December 10, 2014

Working with Wool: Caring for Your Woolens

I think we're all wanting to know more about fabrics so that we can arm ourselves with this knowledge when we go to the fabric store. It also helps (tremendously) when you're purchasing goods online too. So today, I thought I would take a minute and give some thoughts on fabric care for woolens.
When I talk with people in real life about fabrics in general, there is a lot of misconception about fabric care. And I get asked about how one should care for a certain fabric all the time, so I'm going to give you some of my thoughts and some facts that will hopefully help you out with caring for your wool fabrics/garments. First some facts about wool.
  • Wool is a protein. It's usually the hair of an animal that has been spun into yarn and from there woven or knitted into cloth.
  • Moths love protein for their babies. Moth adults will lay their moth larvae in wool cloth (or fiber/yarn) and their younglings will hatch and eat the wool. It's a good source of protein after all!
  • Wool shrinks a little in cold water and a lot more in hot water. Wool felts when agitated in hot water. Depending on the weave and type, some wools felt more than others.

One of the biggest misconceptions about wool is that you can't wash it. If you're careful, you can care for your woolens at home. For the most part. Consider wool fabric yardage for a moment. If you're thinking about pre-laundering wool fabric, consider what the fabric is going to be and from there, pre-launder/shrink according to how you will launder the final garment. My thoughts are:
  • garments with a lot of internal structure, ie. jackets & coats, should be dry-cleaned sparingly. To pre-launder these, I spray down the fabric yardage with a water bottle and stick in the dryer for 20 minutes (or stick it in the dryer with a wet cloth). Works especially wonderfully right before you're ready to cut.

  • skirts, blouses, dresses and pants can be hand washed in cold water, hung to dry and from there, ironed (I also do this sparingly). I do the same with fabric yardage before cutting.

If you're unsure what a certain wool will do, the absolute safest route is to take a swatch of your fabric and wash it the way you plan before pre-laundering the whole yardage. If you're satisfied with the swatch outcome, go ahead and launder your full yardage. Whatever way you choose to pre-launder, consider using shampoo on your wools instead of laundry detergent as detergent will erode the wool away over time. Wool is technically hair so it benefits from a little shampoo anyway!

There's not just fabric and garment care to think of with wool, but also how to keep those pesky little moths at bay! I store my wool fabrics and wool garments in plastic tubs with cedar balls. You can also use cedar hangers in your closets when wool garments are in use. Cedar wood is something that repels moths naturally without leaving the horrid chemical stench of moth balls. Another thing to keep in mind is that carpet beetles love to eat wool fabrics/garments too (I've had this happen more times than I care to admit)! Keep your woolens picked up and off of the floor. Before I add a new piece of wool to my stash, I always either let the wool take a tumble in the dryer or a give it a few days in the freezer as this will kill existing moths/creatures in the fabric. From there, I'll add to my stash. This way a new wool fabric won't infect my existing wool fabrics with moths. Purchase wool from reputable sources. I actually avoid purchasing vintage wool fabric because of the moth factor, especially if a seller is saying that there are moth holes in the wool to begin with.

Keep in mind that wool fabric that is folded and put in a tub may start to fade and loose its color over time. I've found this to be true with light colored woolens in particular. When they've been sitting in the same position for too long a time, they fade in the creases of the folds! It really makes the fabric unusable unless you're only thinking about using it for tiny items, like doll clothes. Use your stash! And you might consider going through your stash each year and refolding the pieces differently.

What are your thoughts on caring for your wools? I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings and things that you do differently, or in addition to!

For more about Wools, visit the Working with Wool Section!



  1. Just a heads up. An overnight in the freezer may kill off some but it won't kill off pests, you need a longer freeze - at least 48 hours - for that (I find an oxygen deprived environment is better but how many people have a CO2 chamber at home?)

    MuseumPest has a nice section on how to freeze for pest management

  2. Thanks so much for this post!! Great info.

  3. I was just thinking that I needed to learn more about caring for wool after I found a cashmere sweater with holes in it after storing for the summer. Great post! Thanks!

  4. I'm still recovering from a horrible moth event that was discovered the winter before last. Lost so many of my favorite things! The moths seem to particularly enjoy my Uniqlo cashmere sweaters : ( One thing I learned --via experience and research-- is that cedar alone is not effective. The chemical in cedar can kill moths, but only at a very high concentration that is not possible with a few cedar blocks/balls. Cedar hangers should probably be considered as primarily decorative. Yes, some of my eaten sweaters were stored with cedar blocks.

