Care for Hand Knit Clothes and Blankets

Knitting blanket
Westend 61 / Getty Images

Hand knit sweaters, blankets, and accessories are treasures that showcase someone’s time, 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.

Cotton, Wool, or Acrylic?

The type of yarn used to knit the garment or home accessory will determine the best way to care for it. If you’ve done the work yourself, refer to the yarn’s label for fiber content information. You’ll often find care instructions on the label, as well. 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 you can actually learn how to tell if the yarn is a natural fiber or man-made. To determine if the yarn of your shawl is a natural fiber like wool, cotton, or silk or a man-made fiber like acrylic, requires removing a bit of yarn for testing. Perhaps it can come from the fringe or 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.

Detergent Choices for Washing Hand Knit Items

For hand washing, choose a mild detergent and cold water. For wool fibers, choose a formula developed for wool or mild baby shampoo. Specialty detergents containing lanolin are available, such as 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.

  • Superwash wool can be hand or machine washed on the gentle cycle in cold water.
  • Regular wool must be washed by hand in cold water or it will felt and shrink.
  • Cotton, linen, and ramie yarn can be washed in the washing machine on a gentle cycle using either cold or warm water.
  • Acrylic and other synthetic yarns can be washed and dried in with your regular laundry as they do not shrink.
  • Unknown fiber content items should be hand washed in cold water and laid flat to dry.

Hand Washing Tips

Hand washing may seem like a lot of trouble, but you can be sure that plenty of work went into creating your knitted blanket or sweater.

  • Use a sink, bathtub, or plastic storage container large enough to completely submerge the item and still have room for the cleaning solution.
  • Treat any stains with a bit of the detergent.
  • Gently agitate the knitted item in the water. Never wring or scrub.
  • Drain the sink and add fresh, cold water for rinsing. Repeat this process until all the water is clear and free of suds.
  • Support the item from underneath as you transfer it to a dry towel.
  • 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.

Reshaping and Drying

  • 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.
  • 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 buttons. Fold collar.
  • Allow the item to dry for 24 hours.
  • If not completely dry, Flip the item over onto a dry towel, arrange into shape (the shape will have set by now but you don’t want to add wrinkles or slow the drying process), 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.
  • Fold your garment and put it away. Never hang a knitted garment. The weight will stretch out the shoulders very quickly.