The clothing care I’ve always been worst at is washing knitwear. But I have got better in recent years, in part as I’ve become more used to the process and it’s felt more reliable, more predictable.
Over time you also start to see the results. Polishing shoes is rewarding because you instantly see a difference. With washing knitwear it’s more subtle – a few weeks later, after a few wears, you just start to see that the knit isn’t pilling at all; it feels softer yet just as satisfyingly dense.
We’ve talked about how to wash knitwear before – in this video with Audie Charles – but never demonstrated it. So today’s video shows the process, with Ronnie Chiu of Colhay’s washing a lambswool cardigan.
Note how relaxed it is, how simple, how most of the work is done by the soaking and the air drying afterwards. I’ve never understood how people can find ironing relaxing, but I can definitely see it with washing knits.
The video is – as ever with PS – pretty thorough, with me asking questions along the way. If you want a very simple summary, we’ve also created one below, which will be shared on social media. It could be a nice refresher later on.
Last, please forgive the bare pop-up shop background, and the audio quality. The morning we turned up, workmen decided to dig up the road outside, so the mics had to be quite controlled.
Thank you very much to Ronnie, and to the Campaign for Wool, who have supported this series of films.
My Navy North Sea Submariner would probably be a classic example of a heavier knit. As the natural Lanolin is left in ,would dry cleaning be appropriate in this case?
The other issue, as regards the video, how warm should the water be?
I certainly wouldn’t wash my John Smedley, very lightweight knitwear, above about 30C.
what do you suggest here?
The water should be warm temperature to warm, which wouldn’t be above 30.
With the submariner it might be worth asking the brand, but I would suggest hand washing and just making sure it’s squeezed out well and then laid flat
Lindsay, Simon, I bought a jumper in Connolly and was advised never to dry clean it for the reason that Lindsay mentions – its weight is similar to the one Ronnie’s wearing in the video. Nevertheless, another very informative video and gives me the confidence to jump in to what is undoubtedly one of the more terrifying things anyone can do with a roll neck.
Very informative, thank you Simon and Ronnie.
In the video Ronnie mentions it being best to dry clean very chunky knitwear, such as a shawl collar cardigan. I have a PS cashmere Rugby and was wondering if it would be ok to hand wash that (and equivalent 4-ply knitwear)? Many thanks.
Yes, that would be fine John. Just keep in mind the danger mentioned here – of the weight misshaping the knit – and be mindful it’s laid flat
I haven’t hand washed any really expensive pieces, but am fine with my Lockie shawl collar cardigan – the trick I find is to bundle it up carefully when taking it out of the water so it can be transferred to a towel stretched over a drying rack, without pulling it around. I do also squeeze with a towel as it reduces drying time dramatically – as does a domestic dehumidifier. But YMMV.
Useful, cheers Jim
Hi Simon, off-topic again but I wanted to share the raglan coat I recently received from Husbands, made in your herringbone donegal tweed. I couldn’t be any more satisfied with both the process and the final outcome, thank you once again for the preorder and for developing this fantastic fabric!
My pleasure Gabriele, that looks really nice! Great to see it in a different style, with the full-length pleat and the belt
Hi Simon, I saw you reply to a reader that the pre-order of the fabric is finished and not currently available.
But I think I also saw you say there could be plans next year to get the pre-order going again? Will this likely to happen?
Yes, that first pre-order only ran last Spring.
We haven’t decided on what pre-order to do this year, but it’s unlikely. Particularly as we’ve restocked the grey and the navy so they are both available
This is fantastic, I wish I had bought some of that fabric myself.
Gabriele if you read this, can you let me know what size is your Husbands coat and how many meters of fabric did you had to buy to get that made?
Thank you! I went with a 50, which is my usual size, and they asked me to buy 4 m of fabric.
And the back.
In my limited experience I’ve found using a pillow case for shape, and a dish drying rack to be helpful for draining before putting on a flat towel. The other consideration is patience.
Just seen the shorter video , so forgive me if this is answered in the longer video, but isn’t it possible to wash on a ‘gentler’ programme in a washing machine , not to spin it , drain the machine and towel dry ?
That would surely cut out some of the work.
It isn’t Robin, no, good question.
That would be possible, but there’s always a little unreliability with machines. It would also take longer than the five minutes this takes
In say a Swiss brand made in Switzerland washer (V-Zug) hand wash setting ?
This damn washer costs a pretty penny and I need to get the use of it.
