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Woolmark symbol

We often get reports from customers of washing machines and washer dryers shrinking items that are wool, delicate or wool mix items of clothing and, as is often the case, the washing machine gets blamed for the damage when in most cases there is nothing wrong with the machine at all. 

Lots of us love wool, silk and lovely soft designer clothing yet when it comes to cleaning them a lot of us tend to be lazy and, quite frankly, ignorant as to what we're supposed to do to maintain these treasured items of clothing. We put them in to wash on the wrong programs, use the wrong detergents and use cheap washing machines that often cost less than the wash load that they are entrusted to care for. Then we wonder why they don't last, shrink or just go wrong.

We want to help you avoid that, even though you've probably found this article because you've already had a problem with a woolen or delicate item being ruined.

For a clue as to what we are discussing here's a quote from the Home Landry Cleaning Council (HLCC) that oversees the care labels for the industry:

For washing wool and silk MOST DETERGENTS, INCLUDING COLOUR DETERGENTS, ARE NOT SUITABLE. For these fabrics, you should use a GENTLE/FINE WASH DETERGENT specifically designed for this purpose.


The basic advice here is that NO laundry detergent is suitable for use when washing silk, delicates or wollens. That's it. 

To illustrate the point, here's a quote from the Ariel website in response to the FAQ, "Can your laundry products be used on woolens, silks and delicate fabrics?":

Our biological and non biological detergents are not suitable for woollens, silks or delicate fabrics. Biological detergents contain enzymes and these enzymes may cause damage. Wools and silks should never be washed in biological detergents. The only product we would recommend for these delicate fabrics is Dreft which has been especially designed to wash wool, silk and fine fabrics.


Or, Persil, the other brand leading detergent in the UK advises that:

Normal laundry detergents contain ingredients, which help get dirt out of heavily soiled clothes but at the same time, make the washing solution alkaline. Alkaline solutions can affect the dyes used in wool and can result in colours fading or running.

At high dosages, alkaline solutions can even attack the basic wool fibre, leaving the whole structure weakened and susceptible to breaking. This not only means your garment will wear out faster but it also won’t look or feel as nice.


What these sources (including us) are all telling you, universally is that if you use a normal detergent whether bio, non-bio or any other type it will almost certainly cause damage to these items without doubt. Even if you don't believe one of us, we can't all be wrong!

And, that's the single biggest cause of damage to woolen and delicate items, the incorrect detergent or wash cycle is used leading to damaged clothing. Of course many people think that it's the washing machine that's caused the damage and subsequently blame the machine for shrinking clothes and quite often people refuse to accept or, argue the point, that the machine should somehow be capable of dealing with this but the fact is that no washing machine is. 

  Wash Care Labels

Typical woolens labelThe reason that this often happens is that people either just ignore the laundry care labels (very common), they will assume that the detergent used is immaterial (also very common) or that the machine program selected will just magically take care of it somehow.

It's not actually people's fault in many ways that this happens, it's more a general ignorance of how to care for certain fabrics and how to correctly wash them. That is why care labels were introduced, to try to offer clear and common laundering instructions. The trouble is, most people if you asked the, wouldn't have a clue what the symbols meant or that different detergents were even required to clean your clothes and keep them from being damaged, shrunk or just plain disintegrating in the wash.

Way back years ago before that advent of cheap washing machines invaded our kitchens with their new fancy handwash or wool wash programs all these items were labelled as "hand wash only" and people accepted that, if they wanted to have these delicate fibres in their clothing that they had to stand over the sink, soak them, gently wash them and under no circumstances should they be spun, they had to be allowed to drip dry. No mechanical action.

Enter the washing machine with it's very gentle cycles with new motors that that allowed a very gentle wash action to be applied and we have the program known as a "hand wash", "wool wash" or whatever other funky name that the manufacturer came up with for, what are essentially, all the same thing. They all wash with a low wash RPM, they all wash at under 30˚C and they should all either offer no spin or what is known as a "rinse and hold" function.

