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: 5 - 15 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 days
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Hand-knit sweaters, blankets, and accessories are treasures that showcase the crafter's skill and artistic talent. The proper care of knits helps them last for years. The type of yarn the item is made from will determine if you can machine-wash it or if it must be hand-washed. If you’ve created 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.

You can also test the yarn to see if it's a natural fiber or manmade. 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 manmade.

Items that are made with wool should be hand-washed to avoid shrinkage. Other yarns, such as cotton, linen, and acrylic, can be machine-washed in cold water on the gentle cycle.

How Often to Clean Hand-Knit Clothes and Blankets

Because of their delicate nature, hand-knit items benefit from less washing. Ideally, clean them only once or twice a season.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Large sink or bucket
  • White absorbent towels
  • Washing machine
  • Flat drying area

Materials

  • Gentle detergent or wool wash

Instructions

Towels, bottle of detergent, and a wash tub
The Spruce / Ana Cadena  
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 Do not iron
  1. Select the Correct Detergent

    Use a gentle detergent. 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 that helps preserve wool fibers and increases the water-resistance of wool. This type of detergent should be used for any hand-knit outerwear.

    A small bottle of detergent
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  
  2. 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.

    Filling a plastic container with water and detergent
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  3. 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  
  4. 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  
  5. Prep for Drying

    Gently remove excess water, and lay the item 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 under the towel.

    Someone rolling a knit hat in a towel
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  6. 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  
  7. 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 

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.

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. 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.

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.

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.