There's nothing quite like the beauty and warmth of an authentic Irish wool sweater. These knitted sweaters are naturally warm, and they come in a range of fashionable colors featuring variations of traditional Irish patterns that have been passed down from generation to generation. Because Irish sweaters are traditionally made of wool, a natural fiber, they require a specific kind of cleaning to maintain their shape and natural good looks.
A Little Bit About Wool
Sheep's wool is famous for its natural breathability and warmth, making it the perfect material for creating a sweater intended to ward off the cold. It also happens to be water resistant, which is why it's a favorite of Irish anglers who work in coastal areas. Because wool comes from animals, it has properties of protein derived from sheep. Wool fibers also have jagged cuticles on their surface, which causes the fibers to snag onto other wool fibers, leading to shrinkage when washed. All of this knowledge is important when learning how to clean or wash Irish wool sweaters.
Avoid the Washing Machine
One of the most important things to remember when considering how to wash any wool sweater is to never toss it in the washing machine for cleaning. First, the friction from the washing machine is going to force those cuticles to cling together, creating shrinkage that alters its fit. Secondly, many laundry detergent products made for washing clothes contain organic proteases that break down proteins in food stains and wool fibers, causing holes to form in your sweater. For these reasons, it's best to avoid machine washing your Irish wool sweater.
Airing Out Your Sweater
One of the great things about wools sweaters is that they do not easily saturate with odors and they are more resilient than sweaters made with synthetic fibers. Still, you should aim for a light maintenance routine that involves infrequent washing and regular airing (after one to three wears).
Dryer method. Freshen your dry sweater by turning it inside out and putting it in the dryer. Do this only if you have a dryer with an "air" temperature setting. Heat can ruin the sweater so avoid using any heat. Use the gentle cycle only to avoid fiber damage. As an option, toss in a non-scented, wool-safe fabric softener sheet. Fluff sweaters for five to 10 minutes.
Window method. Open a window in any room that has space for hanging one or more sweaters. Place the sweater on a sturdy hanger and hang it from a curtain rod in front of the window to allow fresh air to sweep away odors.
Hand Washing Your Sweater
Hand washing Irish wool sweaters is the best way to keep them clean, and this should be done only on an "as needed" basis. Remember, less washing extends the life of your sweater.
Step 1. Choose a wool-safe mild detergent for this hand-washing task. These detergents usually contain a moisturizing ingredient such as lanolin.
Step 2. Fill the basin or tub with lukewarm (tepid) water only. Avoid cold or hot water temperatures. Both of these extremes may cause damage to delicate wool fibers and/or shrinkage.
Step 3. Place the sweater into the water and gently massage the soapy solution into the sweater, being careful not to over handle it. Alternatively, you can use a no-rinse wool detergent that cleans by soaking the sweater (Follow label instructions).
Step 4. Remove from water and roll the sweater up in a clean bath towel, gently pressing to remove excess moisture. Unroll and dry flat.