How to Wash Handmade Socks (and Other Wool Items)

27 April 2021

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The yarn I used for my Rathtrevor sock pattern is not machine washable (read about the yarn-maker’s quest to develop a fully Canadian, non-synthetic sock yarn). This means, of course, that the socks need to be hand-washed. It’s actually less work than you might expect, and your socks (and other woollies—this same approach is appropriate for your handmade garments, hats, mitts, etc.) will last longer thanks to your care.

What You Need

  • Your socks
  • Water
  • A small tub or container that will hold the socks
  • A wool-friendly laundry product. I prefer a no-rinse wool-wash like Soak or Eucalan. There’s a popular brand of laundry detergent that has ‘wool’ in the name—I don’t recommend it, as it’s a little harsher, and can strip the natural oils from the fibres. You can use a standard laundry detergent, but watch the ingredients: avoid any that has “Oxi-clean” or other oxygenated or enzyme based stain-fighters, because the protease enzymes in these products break down proteins, which is great if you’ve got a gravy stain on a cotton t-shirt, but wool is a protein fibre, and so these can be damaging. Stick with the mildest products you can find—what I think of as “health food aisle” detergents, with no additives, dyes or fragrances.
  • A towel, or your washing machine and a mesh wash-bag
Image description: On a stainless steel countertop, an empty glass bowl, two pairs of folded socks, and a small bottle of Soak wash.

How to Hand-Wash Socks (or Any Other Wool Item)

  1. Fill your tub with lukewarm water and a squirt of wool wash. Read the label to see how much to use.
  2. Chuck the socks in, and swoosh them around to get them wet. Let them soak for 15-30 minutes.
  3. Empty the tub. If it’s a no-rinse wool wash, skip to Step 4. If it’s another type of soap or detergent, rinse the socks a few times. I fill and dump out the tub 3 or 4 times.
  4. Squeeze most of the moisture out by rolling the socks in a towel and squeezing hard, or put them in a mesh wash bag and send them through the spin-only cycle of your washing machine, set to the highest speed. (Not rinse and spin, just spin. You might have to consult the manual for the washer; the setting isn’t obvious on mine.)
  5. Drape the socks over a laundry rack, a towel rack, or use a clippy-hanger and let them air dry. Don’t use a sock blocker or stretch them for drying. Since socks should stretch when worn to help them stay up, stretching them when you dry them can compromise the fit. Sock blockers are great for taking photos of finished socks, but otherwise they shouldn’t be part of your sock knitting toolkit.
    Image description: Glass bowl filled with soapy water, with orange and bluish socks soaking in it.
    Image description: Four handknit socks laid flat on top of a light-green towel.
    Image description: A rolled up light-green towel.
    Image description: Several pairs of socks hanging by clips from a multi-pronged round hanger.

    All images taken by Kate Atherley.

    Copyright © Kate Atherley except as indicated.

    About Kate Atherley

    Kate Atherley (she/her) is a co-founder, editor and publisher at Digits & Threads and Nine Ten Publications. She has worked in the crafts industry in one way or another since 2002 as a designer, editor, writer, and instructor. She's authored eight books about knitting, from a next-steps guide for newbie knitters to the industry's only guide to professional knitting pattern writing. Kate lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and their rescue dog Winnie.

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