How to Wash Handmade Items

Care Symbols

First you need to know the yarn and its care instructions. Just what do those symbols mean?

The dots refer to temperature when machine washing the finished item. Sometimes this is shown by a wash basin with a temperature such as 30°. Note that this is given in the Celsius system, 30°C equals 86° Fahrenheit.

For handwashing the wash basin will have a hand. Use tepid water. See below for instructions on how to handwash.


Washing symbols are from the Craft Yarn Council.


Now that we know what the symbols mean, how does that change the way we wash?

We generally wash by hand even when the yarn says it is machine washable. Handwashing is gentler and will help keep your handmade items in good shape. This can also decrease the color loss that occurs with washing.

If you do machine wash, consider using a garment bag for anything large, especially garments that might get distorted while wet or by tumbling. Pick a gentle cycle where the wash and rinse cycles are both cool.


Picking a soap a.k.a. know your fibers before you wash

Cellulose fibers such as cotton, linen, and hemp prefer alkaline conditions (pH > 7). Animal fibers, such as wool, alpaca, cashmere, mohair, yak, and silk prefer acidic conditions (pH < 7). Clearly there isn’t one wash that will work for all fibers. If the wash you are using claims it is great for everything, throw it out. They are lying to you.

For animal fibers, we recommend using a wool wash. Do not use laundry detergent. Laundry detergents are made for cotton and synthetic fibers and are alkaline. For extra conditioning, or if you don’t know the pH of your wash, add a bit of vinegar. Basic white vinegar is perfect. Add 1-2 tablespoons to a bucket of wash water. Do not use bleach as it is very alkaline.

For plant fibers you can use laundry detergent or a wool wash with some baking soda added to increase the pH.



It is a good habit to wash like your item is made from a non-superwash yarn. This is the lowest impact form of washing. It keeps non-superwash wools from felting (shrinking) and keeps colors brighter longer.

Fill your clean bucket with cool to tepid water. Add the wool wash and any pH adjusters if using. Swish the water to mix. Add your item(s) and submerge them fully. Make sure they are fully wetted. Leave them in the bucket for 20-30 minutes. Natural fibers give up dirt fairly easily and will do so just by soaking. Spot treat with undiluted wool wash if needed.

While your item is soaking, do not agitate, rub, or wring it. These actions can cause felting. Felting can also occur from using hot water. The scales on animal fibers open, like pores on your skin will, when in contact with heat. If the fibers are subjected to hot and cold cycles, like pulling hot wool out of a bucket into cold air or into a cold rinse bucket, this can cause felting. Felting cannot be undone. The scales will lock together and not come apart.

Note: if you have multiple colors in your project, you may want to use a color catcher. They look like dryer sheets and are designed to pick up excess dye. They are available in the laundry aisle of most supermarkets and online by searching "color catching sheets". If you suspect you have colors that will bleed, add the color catcher and gently stir often so contrasting colors don’t sit on top of each other for prolonged periods. Sort your handwash items. To prevent discoloration, do not wash contrasting colored items together.

After soaking, gently lift the item out of the water and press out the excess water using flat hands. Do not wring! If you are using a rinse-free wash, skip the rinse step. For wool washes requiring rinsing, dump, rinse, and refill your wash bucket with water. Make sure it is the same temperature as the wash water. Add your item and gently stir. Leave for a moment before removing and pressing out the excess water. You may also use a garment spinner or salad spinner to remove excess water. If spinning removes most of the water, skip the towel step.

Lay your item on a bath towel and roll up like a jelly roll cake. Step on the roll to push the moisture into the towel. If you think your item may bleed color, use a dark towel.

Unroll and lay on a flat surface to dry. Block or shape as needed. Do not hang on a hanger! Keep item out of direct sunlight while drying.


Dry cleaning

Don’t, just don’t. With very few exceptions (we can’t think of any, but there may be some, perhaps paper yarns?), dry cleaning is not well suited to handmade items. Yarns that recommend dry cleaning are either giving you the best dry cleaning option in case you are a dry cleaning kind of person or they don’t trust you to handwash properly. There are no natural fibers that we know of that prefer chemical solvents to water.