Why Wool Wash?
Here’s a phrase you see a lot, toward the end of a pattern: “Wet block your knitting using your favorite wool wash.”
Have you ever wondered why? It’s not just to make it smell nice. Wool wash actually helps your knitting block better.
I use Soak. I’ll admit to being fond of Soak’s scents and no-rinse formula. I do wish someone would do a woody or dirt-smelling wash, sandalwood plus something a little sweet, maybe with a hint of Jovan musk. (Yes, child of the ’70s here.) I remember trolling the mall in my tween years and every girl I passed smelled like Love’s Baby Soft and Bonne Bell Lip Smacker.
The scent is just a bonus. The benefit is that wool wash actually makes your knitting wetter. I am not making this up.
Here’s how it works.
Water likes to hang with water. Have you watched Bridgerton yet? (Happy sigh.) Water is like the ton, keeping all their secrets to themselves. Wool wash is like Lady Whistledown, breaking through that snooty barrier and letting everyone in on the scan-dal.
When you soak your knitting in water only, it will get your knitting wet, but the water saturates only the surface of the yarn. The soap or detergent in wool wash is a wetting agent (a surfactant if you want to be science-y).
Water is made up (partially) of hydrogen molecules that only want to attach to each other. The wetting agent breaks those hydrogen bonds and helps the water attach and soak into to your yarn, making your knitting wetter.
The people of science and chemistry (all hail!) could explain it in greater detail, but all you really need to know is with wool wash, water shimmies deeper into your yarn. When it comes to blocking, wetter is better. Wet blocking really finishes your knitting, encouraging the yarn to relax, and helping to even out small inconsistencies in your knitting, thereby allowing you to pin out the shapes of your stitches and pattern with ease.
Of course I tested it.
I knit two swatches out of Lucky Tweed from Kelbourne Woolens in the color magenta. (Isn’t it fab? I bought it to make Nell Ziroli’s Shop Frock pullover.) For both swatches, I used the same needle and knit to the same gauge.
I soaked the swatches in separate bowls one with warm water, and one with warm water and a couple drips of Soak (Fig scent, delish). The water was the same temperature and the amount of water was the same. I let them rest in their bowls for 15 minutes.
I took the swatches out of the bowls, rolled them in a towel, stood on the towel, and then lay the swatches out to dry. I did not pin them, I just laid them out and patted them lightly into shape.
The results aren’t earth shattering, but to me there is a noticeable difference.
Take a look at the swatches. The one on the left is the water-only swatch, and the one on the right is the Soak-plus-water swatch. Lucky Tweed isn’t a 100% consistently spun yarn (I do like that about it), so I would expect some unevenness overall in the swatch. But there is much more irregularity in the swatch soaked only in water. Its overall shape is less even, and let’s talk about the stitches.
I see the most difference in the individual stitches. I never realized how much wool wash helped straighten out and tuck in my rowed-out stitches.
There was something about the overall swatches that bugged me, and I couldn’t put my finger on it until I looked at my swatches from an angle. (It’s always good to look at your investigative work from different angles.) Look at the curl, and look at how the overall swatch on the left just doesn’t seem as even compared to the swatch with wool wash. Remember I didn’t pin these, I just placed them into shape and patted them lightly. I am excited by how much the wool wash contributes to the blocking work.
I wish I could hand you the swatches to feel. There is a difference. The swatch with the wool wash is just a tiny bit softer, but it is noticeably smoother feeling. It feels a touch more pliant, a little more relaxed.
I looked at the yarns leftover from casting on my swatches (no wool wash left, wool wash right) and see—even with their range of consistency that the ply twist seems a little more even and the over all ply settled.
Using wool wash may not get you entry into the ton, but it will make your knitting incomparable. (And if you haven’t watched Bridgerton, what are you waiting for? Do not expect Jane Austen, but do expect to be diverted.)