While it’s a somewhat rare occurrence, knits need a wash and a little extra care once in a while. You’ve put a lot of time and energy into those knits, so let’s keep them looking fresh!
This post covers:
- When do my knits need washing?
- Knits fresh off the needles
- How I wash my hand knits
- Spot cleans
- Storing your knits
- Taking care
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When do my knits need washing?
The answer may surprise you: not too often. Wool doesn’t absorb odours the same way cotton does, and we usually wear t-shirts or other layers underneath that receive more frequent washing. I give my sweaters a spot clean if I spill something on them – and I’m pretty spilly, so this happens more often than I care for. I give them a hand-wash if they are visibly dirty, or once a year before I put them away for the summer.
My kiddos, on the other hand, need their sweaters washed slightly more frequently. They wear them just like their commercial clothes, with a few exceptions – they do try to take them off before eating or if they are doing anything particularly messy involving paint or glue (try being the operative word there). Their sweaters generally follow the same wash rules, though: visibly dirty or once a year. I find spot-cleaning their cuffs goes a long way.
Knits fresh off the needles
Even if you’re the type of knitter who likes to skip the blocking phase of a finished project (though WHY?!), your knits do need a wash when they come off the needles. That yarn has been running through your fingers, possibly for months, so it’s a good idea to get some of those hand oils (and maybe a little chip dust) out.
With new knits, you’ll also want to make sure you dry them in the shape you like. If you have a sweater, you’ll want to bust out a measuring tape and make sure you haven’t stretched it out to epic proportions. For lace and cables, lay your knit in a way that spreads out those stitches and shows off your patterning. We’ve got specific posts on each of these items to help you with all the details:
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How I wash my hand knits
When summertime rolls around, it’s time to get those knits clean for storage! Knits that are left unattended in a closet tend to attract moths and other crawlies, so it’s important to get them clean and keep them protected. More on storage further down the post here. There are lots of methods (including washing machines with gentle cycles and steamers to name a few), but I’ll share my favourite method for keeping my knits looking fresh.
- Assess the knit. Are there any holes that need fixing? Does it need a de-pill? Are there any spots that need special attention? Address these kinds of issues now.
- Fill a clean bin or sink with cool water and a little wool wash (optional). There are lots of wool washes that work, but my current favourite is this Wool Wash from The Farmer’s Daughter Fibers. Just a little wool wash goes a long way.
- Submerge your knit in the water, giving it a press to get all the bubbles out. Then leave your item to soak for 10-15 minutes while you lay out a clean, dry towel for step 4. If you’re worried about colours running, keep an eye on things. If it looks like the colours are starting to run, get your knit out of the water quickly and give it a rinse before heading to step 4.
- Take your knit out of the water and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Don’t wring it; you’ll want to avoid too much agitation because it might felt your piece. Once you’ve squeezed out the water, lay the item on the ready towel and roll it up. (It’s a good idea to remove your socks at this point, unless you just enjoy walking around in wet socks.) Step on the towel to press out as much excess water as you can. For accessories, this tends to be a one-towel job, but for sweaters, you may need to repeat this process a few times with more fresh, dry towels.
- Lay your knit out to dry. I like to do this on some foam blocks, but you can use knitters blocking mats, cardboard, a bed, or the floor, depending on your surfaces. Keep your knits out of direct sunlight as it tends to fade them (especially hand dyes, in my experience).
And that’s it – five easy steps to sparkly clean knits!
I personally use a bit of Marseille soap to deal with any spot cleans. For smaller spills or anything I think might stain if left too long, I just wet the area, rub a bit of soap onto it, and rinse. Then I lay it out to dry. Don’t want to use too much soap, as it can affect the colouring of your yarn; a little goes a long way.
There are lots of ways to do this step, too, but I find my little Con Air shaver very effective. If a knit is looking a bit shaggy, I just give it a shave, and it’s like new! I also do this before handing down knits to other little ones in the family. If you’ve got a good number of hand knits, you’ll want to invest in something for de-pilling; it will keep your knits looking fresh for years to come.
Storing your knits
Once the summer months hit, my knits mostly head into hibernation (except when I pull them out for the odd northern adventure or coastal camping trip). I give them a once over to make sure they don’t have any holes or evidence of bugs. They get a wash and a de-pill (if needed), and then I fold them up and put them into a sealed plastic bin for the season. You’ll want to make sure your knits are completely dry before putting them away.
That’s my method, but your system might look different depending on where you live and how much freezer space you have. If you’re worried about pests, I find giving my sweaters a freeze keeps the moths at bay. I give my knits a wash, make sure they are completely dry, and then pop them in the freezer for a day or so. If you live somewhere that gets quite warm in the summer, you can also put your knits in the car in the sun. If it gets cold, you can pop your knits outside when it’s freezing. Both of these things will kill any moths that might be hiding in your knits.
The real key to keeping pests from feasting on your knits is use. If you use them, they aren’t likely to collect anything undesirable. So if you have a knit that isn’t in rotation, that’s when you’ll want to take precautions. I need to do this in the summer when my knits don’t get much wear, but Emily’s sweaters are part of her wardrobe all year round in Edinburgh!
For folks who don’t have handmade clothes, learning about this upkeep process can be an eye-opening experience. They’re sometimes shocked at the idea of having to treat knits differently than other clothes. Sometimes knitters have this reaction, too. It’s definitely an extra step, but with so many hours put into each item, a little extra effort to keep them up for years to come seems so small. So show your knits a little extra love!
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