How to Wash a Wool Coat That Isn't Dry Clean Only

Brown and tan wool coats laid on white surface next to tan wool scarf, soft-bristled brush and glass on white cloth

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

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

From the classic navy wool peacoat to a luxurious cashmere camel-colored trench, wool coats are a winter staple and have a reputation for needing special care. But despite what you might have believed, wool coats can often be washed at home if done properly. The three essential elements are a gentle wool wash or detergent, low water temperatures, and gentle agitation.

Generally speaking, it will be best to hand-wash a wool coat. Even those that say "Dry Cleaning Recommended" are usually suitable for hand-washing. However, if the care label says "Dry Clean Only", it may have interfacings, shoulder padding, and linings that are not washable and can shrink or become misshapen. If the coat has no cautions on the care label, it can usually be machine-washed on a gentle cycle with low water temperatures.

Materials and tools to clean wool coats on white surface

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Clothes brush
  • White microfiber cloth
  • Large mesh washing bag (or pillow case)
  • Washer, sink, or plastic tub
  • Large terry cloth towels
  • Steam iron and ironing board (or steamer)
  • Pressing cloth
  • Sturdy wooden hanger or flat mesh drying rack

Materials

  • Wool wash
  • Fabric refresher

Instructions

How to Hand-Wash a Wool Coat

Generally, as with other wool garments, a wool coat is best suited to hand-washing rather than machine washing. Here's how to do it.

 Detergent  Wool wash
 Water Temperature  Cool
 Special Treatments  Air dry only
 Iron Settings  Low (or use a steamer)
 How Often to Wash  Annually, or when notably soiled
  1. Remove Loose Soil

    Simply brushing a wool coat with a clothes brush will remove a great deal of dust, hair, and debris. Hang the coat on a sturdy hanger and, starting at the shoulders, carefully brush down each section to remove loose soil.

    Tan wool coat on black hanger brushed with clothes brush to loosen soil

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Pretreat Stains

    Mix a solution of1/2 cup of warm water and 1 teaspoon of a gentle wool wash (Woolite, Castile soap, or a homemade wool wash). Dip a clean white cloth in the solution and gently rub any visible food or dirt stains or body soil at the collar, cuffs, and armpits. Wait at least 10 minutes before washing the coat to give the wool wash time to break apart stains.

    Stain on tan wool coat pretreated with white cloth and gentle wool wash

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Prepare a Solution to Handwash the Coat

    The coat can be washed in the bathtub, a very large sink, or in a plastic storage tub. If using a sink or tub, be sure that it is immaculately clean and free of any bleach or residue.

    Fill the vessel with lukewarm water and add the wool wash. For a bathtub, you will need approximately 1/4 to 1/2 cup of detergent.

    Bath tub filled with water and wool wash detergent to handwash

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. Soak the Coat

    Add the coat to the cleaning solution and make sure that it is thoroughly wet. Allow the coat to soak for around 30 minutes but no more than one hour.

    Tan wool coat submerged in tub of water and wool wash solution for soaking

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  5. Agitate the Coat

    Come back after the soaking period and gently agitate the fabric with your hands. Squeeze each section gently to help remove the soil. Do not twist or rub the coat excessively because this will cause the fibers to become misshapen or felt together.

    Tan wool coat agitated by hand in tub of water and wool wash solution

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  6. Rinse With Fresh Water

    Lift the wet coat from the soapy water. Do not wring. Drain the soapy water and rinse out the sink or tub and refill with fresh lukewarm water. Place the coat in the clean water and swish to rinse. Repeat these steps until no more soapy residue appears in the water.

    Tan wool coat soaking in tub of clean water for rinsing

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  7. Remove Excess Moisture

    Once the coat is free of soap, lift it from the water and gently squeeze out the water starting at the top of the coat. Again, do not wring it out. Repeat the squeezing motion until the coat is no longer dripping wet.

    Lay several large, thick terry towels on a flat surface. Place the coat on the towels, shaping it so that it is as smooth as possible. Roll the towels up with the coat inside to help absorb the moisture. Repeat this step with fresh, dry towels if the coat is still excessively wet.

    Tan wool coat squeezed gently to remove excess moisture from rinsing

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  8. Lay Flat to Air-Dry

    Find a flat surface where you can place the coat on some dry towels. The coat will need to remain flat for up to 48 hours as it dries. Turning the coat and replacing wet towels after 24 hours will speed up the drying process.

    Do not hang the coat to dry because the weight of the wet wool can cause the coat to become misshapen. And under no circumstances should you place the coat in a clothes dryer. The high heat will cause it to shrink.