I’m sure that’s among the best washers, but I don’t have experience of a wide range of them, and how ones deal with wools varies quite a lot.
Chances are it would be fine, but if you want the best out of knitwear in the long run (rather than just avoiding ruining it) then a simple hand wash will always be best
Ronnie really needs to start his own youtube channel about knitwear! His video with kirby was really educational, and so is this!
If moths wouldnt have had lunch on my cashmere rollneck, id be placing an order for his cardigan! (Somehow this year looked less chunky than couple years ago or the ones in clutch cafe?) Now ill wait a couple years to see if pest expert+garment bags works for me before investing in expensive wool stuff again.
Its not the washing that scares me.. its the drying part! In winter my flat has like 70% humidity so drying stuff is almost impossible! And even in summer, in a small flat drying 3-5 pieces of knitwear flat for 3-4 days is…. annoying!
Soak no rinse wool wash seems like a nice stuff. Not much agitation needed and no rinsing needed.
Oo, that sounds hard with that kind of humidity Martins.
I wouldn’t think you’d want to try and dry 3-5 pieces at once. Just do one or two – if you have a handful of nice pieces, you’re only going to have to wash something once every couple of months anyway
I have electronic dehumidifiers in the wardrobe and laundry room – relics from a decade in Hong Kong. In addition to a constant humidity control setting on the basis of percentages, they have a clothes drying setting which works wonders for drying knitwear. No heat just dry airflow. On a horizontal drying rack with the machine below or next to it, even the massive lambswool shawl collar cardigan from Colhay’s is dry within 1-2 days. Definitely worth the investment in my view. (I also like to think that the ones with air purifiers/filters help against dust and everything that comes with dust, eg moths, but not sure if that’s entirely true. I have never experienced any moths in my wardrobe in any event).
Appreciate the educational video, while I was generally informed on the process, there were a few useful tricks I picked up. You should consider making the short video public, these have tendency to get popular from time to time.
Can we also expect the Sexton interview soon? I can hardly wait for it.
Thanks m, and yes the short video will be on social channels.
The Sexton talk had to be postponed unfortunately as Edward was ill, but it is being rearranged for the end of January.
So I know Ronnie is the founder and director of Colhays, but does that really make him an expert in washing knitwear? From what I understand, he’s only been in the knitwear-making business a few years, even. I would be more apt to take advice from someone who has more experience working with knits, and in particular washing them. Perhaps someone who works specifically in high-end laundry services.
How many knits has Ronnie realistically handwashed in his life? Can he really speak with authority on this subject?
I can see your point Jeremy. However, if you’ve heard him speak on other subjects around knitwear too, you quickly realise how much research he has done in a few short years, and how much he knows.
It’s similar to the challenge you get as a journalist when writing about specialist topics – people say that the individual you are interviewing, often the head of a mill or similar technician, surely knows more than you. They do, but they are often not good at communicating it, and good questioning enables you to write something that is just as authoritative on the particular point of the article.
It’s similar here. Ronnie has spent several years talking again and again to the knitwear mills he uses, and is just as knowledgeable on these less technical subjects.
High-end laundries, by the way, are often depressingly bad on these kinds of things. They don’t know much about hand washing because they don’t do it, and even hand pressing – hence the fact that in someone like Mayfair, there’s still only one presser the tailors usually trust.
Thanks for a very useful video, Simon. In terms of drying, my drying rack isn’t quite big enough to fully lay out the sleeves so rather than letting the sleeves hang off the sides of the rack, which would likely stretch them out, would it be OK to fold the sleeves over the body of the sweater? Thanks!
Interesting to see how different people do things. Ronnie’s method here appears to involve a lot more squeezing and wringing than I’d have expected – perhaps this comes across on video more aggressive than it actually is? Nevertheless, the way I prefer is more similar to Audie Charles’ as shown previously.
On a related note, getting a dehumidifier has been something of a game changer here – most of my knits will dry in 24-36 hours or so, and a Lockie shawl collar in perhaps 3 days.
Thanks Jim. To be clear, there is no wringing at all – we specifically recommend against that. And you can certainly do less squeezing than here – to an extent it’s there to make sure the demonstration is clear
Ive been thinking about a dehumidifier for past 2 years.. never got around ordering one because reading reviews the impression I got was, half of reviews say they don’t work properly, because they are tested at +30* in 80% humidity (basically jungle) so when you get to your average flat they almost don’t work, OR they are the size of double 20kg check in luggage and costs 250£ and is as loud as a hoover. could never find one in-between…
*size and noise would be biggest problem.
