Can You Wash Wool With Regular Detergent?


It’s finally time to wash all your merino wool clothing, but you have no idea which detergent to use. Is a mild wool laundry detergent really necessary? Or can you wash wool with regular laundry detergent?

Regular laundry detergent shouldn’t damage your wool clothing, but there are better options. Mild wool detergents will soften/condition the wool fibers and extend the lifespan of your gear. You can also hand wash wool with a mild soap if you don’t have access to a washing machine.

Washing wool doesn’t have to be difficult. You don’t even have to worry about wool shrinking anymore now that companies are preshrinking their clothes. In the rest of this article I’ll explain how to hand and machine wash wool clothing.

Should I Wash Wool With Regular Laundry Detergent? (Hint: Wool is Stronger Than You Think!)

There’s a lot of misconceptions about caring for wool. Woolen fibers are surprisingly strong and resilient. They’re actually way stronger than cotton and synthetic blends.

Wool fibers can bend 20,000 times before they break, whereas cotton can only bend 3,000 times. Merino wool, with its tightly spun fibers, is even more durable.

You can expect wool clothes and blankets to last a decade with proper care. And thanks to its moisture-wicking and antibacterial properties you can wear wool multiple times without needing a wash. Fewer wash cycles mean less wear on your clothes.

Regular Laundry Detergent Won’t Damage Wool

Don’t worry about damaging wool clothing by washing them in regular laundry detergent. I just toss my wool layers in with everything else using All Laundry Detergent.

Please note that using normal detergent may eventually dry out wool(5+ Years). Stick to Woolite and other mild detergents on expensive clothing.

Just use the Normal Wash Cycle and Tumble Dry on low heat. You don’t even have to worry about shrinking wool now that everything comes pre-shrunk.

So why do people recommend mild detergents designed for wool? It’s because wool used to be extremely itchy so you would need detergents with conditioning agents to soften the fibers. Thankfully, most modern manufacturers have moved away from cheap wool yarn so conditioners aren’t necessary.

Hand Washing On The Trail

Wool has antibacterial properties giving you a few days between wash cycles, but you still might need to hand wash wool base layers on the trail.

Hand washing wool on the trail is really easy. You just need a bucket, water, and biodegradable soap. I use the same CampSuds Environmentally friendly soap that I use on my dishes.

It’s affordable and all it takes is a pea sized squirt to hand wash clothes.

Using Normal Detergents Will Eventually Dry Out Wool

Most wool items should be fine with regular detergents, but frequent washing will eventually dry out the wool. Sheep produce a wax/grease (called lanolin) to protect their wool and skin from the elements. This grease protects your wool garments from water and bacteria.

Regular wash cycles will eventually wash away the lanolin layer, but don’t Worry! It will take 5+ years of regular wash cycles to completely dry out.

If your wool clothing starts to look and feel dingy you can replenish the lanolin layer and bring it back to life.

How to Lanolize Wool and Cashmere

Re-lanolize your wool once it starts to look dingy and underperform. If you don’t lanolize your wool it will eventually start to smell and lose its water resistance. Luckily lanolizing wool is pretty easy.

  • Start off with dry, clean wool, that you just finished washing and drying.
  • Fill a bucket with warm water (not hot)
  • In a separate coffee mug of hot water add a pea sized amount of pure lanolin. The water needs to be hot enough to dissolve the lanolin wax. Stir the mixture and make sure the wax is completely dissolved.
  • Add the lanolin mixture to your bucket and mix well.
  • Add 2-3 wool items to the bucket and let your wool soak overnight (3 hours minimum)
  • After waiting for the lanolin to soak in you need to set the wool out to air dry. Lay your wool flat on a table outside to air dry.

What if Washing Wool Doesn’t Get Rid of The Smell?

Wool clothing may eventually start to absorb your body odor smell if you go a long time between wash cycles. All it takes is an overnight vinegar bath to take out the smell.

  • Just fill a bucket with warm water a few squirts of dish soap and a tablespoon of white vinegar. Submerge the wool, swish it around, and let it sit for a few hours.
  • After a couple hours drain the tub and refill with warm water. Try to get all the vinegar and soap out without wringing the water. All it should it take is a few minutes of swishing around in the water.
  • Drain the tub and try to get most of the water out without wringing. Let the sweater air dry or put it in the dryer on low heat.

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