Q for You: How do you clean your handknits?

Q for You: How do you clean your handknits?

I ran into a discussion on Instagram recently where people were expressing surprise at the notion of blocking a finished sweater (as opposed to just blocking individual parts before seaming), and I was so surprised at the surprise! I thought blocking a finished garment was standard practice, and I almost always do it. Even if I’ve blocked the parts before assembly, I still want the seams and bands and whatever else to have the benefit of a good soak and flat-dry. (If you’re not familiar with the blocking process, click here.)

I also hear from people here on the blog occasionally who say they’ve never blocked anything in their lives. And I’m not sure if it’s a semantic thing or a misunderstanding of some kind, but it leaves me wondering if they’re saying they never clean anything, or just that they do it some other way (dry clean?), or what exactly. So I’m sort of dying of curiosity!

While not every yarn on the planet should be submerged, most (if not all) natural fibers benefit hugely from a good soak, especially if it’s wool yarn and a lanolin-based wool soap. I’ve noted before that I don’t immediately block everything — hats and mitts in stitch patterns that don’t really need it might not get soaked until the first time they’re in need of a wash. And for me and my knits, routine cleaning doesn’t necessarily involve a soak. My O-Wool Balance garments go into the washer and the dryer! I think that yarn actually benefits from it. The 100% wool stuff very rarely needs anything in the way of cleaning, and when something does I often use a trick I learned from my friend Anie, which is to just toss it into the dryer (dry) for a few minutes while a load of wet laundry is tumbling, to give it a good steam. Works like a charm!

So that’s my Q for You today: How do you clean your handknit goods?


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53 thoughts on “Q for You: How do you clean your handknits?

  1. I consider re-blocking a standard part of laundering hand knits. It is magical and makes things look like new. I love the smell and look of items drying flat all over the house. I also resort to a bit of time in the dryer, Dryel, big items in the bathtub. Almost all items go in my front loading washer gentle cycle, cool water. It is a soothing task.

  2. I didn’t really understand the value of blocking until I knit some lace. The difference between before and after is dramatic. Also, the first time I knit cables, I measured the gauge unblocked. The cabled part expanded by at least one third after the first wash. Lesson learned. I block everything now, from the gauge swatch to the FO. I also find that blocking the body separately gives me a more accurate length result before I start the bottom ribbing or the armhole shaping, depending on the direction.

    I don’t have a separate laundry room or lots of space, so I use the wool or hand wash setting on my machine with minimal detergent and dry the items on a rack.

  3. I wash hand knits by hand and then block them gently while allowing them to air dry. I toss other knits in the spin washer (no agitator) and then block gently and air dry. Cool to cold water always.
    Thanks for discussing this, Karen. I always read your blog.

  4. I love to block and block everything. I have a top loading washer with a super delicate cycle so I put everything in there (smaller items in a lingerie bag) and let it gently swish around in some wool wash. Thank you for the tip about steaming in the dryer – I will try that will a few items.

    When I run into someone who doesn’t block, it is usually a new knitter with no idea they need to do it. I love it when they tell me later about how much nicer their knitting looks.

  5. I hand wash everything and lay it flat to dry (blocking!) I only use pins if the fabric needs it, as I am not a fan of super stretched out knitting even in my lace. I love the even texture that results from blocking as well as how clean the garments are. I block all my FOs – even hats and mitts – since they’re usually covered in dog hair or been all over the subway by the time they are done. Heavily worn items like sweaters, shawls and some hats get a re-block/washing in the spring before I put them away for the summer. There’s nothing like pulling out fresh clean handknits on the first chilly day of fall!

    • Also, I have never put anything I handknit into the washing machine –even linen or O-Wool Balance! Its mostly due to my own fears and preference for handwashing clothes (including store bought knits). I find handwashing to be gentler and results in longer lasting garments — but that’s me!

  6. I don’t really consider my FO’s completely done until I’ve washed and blocked it. I love seeing the stitches ‘fall into place’ when they’ve been soaked. I always hand-wash and let it dry on a towel. Heavily used garments get hand-washed and re-blocked regularly about once a year.

