Why Wool Wash?

By Kay Gardiner
February 24, 2021

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60 Comments
  • Thanks so much for the trip down memory lane with Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker and Love’s Baby Soft! I have used Eucalon but will now try Soft. Very helpful article! Thanks!

  • Lovely article – thank you.
    May I ask please – when a pattern using pure shetland yarn states a tension #sts to 10cm – this is the knitted size.
    Does one expect that size to still be exactly the same after wetting/blocking or is there a certain amount of shrinkage because it’s pure wool?
    Thank you

    • Yes, it should stay the same size. It won’t shrink unless you accidentally felt it.

  • I just blocked sweater pieces in water. Would it make a difference if soaked the again using water with Euclalan or is it too late? I’m not happy with the look of one sleeve.

    • I would block it again using wool wash. The wash will also clean your sweater after handling it while knitting.

    • Block it again, the wool wash will help smooth your knitting.

  • Great post! I just finished a scarf (60 inches long) with a mosiac pattern and was worried if the wool would flatten out or curl due to the slipped stitches. I used Eucalen, a long soak, and the scarf turned out beautifully after the wet block. Thanks for explaining and showing the test results!

  • Very interesting article. However, I wonder what the difference would be if you had done a third swatch using soap or shampoo. I use wool wash, Eucalan or Soak, whichever I grab off the shelf but know people use shampoo in the water. Just curious.

    • It would be similar becasue both of those are surfactants, they break the tension of the hydrogen bonds. I’ve used conditioning shampoo before when a yarn is a bit scratchy and it helps (a bit) with the scratch and the piece blocks well. I like Soak becasue it’s no rinse.

  • Very helpful article. I’d never heard of blocking until the advent of the internet. I knit mainly with good-quality acrylic or acrylic/wool mixes. I chuck finished items in with a regular white wash using my usual biological washing powder and pin it out afterwards. Is there anything fundamentally wrong in doing this? TIA.

    • Absolutely nothing wrong! Acrylic and acrylic blend yarns are usually made to go in the wash.

      • Thanks for the reply, very reassuring. There are some aspects of knitting which sound like a dark art and blocking is one of them. As for steeking…

  • Thank you for this review, I do need to use wool wash in my near future pieces. Thank you for all you sharing..

  • Thank you for the experiment and information. Now I wonder how a “wool wash” compares to an item soaked with another mild soap like dish soap or baby shampoo. I will wet block the first time with a good wool wash but I’m inclined to do subsequent washes with something less expensive.

    • Be careful with dish soap, it sometimes has other chemicals in it. Baby shampoo is a good sub, but make sure to rinse it well.

    • During my brief foray into quilting I read over and over the advice to wash brand new fabric using Dawn dish soap because if your new fabric bled any colors into the water the soap would hold these pigments suspended and not let them settle back into the fabric, and would just rinse away. Many people swore by it. I checked the label of my bottle of Dawn to make sure it has no enzymes in it (bad for wool!), and I like to use the Dawn liquid for the very first wash of an item knitted with new yarn, not only because of the color issue but also if there are still spinning oils, etc., the dish soap seems to give a more serious cleaning for that first time. I don’t mind in that case doing extra rinses. Of course opinions may vary!

  • Wow! Love this. I’ve always used wool wash just because I follow the rules, but I love this demonstration of why it matters. Thanks!

    • Me, too Sally. Have never NOT soaked with a wool wash and I always leave it in lots longer than 15 minutes.

  • This was a fascinating comparison. My problem is I can never get my head around the idea that it doesn’t need rinsing. How can that be?

    • It’s the chemical make up of Soak, not all wool washes are no rinse.

  • I like to use soap when I soak my woolies. It doesn’t need rinsing out and leaves the wool soft. Washing, by hand, with soap increases the softness over time. The water I use is “soft” i e low ph, which definitely helps keep woolies soft too. When I haven’t any soap flakes, I grate a bit of hard, pleasantly scented soap and dissolve it well before adding the knitted item. It’s easier to dissolve in hot water before cooling to the temperature you need. If you want a particular scent you could always add a few drops of essential oil to the soaking water.

  • I second the request to Jacqueline of Soak that she work on a woodsier scent option. Maybe a special MDK version? Thanks you for the experiment: I am so glad to now have a place to send people to for proof.

    • While not a no-rinse wool wash, the Cedar scent of The Laundress wool and cashmere wash is amazing.

    • I loved your article! I loved the Aquae scent Soak used to make. Still miss it. I use Soak’s Yuzu for all my knits as well as for my undies. (I first bought it at Secrets from Your Sister in Toronto, and don’t use Eucalan because I don’t want lanolin on my undies.) The clothes I wash with Soak last longer (perhaps because I handwash them). I use a very small amount, the bottle lasts a long time, and when we can travel again, the smallish bottle of Soak is great for laundry hung over the hotel room towel bar! Soak has an unscented version, but I use it up much faster!

