How to Clean and Care for Hand-Knit Clothes and Blankets

A hand-knit hat and a ball of yarn

The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 days
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $10

Hand-knit sweaters, blankets, and accessories are treasures that showcase the crafter's skill and artistic talent, and they are typically rather delicate, which means you'll need to take special care when washing them. Hand-washing is always the safest approach for hand-knit clothing and sweaters, and it is mandatory for those made with animal-fiber yarns, such as mohair or wool. Items made from plant fibers (cotton, linen, bamboo) or synthetic fibers such as acrylic or polyester can generally be washed by machine, though these, too, will appreciate hand-washing. With so-called superwash wool, which has been treated to make it machine-washable, it's still a better idea to hand-wash.

No matter if you hand-wash or machine-wash, it's important to use a gentle detergent and avoid hot water when washing. Never machine dry the items.

Here's a foolproof hand-washing method that will work for just about all your hand-knit clothes and blankets.

Towels, bottle of detergent, and a wash tub
The Spruce / Ana Cadena  

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Large sink or bucket, or washing machine
  • White absorbent towels
  • Drying rack (optional)


  • Gentle detergent or wool wash


How to Wash Hand-Knit Clothes and Blankets
Detergent Wool wash or another gentle detergent
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Hand-washing preferable; gentle/delicate cycle if washing washing
Drying Cycle Type Air dry only
Special Treatments Hand-wash only for wool, mohair items
Iron Settings Do not iron
How Often to Wash Once or twice per season; or when visibly soiled

How to Wash Hand-Knit Clothes and Blankets

  1. Identify the Type of Yarn

    If the item is homemade and does not have a care label, you can test the yarn to see if it's a natural fiber (such as wool or cotton) or a synthetic such as acrylic or polyester. (Synthetic yarns can be machine-washed, but hand-knits made from natural fiber yarns should always be hand-washed.)

    Remove a bit of yarn for testing from an interior seam. Carefully light the yarn with a match or flame. If it smells like burning hair and turns to ash, it's a natural fiber. If it has a chemical smell and melts, it's synthetic.

    Another yarn test involves cutting a piece of yarn, unraveling the ends, and then putting them back together with a drop of water. Rub the ends together until they feel dry. If the ends stay together, the yarn is wool and it has felted. If the ends don't stay together, the yarn is acrylic or another manmade fiber.

  2. Select the Correct Detergent

    Use a gentle detergent. For wool fibers, choose a formula designed for wool, such Woolite or Eucalan, which contains lanolin. Lanolin is a natural oil produced by sheep that helps preserve wool fibers and increases the water-resistance of wool. This type of detergent works well for any hand-knit items, even those made with synthetic yarns.

    A small bottle of detergent
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  
  3. Mix the Washing Solution

    Use a sink, bathtub, or plastic storage container large enough to completely submerge the item into cleaning solution. Fill it with cold or cool water, mix in the detergent well, and completely submerge the item.


    Blankets and clothing knit from synthetic yarns such as acrylic can be machine-washed in cold water on a gentle/delicate washer cycle. Do not dry any hand-knit items in a dryer, however.

    Filling a plastic container with water and detergent
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  4. Gently Agitate

    Gently agitate the knitted item in the water to clean it, but never wring or scrub. Being rough with the item can cause it to become misshapen.

    Someone agitating a knit item
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  
  5. Rinse Out the Suds

    Use cold water to rinse out the excess suds from the item. Continue to rinse until the water runs clear.

    Someone rinsing the suds from a knit item in a sink
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  
  6. Prep for Drying

    Gently squeeze the item to remove excess water and lay it flat on a dry absorbent towel. Roll up the garment in the towel, pressing firmly as you roll. Don't wring the towel.

    Lay a dry bath towel on a flat surface large enough to hold your garment. A card table is a perfect size for air-drying sweaters and typically has a protective vinyl top. Always protect wood surfaces with a vinyl tablecloth placed under the towel.

    Someone rolling a knit hat in a towel
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  7. Reshape the Item

    Place the knitted item on the dry towel, and reshape it into its original form. Pat it into shape, and avoid tugging or pulling. If it's a sweater, gently push the ribbing together at the neckline, wrists, and waist. Fasten the buttons, and fold the collar.

    Someone reshaping a knit hat
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  
  8. Allow to Air-Dry

    Allow the item to air-dry for 24 hours. If not completely dry, flip the item over onto another dry towel, arrange it into shape, and dry for at least another 24 hours. For large blankets or throws, support the weight with a drying rack. Shift the item around on the rack frequently so that the weight of the wet fibers won't pull the item out of shape.

    A knit hat drying on a towel
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

Treating Stains on Hand-Knit Clothes and Blankets

Treat stains with a small amount of gentle detergent applied directly to the stain before washing. Work in the detergent with your fingers, and allow it to sit for at least 10 minutes before washing. If you're spot-treating a stain, after allowing the detergent to do its cleaning action, use a clean white cloth dipped in water to "rinse" the area. Repeat until no suds or stain remains.

Hand-Knit Clothing Care and Repair

If the tear or hole in a hand-knit item is small and you know how to knit, use a graft stitch or duplicate stitch to repair it. If you don't know how to knit, consider finding a local knitter to repair the item. Some very small holes can be stitched closed with a needle and thread. You can also easily fix a snag by pulling the thread from the right side of the fabric to the wrong side, using a needle and thread of the same color.

Storing Hand-Knit Clothes and Blankets

Store hand-knit items folded and flat on a shelf or in a garment box to keep them free from dust. Avoid hanging up hand-knitted items, such as sweaters, as it will cause them to lose their shape. For off-season storage, use natural moth repellant so the larvae won't be able to munch on stored hand-knit items during the summer when moths are most active.

How Often to Wash Hand-Knit Clothes and Blankets

Because of their delicate nature, hand-knit items will last longer if you wash them less frequently. Ideally, clean them only once or twice a season.

Tips for Washing Hand-Knit Clothes and Blankets

  • If you're a knitter, use a gauge swatch to determine how the item will react to being hand-washed and air-dried before washing it.
  • Avoid washing with hot water, which can melt some fibers and destroy the item.
  • Wearing a cotton shirt underneath your knits will protect the yarn from body oils and odors and decrease the need for frequent laundering.
  • To freshen your knits in between cleanings, try an occasional spritz of a clothing refresher spray.
  • Can I shrink a hand-knit garment that has stretched?

    A wool or mohair garment that has stretched can be tightened and restored by washing at a short cycle in warm or hot water, or by drying a wet garment for a just few minutes in a clothes dryer at high heat. Be careful, though, because over-drying will cause the item to shrink too much. Synthetic fibers are harder to shrink, but it can be done if you wash or dry them with heat, but not so much heat that it begins to melt the fibers. It is all too easy to cause a garment made with acrylic yarn to stretch and "grow" if it is dried at very hot temperatures.

  • Can I wash synthetic hand-knits with other laundry?

    If you are machine-washing hand knits made from synthetic yarns, it's okay to wash them with other delicate items in cold water using a gentle detergent. You may want to put the hand-knit in a mesh laundry bag to avoid damage from the washer action.

  • Is it better to dry-clean hand-knit items?

    No. The chemicals used in dry cleaning can strip natural oils from wool or cashmere fibers, making them lose luster. Hand-washing is the preferred method for cleaning any hand-knit item.