How to Wash Hand-Knit Clothes and Blankets

Close up of a woman knitting a blanket

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Hand-knit sweaters, blankets, and accessories are treasures that showcase skill and artistic talent. Whether you have received one as a gift or done the work yourself, proper care of hand knits will help them last for many years to come. Because of their delicate nature, hand-knits benefit from less washing, and ideally, they are cleaned only once or twice a season. 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, you can try an occasional spritz of a clothing refresh spray.

How to Wash Hand-Knit Clothes and Blankets
Detergent Gentle or Wool Wash
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Do not machine wash
Drying Cycle Type Do not machine dry
Special Treatments Hand wash only
Iron Settings Not Applicable

Project Metrics

Hand-knit items that are made with wool should be hand-washed. Other yarns, such as cotton, linen, acrylic, and other acrylics, can be machine-washed in cold water on the gentle cycle.

Working Time: 15 minutes (hand-washing); 5 minutes (machine-washing)

Total Time: Up to 48 hours, including drying time

Skill Level: Intermediate

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

Determine the Type of Yarn Used

The type of yarn the item is made from will determine if you can machine-wash or if it must be hand-washed. If you’ve done the work yourself, refer to the yarn’s label for fiber content information. If you received the knitted item as a gift or purchased it at a craft fair, ask the knitter or seller.

If you have gotten the hand-knit item at a second-hand store, figure out if the yarn is a natural fiber or man-made by removing a bit of yarn for testing from an interior seam. Being very careful, light the yarn with a match or flame. If it smells like burning hair and turns to ash, it is a natural fiber. If while burning it has a chemical smell and melts rather than turns to ashes, it is man-made.

Another 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 they stay together, the yarn is wool and it has felted. If they don't stay together, the yarn is acrylic or man-made.

Tips for Handwashing Knit Sweaters and Accessories

  • If you are a knitter, use a gauge swatch to determine how the item will react to being hand-washed and air-dried before washing the item.
  • Avoid hot water, which can melt some fibers and destroy the item.

Instructions for Hand Washing

  1. Select the Correct Detergent

    Use a gentle detergent for your hand-knit item. For wool fibers, choose a formula developed for wool, such as specialty detergents containing lanolin like Eucalan. Lanolin is a natural oil produced by sheep and helps preserve wool fibers and increases the water-resistance of wool. This type of detergent should be used for any hand-knit outerwear.

  2. Mix Washing Solution and Submerge Item

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

  3. Gently Agitate in the Solution

    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.

  4. Rinse Out the Suds

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

  5. Prep for Drying

    Gently remove excess water and lay item flat on a dry, absorbent towel and roll up in the towel, pressing firmly as you roll. Do not wring the towel.

    Lay a dry bath towel on a flat surface large enough to hold your garment with arms extended if appropriate. 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 under the towel.

  6. Reshape the Item

    Place the knitted item on the dry towel and reshape into its original shape. Pat it into shape; avoid tugging or pulling. Gently push the ribbing together at the neckline, wrists, and waist. Fasten the buttons and fold the collar.

  7. Allow to Air-dry

Allow the item to dry for 24 hours. If not completely dry, flip the item over onto a dry towel, arrange into shape, and dry for another 24 hours.

For large blankets or throws, support the weight with a drying rack and shift it around frequently so that the weight of the wet fibers will not pull it out of shape.

Storing Hand-Knit Clothes and Blankets

Store hand-knit items folded and flat on a shelf or in a garment box. Avoid hanging up hand-knitted items, such as sweaters, as it will cause them to lose their shape.

Repairs

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. If you don't know how to knit, consider finding a local knitter to repair the item.

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 on the stain for at least 10 minutes before washing.

If you are spot-treating a stain, after allowing the detergent to do its cleaning action, usee a clean white cloth to dipped in plain water to "rinse" the area. Repeat until no suds or stain remains.