How to Wash a Wool Blanket for Warmth That Smells Good Too
As an enthusiastic camper, you need to know how to wash a wool blanket. After all, the last thing you want to do is ruin your pure wool throw by tossing it in the washing machine the night before you set off on your adventure. Sure, you can always bring another blanket with you. But you bought a wool blanket for a reason.
Wool blankets are practical and durable. Perhaps more importantly, they keep you warm and snug, no matter the weather conditions. Also, wool maintains its insulative properties even when wet. And, it’s naturally fire retardant. No wonder so many adventure seekers include a wool blanket in their checklist of essential items to take camping.
WHY DOES WOOL SHRINK?
Before we go ahead and explain how to wash a wool blanket, you need to understand how wool differs from other fibers.
You’re probably well aware that wool comes from sheep. But you might not realize that unlike synthetic and plant-based fibers, animal hair is made of protein. That’s a big problem if you wash everything in the washing machine.
You see: Most laundry detergents contain not only soap but also enzymes, biological molecules that break down other biological molecules. For example, amylases break down starch, whereas lipases break down fat. Then we have proteases, which break down protein.
Proteases eliminate food stains, but they also break down the molecules in wool (which explains why your wool blanket has mysterious holes in it after you wash it).
The ragged structure of wool complicates matters even further. When you wash a wool blanket in the washing machine, the wool fibers stick to one another, pulling the fabric tighter together, creating the illusion that the material has shrunk.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU WASH A WOOL BLANKET?
Learning how to wash a wool blanket isn’t difficult. However, that doesn’t mean that you should clean it before and after every camping trip.
Since wool is a delicate fiber, it requires careful handling. So, unless your blanket smells bad or is noticeably dirty, we advise you against cleaning it.
HOW TO WASH A WOOL BLANKET: SIX METHODS
You probably didn’t expect to find six different methods for cleaning wool when you looked up how to wash a wool blanket.
SHAKE IT OUT
Wool has a natural protective coating, which makes it pretty resistant to grime and dust. As such, a lot of the time, shaking out the wool blanket and hanging it in a well-ventilated area is all that’s needed to get rid of any dirt that might be clinging to it.
If your blanket doesn’t feel any cleaner after a thorough shaking, try brushing it out.
Spread the wool throw down on a clean, flat surface and brush it with a soft-bristled fabric brush, making sure to always work in the same direction. Brushing in multiple directions can wear out the wool fibers and ruin your blanket.
SPOT CLEAN IT
You must take care of spills and stains immediately. Otherwise, they will soak into the fabric. Since wool is very dense, once stains set in, they’re almost impossible to get rid of.
To remove a new smudge, try using seltzer water. The carbonated bubbles should trap and lift away the stain easily.
If you don’t have seltzer water at hand or if the stain is older, make a cleaning solution by mixing one part distilled vinegar with two parts water. Soak the stained area with the solution and then blot it up with a clean cloth.
Whatever you do, don’t attempt to remove the stain by scrubbing it. That will not only weaken the fibers but might also spread the stain to other parts of the blanket.
If the vinegar solution isn’t strong enough to remove the spill, try using cold water mixed with a mild detergent instead.
To prevent color bleeding, do a spot test to confirm that the blanket is colorfast before you spot clean it. Soak a clean, white cloth in the cleaning solution and dab a small area of your throw. If the cloth absorbs any dye from the blanket, bring it to a dry cleaner.
If your wool throw is still dirty after a spot-clean, soaking it in cold water might help.
Fill your sink or bathtub with cold water and add a drop of mild, wool-safe detergent. If the water is too sudsy, you’ve gone overboard. Too much soap will strip the fibers off of their natural oils, and your blanket won’t be as resistant to dirt.
Since wool fibers are very fragile when they’re wet, resist the urge to scrub or agitate the blanket. Instead, let it soak for a few minutes. The detergent will react to the water, dislodging any crud without your help.
