You’ve just received an amazing handmade gift, and you absolutely LOVE it. But thinking about washing crochet gifts can steal away a slice of that joy if you don’t have the right guidelines.
When you try on your new crocheted gifts, you can feel the love in every stitch. Then you remember that tonight is spaghetti night, or that your favorite chair sheds pet hair faster than your pet does, or just how messy your children can get, and you hesitate to really use it the way it was intended.
I totally get it! Washing crochet feels intimidating for both crocheters and people who have received crochet gifts alike. Maybe you find yourself asking, “how on earth do I wash crocheted scarves and hats?” “Are crocheted afghans and blankets machine washable?” “Will this lace shawl get ruined in the wash?”
Crochet garments sometimes require special care, but they are meant to be used and loved! With these 7 easy tips, you will be able to confidently launder your handmade gifts so you can enjoy them now and for years to come.
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1. Read Your Label!
The absolute best way to care for your crocheted (or knit) item is to follow the instructions included with your yarn. Most major yarn companies include a blurb that will let you know whether your yarn tolerates machine washing and/or drying.
For example, Red Heart with Love (a new favorite!) can be machine washed in warm water on the gentle cycle and will tolerate a tumble dry on low heat as well.
On the other hand, Lion Brand Scarfie (featured in Ann’s Spokane Shawlette) can be machine washed in cool water, but must be laid flat to dry. Most likely, the 22% wool might stretch or felt in a machine dryer. You would lose the wonderful stitch definition and softness that makes this yarn so amazing in the first place!
Looking for a better way to give that information with a gift? Sign up for my email list and I will send you a FREE printable gift tag that includes laundry care information.
2. Understand Laundry Symbols.
If you’ve ever found yourself puzzling over a yarn label or a shirt tag in your laundry room, this quick and dirty guide to laundry symbols will remove the frustration. Skim these 5 bullet points and you’ll be confidently washing crochet items (and clothes) in no time.
If you need a full chart, they are available at http://www.textileaffairs.com/c-common.htm, but if you’re crazy busy like me, a quicker rundown will serve you better. The symbols come in 5 basic categories:
- Washing info: A stylized wash basin. The more dots, the hotter the wash cycle the garment can handle. A horizontal line or two beneath the wash basin means Gentle Cycle and Permanent Press cycle, respectively. Of course, a hand in the wash bin means hand wash only.
- Drying info: The square symbol with a circle inside represents a machine dryer. Generally, crochet items or yarns will not have more than one dot, which means tumble dry low. Often, they will have an X through the symbol, which means do NOT machine dry. Additionally, a square with a horizontal line through it means dry flat.
- Ironing info: You’ll probably recognize the iron graphic, as it looks like a handheld iron. One dot means low heat, two dots means medium heat, and, again, the X through means do not iron.
- Bleach info: The triangular symbol. Typically, yarns used to crochet are not bleach safe, so there will usually be an X marking out the triangle.
- Dry Cleaning info: If you encounter a circle, that indicates whether the item can be dry cleaned. Again, the X means do not dry clean.
Remember, the Symbols Mean “Highest Tolerated.”
Laundry symbols provide the fastest instructions for washing crochet, and in most cases, the yarn manufacturer makes recommendations that are spot on. But there’s no way the yarn company understands exactly how treasured an item can be. If your crochet item holds a lot of sentimental value to you, feel free to give it the VIP laundry treatment! For example: even though my son’s first baby hat is made of machine washable and dryable cotton, I won’t put it through the wash because I hope to pass it on someday.
3. Use a Mesh Laundry Bag.
Washing crochet in a machine, especially lacy shawls and afghans, always comes with the risk of snags. I have several zippered lingerie bags that I use when washing my crocheted items. The light, loose mesh allows water and soap suds through, but protects my crochet from snagging on the agitator, hooking to a shirt button or bra strap, or even sticking to a scrap of velcro on my kids’ clothing.
4. Dry Gently!
Always dry your crocheted items on the lowest heat setting possible. Most natural fibers, like wool or cotton, will shrink quite a bit when exposed to high heat. Even tougher yarns like acrylic need a little love! Extended dry times on high heat can add more wear on your pieces. Most of your crocheted garments will dry much faster than you’d think, and cutting down on machine drying time is great for the environment!