  7. I had never blocked any thing until it was finished………..until I read here about the change in gauge after soaking ( at least an hour ) – an aha light bulb. That’s why nothing fit right. Now everything gets a good soak with a no-rinse wool wash. Plus like Vanessa mine always has dog hair, they like to help when I knit. I’m surprised that people were surprised that others washed and blocked. Surely they wash their knits at some point – I hope.

  8. I think it is semantics – I think of “blocking” as finishing a knit. I would call the regular maintenance of occasionally washing as “cleaning” or “caring” for my stuff. Both are important in my book, though I don’t bother blocking hats, mits or socks.

  9. I never understand why people don’t wash their finished knits just to make sure everything’s ok. Because … I always think … sooner or later you’re going to get caught in the rain or your coffee will spill all over your mittens, and washing won’t be optional. So I’d rather know in advance how the piece will change, so I can fix if necessary.

  10. I use the toss in the dryer to freshen up knits trick in between times when I hand wash and re-block. Except for that time I accidentally threw the 100% wool hooded sweater I knit for my son into the dryer…

    • At least it was you, not someone else! Somehow, it’s easier for me to take if I destroy my own work, than it is if others do it.

      • Oh, my son said, “I’m just glad it was YOU and NOT ME that did it!” (I had REALLY STRESSED to him how to “properly wash and dry it” while he was away at college!)

  11. I pretty much soak everything that’s a natural fiber and there are some knits (and acrylic blends) that I put in the washing machine and dryer. I’m also lucky, bought a new washer and dryer last year and the dryer has a steam refresh setting and a hand knit cycle!! It’s fantastic.

  12. The idea of never washing/blocking hand knit socks is more than gross. I normally soak in soap that doesn’t require rinsing and lay flat to dry, pinning if needed. I roll in a towel first to get out as much water as possible. I use to use the spin cycle on my washer instead of the towel until a loose end wrapped around the pole. I’ve never been brave enough to use the washer and dryer.

  13. I only occasionally block individual pieces, always block completed knits: usually by wet blocking, but sometimes with steam; it depends upon the fiber. I was almost all hand knits and other woolens in my washing machine on the wool wash setting, and dry them flat. Some yarns benefit from 10 minutes in the dryer to get their bounce back. I usually do four at a time and lie them out on sheets in a room I can close off from the cats. I never ever dry clean. Washing my sweaters has emboldened me to was other wool items the same way, and I have had no tragedies. I think the wool is nicer when its been washed ( afterall, the sheep were out in the rain all the time. The best museums wash, not dry clean, their finest tapestries and rugs when they are restoring them…why not my humble sweater)

  14. I block most everything before I call it done, with the exception of socks, which I wear before that first wash unless I think the color will run (the insides of my sneakers turning hot pink is how I learned that lesson). Socks get washed with the laundry (cold water) and hung to dry. I figure if they are going to be part of my life, they have to be able to stand up to this process. All other hand knits get cleaned by soaking in a tub of cool water and Euclan, then dried flat. Unless I spill on them, this is a once a year ritual.

    I may or may not block pieces before they get sewn together, and I like the comment I read about blocking before finishing the length of a sweater – I never thought of that and it is genius. :-)

  15. I ALWAYS block my knitting, both in pieces and after seaming. Usually just a short (ish, depending on the fiber content of the yarn) soak with Wool Soak and lay flat to dry. I didn’t block/soak when I first started knitting, and it was because I just simply didn’t know about the process as a new knitter on my own. As far as cleaning, I honestly don’t do much, with the amount of wear my hand knits get (on cold days, with layers, not working up a sweat) they don’t seem to need much. I think I’ll give them a refreshing soak when the season changes again.

    What do people do about pilling?? I have one sweater that pills WAY more than my others (because it’s a blend of fibers) and I’m kind of ok with it, but if there’s a safe way to get rid of the worst of the pilling, I’m all for it.