Rinse and hold is where the wash cycle is done and the clothes are held suspended in water. This is for delicate items to prevent creasing as you won't usually be able to iron them either.

These programs work well enough for most delicate and wool garments but, you must also use the proper detergent or you will damage the delicate fibres that form these items. Failure to do so will result in damage, irreversible damage, to your laundry.

The care labels for any garments are there for a reason and you must try to understand them or, not just on delicates and woolens, you will almost certainly be damaging a lot of your clothes.

Today we have many designer fabrics with all manners of fibre mixes, new fabric technologies and to be completely blunt about it, people's attitudes towards washing these items of laundry hasn't moved on from (at best) the 1970's.

Lots of woolTo prove the point, ask friends how many wash programs they use on their washing machine.

The answer will normally be one, two and on the odd occasion three programs at most. It is incredibly rare that you will get anything above three programs as an answer to that question.

Now, ask yourself, why do all washing machines have at least ten or so programs with various temperature and spin options?

Why do we have a plethora of care labels that, unsurprisingly, match a lot of the programs?

Why do we have all of that and manufacturers that make different detergents?

That answer to all these simple questions is that, we need them to correctly wash our clothes. The fact is most people don't bother to learn about it or what they're doing then simply blame the machine or the clothes for their lack of knowledge or care.

  Washing Woolen And Delicate Items

To look after very delicate items or items made from or that are of a wool mix the best bet is to first of all separate these from your normal wash load. Just take them out, put them in a separate place and whatever you do DO NOT put them in on a normal cotton wash with all the rest. If you do they will be damaged.

Make sure that you have a detergent that is suitable for washing delicate or woolen items such as Dreft or Persil Silk and Woolen.

If the care label says that the item is hand wash only then ideally, hand wash it! If you put it in the washing machine ensure that the program selected is a hand wash program as, if it isn't then you may well ruin the item. If you don't ruin it on the first pass you will with repeated washing.

If it's woolen items that you are washing then make sure that you select the wool cycle on your washing machine and, if it doesn't have one, the items should be hand washed only and not ever be near your washing machine.

The load size should be small, very small! Only a few items at a time are the order of the day for delicate washes or you can get damage from the laundry through excessive friction so it's a quarter load maximum. 

We cannot stress enough that to wash delicate fibres like these YOU have to take a lot of care and makes sure that YOU do things correctly or the results can and often are disastrous for your prized and often very expensive clothes.


  How You Can Get Help With Laundry Problems

To offer support in helping people to determine the cause of laundry problems please use the washing machine support forum.

It’s fast, free, easy and normally someone will pick up on the post that can assist you often with a few experts chipping in if needed. Just register if you don’t have an account, we don’t mail you, send you spam or any of that stuff.

Post up your question and give images if you possibly can and the guys in the forums will do the rest for you and try to identify the problem you have.

Cost you nothing, might save you some embarrassment or worse, a charge for a service visit that wasn’t needed.

  Photographs Of Damage

If you can post photographs of the damage or problem you are having this can be really helpful in allowing the technicians to see what the problem is.

I think the useful information here could have been said more briefly and all the banging on about how stupid/lazy/viceful washing machine users apparently are ignores or even implies the denial of the fact that many of them have careers these days and wouldn't find it empowering to spnd lots of their time doing the household chores perfectly. To quote from another forum:>[closed] Merino - what powder/fluid brand do you wash yours in?[...]>Whatever my wife wants to wash it at. Otherwise I can wash it myself and frankly, if she's prepared to do that work for me, I'm not going to argue with the implementation.
I bought two merino wool jumpers - the hassle of owning these are not worth it. The cost of dry cleaning them is not worth it. finally got round to washing one last week, it shrank slightly. Washing the other now ... I've changed the settings but likely my non-bio is not good enough so it will shrink too. Anyway the upside of these shrinking is I wont have to worry about these flippin jumpers anymore!! lol
If you ever wonder how to remove stains from wool clothing, visit my website above.
Hi there, i need the name of detergent which could help to wash ties at home. it would be more nice if u could tell me the availability of said detergent in Pakistan pls. regards

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