If in doubt, I roll the excess water out with a bath towel and dry it flat on a clean surface. Typically, the only crochet garments I put through the wash are my acrylic afghans, which I tumble dry low for about 20 minutes. My felted wool dryer balls really cut down on dry time, which helps to reduce wear and pilling.
5. Know Your Fiber.
The fiber content in your yarn factors heavily in the care your crochet piece needs. Synthetic yarn behaves differently than a natural fiber. Narrowing further, plant fibers like cotton or bamboo need different care than animal fibers like wool. Blends take on attributes of both fiber bases, and should be treated differently as well.
Acrylic, polyester and rayon yarns make up the bulk of this category. Typically, these yarns stand up well to machine washing. Although most acrylics survive tumble drying on low heat, they usually don’t tolerate high heat from machine dryers or irons. In fact, one blocking technique for acrylic yarns, called “killing,” involves contact with a steam iron.
Plant Based Fibers
Cotton features in this category, along with bamboo. These fibers are incredibly absorbent and cotton especially tends to be incredibly heat-resistant. (Cotton yarn makes the perfect pot holder or dishcloth!)
When washing 100% cotton items, remember that cotton doesn’t maintain its elasticity well; if you over stretch it, you may ruin it! Because of this, most cotton yarns recommend you reshape and dry flat. Hanging larger cotton crochet pieces will stretch it (often unevenly) because of the weight of the water the fiber holds. And as always, though cotton can tolerate heat, remember that sized garments can shrink!
Wool (Animal) Fibers
Wool yarn comes in two main categories: regular and superwash. Regular, untreated wool will felt in the washer and dryer, so unless you are sure it is a superwash yarn, hand wash and block it gently. Wool prefers gentle soaps, hand wash or delicate machine wash cycles, and drying flat.
If you chose a superwash option, hooray! I try to use superwash when I make wool items because easy laundry care makes a huge difference for busy moms like me. Be sure to read the label first, but you can wash your crocheted items in the machine. I personally dry flat all my wool items, even superwash, to prevent unnecessary wear and pilling. This is the best practice for keeping my handmade items looking great. That said, knowing my hats can survive an accidental tumble dry takes a lot of the pressure off.
Blended Fiber Yarns
Many very popular yarns incorporate blends of acrylic and natural fibers. (My two favorites are Caron Cakes, also available through Michaels, and Lion Brand Scarfie, which features in my latest pattern, Ann’s Spokane Shawlette.) Generally speaking, blends give you the best of both worlds: the durability of acrylic and the stitch definition, drape, and breathability/warmth of natural fibers. Most of these could stand a machine wash, but again, check your label! Scarfie yarn will stand machine washing in cool water, but Caron recommends not to wash their Caron Cakes yarn. Both these yarns recommend drying flat.
5. Keep it Cool.
In the event you use an iron, be gentle! High heat can melt synthetic yarns and could damage some natural fibers as well. Wool yarns can stand up to heat, but you should still take care to use the wool setting on your iron, a pressing cloth, and steam to help soften the effects of the heat.
When machine drying crochet items, be sure to use the lowest heat setting possible. Cotton yarns may shrink in the dryer, and acrylics could melt at high temperatures. Additionally, friction from a tumble dryer will cause pilling- another reason to cut down on drying time.
6. Avoid Stretching
Wet yarn can get very heavy! All that water will weigh down on your crochet items and pull them out of their shape, so be sure to avoid hanging your crochet garments to dry. Instead, use a laundry rack (or baby gate spread over the bathtub), or any clean surface. I personally just wipe the dust off my washing machine’s lid and dry the items there. Additionally, make certain you support the middle of heavier items when removing them from the wash. When washing crochet afghans, they get very heavy when wet, so pulling at the edge can stretch them awkwardly.
7. Label Your Gifts!
Adding a cute label to your gifts significantly cuts the frustration of washing crochet items. After all, you want your loved ones to feel loved and confident in your crochet creations, not apprehensive!
Looking for an effortless way to share laundry care information with your handmade gifts? Sign up for my email list and I will email you the free printable care tags I created for you! It’s the same one I use on my crochet gifts. Simply print the tags on card stock paper, punch a hole, and attach them with a loop of scrap yarn in a neutral or coordinating color.