  16. I block my knits again to wash them. I usually do it at the end of the “season” before I put them away in storage but it’s warm water, soak for 30 min+, gentle squeeze to get the water out and lay flat to dry. I have coin washers in my basement so I don’t trust the “delicate” cycle to actually be that delicate. besides, the twig and horn soap smells so gooooooood

    I’ll febreeze them if they seem a little funky but that’s rare

  17. I always soak my wool hand knits, because the stitches just look nicer, more even, and more relaxed after a soak! Especially color work, which usually especially needs to relax/even out after finishing. I used to wash my socks in the machine with cold water and dry flat but after some of my early pairs of socks have started to look kind of ratty as well as felting a little or developing holes I have vowed to hand wash all hand knit socks from this point forward.

    • Danielle, I’m going to make a wild guess that you are not knitting your socks tight enough. Socks need to be knit at a very dense gauge- Size 1 needles are my max. If you make a dense fabric it shouldn’t get holes. The other culprit could be your fiber. If you are not using superwash yarn and are machine washing it, that might lead to holes. Many people knit socks with nylon in it, but my all-time fave sock yarn is 100% merino Socks That Rock. It is so tightly spun that I’ve machine washed and dried a million times and my STR socks still look great. Hope this helps!

    • A couple of years ago I took a workshop with Cat Bordhi in which she suggested adding some silk/mohair yarn to the bottoms of my socks for extra tightness and durability. She pointed out that if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to wash the socks in the machine (since the bottoms would tightly felt), and asked, ” but you weren’t planning to do that anyway, were you?”
      Ever since then I’ve hand washed my hand-knit socks just like the rest of my knits: a long soak in warm water, followed by a rinse or two with the same temp water, and hang to dry. They come out quite clean, and last longer, and it’s really so easy!
      But I don’t “block” socks, I figure they’re blocked by being on my feet.

    • I stick to wool blends with nylon for socks, for the most part. I made the mistake of knitting a few pairs of socks with Malabrigo sock yarn (100% Merino), and they got holes really fast. The yarn was wonderfully soft, but really not made for socks.
      I wash my socks in cool water, gentle cycle on my machine, and lay them flat to dry, and they come out fine. I made a pair of socks last summer with some handspun Polwarth/Silk, and they seem to be holding up pretty well too. I just think socks should be knit with yarn that somehow has added strength-tighter twist, like mentioned above, nylon, silk, or other hard-wearing wools.

  18. I soak all my wool handknits, roll in a towel and lay flat to Cary. They don’t need it very often. Linen things in the machine, part dry on the rack and finish in the dryer. I love how yarn softens and blends with blocking, sometimes a complete surprise!

  19. For my socks, most are either hard worsted spun by me or are superwash – either way they can survive both the washer AND the dryer if I forget to hang them up after washing.

    For my sweaters, which are always worn over something else, they get washed at the end of the season before being put away. If they need a spot wash they do get that. Most of these are hand washed and put outside on the patio table to dry – which in AZ takes about an hour tops – because the table top is open and the air circulates on both sides.

  20. I find it really easy to wash my wool garments – just soak in a tub with Eucalan for 20-30 minutes, squeeze and lay flat. It’s almost easier than normal laundry! I also just love the way the eucalyptus wool wash smells! If something is really dirty I might do that twice before drying it (Like for my lett-lopi hat that I regularly wear doing barn chores…).

    I haven’t knit much with cellulose fibers (except cheap cotton yarn for dish cloths) – so I’m not sure how I’d handle those. I’ve only machine washed superwash wool socks, but I don’t really do that anymore either as my washer tends to snag knits.

  21. I don’t block individual pieces. I block the finished garments but only if it is needed, i never use pins to block. I wash my knits in the wash machine on cold cycle and dry flat on top of my washer

  22. I always wash a finished item. In the case of socks or small items I just lay flat to dry, shawls get a good blocking and sweaters get what ever they need, usually just lay flat maybe pin a button band. But that’s it, when it’s time for washing they get that same treatment.

