentle detergents when washing wool. The key is selecting a cleanser that is properly formulated for wool and delicates and to follow the guidelines for both the detergent and the garment.
How often should wool be washed?
"For machine washable wool (like Ibex), the first thing people need to know is that they don’t need to wash it more than they think," says Todoroff. If this is the first time you’re hearing this advice, rest assured that frequent travelers are known to plan their packing lists around this convenience. And Todoroff adds that items like wool shirts only “need to be washed every 5-7 wears.”
Is it better to hand wash or dry clean wool?
Whether you hand wash or dry clean your wool really comes down to the recommendations on your garments and your personal preference. Dry cleaning will require the least hands-on effort, but is often the priciest option. Hand-washing can be much less expensive, but far more labor and time-intensive.
If you opt to wash by hand, know that you're in good company. Take your time, and as you're getting used to the washing wool, always be mindful of instructions on your clothes and on the wool wash itself.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was written by Dena Ogden, a lifestyle and commerce writer who’s been writing professionally since 2016 and with The Spruce since August 2022. She's written about everything from baskets and bins to carpet shampoos and robot vacuums.
For this piece, she did extensive research on wool-friendly detergents currently available at major retailers, and evaluated options based on key specifications, reviews, and cleaning methods, She selected choices based on criteria including effectiveness, ease of cleaning, and ingredients. Jordan Todoroff, the General Manager of merino wool performance apparel company Ibex, also offered expertise on buying, cleaning, and maintaining wool products.