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How to Safely Wash Any Hand-Knit Garment

Most of us learn about cleaning and caring for our knitted garments the hard way, like washing a wool sweater in hot water only to find that it felted into a baby-sized sweater or washing a hat in detergent that made you break out into a rash. Many of us have learned a thing or two about knitted garment care through experience.

If you’re a beginner garment knitter, someone who receives knitted gifts, or even just a seasoned knitter who needs a refresher, these tips will help you properly clean and care for your knits. 

Washing navy sweater in an orange tub
knitting a striped sock

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Before you wash your hand-knit garments…

Read the yarn label

Yarn label on purple yarn

Don’t assume that the fiber content completely determines how to care for a yarn. Some yarns can be tricky — they need to be hand washed or dry cleaned. Before you go dunking your project in water, check the label to make sure the yarn will be able to tolerate a soak.

In fact, the yarn label can tell you everything you need to know about your knitted garment, beyond just washing. Can you iron it? Will it stretch? All this info is usually included on the label.

Not sure what all those crazy symbols mean? Check out our guide to deciphering yarn labels.

Consider a machine washable yarn

Machine-washable yarns (sometimes called superwash yarns) are ideal for baby knits, gifts and garments that you plan to wear and wash a lot.

That said, if you know you’ll take the time to care for your knits, it’s perfectly fine to choose a yarn that’s not machine washable. You’ll find more options too!

Freshen up between washes

Soak Flatter Spray

If you don’t have time to fully wash a hand-knit garment, try a spray that’s meant to freshen up knits in between washes, like the Soak Flatter Spray shown above. Spray it on when you need to get rid of wrinkles or just give your sweater a little pick-me-up.

Test on a swatch first

Don’t unravel your swatches once you reach the right gauge! Swatches are a great way to test how a project will behave when it’s washed. After you swatch, try washing and drying it in whatever way you prefer. Did it shrink? Did it get all fuzzy? Keep testing until you feel confident about how it will react.

Store your knits right

The No. 1 rule when it comes to knitting storage? No hangers! Any knitted garment will stretch and droop when placed on a hanger. If you’ve ever hung up a knitted sweater — even a store-bought one — you’ll know how a hanger can make those shoulders droop into an unflattering pile.

Washing knits in a washing machine

Gray striped knit sweater on top of a washing machine

Can you wash your hand knitted garments in a washing machine?

The only way to know if a hand-knit garment is machine washable is to look at the yarn label. The label should tell you whether the fiber can be washed in a regular machine.

Even if the yarn label says it’s machine washable, don’t treat it like you would any other machine-washable item. You need to be careful — here’s everything you need to consider

When in doubt, choose a gentle cycle 

Depending on the item and the fiber, choose a delicate cycle or a regular cycle on your machine.

For kitchen items made of cotton, like potholders or coasters, a regular cycle should be fine (you can even throw them in with your usual loads of laundry.

But for something like a gorgeous wool sweater or anything with lace, choose the delicate cycle. You can also use the mesh lingerie garment bags to make sure your handknits are handled delicately and not agitated in the machine.

Choose a gentle detergent as well

Keeping “gentle” in mind, use a detergent that will go easy on your knits. There are plenty of machine-friendly wool washes available out there, and you can find mild, alcohol-free detergents in most grocery stores. Baby shampoo is another good choice for knits.

Drying your hand knits

Your yarn label will also tell you if drying the item in the dryer is OK, too. Beware, though that knits may not keep their shape when they’re dried in the dryer, even if the yarn label says it’s fine. Instead, you might want to dry it flat, shaping it as you go. Then, if it’s still damp after laying flat for a while, toss it in the dryer on low heat just to dry it completely.

Washing knitted garments by hand

Washing knits by hand sounds really intimidating, but it’s actually so easy. You don’t need any special equipment, and it takes less time than a cycle on your machine.

Check out the video below for instructions. Jodi and Tracie, the hosts of the YouTube show Off Our Needles, demonstrate the super simple steps for washing a knit sweater by hand.

Choosing a soap

Don’t use just any old detergent when you’re washing your knitted garments. Some cleansers are too harsh for wool and other delicate fibers.

Find a mild detergent that’s meant for hand washing. And if you really want to do it right, find one that’s made especially for your fiber.

Soak Wash

Just like Jodi and Tracie, we highly recommend the gentle Soak Wash soaps, which come in a variety of scents and are safe for knits.

Blocking after washing

Blocking a blue yoke knitted sweater on tan mats

Most of the time, we blocking knits just after binding off, as the final step before wearing the finished piece. But blocking isn’t reserved just for new knits — it’s a way to reshape your knitted items at any time

After washing your knits, they may look a little misshapen or wrinkly. The trick to getting the back to their former glory is simply blocking them again. Easy!

When in doubt, use your knitter’s instincts!

When you’re caring for handknits, the bottom line is to use your own judgment. If you’re worried the item won’t survive a wash in the machine, just hand wash it. Common sense and a knitter’s instinct rarely fail us.

knitting a striped sock

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Get access to ALL of our knitting classes, patterns and instructors, plus videos in 15 other craft categories, all in Bluprint. Give it a try today!Learn More

6 Comments

Nella S

it would be so nice if fiber and fabric manufacturers would include content and care labels with every skein of yarn or cut of fabric.