  23. A few cases in favor of blocking:

    -I was making a ribbed hat out of Quince and Co Lark, and it was looking absolutely horrible- uneven stitches, lumpy, even a bit pill-y?! Like a worn sock. After blocking however, the stitches were so uniform and so tidy, the FO looked store-bought. Incredible!

    -This one’s a case for second-time blocking. I had blocked and sewn the pieces of my Exeter cardigan and was a bit disappointed. The sweater looked so disjoint and “handmade” in a clumsy sort of way. Bummer. However, given all the seaming (and weird bumpiness on the Kitchener-ed collar), I figured a second time blocking wouldn’t hurt. W o w. The sweater conformed to my frame in such a terrific, tailored way- “handmade” in a good sense, I’d say!

    In any case, blocking is SERIOUSLY worth it and will help your knitted item fulfill its greatest potential!

  24. I wash every hand knit after finishing. Before I knew that was blocking, I did it mainly because my hands get sweaty while knitting and I prefer the garment to be clean when I wear it the first time. I know wool is self cleaning if the lanolin is still in the yarn, but still…
    The first time I heared about blocking it was about stretching the garment with pins or on a blocking board. So I used to think there was a difference between washing and blocking. I know different now.
    I wash everything in the machine on a gentle cycle wool program and then lay the item flat to dry. I’m way to lazy to hand wash everything.

  25. Agreeing with everyone else that blocking makes my knits look so much more finished and professional!

    My method– soak in room-temperature water with Soak Wash for 15ish minutes (though I’ve forgotten and left to soak overnight with no ill-effects). I gently squeeze most of the water out, then roll the garment up in a towel to get more water out, and then lay out to dry on my pop-up sweater dryer. It’s mesh and air circulates around it, so everything dries very quickly. I don’t usually pin block, but I will gently stretch things to the right shape.

    I do the same thing for washing my handknits after wearing — I don’t wash after every wear, but a few times a season (or if they’re particularly smelly — like after a recent vacation where I spent a lot of time in front of a campfire!)

  26. I love blocking, and generally put a finished object into a bucket with some Soak wash and tepid water as soon as it’s off the needles. I just love to see the transformation that a good wet blocking produces. I’m currently washing and reblocking my most worn handknits so they’ll be ready to wear this fall.
    The only exception to my wet-blocking rule is socks for myself. If I finish a pair of socks during the winter they go straight on my feet. I wash all my socks in the washer and lay them flat to dry, so they’ll get wet after that first wear anyway. Socks gifted to others will be blocked, so they’re looking their best when the recipient gets them.

  27. Karen, I have searched everywhere for your “blocking tub” without success. Can you share where you found it! Thanks!
    Also, I wash everything I hand knit the way it should be laundered by the recipient and the directions on the yarn label. That way there are no surprises and if there is a cleaning issue to pass along with the hand knit, I can add a small note!

  28. My guess is that people aren’t thinking “blocking” when they’re washing their knits – I find it hard to imagine that people are never washing their knits, especially in the US where people seem to shower a lot and wash clothes frequently.

    I’m probably an over-zealous blocker, as I block frequently throughout a project to see how things are turning out. It slows me down but I can’t seem to stop!

  29. I block all finished garments by a quick soak in lukewarm water with eucalyptus wool wash. I squeeze the water out gently. Then I refill the basin with fresh lukewarm water and a dash of cheap organic hair conditioner which I massage in my hands first. This brings added softness to the garment. I air-dry on a flat surface after pulling the garment into shape. Works for all types of yarn and evens out the stitches.

  30. i actually wash most of my hand knits in the washing machine, on gentle, cold wash with a minimum of garments in there at a time. Then i just lay flat to dry.

  31. I rarely block things that I make for myself. As I use a lot of acrylic- only the really fussy stuff (read: lace and cables) needs a good blocking. And there is no need to block things like a simple blanket. I might wash it first, but most likely I’m just going to snuggle under it as soon as it’s off the needles. I’ve been partially under it ANYWAY while knitting it, so it’s not much of a stretch. I’m more of a process knitter, so once the process is done- I mostly don’t feel the need to block it.

    Now- the things that are for other people- yes, I block them.

