Wool is an organic fiber made from the fleece shorn from sheep and goats that can be woven or knitted into fabrics that are breathable, water-resistant, biodegradable, and anti-microbial. While wool is durable, it must be handled correctly or the fibers can shrink and become stiff and scratchy.
Distilled white vinegar, the workhorse of natural cleaners, can help remove stains and odors from wool while leaving the fibers feeling soft and supple. Learn how to remove stains and freshen wool sweaters using vinegar.
How Often to Use Vinegar to Freshen Wool Sweaters
Distilled white vinegar can be added to the rinse water each time you wash a wool sweater by hand or in a washer. The mild acid helps remove any detergent residue clinging to the fibers that can cause them to feel stiff and scratchy. Any detergent residue left in the fibers can also attract soil more quickly.
Stains that are acid-based like blood, tea, and coffee can have their molecular bond with the fibers broken by the presence of another acid like vinegar so they can be flushed away easily.
Do not use flavored vinegar like balsamic or red wine vinegar when cleaning. They can stain a light-colored fabric. Apple cider vinegar can be used to freshen dark-colored wools.
Equipment / Tools
- Large sink or plastic tub
- Washing machine
- Mesh delicates bag
- Heavy terry cloth towels
- Flat drying rack
- Microfiber cloth
- 1 bottle distilled white vinegar
- 1 bottle wool wash or gentle detergent
How to Remove Stains and Odors With Vinegar
Before washing the sweater by hand or in a machine, treat certain stains like coffee, tea, and blood with distilled white vinegar. Dampen a microfiber cloth with some vinegar and dab the stains. Start at the outside edge of the stain and work toward the center to prevent spreading the stain. Dab with gentle pressure and move to a clean area of the cloth as the stain is transferred.
When all evidence of the stain is gone, rinse the area with water before washing the sweater.
Remove Odors With Vinegar
If the sweater has musty or sweaty odors, allow it to soak in a vinegar and water solution (add one cup of vinegar to a sink of water) for 20 to 30 minutes. The vinegar will help kill the microbes that are causing the odor.
Prepare a Washing Solution
Fill a sink or large plastic tub with enough water to completely submerge the sweater. The sink or tub should be large enough so the fabric can move through the water. Add one teaspoon of a gentle detergent that does not contain any type of bleaching, whitening, or brightening agent. Swish it around in the water to help it dissipate.
You can use a commercial gentle detergent or make a homemade wool wash.
Wash the Sweater
Add the sweater and give it several gentle squeezes to make sure it is completely saturated with the soapy solution. Let it soak for 10 minutes. Then gently squeeze the sweater to help remove soil. Pay attention to areas around the neck, cuffs, and underarms to make sure soil is removed.
Rinse With Vinegar
When the sweater is clean, drain or empty the soapy water. Fill the sink or plastic tub with clean cool water and add one-fourth cup of distilled white vinegar. Swish to disperse the vinegar.
Add the wet sweater to the rinse solution and gently swish it through the water. If there are excessive suds, you may need to drain and repeat the process. Keep rinsing until no more suds remain.
Do not wring the sweater. Drain the rinse water and gently squeeze out the excess water.
Dry the Sweater
To speed drying, place the sweater on a thick terrycloth towel. Arrange it flat and smooth out any wrinkles. Start at the narrow end of the towel and roll it up with the sweater inside so that water is absorbed.
Spread the sweater on a flat, mesh drying rack or a dry towel to finish drying. It may take up to 24 hours for the sweater to dry completely. Do not hang to dry because the fibers may stretch excessively.
How to Machine-Wash a Sweater With a Vinegar Rinse
Protect the Sweater
To prevent snags from zippers and buttons and to prevent excessive stretching during the spin cycle, place the sweater in a mesh delicates laundry bag.
Select the Washer Settings
Add the Detergent and Laundry Load
Use a gentle detergent and add it to the washer's detergent dispenser or in the washer drum. Be sure to wash the sweater with similar fabrics to prevent color transfer.
Add the Vinegar to the Rinse Cycle
If your washer has a fabric softener dispenser, fill the dispenser cup with distilled white vinegar. If there is no dispenser, add one cup of distilled white vinegar to the washer drum at the beginning of the rinse cycle.
Dry the Sweater
Remove the sweater from the mesh laundry bag. Dry it flat on a mesh drying rack or an absorbent towel.