Hello Martins – I live in the UK and would recommend you buy a dehumidifier if you have high moisture/condensation levels in your flat despite ensuring you are ventilating it and ensuring adequate heat. (It is easy to seek advice about this via google – eg for impartial advice the Oxford City Council website has a helpful guide). Even a cheaper dehumidifier will make quite a difference to lowering the moisture levels and will help if you need to dry clothes indoors. Which? magazine (19/12/22) has the following as best buys at less than £250 1) DeLonghi DEX214f; 2) Meaco DD8L; 3) Pro Breeze PB15UK. I have a Meaco which allows me to set a target humidity.
Lowering the high moisture levels will be beneficial for your health and keeping your home warm. Like Jim, I use mine to dry washed clothes indoors during the Winter – it works well and is much cheaper than using the tumble dryer.
For the record – I have no connection with any of the above organisations or industry.
I share your frustration re clothes moths – ensuring cashmere is washed and then stored in vacuum bags – touchwood – seems to be working for me.
very interestingly moths did not touch the only piece that went to storage unwashed… they ate unworn piece and washed piece that spent 3 weeks in freezer during summer… well… now I have pest expert repellents and sticky strips. keeping wool stuff in drawers in ziplock bags, and jackets in suit hangers.. let’s see if it works.
by the way that was the humidifier I was thinking about. how is extraction when it’s 15-17* indoors and 70% humidity? is it able to get it down to 40-50%?
I have tried a few and the Tefal Intense Dry Control Linen Dry (who comes uo with these names?) is really good imo. Definitely able to get it down to 50% as long as you close the wardrobe or room it’s in
Hello Martins – Yes – a dehumidifier will be able to reduce your indoor humidity at those temperatures to your 40-50% target (although I understand the ideal UK humidity is 50-60%). There is an advice section on the Meaco.com website which explains the different types of dehumidifier and things you should consider or alternatively pop to your library and ask for access to their Which? magazine online which has impartial advice.
Thanks for the video. Very useful.
Just wanted to ask you, Ronnie or any other reader if they could recommend a good knitwear storage bag that will hold 2 chunky pieces of knitwear at least, preferably from a UK supplier (as that’s my base). I know that Colhays themselves send a canvas bag with their own knitwear (or at least they used to) but this is only good for one garment. I would be particularly interested in a cotton bag. I have tried the polyester storage bag from John Lewis but wasn’t happy with the material or the size.
Hello – I use the Lakeland vacuum storage bags to store my cashmere blankets and knitwear and to protect against moths – they come in different sizes and so there should be a suitable size for chunky knitwear….but they are not cotton. I did a quick google search and see there are cotton storage bags available from various UK suppliers but there is mixed feedback about their size and quality. Soakandsleep.com – which sells good quality bedding I can vouch for – has larger cotton storage bags designed for bedding which might meet your needs but I do not know if they will keep moths at bay.
Thank you so much for your suggestion which I have duly checked out. The vacuum bags from Lakeland look good but unfortunately like the ones from John Lewis, they are a little larger in size than I would ideally like, even the smallest 38L size. I know this may sound pedantic, but I’ve found that unless the bags are full with folded garments the contents become a mess rather quickly.
The current bags I am using (after trying out the John Lewis ones), are cotton ones by The White Company. I find these to be a perfect size for my requirement but they seem to be out of stock for a long time and my knitwear collection has outgrown my current bag capacity.
I know that some people don’t like using cotton bags because moths can eat through cotton too. I have never had any cotton garment succumb to moths, only a wool jumper. My understanding is that although moths can attack cotton, they prefer natural animal fibres such as wool and cashmere, over cotton. My personal experience would also tend to support this.
I also found that non-natural fibre storage bags can lead to smell and mould if not opened regularly, which is quite apt for posting in this article, which should encourage me to wash my knitwear more – something that I openly admit to finding a bit daunting and am very bad at doing.
It’s nice to know that this forum facilities great discussion to get feedback from the likes of yourself. Thank you again kindly.
What are your thoughts on using washing machines with a wool/hand wash setting and machine drying via a “wool in basket” setting with air just circulating around?
The first is usually good, but I’d always sound a note of caution as machines vary so subtly. If you’ve never done it before, try on a less precious garment first.