  32. Haven’t you heard the rhyme:
    “Black socks!
    The longer you wear them the stronger they get!
    Sometimes I think I should wash them,
    But then I think,
    Well maybe not yet!

    White socks!
    The longer you wear them the blacker they get!”

    In all seriousness, I wash things after I knit them but before weaving ends and sewing buttons. Then I wash them when they start to look dingy or smell. So, my yellow sweater that I wear daily from Nov-April gets a dunking with my daughter’s mittens and favorite sweater every 6 weeks or so. Socks get washed every 3rd wearing, everything else gets washed on an “as needed basis.”

  33. I hand wash everything except for my socks which are put into the washer with the rest of the laundry. I have two small boys, so I make sure my socks all go into a delicates bag (after a Superman cape Velcro incident).

    If you are afraid of your washer snagging something, give a nylon mesh delicates bag a chance! They are very inexpensive.

  34. I absolutely always give my knits a good soak before I consider them finished! I was going to say this might be because I primarily knit stockinette-heavy sweaters, and I think they benefit hugely from blocking, but of course lace of whatever variety looks better blocked (not necessarily stretched to death, but at least soaked), and cables change a bit, too, and…well, probably everything looks better to me blocked. I have a finishing book by a very famous knitting designer person who insists she never wet blocks and that at most she might steam a piece a bit, but I just don’t understand that at all. This is not intended to sound snotty, but when looking at finished objects on Ravelry it usually seems pretty obvious to me which ones have been blocked before being photographed and which ones haven’t, and the blocked ones always look much nicer (though don’t get me wrong, any hand-knit garment someone has finished and is pleased with is a beautiful thing).

    The other thing is that I mostly knit lighter-weight sweaters intended to worn next to the skin, often with plant-based fibers, so they need to get washed semi-regularly. We have a fairly vicious old top-loading machine that mangles even sweatshirts, so I would never put my handknits in it, and instead use a great big plastic bowl, lavender Eucalan, and cool water. (Maybe if I ever get around to knitting up my Louet Euroflax I’d risk that in the washer.)

    For those days when the sweater’s not quite ready to be washed but is looking a little crumpled or droopy (or I haven’t got around to washing it yet but really want to wear it), I use Biokleen Bac-Out Fabric Refresher, which is like a hippie version of Febreze. I put the sweater on a hanger or lay it on the drying rack and give it a good spritz all over – the spray dries much more quickly than water, smells lovely (in a natural way – no fake air freshener smell), freshens up the fabric, and helps the wrinkles fall out. Obviously this wouldn’t work on something you couldn’t wash with water, but it hasn’t harmed anything I’ve tried it on yet.

  35. I’m curious about items that are gifted to people who are nonknitters. How do they go about learning how to block the item after washing? Some items like hats and socks are no brainers but a lace shawl is not always just a lay flat and let dry and without blocking we know what lace looks like. I gift a lot of shawls so I’m more then curious.

    • I’ve never given away a lace shawl (or knitted one!) but I think I would include a note saying to send it to me for cleaning if/when it needed it.

  36. Here in Ontario there is a spring tradition called ‘2-4 weekend’. Every May, usually about the 24th, is the unofficial end of winter. Gardeners can plan as the threat of frost is over and those with non-winterized cottages make their first trek back. I, as a knitter, use that weekend to wash all of my knits before the get backed away in a cedar chest from Quebec.

  37. Wow. I’ve honestly never thought of tossing my woolens into the dryer with wet laundry. I guess that’s always seemed like felting territory to me.

    I don’t generally block pieces before I seaming, but I do block the whole thing once its done.

  38. Pingback: Q for You: Flat or in-the-round? | Fringe Association

  39. For sweaters, I’ve never made them in parts to sew together so they’re all one piece (the sleeves are made by picking up the armhole stitches). I always block my knitwear once they’re off the needles. I enjoy that process as much as making the item. And after items have been worn a while, they always get a full hand wash and reblock. It’s always exciting to me to admire it even after it’s been worn, washed, and dried. :-)

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