tutorial: how to wash yarn

I spent the holiday weekend down in Grants Pass visiting my father-in-law... which means I necessarily made the thrift store rounds and brought home lots of treasures. This trip yeilded a rarity - enough wool yarn to make a sweater.  I snapped it up for $5.99.

It's not very photogenic, but the colors are really pretty in person - lavenders, greys, periwinkle blues, dark purples, blush pink, a very pale grey green.  (note: the bright green and purple bit on the top left is just a random skein of acrylic thrown in the grab bag.)

I was pretty excited about my find until I opened the bag. The yarn looks great, but it smelled a bit like stale cigarette smoke. Bummer.

I decided I had nothing to lose by washing it - very, very carefully.  It's a lofty single ply wool, so I knew that it could felt together if it were over-handled.  Happily, washing did the trick. It didn't felt. It's now freshened up and ready to become a sweater.  Here's how I did it.

Things you will need:

  • Stinky yarn
  • Scissors
  • A couple yards of non-feltable scrap yarn
  • Woolite or another wool wash or gentle detergent
  • A bathtub, laundry sink, large bucket, or other suitable place to soak your yarn.
  • One (or more) large bath towels, the more absorbent the better.
  • A plastic hanger for each skein.

1.) The yarn must first be wound into skeins and tied in multiple places with your scrap yarn.  I wrapped it around the back of a dining room chair to create skeins and tied it off with some acrylic yarn.  I like to use at least 6 ties per skein.  It is handy to use yarn that doesn't felt for your ties, even if you are washing yarn that has a danger of felting, this way you run no risk of your yarn felting even slightly to your ties.

2.) Fill your container with cold water. Add 2 caps of Woolite to the tub or the appropriate amount for the size of container that you are using. Place the yarn in the water.  It will want to float on the top - especially if it is wool.

3.) Do not agitate the yarn at all if it runs the risk of felting - a single ply bulky yarn such as this one could easily felt together if it is agitated in soapy water.  Instead, gently but firmly press the yarn straight down under the water and hold it submerged until it absorbs enough water to sink. Be patient. This can take a while.  See that funny shape around my pinky finger -that's a huge bubble coming out of the skein as it's saturating with water.

4.) Once all your skeins are all submerged, swish the water around a bit in the tub without touching any of the yarn to make sure the wool wash is evenly distributed.  Leave the yarn to soak for at least an hour.  I left mine for about 4 hours.

When I came back to drain the tub, the water was purpley from dye and I could see lots of Woolite bubbles.

5.) Let the water drain completely out of the tub.  Refill until yarn is submerged again in cool water.  Repeat this process several times, without touching or agitating the yarn, until you see no more soapy bubbles.  Let the water drain out again and leave the yarn sitting for at least 15-20 minutes so that extra water can drain out.
6.) Lay out a large, thick towel (or more than one, if your yarn covers more than 1/2 the surface area of one towel.  Place the wet skeins across 1/2 of the towel.
7.) Fold the towel(s) in half and roll into a tight tube.  Be firm, decisive, and minimal in your movements so that you wring a lot of water out of the skeins without agitating the wet yarn, so that it doesn't felt. Once I rolled up my yarn, I actually knelt on it, using the full force of my body and waiting for a while at several points along the roll to passively wring excess water out of the skeins. My towel was sopping wet at the end, and the skeins were nearly dry.

8.) Hang each skein on it's own hanger to dry.  I hung mine over the rail in the shower and took them outside the next morning to finish drying in the sun.  Avoid humidity, if at all possible - the yarn will dry faster in a dry place.

9.) Once your yarn is dry, wind into balls again - either by hand or with a ball-winder.  Get ready to swatch your project and make something beautiful!