      I’m so glad to learn another reason to love Soak!

  • Jovan Musk! I loved it. I do love a good wool wash. It may seem expensive but you use so little of it and, at least for me, so rarely, that it’s worth the investment. A bottle lasts a long time. And I’m so glad I’m not the only one finding knitting solutions in Bridgerton. I sigh too.

  • A surfactant is a surfactant, so Soak, Eucalan, baby shampoo, mild dish soap all will work just fine. Some yarns are coated with oil to make them easier to handle and may need a longer soak and some rinsing. And keep in mind that a bulky yarn needs more time to absorb the water than a fingering yarn.

    I love the magic of turning that lumpy mass of knitting into a beautiful garment. I’m seaming up a sweater today and I can’t wait!

  • Great article. I loved Jovan Musk, too. I still have and use a Jovan nail smoothing and buffing kit from that era!

  • What I would like to understand about no-rinse wool washes is the “no rinse’ aspect – if dirt, etc., is released from the knit into the wash water, what keeps it from redepositing while the knit soaks or as it is lifted out of the water? Did you discover this in your research? This is one of those questions that only arises in my mind when I am in the process of wet-blocking a knit.

    • I find if I leave the knit soaking until the water cools completely, it can redeposit dirt or lanolin back on the project. I set a timer for soaking. If a knit is particularly dirty, i will rinse or wash a section time. It all depends.

      • Great article as usual, Jillian! Can’t wait to hear you speak at an upcoming MKG meeting.

        I was showing my 12 year old son the magic of Eucalan after we went over the laundry labels of his coat, hats and gloves. The coats were machine washable. The gloves were not. The hat was a 2018 Winter Olympics knockoff hat I had knit for him, so decidedly NOT machine washable. We kind of forgot about it for a few hours and when I took everything out the water was filthy! Gross. But it looks like the dirt didn’t redeposit, thank goodness.

        I learned from a friend that it helps to spin no-rinse washed items briefly in the washer. That takes most of the moisture out and everything dries very quickly. I do this for all my knits now, it works like a charm, I’ve never had anything felt.

    • Hi, knitter-chemist here.
      Thanks for an interesting article and hooray for surfactants!

      One comment: hydrogen ions do not like to attach to each other – they have the same (positive) charge so are actually repelled by each other. A ‘hydrogen bond’ is the bond between the hydrogen (+) and oxygen (-) ions in the water: it’s strong because they have the opposite charge (in the same way that the opposite ends of a magnet attract). The surfactant does help weaken those bonds, as you said.
      (Water – H2O (sorry I can’t make the 2 subscript here) – two hydrogens and one oxygen)

      • As a knitter-science nerd I was going to post the same thing and add that we can thank hydrogen bonding between water molecules for all plants taller than a few inches, lakes that don’t freeze from the bottom up and kill all the fish and water that’s liquid at room temperature…. among just a few of the magic qualities of water.

  • Great article. I am a huge fan of both blocking & Soak. It’s nice to know the science behind the results. I also use Soak to wash my hand knitted garments after wearing as needed.

  • Thank you, I have always used soak – now I know why!

    I recently was gift a beautiful merino that specifically says do not use a non-rinsing wash – do you have any idea why? thanks

  • I’ve always done this but really experienced the magic on my last project. I usually knit sweaters in the round but this was a cardigan where I had to alternate knitting and purling. I had a very pronounced “rowing” effect no matter how much I tried to knit and purl evenly. Miraculously, it almost entirely disappeared after blocking with Soak. Whew!

  • You are so right, I would love a Sandalwood scent!!!

    • Oh, yes, sandlewood for sure! I never did like patchouli, though. As another child of the 70’s, just the words “Love’s Baby Soft” evoked that scent….my sister walked in a cloud of that fragrance for a time!

  • omg loves baby soft so many memories and lip smackers. I remember Jovan musk was the perfume you got when you were considered mature. I drenched myself in loves baby soft lol

  • All those Proustian links of memories and fragrance. Proust Was a Neuroscientist is a great read and exploration/explaination of sensory experience.

  • I tend to knit lacy shawls so often experience the magic of blocking but a recent Christmas stocking project was somewhat mind blowing. I knit three stockings using the same pattern and different colors of the same yarn using the same needles. The red and green were very close in size but the white was smaller (and weighed less so used less yarn). Amazingly, after soaking in tepid water with Eucalan and patting into shape, all three were almost identical in size – and the cables settled down and the slight skewing straightened out.

  • My daughter is very sensitive to smells and no longer wants me to block wool projects because the wetblocking bring out more of the wet wool smell permanently. To her it is overpowering (and strong smells give her migraines). Does anyone have experience with this? Is it something I am doing with the blocking? I use Soak and don’t leave over 15 minutes, if that much depending on the yarn. I noticed that the smell is more intense lately with a variety of yarns too but I like the smell so didn’t really care. Thanks!