MACHINE WASH IT
Many campers wonder how to wash a wool blanket in the washing machine, and whether doing so is a good idea.
While most wool items are much too delicate to be thrown inside the washing machine, many wool blankets are a blend of wool and another fiber. Therefore, you can usually wash a wool blanket on a gentle cycle.
However, don’t take our word for it. Check the care label first. Bring the blanket to a professional if the care label says, “Dry Clean Only.”
If the care label doesn’t warn you against the dangers of machine washing, put the blanket inside the washing machine, and add just a drop of gentle detergent designed for wool items.
Set the washing machine to a delicate or wool cycle and let it run for two minutes before canceling it.
Then, switch to the rinse cycle. If your wool is scratchy, consider adding two cups of white vinegar or several drops of liquid vegetable glycerin (which can be found in the baking aisle of most stores or else at the pharmacy). Allow the rinse cycle to complete.
Never wash more than one wool blanket at a time. If you do, they will abrade against each other, causing pilling.
TRY THIS IF YOU’RE CAMPING IN WINTER
If you notice that your blanket is dirty while on a camping trip in the middle of winter, you don’t have to wait until you get home to clean it. The only caveat? You must have access to freshly fallen snow and a broom.
Ideally, you want the snow to be dry and powdery. Wet, heavy snow will soak your wool blanket through.
Begin by shaking out the blanket, releasing any loose dirt or dust particles that might be stuck to it. Then, let it acclimate to the temperature by hanging it outside for at least half an hour.
Next, find a clean area of snow (make sure it isn’t yellow) and place your wool throw on top of it. Cover the entire blanket with snow and then beat it with the flat side of the broom. Leave the snow-covered blanket alone for around 20 minutes before flipping it over and repeating the technique on the other side.
Shake the blanket out once more to get rid of any excess snow and hang it over a clothesline or a railing for around 30 minutes. The small amount of ammonia in the snow should react with the cold air, causing any grime to harden and fall off your wool blanket.
The snow will eventually turn to vapor, leaving your blanket nice and clean (and dry)!
KNOWING HOW TO DRY A WOOL BLANKET IS IMPORTANT TOO
Knowing how to wash a wool blanket isn’t enough. You also need to understand how to dry it properly.
Don’t wring your blanket out after you wash it as that can ruin its shape or create permanent wrinkles. Instead, roll up the wet blanket in a towel to absorb the moisture.
Next, hang the blanket to air dry. However, be careful to avoid direct sunlight. The sun can destroy the blanket’s softness and cause it to fade.
If the weather isn’t great or you don’t have access to a garden or a balcony, you can hang the damp blanket over a door, a drying rack, or a rust-free shower curtain rod. Alternatively, lay it flat on a few clean towels on the floor.
Steer clear of the dryer unless the care label says that machine drying is okay. Drying the blanket in a tumble dryer will more than likely crush the fibers, shrinking the material.
If, for some reason, you have to put the blanket in the dryer, invest in wool dryer balls (available at most retail and cleaning supplies stores) to reduce drying time and minimize static.
Brush the wool blanket with a fabric brush (or a towel) if the wool blanket feels stiff after you dry it.
NOW YOU KNOW HOW TO WASH A WOOL BLANKET!
Wool throws are expensive. But if you take good care of your wool blanket, it’ll last you for years.
Looking after a wool blanket isn’t that tricky. The most important thing to remember is to avoid washing it unnecessarily. Also, don’t wash it in the washing machine if you can help it unless the care label says otherwise.
Did you find our tips on how to wash a wool blanket useful? Share your thoughts below!
Featured image by: Pexels
Jonathan O’Ryan is what you might call a seasonal digital nomad. When he is not thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or finetuning his custom UL camping gear in the middle of nowhere, he comfortably sits at his home desk – yes, he still has a physical address, we don’t know for how long though – sharing his insights on all things outdoors with Wilderness Today’s audience. We know life is an adventure, Jon, but we’d still like to have that urgent work email answered by noon.