Reply
mustardse6616695

No scent does not always mean no chemicals! I can not have chemicals inside our home, garage nor anywhere outside home but a very long distance from our home. Their are lots of stuff that has no scent but has chemical-whether 1 or lots of chemicals, for most scents companies adds oil essence they say is needed for scents–tell the flowers that, oh! no that’s right flowers know they smell they are scented & did not put oil essence on themselves. Lavender flowers has wonderful scent & lasts years, years, I have mama’s Lavender filled wand she’s had when I was small & always still had scent until just a year or 2 ago-making that well over 50 yeas old-fresh no oil essence. Someone thought BLEACH needed to INVENTED–NO FOR LAVENDER FLOWERS SANITIZES, STERILIZES & DIS-INFECTS & WAS USED IN ALL HOSPITALS TO CLEAN & FOR WOUNDS AS WELL IN WARS CLEANING THE HOSPITALS & USED ON THE WOUNDED UP TO LAST WAR USED EITHER WORLD WAR I OR WORLD WAR II–I BELIEVE IT WAS II NOT I. WE CLEAN ENTIRE HOUSE WITH DIS-STILLED LAVENDER WATER FROM A LAVENDER FARM ON THE ISLAND OF FRIDAY HABOUR & RECENTLY OPENED A STORE ALSO IN LA CONNER-NO OIL ESSENCE-FOR IT’S NOT NEEDED & LOTS OF PEOPLE IT CAUSES PROBLEMS–& USE NATURAL LAVENDER & OATS SOAP TO WASH HANDS, BATHE & LAVENDER WATER–& LAVENDER WATER FOR OUR BABIES-WE GOT FROM FARM VERY SMALL BURLAP FILLED OF BUDS FOR IT KEEP FLEAS & TICKS AWAY FROM DOGS & CATS & SOOTHING FOR SLEEPING–FOR MY BABY BOY & THEIR UNCLE OUR CALIFORNIA DOG WE BR,OUGHT WHEN WE MOVED HERE IN WASHINGTON–FOR MY BABIES ARE WASHINGTONIAN BORN–WERE ALLERGIC TO FLEA BITES & SERIOUS REACTION TO FLEA POWDERED COLLARS–WHICH TOLD BY VET. NEVER ARE TO USED & ALSO CATS ARE NEVER TO BE BATHED AT VETS OR PET GROOMIERS PLACE VERY DEADLY & WE HAVE LOTS OF TYPES OF CRITTERS IN OUR BACKYARD FOREST & CATS & DOGS EVEN DEERS SO ONLY ORGANIC OF ALL NEEDS TO LAWN, GARDEN & FLOWERS-VICTORIANS TOSSED BUDS ALL OVER FLOOR UNDER AREA RUGS THROUGH HOMES SO AS WALKING ON RUGS MORE SCENTS MORE & MORE–& ALCOHOL DRYING UP YOUR SKIN & AS ALL THINGS, FOR THEY ARE HOLES, GOES IN PORES ALL OVER OUR BODIES & MEDICALS KNOW THAT–THEY HAVE TO THEY WENT TO COLLEGE??? YET ALL USE HAND SANITIZER, NOT ONCE THOUGH ONCE TOO MUCH & AFTER EVERY TIME GO IN ROOM OR NEXT PATIENT & PEOPLE CARRIES & USE ALL DAY–DRY, DRY, DRY, NO HAND LOTIONS, PEOPLE USE TO SOFTEN–WHY DO YOU THINK WHEN RUB A LITTLE & THINK ALL RUBBED DRY QUICKLY NOT ALL OILY–HAS ALCOHOL IN LOTIONS & ALCOHOL IS NOT OILY & WHY RUBS DRY FAST & LOTIONS UP ALL DAY TO SOFTEN HANDS, HANDS SHOULD BE SOFT ALL DAY FROM 1 TIME, NO NEEDS TO ALL DAY CAUSED BY WHAT THEY ARE DOING–LOTIONING THEIR SKIN WITH ALCOHOL. MY KNITS & CROCHETS & OUR BELOVED MAMA’S BELOVED GRAND-MA’S & BELOVED GREST-GRAND-MOTHER’S EVEN DLICATE LACE ONLY LAVENDER WATER. OH! & ANY POISONOUS FLOWERS OR PLANTS TO ANIMALS NONE INSIDE FOR SAFETY OF OUR BABIES & WE DO NOT PLANT ANY, EVEN IF VERY FAVOURITE-THAT’S NOT MORE IMPORTANT THEN ALL LORD’S ANIMALS OUTSIDE

Reply
scotnovelist

It really isn’t necessary to write in caps. When you do that, many people, including me, will not bother to read what you are saying, because it is more difficult to read, so the point you are trying to make is lost.

Reply
Kay Ralph

ummm. they say to avoid lavender for babies, due to phytoestrogens. Potential problems are premature menarche in girls and hormonal imbalance (feminization, possibly benign gynecomastia, etc.) in boys

Reply
scales

Yep, I just see it as shouting & I stop reading.

Reply
Jodie

Thanks for these great tips Ashley. We’ve included your post in our latest craft inspiration roundup on Crafty Like Granny. Cheers Jodie 🙂

Reply

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