    • Check out the Arne&Carlos video for finishing sweaters with an iron and wet towel

  • Is there any benefit to soaking using a no-rinse wash for longer than 15-30 minutes? Sometimes I leave things in the bucket overnight and I wonder if that’s counterproductive. Thanks!

  • I use shampoo or conditioner. I figure wool is someone’s hair 🙂

  • This was an enjoyable read. I too found the same thing out years ago with Eucalan Wool Wash (I only use the Eucalyptus or Lavender). I’ve always gotten a nice fulled out yarn and love the lanolin enriched attributes. I also found that a longer soak is better. I let the garment rest in the bath for 30 to 45 minutes. Worsted wool to cashmere all benefit from these products. Thanks for your share!!

  • I’ve been knitting with linen and cotton lately (not my favorite, but that’s the way the pattern choices crumble, these days). Will wool wash help those fibers? I use it blindly on everything. Also, I have Morehouse Farms “Merino Knits” from the early days of the Internet explosion of knitting (and apparently a mind that sticks to small details for all eternity). As a yarn producer herself Margit Lohrer suggests using a mild detergent such as Palmolive, never mentioning Dawn which even then was more popular than Palmolive. Is there, in a pinch, a reason to avoid Dawn? (Margit has a strong voice and I have kept Palmolive on my shelf ever since.). Oh, and as a child of the ‘60’s, I remember Jean Naté. (You guys, you do make me prattle on.). Chloe

    • So funny you should mention Jean Nate. Way back when, I received a gallon bottle of it from my boss for the holidays!. Still have most of it. Want some?

  • as a haphazard knitter (who uses and likes Eucalon wash) thank you for this article!! Helpful – and nice to know it does make a difference.

  • What about soaking plant-based yarns, does the soaking have the same effect? Thank you for the article, my knitting group and I had a good discussion about it this morning!

  • Another good article, thanks. And Bonne Bell lip smacker! How about 10-0-6 scented!! I can smell it stil!

  • I usually use Soak, but many times I just stream and haven’t noticed any difference.

  • What do you suggest for cotton or silk items. I use Euculan and don’t want the lanolin on the other fibers. Thanks!

    (Ahhh… Bonnie Belle & Love’s Baby Soft… How DO you remember that out of the blue?)

  • OMG, Bonne Bell and Love’s, now I’ve had the nightmare version of Proust’s madeleine moment. Walking through the hallways at school when all the girls smelled like bubblegum. It was nauseating.

  • I must confess that for sweaters I use my much-loved Hand Wash (not delicate) cycle on our front loader, even when blocking for the first time. I use a very small drop of very mild, eco friendly laundry soap because dish soap produces too many suds for a front loader. I find the process a thing of beauty. The machine soaks the knitting and flips it over every once in a while, then gently rinses the same way and spins a bit more slowly than a regular wash but still enough that the piece comes out just wet enough to shape (but not dripping) and not stretched out from spinning too fast. My knitting looks so much better than when I did this by hand. I will never own a washing machine that doesn’t have a hand wash cycle again.

    • My front loader has a wool wash cycle. I put a drop of eco friendly detergent in the detergent cup and Eucolan in the rinse aid cup. Works great. I can do a month’s worth of socks and several sweaters.

  • Ok now I’m worried because I often soak gauge swatches without wool wash. Does it change the gauge?

  • I’m an advanced beginner knitter. Last night, before I even read this article, I blocked 2 items using Soak. I’ll admit I was a little bit of a doubter when it came to blocking. I didn’t really think it could make that big of a difference. I was completely wrong and can’t begin to tell you how much better the items look! I am now a big believer in blocking with Soak!

  • Farmer’s Daughter Fibers has a terrific wool wash scent called pepper pine, which smells exactly like it sounds! I alternate between that and Soak’s fig scent depending on whether I’m in the mood for forest or garden.

  • No one has mentioned Kookaburra wash! It’s definable my favorite. The smell is wonderful too. https://www.kookaburraco.com/wash_buynow.htm

  • My husband and I are both fiber people (carding/spinning/knitting/weaving) and know the importance of the soaking part of yarn care. Also, I have a certain crazy pull to buy hand dyed sock yarns, most with a bit of nylon.
    To get to my point: if anyone reading this sells their hand dyed yarns, please choose the UNSCENTED wool soaks. We’ve become allergic to scents and to us scented wool soaps are diabolical. And if there’s nylon in the mix, it will not wash out and I have to send the skein to the thrift store. Now, before I purchase, I have to ask the dyer if scented soaps are used. I miss some fabulous on-line hand dyed yarns and they lose a consistent customer when the answer is yes.