The latter I’ve never tried to be honest. Does the garment not move at all?
Yes, the garment lays flat in a basket and the air circulates around it
Interesting, be good to try that some time. My only concern would be that the knit wouldn’t be lying flat, which is what brings it back to its original shape
Very helpful. I might have overlooked/overheard this so sorry if my question is already answered: Does this also apply to cashmere (being just another sort of wool)?
Paul James Knitwear recommend ‘Clothes Doctor No. 3 ‘ (available from PJK or Amazon) for woollens, and I have to say I’ve had very good results on a wool wash in the machine (the clothes come out beautifully soft). In particular I have a busy life and I don’t want to be ‘faffing’ (glad you used a Yorkshire word, Simon!) with hand washing the accumulated light merino wool turtlenecks and socks I wear in winter most days for warmth.
Must be the days I spent in York last week with my in-laws!
You don’t need to hand wash wool socks like this Russ, and there’s less benefit to doing so on fine merino knits as well. It’s really with thicker gauge wool and cashmere like the ones here
Simon where is the jacket from please? Looks familiar but cant quite place it.
It’s my Ciardi in Anglo-Italian cloth – seen previously here
You mentioned wool-synthetic blends. How about wool blends with fibers such as silk, cotton, linen?
They’re easier, and can be washed in the same way as this.
Thank you for this wonderful video, I it was the last missing piece in your guide!
Could you elaborate a bit on the frequency of washing?
I’m asking because I don’t want to rely on a smell test, which can be deceiving (I don’t smell anything =/= others don’t).
In the video you’ve said “once per season” but I wonder: that depends greatly on how often a piece is worn, correct?
If I wear it rarely (once a month), a season can mean around 6 wears, depending on climate.
If I wear it often (every 2-3 days), it’s going to be completely different.
Obviously this is also very personal: daily activities, perspiration, etc, but I just feel like the period between washes is best expressed in the number of times a piece is worn instead of calendar time.
That’s true Jack, it’s just hard to put a precise figure on it at all, because people vary so much. For most people on average though, once a season should be fine – use your own judgment beyond that, given you know how often you wear things. Also of course, once a season is a lot easier to remember, rather than starting to keep counts on how often you’ve worn everything
Please forgive a perhaps stupid question, but maybe it’s because English isn’t my native tongue. Ronnie says he uses “baby shampoo” in the water, is that another word for some kind of specialist shampoo or is it actually shampoo for babies, i.e. small children? :p Because that would be quite convenient! But I would also feel terribly stupid to wash knitwear in baby shampoo if it actually refers to something else!
No, it is shampoo for babies. Baby shampoo is softer and less harsh than that for adults generally
Hello, one of my favorite sweaters in cashmere and merino mix became wide in waistline and it is kind of saggy. Any idea how to shrink it in waist. I wash my knitwear same way as it is shown on video but it does not shrink. Should i use warmer water like 40C?
To be honest Mathieu, you’re very unlikely to be able to do it yourself at home. Knitwear is too malleable and shrinking can very easily turn into felting.
The only solution is likely to be returning it to the manufacturer, who can steam it and then put it back on the original frames to regain its shape. It’s something a really good shop like Anderson & Sheppard might offer, but few others do. One of the things, in fact, that everyone loses when they seek out the cheapest, or only buy online. That kind of service used to be much more common.
Is there any reason not to use a no-rinse detergent made for wool clothing? I think I heard about that on Die Workwear, and it sounds great, but maybe too good to be true.
No, that can work well as well, though it’s just fairly small stage you skip I guess
Curious as to whether knitwear should be rinsed until it is soap free.. Ronnie’s demonstration just shows a rather brief rinse in clean water to get remove some of the soapy water but clearly it’s not soap free when laid out to dry
The demonstration is a little shortened there in the video, you want pretty much all the soap removed
I’ve just hand washed a couple of my lambswool jumpers from Sirplus using this method. It’s quite therapeutic and I like the theory that one is finishing the garment by washing it this way – like you’re a custodian of it!
Exactly. It feels more special and personal too, which I love. Nice to hear it worked so well Rich
I’ve been handwashing my knitwear according to the video but then using the machine spin around 800-1000 rpm to dry it out instead of the towel method. After that I lay it flat on the rack. I didn’t notice any issues but for longevity, should I use the towel?
I’m also one of those madmen that hand wash their colhays giant lambswool cardigan in a big sink
Yes, I’d avoid the spinning if you can. Squeezing out in a towel is a lot gentler
Great article Simon, thank you.