    After the moth tragedy, I have changed how I store wool. I now put it in sealed plastic bags. (The damaged garments had been stored primarily in zippered canvas boxes). Before putting wool clothing away after the season I rotate it into the freezer for about 5-7 days each. Not positive that works, but I think it can't hurt too much. Also, it is a very good idea to launder or dry clean before storage - moths are apparently attracted to the residual sweat, etc., that may be in wool clothing. Shampoo is a great idea. I like Euclan too.

    Also, I invested in clothing moth traps. They are basically glue traps with a hormone bate and you have to get the ones that are specific for clothing moths. This won't get rid of them, but it can alert you to the problem. Clothing moths are very small, not like the usual pantry moths or the ones that fly into the house during the summer. The traps are really the best way to find out if they are living in your closet. After living in the same place for a decade, I'm not sure where my moths came from. I suspect they travelled on a piece of clothing or fabric that I bought. I hadn't bought any vintage or thrift store items at that time, but I would now not put them in my closet without both freezing and, of course, cleaning.

    Thanks for raising the topic!

  5. Oh thank you for this! Usually my wools end up in the freezer for a long period of time anyway because I always - always - forget that I've put them in there.

  6. Oh JenL, this is awful to hear about! Thanks so much for your info. I actually had no idea that there were these little moth traps you could get. Very interesting! Going to have to do some more research and find some for my fabrics. I had a most beloved cashmere sweater eaten. So sad! I also do not put any wools in with other wools unless I have taken the time to freeze, pop in the dryer or clean first. Too dangerous! Thanks so much for your input!

  7. Hi Sunni

    Thanks so much for the very valuable information on caring for wool. I will be using your recommendations from now on as I have found in some fabric shops, even though they will tell you to pre-wash the fabric, according to instructions on the label, this doesn't always turn out. I bought a very expensive woollen material a while back and followed the pre-wash care instructions and found that the woollen crepe looked as though it had been the oldest material with no crepe texture left. I did take the fabric back and got a refund, but you have really highlighted to me that you can't always follow what the store or even the label says to do!!! Thank you so much, you have saved me many $$$$$$ and also frustration at having to throw out garments etc.

  8. Thank you for posting this. It is all useful information, including the comments.

  9. So many great tips - thanks Sunni!

  10. I had to do a lot of research after that huge loss. I just how someone else is saved from the same trauma!

  11. Regarding your comment that folded wool fabric stored in tubs will fade in the folds - does that only apply to clear tubs or even opaque tubs? I currently keep them rolled up in opaque tubs.

  12. This is great, thanks Sunni! I've bought some wool fabrics recently, and I wasn't sure how/if to prewash them. Although I don't have many wool clothes in my wardrobe at all, I'm now slightly worried about the cashmere jumpers I bought from the market and put in the wardrobe...may have to try giving them all a freeze to be on the safe side!

  13. I would definitely recommend the swatch test first. It's just such a great idea and helps eliminate ruining fabric or garments, especially ones made from wool. Thanks so much for your input!

  14. I'm not exactly sure about this one. I think you might be OK with the opaque tubs as I've found that the "fade in the folds" happens when it is exposed to light. That's been my experience anyway.

  15. Oh yes, please do! It's much better to be safe than sorry in this case!

  16. The freezing tip is brilliant! I read that the slightest amount of dirt on anything wool will attract moths - especially people dirt:) - so I never store anything without washing or cleaning. I keep sweaters and scarves and accessories I've used separate from the unused ones so I won't risk putting anything away unwashed. Or wash things for nothing, because overwashing is not good either.....

  17. Some really great tips, especially for storage - I find wool yardage sometimes hard to find so I admit I do stash it - I store it in a big plastic bin but I will have to take some more care to re-fold it from time to time to avoid the fading; did not know that was a possibility! Thanks!

  18. (Possibly a dumb) question for you ladies who freeze wool but do you place your wool in a plastic bag or something before putting in the freezer? I only have one of those little ones on top of my fridge and I'd have to cram it in there with frozen food and containers, so I'd think it would be nice to have it separated somehow LOL.

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