    Tan wool coat layed flat on gray towel to air dry

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    Tip

    To prevent water damage to floors, tables, or bedding, place plastic sheeting or a vinyl tarp or tablecloth under the damp towels.

How to Machine-Wash a Wool Coat

If you simply don't have time for hand-washing, or if the coat is a sturdy, older garment that you are not especially worried about, it's acceptable to machine wash it. But be wary of this if the coat has a delicate lining or embellishments. If you decide to machine-wash, here's how to proceed.

 Detergent  Wool wash
 Water Temperature  Cool
 Special Treatments  Air dry only
 Iron Settings  Low (or use a steamer)
 How Often to Wash  Annually, or when notably soiled
  1. Brush and Pretreat Stains

    Brush away loose soil and pretreat any stains as you would before handwashing it (see above). Be sure to empty pockets and button up or zip the coat. Turn the coat inside out.

    Brown wool coat being brushed to loosen soil next to white cloth with wool wash for pretreating stains

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Set the Washer Cycle and Water Temperature

    Set the washer to the wool or gentle cycle and the water temperature to lukewarm or cold. If possible, select the slowest final spin cycle to reduce stretching.

    Washing machine set to gentle cycle for cleaning wool coat

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Load the Washer

    Add the wool wash to the washer, following product instructions. Place the coat in a large mesh washing bag to prevent snags (remember to turn the coat inside out). If you don't have a mesh bag, use a white pillowcase and tie the top closed.

    Brown wool coat placed into large mesh bag to be added to washing machine

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. Air-Dry the Coat

    When the cycle is complete, remove the coat and turn it right side out. Follow the steps to air-dry the coat flat on a mesh drying rack or towels.

    Brown wool coat rolled into gray towel to air dry flat

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Treating Stains on Wool Coats

Fresh stains should be treated as soon as possible for the easiest removal. The best method is to mix a small amount of water with a small amount of wool wash, then use the solution to moisten and rub at the stain with a clean white cloth. Allow the solution to work on the stain for at least 10 minutes, but move on to whatever washing method you choose before the stained area dries.

Wool Coat Care and Repair

It's best to inspect your coat before washing and make any necessary repairs to loose seams or lining, so they are not further damaged in the wash. Hand-sewing is usually the best method for making these repairs. After washing and drying, inspect again, as buttons and other features may loosen during the washing process.

Ironing

Once your coat is dry, it will probably need a bit of ironing or steaming to remove wrinkles or sharpen labels and pocket trim. Be sure to use a sturdy ironing board, pressing cloth, and steam iron when pressing wool to prevent damage to the fibers.

When using a clothes steamer, hang the coat from a study hanger and follow the steamer's instructions. Allow both pressed and steamed coats to dry completely before wearing or storing, to prevent set-in wrinkles.

Storing Wool Coats

Wool coats are expensive items that are a favorite target of moths, which can chew on the wool fibers and ruin coats. When storing wool coats for long periods, hang them up in moth-proof plastic garment backs. Hang the coat on a wooden or padded hanger. A cedar ball or lavender-scented pouch placed in the garment bag can also help discourage moths.

How Often to Wash a Wool Coat

Since the coat is not usually worn with direct contact with the body, some coats may only require cleaning at the end of the season—or even less frequently. However, if the coat shows visible soil and has an odor, it should be cleaned as soon as possible.

It's best to clean the coat immediately before hanging it away for the season.

Tips for Washing Wool Coats

  • Spot treat stains as quickly as possible.
  • Wear a scarf around the inside collar to prevent body soil and make-up stains.
  • Use a fabric refresher spray to eliminate strong odors.
  • For garments that can't be washed, use a home dry cleaning kit, including the stain remover for a quick refresher.
  • Use a clothes steamer or the steam from a hot shower to remove odors and wrinkles.
FAQ
  • What happens if I wash a wool coat that says "dry clean only"?

    This wording on the care tag usually means the coat has a lining, shoulder pads, or embellishments that should not be subjected to water. Getting these features wet is likely to cause damage. You might want to risk hand-washing anyway, especially for coats that are very worn and won't be greatly missed if they are ruined. But dry clean-only coats should never be machine washed.

  • Can I hang up my wool coat to dry?

    No. Saturated with water, a wool coat is very heavy, and the weight will cause the wool fibers to stretch and the coat to lose its shape.

  • Can't I just air-tumble my wool coat in the dryer?

    This is not a good idea. It would take hours to dry a wet wool coat this way, and the tumbling action would likely cause the wool fabric to pill. Even at a no-heat setting, a clothes dryer is likely to ruin a wool coat.