I wonder if you, or any readers, have had any experience unshrinking a wool sweater? I quick google search seams to think some fabric softener will do the trick. I have my doubts…
Unshrinking is very hard Ben, because changes are the material has become felted, which is hard to reverse. It’s particularly hard to get the same shape afterwards. What you really want to do if you can, is give it back to the maker as they can put it on the original frames. However, this is something most shops and makers don’t offer anymore, as everyone goes for the cheapest prices online and doesn’t factor in long-term service
My God! Autocorrect made a mockery of that!
I corrected it a little bit Ben, tell me if it still makes sense!
That looks better, thanks!
I might give that a try, the sweater in question is from Harley, hopefully they offer a similar service. Might still give the fabric softener a go (In the interests of science!). In my experience the only thing I’ve found to cause shrinkage is the spin cycle on a washing machine.
Yes, usually it’s the agitation that is the main culprit for shrinkage Ben – that’s why wool washing is so delicate, and wool settings on machines move it so little. But heat also accelerates that.
Let me know on Harley. I feel like it’s unlikely given how keen their pricing is, but you never know. It’s more something a shop might expect to offer, but would charge a little more too.
Thanks for this video. Unfortunately somehow the end of a sleeve on my cashmere jumper has become baggy (it should be tighter to the wrist, as the other sleeve still is). I’m not sure how I managed to achieve this. Any tips as to how to get it back to its proper tension?
Sometimes that can happen when the cuff is stretched, for example forcefully pushed up a lot.
Washing can help a bit, and even steaming it, though it depends on the amount of stretch. You could try just soaking the sleeve cuff as shown here, then squeezing out and drying
Yes that must be what happened. I will try what you suggest. Thanks!
No worries. Let me know how you get on
Videos like this and your how to sew on a button have been immensely valuable to me.
Might you do one on how to darn/mend small holes or loose threads on knitwear?
For example those small ones that can appear at the elbows from rubbing against surfaces, or in the armpits from pulling.
Have you seen this post on that Sigurd?
Oh no, I hadn’t! That’s great, just what I was after. Will check it out.
Feeling kinda dumb asking this, but I am unsure about the size of the bowl I need for washing. Is something like 35 x 35 x 12 cm (about 12 L) big enough? Looks kinda small too me, but these are the sizes I found so far.
Yeah that’s fine, that or a bit bigger. As long as you’re not squashing the knit in
Thank you for the fast answer Simon!
Recently purchased a lovely Chapal cardigan from Marrkt, fit is great except a little tight in the waist. Do you know any good places on London to get some a small alteration to a garment such as this?
Knitwear is a tricky one to alter because you often want to link the pieces together in the same way as they were made, which needs to be done on a knitwear machine. Love Cashmere in Scotland used to offer this but I’m not sure they still do.
And in any case, I’m not sure you’d be able to make this piece bigger in the waist, because I assume there’s no extra material (inlay) inside you could use?
Thank you Simon, thought it was a long shot. Alas the Queen’s Chapal looks great unzipped so will persevere.
Sorry Jamie. Any other questions, do always ask on any post and I’ll see it
Hi Simon, could you explain a bit more specifically about what you mean by “any soft detergent”? I usually use capsules like Ariel or Bold for my regular laundry, obviously they aren’t what you mean, but is just regular Ariel or Bold liquid what I should be looking for? Not sure what you mean by “soft”. I have a load of knitwear that I haven’t washed since I bought it because I’ve been unsure what product I should use (have heard people recommending special wool detergent, for example, but never seen those sort of products when I browse in Tesco or Sainsbury’s.
I see detergents labelled that they are for “delicates”.
Could you give some specific products that will be available on the shelves of my local supermarket?
Sorry if this is a super-basic question but I want to make sure I know what I am doing as I’ve ruined a couple of jumpers by machine washing them, despite feeling that I’ve followed the instructions on the label properly. Just mainly thrown by the reference to “soft detergent” as I don’t see any products labelled specifically as that.
Sorry that wasn’t clear. But the detergent won’t be the reason you’re ruining knits in the machine, you don’t have to worry about that. Regular Ariel or Bold liquid will be fine. Something specific for wools or delicates would have benefits in the long run, and if you’re going to wash multiple knits then it’s probably worth getting that, but the selection is some way from the most important thing here.
Thanks Simon. Good to know.