Boiling Wool Clean?

I am often asked whether it’s safe to (1) hand wash the more exotic wools (such as cashmere, qiviut, etc.), and (2) use warm water to clean wool.  Yes and yes.

CashmereGoat2In response to the first question, people forget that the “exotic” wool-wearing animals have frolicked in meadows, rolled in mud, forded streams, rutted, given birth and basked in the sun – all while wearing their exotic coats.

Does this cashmere goat look as if he cares if his coat gets a little dirty?! 🙂 (Pic source)

The best way to clean any of the protein fibers is with soap and water and to avoid dry cleaning (nasty chemicals used).  That said, must you use only cold water?  No.

Do you remember learning in biology that if you dropped a frog into a pot of boiling water, s/he’d jump right out, but that if you put a frog in a pot of cool water, the frog wouldn’t notice the water’s increasing heat toward boiling and thus die?  Wool reacts similarly – sort of – in its own way.

Noticing flecks (okay – a bit bigger than a mere fleck) of toothpaste on it, I knew it was time to thoroughly clean a 100% cashmere scarf I knit some 20 years ago.  It’s a lovely little scarf – a mere 6-7 inches wide and 22 inches long.  It is the scarf I wore daily throughout the cold snowy winters I lived in the snowbelt of Pennsylvania.  I wore it to bed; I wore it under my outer scarves as I got ready to trudge through the snow to campus.  It is still part of my winter pajamas ensemble.  🙂

I remember the shop where I bought the cashmere – Soft Horizons Fibre in Eugene, Oregon), but not the yarn name.  I know the owner, Mona Rummel, carries very fine yarns for handknitting, and the longevity of this scarf is testament to the quality of the cashmere she stocked.

In any event,  after filling a medium-sized soup pot with cool tap water, I pushed in the scarf.  Important:  I ensured plenty of room for the water to roll gently around the scarf.  When the water came to a simmer (just under a boil), I added a bit of Eucalan soap, stirred the pot very gently with a wooden spoon and then turned off the heat.  (Eucalan is my CashmereScarfGreyfavorite for handwashing woolens – in large part because you don’t have to worry about rinsing out the soap.)

After the water cooled, I tipped the contents of the pot into a large colander and let gravity do its trick while the colander supported the cashmere.  When the scarf was no longer actively dripping, I gently squeezed out the excess water, finger blocked it on a towel, rolled it up and let it sit over night.  In the morning I unrolled the towel and laid the scarf flat to finish drying.

It came out perfectly.

So if I can treat my cashmere like that, so can you!  🙂


About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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12 Responses to Boiling Wool Clean?

  1. I am doing some research on soap ingredients that will be a post in a couple of weeks. 🙂


  2. feminismbot says:

    Thanks for looking into this! I’m trying to go more natural/safer/less toxic with all the products I use. Guess I was already on the right track with my wooly stuff!


  3. I quickly received a response from Eucalan. First, they explained that the soap is a “light” wash. I then asked if that meant it had low levels of actual soap, sodium laurel sulfate, etc. The next response was the ingredient list. Considering other soap ingredient lists I’ve read, this one looks great.


  4. sindhoooo says:

    Thank you so much for your concern regarding this! Good day!


  5. I do not know if the cleanser evaporates. I recently wrote the folks at Eucalan, so I will let you know their response.


  6. No, you probably do not need to have your coat (I am guessing it is “fulled”) dry cleaned. The only problem with spot cleaning a chocolate spot has to do with how much oil is in the chocolate. Oil-based spots are a little trickier to get out.

    After the chocolate is thoroughly dried, scrape off what you can using something like the dull side of a knife. Turn the fabric over so you can rinse the back of the spot with cold water. (I saw my grandmother remove blueberry stains from the seat of my white (cotton) jeans by pouring boiling water through the stain from the back-to-front!) Now use a gentle liquid soap for wool (like Eucalan), and gently blot. Let it sit for a bit and then lower the spot into a pan of cold water for about 20 minutes. Now, every couple of minutes, gently rub the spot.

    If this doesn’t work, buy a spot remover specifically designed for removing oil-based spot and then folow the manufacturer’s instructions. (Be sure and first try on something like an inside seam to make sure it doesn’t adversely affect the color or fiber.)

    My next blog post discusses spot- and steam-cleaning woolen suitings.


  7. I discovered it quite by accident. I had hurt my right hand and didn’t have the strength to squeeze water out of a pair of socks. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention! 🙂


  8. What a clever way to clean! How have I never thought to use a colander before?!


  9. Pia says:

    I have a question and you just might be the one to enlighten me. I have a wool coat of the woven, felted looking variety (the English word eludes me right now). It says dry clean only. Why? I gots choclite onnit…


  10. sindhoooo says:

    This post is one of the best reads for this day! Wonderfully explained!
    I would like to add some points in answer to the previous comment of Randipants. As mentioned in the Eucalan website, Eucalan is an easy substitute to dry cleaning. That may mean that the cleanser used in Eucalin may evapourate? What say?

    The Arts & Me


  11. Perhaps because Eucalan contains, according to its website, no bleach, no harmful phosphates and no petrochemicals. ?



  12. randipants says:

    Interesting post! I always enjoy reading about others’ adventures in washing/blocking, and really anything about what happens to your knits after they’re finished and they become part of your wardrobe.

    Why is it that you can wash knits with Eucalan and don’t have to rinse out the soap? I’ve read that but I’ve never seen an explanation.


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